§ 3.32 p.m
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, considering that the road programme announced by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation on 8th December, 1953, is inadequate to the needs of trade, industry and agriculture, and that it will not relieve traffic congestion or reduce the appalling toll from road accidents;calls upon Her Majesty's Government to accelerate the authorisation and commencement of the works proposed in this programme, and to prepare further plans for the construction and improvement of roads and bridges, to be undertaken as economic resources permit.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
On a point of order. Can you give me your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to whether it will be in order, during the discussion of this Amendment, not only to raise the question of the cost of roads and other improvements, but to deal with any other factors, personal and otherwise, which lead to road accidents, or must we confine ourselves only to material changes on the roads?
§ Mr. Speaker
In this Amendment there is a reference to the "toll from road accidents" which, I think, would admit of some discussion about road accidents;but I must leave it to the hon. Member to read the Amendment and to use his best endeavours to keep his speech relevant to the terms of the Amendment. I do not think that that should be very difficult.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I intend to start from the loss caused by road accidents to the nation as a whole. During the last war, I was privileged to be the chairman of the Road Safety Committee of the Ministry of Transport. On this body were some of the ablest and most devoted men with whom I have ever worked. We put 10,000 man-hours of Committee work 1651 into our interim report, apart from outside drafting and preparation. I was left with a deep sense of horror at the carnage on the roads, and it haunts me still.
I came to think of road accidents as a grave social evil comparable to slums and preventable illness and disease. I was left, also, with the conviction that the evil could be swiftly and drastically reduced and I believe that the figures prove it. We have never done enough about the problem. Yet 25 years ago, the average number of deaths per 100,000 vehicles on the road was 300 a year. By 1938, it had been reduced to 220, by 1951 to 110 and by 1952 to 100. The rate per 100,000 vehicles was cut by just two-thirds.
The number of children killed per 100,000 vehicles fell even more—from 72 in 1926 to 37 in 1938 and to 16 in 1952. In 1933, about 2,000 fewer people were killed on the roads than in 1933, although the number of vehicles had more than doubled. That only happened because Government action was taken and Government money spent. The first thing I want to urge upon the Minister and the House is that this is not a hopeless problem, and that just as the Plimsoll line saved the lives of 3,000 sailors every year, so this problem could be solved. Defeatism about it is utterly and wholly wrong.
But that is the only consolation that we can derive from the present figures:5,000 killed in 1953, 56,000 seriously injured, 164,000 less seriously injured, total casualties 226,000. At that rate, 4½ million people will be killed or injured m 20 years—one in 10 almost of our population. Such an accident rate would be tolerated in no other form of transport. Let the Minister consider what would happen if, on the railways, we had a major disaster costing 200 lives every fortnight; if, in the air, we had a crash with as great a loss of life as in Chester Wilmot's Comet three times a week. The Minister knows that, if that happened, the nation would literally revolt. Remedial action would be taken whatever the difficulties and whatever the cost.
The second figure I gave is really graver than the deaths—56,000 seriously injured every year. How many of those people have been totally disabled? How many of their families have their home 1652 life ruined? There is not one of us who does not know of cases among our constituents and friends where that has happened. There is another grave aspect of the figures for 1953. For the first time for a long period, they are seriously above the previous year—8 per cent. more deaths; 12 per cent. more seriously injured. It looks as if the remedial action so far taken is no longer keeping up with the rate of increase of vehicles on the roads. And that increase will certainly go on—4½ million in 1950, 5¼ million in 1953 and 6 million or, some people say, 7 million, by 1958.
Unless vigorous action is taken now, we may move towards much worse disaster very soon. Just 100 years ago, "The Times" wrote a leader, saying that the Victorian railways had become so dangerous that everybody went about in peril of their lives and soon the average expectation of life in Britain would be seriously reduced. Thereafter, a great programme of legislation and engineering was carried through—signalling, traffic control by trained personnel, fencing of lines, bridges, segregation of railway trains from other traffic, legal regulations and many other matters. The result is the marvellously safe and efficient railway system that we have today. We must do something of the same kind for our roads within the next 10 years. If there were no other reason but the human misery of the accidents, we should have to do it.
But there are other reasons, too. We spend £1,000 million every year on operating road transport—one-tenth of our national income. Commercial vehicles have more than doubled in number since the war, and the average load has much increased. Since 1910, the total of vehicles has increased by 3,000 per cent., our road mileage by 4.7 per cent. Our road system is vital to trade, industry and agriculture, and it is growing less efficient every year.
We are falling far behind the other nations. Sixty per cent. of the national roads in Italy were knocked out in the war. They are better today than they were in 1938. Western Germany is planning 3,500 miles of new motorways, costing £35 million a year. New Zealand, with a population only one-twentieth the size of ours, has just set up a road fund for new construction with an income of £15 million, or the same annual expendi- 1653 ture as the Minister now proposes for us. Switzerland is negotiating a road tunnel under the St. Bernard, Denmark is negotiating a bridge and tunnel to join the country to Sweden, Turkey is planning the largest suspension bridge in the world across the Bosphorus. London is the only Western city, I believe, where there are no modern techniques—arterial roads for motor traffic, fly-over junctions, proper parking places, and the rest.
Very fortunately—this is the heart of my argument this afternoon—safety, efficiency and economic interest overlap. For safety we need a host of measures. The most important fall, in road safety jargon, under the heading of the "Three E's"—engineering, education and enforcement. Engineering is by far the most important, and it is with that that we are concerned today. We think that the Minister's new programme of £50 million over three years is, in my right hon. Friend's expression, a "miserable effort." The right hon. Gentleman will argue, as he did before Christmas, that the nation cannot afford to do more. I shall argue that over the next 10 years we cannot afford not to do a great deal more.
The inadequacy of our roads is involving the nation in enormous losses every year. They are hidden wastes which do not appear in the accounts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so the Treasury pretends that they do not exist. The Minister of Agriculture told us the other day that rats destroy £30 million worth of food in this country every year, and rabbits cost us £80 million a year. Dr. Parker, of the Fuel Research Station, tells us that inefficient grates and boilers and smoke pollution not only waste heat, but do damage to agriculture and buildings that he estimates at £50 million a year. The Treasury never reckons out the capital investment that would reduce or save these enormous sums. And so with the roads.
Bad and inefficient roads cost the nation an immense total every year in road accidents and congested traffic. When I was chairman of the Road Safety Committee, we invited an eminent economist, Professor Harry Jones, to make a study of the real cost to the nation of road accidents and to calculate by how much they reduced the annual income of 1654 the nation in real wealth every year. He did a spendid piece of work.
Professor Jones checked and counter-checked every calculation which he made. He called in the Government Actuary and he reported, after taking the Actuary's advice, that the accidents of 1938, at the then prices, cost us £60 million a year. The Government Actuary got so excited that he started on a new calculation of his own, based on quite different assumptions and using quite different methods. He made the annual figure, not £60 million, but £50 million. Just as with rats or soot, we find it hard to believe that any such sum represents the truth, but no expert has ever challenged the accuracy of that report.
At today's prices, today's accidents cost us somewhere between £120 and £150 million a year. That is a real, and not a paper, loss of wealth. It is one of the hidden costs of the inadequate road system which the nation has to bear. To cure it, the Minister proposes an annual capital investment of one-tenth of the annual loss.
The second loss due to traffic congestion, in wasted petrol and rubber, in wasted man-hours of transport workers and in the increase in the number of vehicles required to do a given job, cannot be much less than the loss on accidents, if it is not more. The Road Safety Committee asked the Metropolitan Police to calculate the saving if all London traffic were speeded up by five miles an hour. They had not time before we reported to reach a definite result, but they did give evidence that the saving would be very large indeed.
London Transport calculate that if the average speed of their vehicles, which is 11¼ miles an hour, could be raised by one mile an hour to 12¼, they would save £2 million a year.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I can give instances of where traffic has been relieved of con-jestion and the accidents have greatly fallen. London Transport would have saved £2 million by increasing speed by 1655 one mile an hour. By an increase in speed of 2½ miles an hour they would have saved the need for the recent increase in fares.
A report published last September in New York City shows that, in spite of the improvements there, traffic delays still costs hundreds of millions of dollars a year. The road from Birmingham to Bristol, the A.34, is 88 miles in length, narrow, winding and 30 per cent. of it in built-up areas. It could be replaced by 76 miles of motorway at a cost of £12 to £15 million. The saving on mileage alone would be 14 per cent. With the reduction in operating costs, it would pay an annual dividend of 25 per cent.
On a fine Sunday before the war, people from the north of England used to drive through Preston to Blackpool. To cover finds last stretch of 17 miles took four hours going and four hours coming back—eight hours, with engines running, starting and stopping all the time. At Lancaster there is a bridge where, according to the season, the weather and the time, there may be queues of waiting traffic two, three or even five miles long. Two institutes of accountants, one of them the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants, made a joint research into the cost of running the public authorities'road haulage vehicles. They found that only 1 per cent. better utilisation of the vehicles would save the authorities £4 million expenditure a year.
As a general proposition, road haulage people say that a motorway, compared with most of our present roads, would not only reduce the fuel costs—a lot of it is paid for in dollars—by 40 per cent., but it would reduce tyre costs by 30 per cent. and overall operating costs by about the same. Since we spend £1,000 million a year on road transport, the potential saving is evidently very great.
Of course, whatever we do we cannot hope to wipe out all the waste due to accidents and traffic congestion, but we can hope by road engineering very greatly to reduce them both. We can reduce them both altogether—here I come to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan)—by the same engineering schemes, for accidents and congestion go together. Let my hon. Friend go to any accident map kept by 1656 any chief constable and he will find that accidents are most where traffic is the thickest.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I think my hon. Friend will see what I am getting at in a little while.
Professor Jones, in his report, called accidents and congestion Siamese twins because they always go together. Let me take a large-scale example. Let us look at Lancashire, if I may use a name that grates on Government ears. Lancashire has a big industrial area and it is thickly populated. Its road system is broadly that of 1854. Only two miles of new roads have been laid since 1951. It has led the country in non-engineering safety work, yet on its main roads the accident rate which results from traffic congestion is 2½ times the average for the country as a whole.
If a black spot for accidents is wiped out by an improvement then, ten to one, congestion will be reduced, too. There is a road junction in my constituency, in Derby, where, in 1950, there were heavy traffic hold-ups and 19 accidents in a year. An improvement costing £4,250 was made. For three years now the traffic has flowed much more freely and accidents there have never been more than six a year instead of 19. Our roundabouts are cheap and simple, too simple as a matter of fact, but on junctions where they have been made they have reduced accidents by two-thirds.
Before the war the county surveyor of Oxfordshire made improvements on his five major roads. He cut out fatal accidents altogether and reduced serious injuries by 76 per cent. When Hitler built his autobahnen, which was composed of 1,500 miles of main trunk routes, the accident rate on those routes was only one-fifth of that on the other roads. They attracted so much of the total traffic that the deaths on all German roads fell by over one-third.
What, in the light of this overwhelming social and economic case, do we want the Government to do? We do not want to divert more unsuitable heavy traffic from rail and water to the roads. By 1657 denationalising road haulage, the Minister has taken a big step in the wrong direction. We promise to retrace it very soon. We hope that he will not go on with the old railway folly of killing the canals.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
The right hon. Gentleman must get this correct. I do not close canals. The British Transport Commission is responsible, because it was put in control under the Act passed by the Socialists, in 1947.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I accept the correction, but I should like the Minister to give a directive to the Commission not to close canals. Of course, it can only do that if the Government will promise it an adequate investment sum. That was the point I was about to make. If this rate of closure goes on for another 10 years we may lose one-third of our present waterways system. By proper investment our waterways would still play a great part in our national transport system, as they do elsewhere.
We want the Government greatly to increase the engineering programme, and to do it soon. We want them to base it on the main principle of traffic segregation to which the Road Safety Committee attached such great importance in its two reports, of 1944 and 1947. It suggested segregation of through and local traffic; of motor traffic, bicycles and pedestrians, segregation of place by engineering; segregation in time by signals, regulations and control. We hope that the Government will tackle very swiftly the 50,000 black spots for accidents throughout the country, for it is at those black spots that the vast majority of accidents and traffic congestion both occur.
The Minister can deal with some of them by giving a better surface to the road. We all know a place that was a veritable death trap, near Dolphin Square, until the wood-paving was removed. Some of the black spots can be dealt with by guard rails and traffic lights. There ought to be far more guard rails in our towns and cities than we have today. Then they can be dealt with by two-level roundabouts, fly-over junctions, bridges and tunnels. Others can be dealt with by simply forbidding parking and providing proper parking space in our towns. If the Minister proposes, as I think he has said, to have underground parking places beneath large new buildings, he will have 1658 my warm support. I have always wanted it since 1937, when we first discussed air raid precautions. Both as a traffic measure and for Civil Defence it is the most effective thing we can do.
We hope that the Minister will act more boldly and more swiftly on the big trunk motorways which we have to have. I would add the hope that he will leave the smaller country roads alone, otherwise he may do more harm than good. We hope he will look again at some of the big transport projects which have been much debated but shelved for so long. They include such schemes as the Severn Bridge, the Forth Bridge, the Tyne Tunnel and the rest.
When I was at the Ministry of Transport, I went into them very carefully and I believe there is an economic case for the Severn and Forth Bridges which is far stronger than it seems at first and which is growing stronger every year. At present, at each place motor traffic has to make a detour of 50 miles. On a million lorry journeys that wastes £1 million on imported fuel and tyres alone. The social case is even stronger and every year it grows in strength. I dislike the toll system perhaps more than the Minister, but if tolls are the only way by which the projects can be financed, then, for my part, I would follow the immensely successful precedent of the Mersey Tunnel, where tolls have worked smoothly and with admirable results for all concerned.
The Minister says that we cannot afford to carry out all these grand and costly projects for many years, that we must first invest in exports. I repeat that we cannot afford not to carry them out. Calculating on the basis of the Jones Report, Derby, with 140,000 population, has had accidents since 1938 which have cost the nation £1½ million. With a tithe of that money the majority of them could have been avoided. Mr. Brunner has calculated that £500 million spent over 10 years on motorways and other major and minor engineering works would give an annual saving on the operation of road transport of £150 million. In what other sector of our economy could investment give us so magnificent a return? How else can the Department of the Minister so powerfully help to promote our exports as by cutting costs?
Let the Minister reflect on the plain and simple facts of our road transport 1659 situation. We have more vehicles per mile of road than any other nation in the world. We make the greatest use of motor transport for trade, industry and agriculture. We have an urgent need to cut every item of our production costs. Yet, in our industrial areas, in our towns and cities, we have the slowest moving traffic in the world and we have done the least to make things better.
In spite of great arrears in maintenance, in spite of a virtual moratorium on new construction for 15 years, in spite of the tremendous increase in the number of vehicles on the road, the new programme of the Minister represents in real resources, so the "Economist" tells us, about three-quarters of what was being spent before the war. It is not enough. We cannot do everything at once, the Minister is right there; but we can do more and we can do it sooner. Let the right hon. Gentleman remember the great twin burdens that result from accidents and congestion that are imposed upon us now; imposed, above all, on the industrial and agricultural enterprise by which the nation lives. They are real losses, not figures in a book. It is false economy to pretend that we are saving money by not spending it, when every year we have this heavy annual loss and, in the end, we are forced to do the work, and at several times the cost.
Let the Minister study this black page in the ledger of social waste. Let him think of the90 men, women and children who will be killed upon our roads this week, of the 1,100 who will be seriously injured. Let the right hon. Gentleman reckon up the true account, as the nation sees it, and let him try again.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) began his speech by referring to the work which he did during the war as chairman of the Road Safety Committee. When I went to the Ministry of Transport I found that that was one of my responsibilities, and I have found that, of all the work to be done in my office, there is none which is at the same time more absorbingly interesting from a technical point of view and which also completely grips one by its human and humane interest.
1660 Therefore, I was glad that throughout his speech the right hon. Gentleman emphasised the primary importance of the improvement of the roads in order to reduce the appalling burden of traffic accidents. The whole of his speech was couched in moderate and helpful terms. I shall try in my reply to set out exactly what the Government are intending to do and to explain why it is that they are not able to go any faster.
I had provided myself with some statistics to contrast what was done about the roads during the time that the Socialist Government were in office with what we are proposing to do, but in view of the tone of his speech, I shall try to make as constructive a speech in reply. I shall deal in order with the various points raised in the Amendment and, therefore, I shall deal with road accidents towards the end of my speech, because it is there that this subject appears in the Amendment.
I want to establish four propositions: First, that the British road system, however much it has been criticised, is still the best in the world; second, that the rate of maintenance of our roads since the war has been very nearly adequate, and for the future will be fully adequate; third, that the new programme of construction announced by my right hon. Friend on 8th December is pretty nearly the maximum which the labour, economic and financial resources of the country can bear; fourth, that although road defects are responsible for a certain number of road accidents, there are many other causes which account for the majority of them.
I am surprised that those organisations in the country which are so anxious for more expenditure on roads generally begin by damning the present road system. I think that hon. Members of this House who have motored in foreign countries will agree that there is no foreign country in the world where we find better roads than we do here. Even in the United States of America, apart from a few motorways and speedways, the ordinary mileage in that country is far inferior to ours. For example, only 12 per cent. of all the roads in the United States of America have a hard surface.
The main cause of complaint against our road system is congestion. I do not 1661 intend to deal at any length today with the problem of congestion in towns, although the right hon. Gentleman also referred to that. No mere road programme, however much money was spent upon it, could abolish congestion in our towns unless we destroyed completely all our great cities and rebuilt them as garden cities.
We are giving the most urgent consideration to the traffic problem in London especially, and in other towns—the problem of parking by night and by day, the question of "No waiting" orders, lights, pedestrian crossings and so on—and we have not reached final conclusions. It is an immensely difficult subject upon which we have officials working at the present time.
I think, however, that the main point of the Amendment today is directed to the road system as a whole. Congestion, at least as compared with many other countries, is inevitable in Britain and is likely to increase to some degree as our standard of living rises, as we hope it will, and as more people are able to afford a motor vehicle.
This is the second most densely populated country in the world. It is the country which has more motor cars per 1,000 of population than any country except the United States and Canada. It follows, therefore, that there are more cars per square mile in this country than in any other. Therefore, whatever we may do to improve our road system, we are still likely to have more congestion of our roads than there is anywhere else.
I want to deal with the alleged deterioration in our roads since the war. This matter was raised at some length in a debate on 27th November. The evidence which was given to the Select Committee on Estimates by Mr. Hugh-Jones, the Chief Road Engineer of the Ministry of Transport, on behalf of the Department, was very fully and accurately explained in that debate by the hon. Member for Edgehill (Mr. A. J. Irvine). On that occasion our Chief Engineer, speaking of roads as a whole, said to the Committee:I would say that they are deteriorating slowly…the trunk and first-class roads…are not deteriorating…but…the second and third-class roads…are going back.That was the Department's considered view after a careful survey at the time 1662 when the Estimates Committee was taking evidence.
On 27th November I went a little further and said that the trunk and class 1 roads had also begun to deteriorate, but at the same time, with complete frankness, I gave to the House a figure which explained why this deterioration had spread to class 1 and trunk roads. Our expenditure last year on maintenance had been reduced from 73 per cent. of the pre-war level to 69 per cent., but this deterioration is only marginal. It is not anything very considerable at the present time.
We have no idea how the British Road Federation's figure of an accumulated backlog of neglected maintenance of £90 million is arrived at. We do not even know what it means. Indeed, there are some mathematical problems which begin by saying, "Think of a number and multiply by five." That is the only way in which I can imagine that that figure has been arrived at.
We estimate that arrears of maintenance have been running since last year at a rate of approximately £4 million or £5 million a year. I am very glad to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has approved an increase in our Estimates of £4 million of Exchequer money for maintenance. This, of course, will attract a contribution from the rates. As a result, making due allowance for the very small increase in cost that has taken place since last year, it will mean our being able to do in the coming financial year 13 per cent. more work on the maintenance of roads than has been done before.
In our view this should not only coyer the small amount of deterioration which has taken place in the last few months on trunk and class 1 roads, but in a short time should also overtake the deterioration in second and third-class roads, deterioration which our engineer reported to the Select Committee on Estimates last Session. This increase will not be spread evenly over the country but will be allocated at our discretion according to need. The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) may rest assured that the special claims of Staffordshire will not be forgotten.
A substantial part of the increase will be used for the provision of pedestrian 1663 crossings, lights, and all the other things which are necessary for safety on the trunk roads. A further large slice will be used for the elimination of black spots on classified roads in the interests of safety. The right hon. Member for Derby, South asked us to do that, and that was also emphasised in a leading article today in the "Daily Telegraph." I am sure it will meet with the general approval of the whole House that as this further money has become available it shall be used in the best possible way to reduce road accidents.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
What percentage of the pre-war maintenance will it be possible to do as a result of the increased figure? The hon. Gentleman spoke of a figure of 69 per cent.
§ Mr. Molson
Mental arithmetic was never a subject at which I shone at school. I gave in an earlier debate very full statistics on the point, and I suggest that the hon. Member should try to work it out himself with the help of pencil and paper. It may 'be that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will be able to give the percentage when he winds up the debate, or perhaps before then.
I now come to the third and, I fear, the most controversial part of my thesis. The new programme to commit £50 million of Exchequer expenditure over three years is not die result of the activities of pressure groups outside the House, and it is not likely to be increased as a result of their activities. We are limited in what can be done in the way of new construction by manpower, by our economic resources and by finance. After 15 years of economy on the roads we have not the surveyors and engineers necessary to carry out any sudden expansion of new construction.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington) rose—
§ Mr. Molson
If the hon. Member will allow me, I am trying to give the facts of the matter, and it would be better from everybody's point of view if I gave the facts and figures in order.
To a lesser extent, the same difficulty applies to industrial labour. The Socialist Government in 1948 called for a reduction 1664 of 22 per cent. in the number of men working on the roads. That was carried out. Today the road force throughout the country is only 81,000 as compared with 126,000 before the war, and it is manifest that no sudden expansion is possible. [An Hon. Member: "Mechanisation."] I do not think that we ought to divert other labour to these roads and we hope that increased expenditure upon the roads will be covered entirely by mechanisation. But I think that it will be realised that even in the case of mechanisation some of the engineering firms which produce heavy machinery required for road construction have at present large export markets, and we should hesitate to divert large amounts of machinery from people who export, even for work on something as important as roads.
The Conservative Party appealed to the country at the last Election on the ground that it would reduce taxation. It has already done so, and I hope that it will be able to reduce it much further. But if taxation is reduced it is impossible for there to be at the same time a great increase in expenditure. The Opposition are always asking for increased expenditure on pensions, education, and whatever it may be, but really there is a limit to what can be done.
I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been really generous in agreeing to a commitment of new works alone of £50 million over the next three years. The British Road Federation has taken that figure and, by a simple but misleading calculation, has suggested that we shall in fact only be spending that £50 million in the course of the next 10 years. That, of course, is entirely untrue; the figures are quite different from that. In the first place, we do not intend to stop after three years.
§ Mr. Molson
The hon. Member is most unwise to hazard a guess as to what the future is to bring forth. I should not think that the results of recent by-elections give him much comfort.
§ Mr. Molson
As my right hon. Friend said on 8th December, we hope, without making any promise, to continue expen- 1665 diture at the plateau level of £14,500,000 a year in subsequent years. To that Government expenditure falls to be added the appropriate rate contribution, which we reckon as between £4 million and £5 million. That means an expenditure on new construction of approximately £19 million a year and that comes to £190 million in 10 years, or £150 million from the Exchequer alone, as compared with the figure of £50 million which was given by some of our critics outside the House.
The argument is sometimes used that all the taxation which is paid by the motorist should be used for the roads. The Road Fund, in fact, was abolished by the Finance Act, 1937. Since then, the Ministry of Transport's expenditure on the roads has been provided in exactly the same way as the expenditure of any other Government Department. The Department puts in Estimates based upon need, and the amount that is approved by the Treasury is based upon the amount of money available. The motorist has no more right to expect that the licence fee he pays in respect of his motor car shall be made available for the roads than the beer drinker has the right to expect that taxation on beer shall be spent on new pubs.
As for the petrol duty, which is sometimes included, that has been increased by a succession of Chancellors of the Exchequer and is based on what the industry is able to bear. In point of fact, the first petrol duty was imposed by my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister. The purpose was to pay for the derating of agricultural and industrial hereditaments in 1928, in order to help relieve unemployment at that time.
§ Mr. Molson
The last Government were of the opinion that the balance of advantage, as the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury said, lay in not abolishing the actual words "Road Fund." In view of the misuse of this name as an argument for a yet higher expenditure on the roads, we are inclined to think that the balance of advantage lies in the direction of the abolition. That, of course, would require legislation.
Now I come to the question of road safety. I was surprised that the right 1666 hon. Member, with his long experience and knowledge of this subject, should suggest quite so much that the majority of road accidents were due to defects in the roads.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I think that successive Governments over a period of years have taken a very great deal of action—in some respects almost as much as possible—about education and enforcement. There is more to do by way of enforcement. But I think that in road engineering we have fallen very much behind by not getting segregation of traffic.
§ Mr. Molson
We are most anxious to do what we can in the way of improving the roads. In 1952–53 and 1953–54, my right hon. Friend, with the permission of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has diverted about £2¼ million for the express purpose of dealing with black spots; and that sum, with the additional rate contribution involved, amounts to £3 million.
I have mentioned now that it is the intention of my right hon. Friend, within the scope permitted by the more plentiful supply of money made available to him by the Chancellor this year, to push on with the improvement of roads. I am not, therefore, in any way seeking to show that improvement in roads is not an important factor. Indeed, because we believe it is important, we are giving it priority at present.
But, if the right hon. Member will look at "Road Accidents," which has been published today, he will see listed, in the table dealing with causes of accidents, the following:Fatigued. Asleep. Illness. Under the influence of drink or a drug. Physically defective. Inexperienced with type of vehicle in use at the time….and so on. The right hon. Member will realise that in the vast majority of cases of road accidents it is not the defect of the road but rather the shortcoming of those responsiblefor driving which is the cause—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but of course road defects do magnify the other dangers. In every case there is always the factor of bad road conditions making everything else much worse.
§ Mr. Molson
That is undoubtedly true in many cases.
1667 When the right hon. Member compared the low rate of accidents on the railways with the high rate of accidents on the roads he should have borne in mind that the driver on the railway is a highly skilled and reliable man, who is responsible for conveying a very large number of people, whereas on the roads we have a very large number of drivers of all degrees of experience and reliability. It is quite obvious, therefore, that nothing any Government can do could bring about a reduction in road accidents to anything like the level which, happily, exists on the railways. Motorways, if ever they are built, will certainly bring their own special toll of deaths upon those roads due to high speeds at which vehicles will travel.
I now turn to the actual wording of the Amendment. After expressing dissatisfaction with the programme of new construction, the Opposition ask us to accelerate its authorisation and commencement. We are then asked to prepare plans for newconstruction…of roads and bridges, to be undertaken as economic resources permit.If that saving clause had governed the whole of the Amendment, I think the Government could quite happily have accepted it. We believe, as far as our knowledge goes at present, that our programme of road construction as now phased is just about the maximum that our present economic resources permit.
My night hon. Friend would certainly like to carry out all the improvements that his engineers have in mind at once. He and they would like to get on with the next three-year plan, if I may so describe it, and to do so without delay. I would say to my hon. Friends who have put down a Motion upon this subject that we shall certainly go as fast as we can. If we find we are able to spend more money upon minor improvements my right hon. Friend will not hesitate to ask for the agreement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to such a course. But we cannot get more than a pint out of a pint pot—as Mr. Philip Snowden surprised his teetotaler friends by saying on a celebrated occasion.
We believe, on present information, that the programme of new construction announced by my right hon. Friend on 8th December, together with the substantial increase in the proposed expendi- 1668 ture upon maintenance which I have been able to announce today, will tax our manpower and our economic resources to the uttermost. We believe it will be sufficient, not only to maintain the present high standard of our roads, but to extend and improve them in order that, in the reasonably near future, we may make suitable provision for our increasing road traffic.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I realise that a number of hon. Members wish to speak and I propose, therefore, to be brief. I wish to mention only one point which I consider of major importance, namely, the question of the Tyne Tunnel.
Since the Minister made his announcement about roads in December, there has been no mention of any project of any kind for north-east England. I believe I am right in saying that the nearest to the north-east was the reconstruction of Mill Bridge, at Doncaster, which is 130 miles from Newcastle. We think that the Tyne Tunnel, which was started some years ago, should be finished as soon as possible for the following reasons.
First, it is stated in the Amendment that this House believes that the road programmeis inadequate to the needs of trade, industry and agriculture…The River Tyne carries on both the north and the south banks one of the biggest and most important industrial areas in the country. Since the war there has been considerable development, especially on the north bank, but the two areas are complementary, and we feel that this tunnel between Jarrow and Howden would link together the two areas and enable development to be planned properly.
Secondly, ever since 1937, when this project was first approved, the county councils of Northumberland and Durham have planned their major road projects on the basis of a Tyne Tunnel, so that many other projects are linked with this matter. Thirdly, there is a very important strategic reason, from the point of view of national defence, why this tunnel should be completed. All the Tyne crossings in the industrial area are in Newcastle and Gateshead. There is no river crossing anywhere nearer to the sea than the big Tyne Bridge at Newcastle. During the war a small bomb was 1669 dropped in the middle of the city. Had it been an atom bomb every single crossing over the Tyne would have been destroyed, so we feel that there should be another crossing nearer to the sea in this area.
Fourthly—and this point was mentioned in relation to congestion—the A.1 road from Edinburgh to London runs right through the middle of the Tyne area—right through the middle of Newcastle, where the main street is the A.1 road—and it runs through Gateshead. There is tremendous congestion on it. I was held up only this morning for almost half-an-hour in a traffic jam in the middle of Newcastle. We believe that the Tyne Tunnel would relieve a great deal of the congestion in that area. Heavy industrial traffic would not need to pass through it. The Minister should bear in mind that the Tyne area is the biggest bottleneck on the whole of the A.1 road. There is no bigger bottleneck, not even at Doncaster, which is small compared with this area.
I do not wish to go through the whole history of this matter, but I will mention one or two of the more important points. In 1937 the county councils of Durham and Northumberland put forward proposals to the Minister of Transport. At the end of 1938 the Minister met representatives of the two councils and agreed that a prima facie case had been made out for a tunnel between Jarrow and Howden. He agreed there and then to pay 75 per cent. of the costs of the consulting engineers, and Messrs. Mott, Hay and Anderson were appointed to investigate the project. They are still active today, as the Minister knows.
In 1943, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport met local authorities in the North and agreed that the tunnel should be consructed, and that 75 per cent. of the cost of preparing the plans should be paid. In 1945—I hope the Minister will listen carefully to this because it is important—Lord Leathers, the then Minister of War Transport, met the county councils and gave a definite and specific promise that the Tyne Tunnel would be one of the first two such projects to be started after the war. That point was put to the Parliamentary Secretary in December, when he met the representatives of the local authorities. I think I am right in saying 1670 that he agreed that such a promise was given.
In 1947, the Tyne Tunnel Act had been passed and a grant was made toward the first part of the work. The pedestrian tunnel and the cycle tunnel were started and completed, and were opened in 1951. But in 1947, when that work was going on, the then Minister told the local authorities that for the time being work must be confined to the cycle and pedestrian tunnels; but that, at the same time, they should go on with the work of preparing the detailed construction plans for the main tunnel. They did so, and a grant was paid on the fees for preparing those plans, which are now ready, as the Minister knows. He received a letter from the consulting engineers, in December, saying that contract tenders could be invited within a few months.
In December, the Parliamentary Secretary received a deputation from the two county councils. They pointed out to him, and made it quite clear, that four previous Ministers of Transport had given definite promises that the Tyne Tunnel should proceed immediately after the Dartford Tunnel. Indeed, we were always led to understand that when the shields used for driving that tunnel were finished with we should have them for the Tyne Tunnel. The Minister made his announcement in the House in December and, out of the £19 million allocated for the 1954–55 programme £4½ million went to Scotland. I am making no complaint about that proportion, but, of that sum, £3 million was devoted to the Whiteinch Tunnel.
That came as a shock to us in the North, because it appears to us that the Whiteinch Tunnel, in Glasgow, is to go ahead before the Tyne Tunnel. We feel that the Minister has broken faith with us. We have received in the past these four definite and specific promises, from various Ministers of Transport, that our project should be one of the first two after the war, and that we should get the tunnel shields from Dartford. Now we understand that work on the Glasgow Tunnel is to go ahead before work on the Tyne Tunnel.
We have had one assurance after another, and now the Minister had gone back on them. The cost of completing the tunnel would be £9 million which would be spread over seven years. The 1671 first stage, with the pilot tunnel, and so on, would take two and a half years and would cost less than £1,500,000. We should not require the 29-ft. shields until the middle of the third year. The driving of the main tunnel would not begin until towards the end of the third year. The remaining work would be done in six or seven years. Although the total capital expenditure would be extremely large it would be spread over seven years.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to have another look at this major and most imaginative project. There is not one project for the north-east of England in the whole of his programme. I ask him to consider this improvement because it would considerably relieve the congestion in the bottleneck of Newcastle and Gateshead. It would act as a useful link in one of the most important and productive areas in the country. It would provide the logical link-up of the road systems of Durham and Northumberland. It would enable the two major industrial areas of the north and south of the Tyne to continue their proper, planned development on the lines followed since the war.
I appeal to the Minister to consider the matter again—to see whether he can help us by including the beginning of this work in his programme for the next two years.
§ 4.42 p.m.
Sir Gurney Braithwaite (Bristol, North-West)
I endorse most whole-heartedly the tribute paid by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) to the work of the National Road Safety Committee. Like him, I had the privilege of presiding over that body for two years; I think he presided for longer and I doubt whether my man-hours could compare with his. The scope his widened considerably since his time, but it has proved itself a body of the greatest value. I would also add my tribute to the work of the local road safety committees all over the country which voluntarily devote an enormous amount of time to this problem.
I do not intend to speak today about the accident side of this problem, beyond remarking that I hope that the Press is ill-informed when it suggests that the Road Traffic Bill, on which an infinite 1672 amount of time and trouble has been expended, is to be jettisoned or postponed until next Session. I regard that Measure as one of the utmost urgency and I should be sorry to see it dropped.
At the time when the right hon. Member for Derby, South filled the office of Parliamentary Secretary, the Highways Department of the Ministry of Transport was virtually on a care and maintenance basis owing to the fact that the country was at war and very little could be done. It was inevitable that at the end of a long struggle, lasting six years, there should be a formidable backlog of necessary work upon our highways. Therefore, when the first post-war Government took office in 1945 we had placed before us what I shall call, for want of a better name, the Barnes Plan, which looked forward to 10 years of activity in trying to remedy the situation.
The Barnes Plan was brought to a sharp halt, first by the Dalton convertibility crisis of 1947 and later by the Cripps devaluation crisis of 1949. Of course, it would not be proper in this debate to examine the reasons which led to those events, but they had the result that the only road with which the Opposition can be associated is that which is notorious as being paved with good intentions.
It was left to their successors to try to deal with the situation. The stoppage of capital investment, which so bedevilled the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), continued for a time when the present Government took over. Our national economy was then in the process of salvage. I had to stand at the Dispatch Box week after week, month after month, answering Questions about road improvement schemes. I always felt that I acquitted myself in a manner which would have done credit to a Russian delegate at the United Nations. Negative was piled on negative, refusal on refusal, veto on veto, with results galling to the whole House and not least to myself.
Now our financial affairs are on firmer ground. The account given by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary shows that we were able to devote £3 million for black spots during 1952, and we now have the £50 million programme which, at least, shows a remarkable 1673 advance upon what has been possible during the post-war period. But let us not take too much comfort from that. I well remember sitting down one day and adding up the cost of the major improvements which could be reasonably described as urgent. The figure came to £180 million. I am here today to express my conclusion that we shall do no real good in tackling this problem out of revenue. The Road Fund has disappeared, as my hon. Friend reminded us, and even had it not, no Chancellor of any party or any Government could allocate the whole of the proceeds of motor and petrol taxation to road works, if only for the reason that it could not be spent even if he did.
The most irritating imposts would have to take its place in the form of new taxation to make good the gap. Therefore, I desire to submit to the House that the moment has come when we ought to summon to our aid the improved British credit, without prejudice as to more generous treatment out of revenue which may be possible in future years. There is in existence a 30-year road plan. We have not yet reached the year nought, unless it be this afternoon and the financial year 1954–55 is to be year one. But we have not yet started.
There is a 30-year road plan. Let there be a 30-year road development loan. It could be serviced as to interest and sinking fund from the existing taxation of motorists. It would make possible a real modernisation programme and enable the Department's very able engineers to do their job properly, instead of moving uneasily from financial year to financial year wondering how soon the tap will be turned off. A 30-year loan would make them independent of political vicissitudes, changes of Government or other events which come from time to time to handicap these plans and programmes.
There are obvious criticisms of this course. I shall be told that this is an inflationary suggestion. Yes, so it is, but there are times when fiscal purity has to give way to the pressure of events. By way of illustration, I will give the House two examples of what I mean. During the recent war many of us, day in and day out, advocated increases in Service pay. Our suggestions were described as wildly 1674 inflationary. Sir Kingsley Wood, Sir Stafford Cripps and the present Lord Waverley were all put up to tell the same scarifying tale. There was even a Treasury White Paper which pointed out the advantages to the fighting man of living rent-free in a shell-hole in the Western Desert or the fo'castle of an escort ship in the Russian convoys. But the House of Commons of that day—I notice some hon. Members present who were here then—would have none of that humbug and threw it aside with contempt.
A more modern example was last year's flood damage. The State, rightly and properly, came to the rescue with the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, but be it noted that the whole operation was naughty, peccant and inflationary according to Treasury rules. But there was an emergency, and fiscal purity had to go out of the window.
I submit that this is an emergency. To modernise industry, to increase production and to step up output—we all agree on these as urgent objectives. I remember so well my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary as chairman of the Tory Reform Committee, and I am sure that he preached this gospel with zeal and conviction, but we shall never reach the goal—
Sir G. Braithwaite
My hon. Friend cannot have followed my previous sentence. I said that we were all in favour of increased industrial production and modernising industry, and I thought my hon. Friend would have preached that gospel.
Sir G. Braithwaite
However, perhaps he will listen a little longer.
I submit to him and to the House that those objectives, on which we are agreed, will never be reached with outmoded communications. I could keep the House an inordinate length of time giving examples. I used to spend much time on the roads visiting the danger spots and bottlenecks. Doubtless my hon. Friend has done the same, although he may well have reached different conclusions from mine as to the priorities; but I am sure he will agree with the simple proposition that for 15 long years the task 1675 of the Minister of Transport of the day in this field has been made virtually impossible through lack of funds.
Therefore, I call for a 30-year loan of £500 million in addition to existing financial allocations. The timing of the issue must, of course, be left to the Chancellor. Much depends on the element of surprise in launching such a security, but I might say, in passing, that I consider that at the present time the market would be not unresponsive and that the loan would speedily be over-subscribed.
Then there would be £500 million for roads, and roads alone. The prospectus issued by the Government, a trustee security, would be a contract, and this money box could not be rifled or raided. No Chancellor since 1926 has been able to keep his fingers out of the now defunct Road Fund, but no Chancellor could dip his fingers into this loan and the motorist would feel that at least some of his State contribution would service this forward-looking proposition.
I thought I heard an interjection from a right hon. Gentleman opposite, a former Secretary of State for Scotland, that we might be surprised what could happen to this loan. That is a prediction of which the electorate must take note. That is a most shocking "Challenge to Britain."
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
The hon. Gentleman knows what happened to his own party's sacred Road Fund.
Sir G. Braithwaite
I must point out that what the right hon. Gentleman calls the "sacred Road Fund" was raised out of taxes and out of revenue, but I am suggesting a loan issued by the Government with all the Government authority behind it, with a prospectus as a contract which could not be gainsaid—at least I hope not—should there be a change of Government.
Of course, this suggestion still falls short of many needs, but it could not fail to benefit industrial development over a wide field. Therefore, I throw this suggestion into the debate not expecting an answer from my right hon. Friend today. After all, this is a Treasury matter.
Sir G. Braithwaite
What I am suggesting is that if the Department and its engineers knew that £500 million had been subscribed for roads, and for roads alone, by an issue maturing 30 years from now, they would know that they had finance for a 30-year plan. They could then arrange allocations of material and labour, whereas at present they never know when the tap will be turned off because of some political or economic development.
I have no doubt that we shall be told by the Treasury—I thought I heard an echo from my hon. Friend—"What about this being financed out of the savings of the people?" The savings of the people sometimes go to curious quarters. I thought it an odd remark to come from a Minister in a Government which is at the moment looking with a friendly eye upon a Private Member's Bill which, if it passes, will regularise and stabilise betting on football pools. I should have thought that the savings of the people might well be diverted into a security of this kind through the many great insurance companies and building societies, and surely the great trade unions would not be slow to invest their benevolent funds.
I trust that the possibilities of my suggestion will not be rejected out of hand. My right hon. Friend has shown himself to be the most able and energetic holder of his office for many a year. I ask that he be given a real chance to perform his task.
When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South, who has occupied the post of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, was out of the Chamber, I remarked that he had the misfortune to be at the Ministry at a time when its Highways Division was virtually on a care and maintenance basis and little road development work could be done. I am sure that many valuable contributions will now be forthcoming.
I am convinced that some day some Chancellor will come round to my way of thinking. To Her Majesty's Government I would say just this. They have 1677 great achievements to their credit. At present, they are steaming through smooth waters—the by-elections show that—on an even keel, but, on this topic, the wind of public opinion blows dull. Let it not reach gale force. Let a word to the wise be sufficient.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I think the whole House will have listened with some pleasure to the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite), not only on account of his recent elevation in status but also because of his elevation to the back benches. Those of us who listened to him as a Minister often thought that his heart was greater that the economic ideas of the Government permitted, though I never had a great opinion of his wardroom economics.
There is much to be said, however, for the Government thinking on new lines about capital investment in connection with this problem. It is no use thinking of it from year to year or even a few years ahead, because this is a major problem needing major consideration over a long period of time in regard to the provision of the necessary capital.
One of the things which I have never understood in the post-war period has been the provision of adequate road facilities in certain countries on the Continent the economics of which are not noticeable for their strength, but which, in spite of that fact, have been able to carry out certain improvements which we have not been able to do in this country. If, for instance, one goes to the suburbs of Paris, or travels along one of the main arteries from the centre of Paris to the suburbs, one cannot help but be impressed by the number of flyovers which have been provided. Why we have not been able to do it in this country, while the French, with their soft economy, could do so, I simply do not understand.
I should like to repeat a criticism of one private organisation in this connection which I made to the Minister on a previous occasion. I am not at all sure or very happy about the rôle which the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents plays in relation to the Government. I think that the method of consultation between the district road safety committees and the county road safety commit- 1678 tees needs looking into again, because it does not seem right to me—and I have taken other opinions on the matter—that consultations between the district and the county road safety committees and the Government should be thrown on to what is, after all, a private organisation.
Not all districts have road safety committees, and not all councils have them, nor is there very effective working liaison between the districts and the counties. I have heard the view expressed recently that matters are sometimes lost in these regional consultative assemblies; matters which the Minister should know about and which occasion very strong feeling in these local road safety committees never reach him.
There is another point concerning road safety upon which I wish to touch before I come to the main point of my speech. The Minister ought to pay some attention, in consultation with the other appropriate Ministers, to the curiously diverse sentences imposed upon intoxicated motorists involved in accidents. If one reads the cases reported in the newspapers, one is very surprised indeed to find how intoxicated drivers receive very varied sentences nowadays. We find that men and women who have been convicted on many previous occasions have been let off—one would not say with easy sentences—but with sentences which permit them to drive again in the near future. I should have thought the Law Officers of the Crown would wish to look into this matter in consultation with the judiciary.
The Minister will not be surprised if I now say that I want to talk about roads in Staffordshire. This is a problem of an extremely serious character, which has been the subject of a deputation to the right hon. Gentleman, on which he had the assistance of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) and consultation with my hon. Friends the Members for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), Cannock (Miss Lee), Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) and myself, and I should be unfair if I were not to mention the collaboration of the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), who sits on the opposite benches.
We can separate the two main aspects of road expenditure into maintenance and minor improvements on the one hand and major improvements on the other. 1679 At the present time, as I understand the situation in Staffordshire, the Government are proposing to allot some £230,000 for trunk roads, and £525,000 for maintenance and minor improvements to classified roads. These allocations do not represent the original sums requested by the county council, but in spite of that fact, the county council takes the view that it will accept these allocations, provided that some adequate account is taken of this highly important matter of major improvement works.
The council did, in fact, submit its original estimates on the understanding that, whatever the Minister might allow in respect of maintenance and minor improvements, an agreed comprehensive programme for major improvements would be prepared. I do not think that the Minister or his advisers fully understand the situation in which Staffordshire now finds itself. It is very difficult in this House to put up a case for one authority against the others. Each and every hon. Member representing a county authority has his own particular axe to grind, and so I merely want to put this point to the Minister.
In Staffordshire, out of a total of 372 miles of trunk and class 1 roads, only 30 miles are over two-lane in width, and that is a very significant figure when we consider the industries encompassed by the county boundaries, plus the outside traffic from north, south, east or west which converges on Staffordshire. Anybody who visits the centre of my own constituency at Lichfield and observes the volume of traffic from north to south, plus the Derby—Birmingham traffic, and sees the abnormal loads which before the war could never have been visualised on such roads, would realise that the position is most unsatisfactory, and constitutes a problem which, from the economic point of view, must be tackled very seriously indeed.
The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West talked about stalling at the Dispatch Box, and I have been subjected to it myself. What we are not very happy or satisfied about, once it is agreed that an area or a particular spot is dangerous and that something must be done about it, is the speed with which action is taken. We all know about the need to buy land and to work out a plan, and we realise that all these things take time.
1680 Nevertheless, I wish to refer to the case of Muckley Corner, near Lichfield. I have had letter after letter on the subject suggesting that, after all the inquiries have been made and planning permission has been given, it is taking far too long to carry out the needed improvement; and the same thing can be said about other dangerous places all over this country.
In respect of this problem of major improvements to trunk and classified roads, the Staffordshire County Council has already submitted to the divisional road engineer a two-year plan which will cost about £950,000 for trunk routes and £500,000 for classified roads over the two-year period. That specific plan has already been put forward, and I call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to it as part of the major plan for an eight-year programme of improvements. It is the sort of scheme which the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West was thinking about when he made his speech just now.
The council believes that the eight-year plan should be reasonably easily financed over the first three years out of the £50 million allocation which has been discussed. It is regrettable that Staffordshire's share of the £50 million is only three short lengths of dual carriageway on the Stafford—Stoke Road, the approximate value of which will be £170,00.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Any county, when some of its schemes are not included, must not assume that they will not be included at a later date within the first three years. A good deal of consultation has to take place with highway authorities on the matters which are within their province, and that is taking place with Staffordshire and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Snow
I am grateful for that intervention because it assists me to underline what I wanted to say a few minutes ago about the plan for trunk roads and classified roads which has already been submitted in detail to the divisional road engineer. In that context I mentioned the rather small allocation out of the £50 million which has been given.
We hope that the detailed two-year plan will be seriously considered. We believe the road-safety situation in Staffordshire to be rather worse than in other counties. For that reason, and on behalf 1681 of the hon. Members I have mentioned, I hope that the Minister will look at Staffordshire's problem once again.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
Even after the convincing but somewhat complacent statement of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, there will be a general feeling in the country that something needs to be done urgently, further than is being done, about our roads. Both sides of the House are to blame, but one side is definitely more to blame than the other and from the purely political point of view one can point the finger of scorn at some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. There is no need to do that, however, because the whole House is agreed, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend leads in this matter, on the necessity of doing more.
If road transport be the life blood of the economic system, we are certainly having a pretty tough dose of thrombosis, if not of coagulation leading to clotting, and something has to be done. The message which my right hon. Friend brings to the House is certainly good in regard to the 13 per cent. increase in maintenance. Those hon. Members from Staffordshire who can do a little mental arithmetic will know that our increase is rather more than 30 per cent. of the maintenance. We are gaining what we have lost in the past.
I hope that my right hon. Friend may one day be acclaimed as the "Colossus of Roads," but he suffers at present from the disadvantage that the Treasury is endeavouring to give him feet of clay. We have to give him encouragement so that longer term plans can be made. They mean money, and that was the great weakness of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), who opened the debate. He seemed to forget the monetary aspect, for he hardly mentioned it.
On the question of the £50 million for major improvement, we have a strong feeling in the county of Stafford that our slice of that will mean only a short stretch of road between Stoke and Stafford; fortunately, it is all in my constituency, but that is by the way. It certainly is one of the worst sections of grand trunk in 1682 the whole country. I believe that the £50 million for three years is not sufficient, but that feeling is probably general to Members on both sides of the House.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend would like to give an undertaking today to look at some of the suggestions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite). I hope he will do so. A longer-term programme is necessary and the question of tolls should be seriously considered. I do not wish to be parochial about this matter, but other counties have their plans. Lancashire is about to undertake two major by-pass constructions which will run into about £5 million to £6 million each. There should be a test on this type of construction—whether it will bear a toll charge; and, if it can, there is a much stronger case. What is needed, and more immediately needed, is a general improvement in the country's main traffic and trunk road arteries.
The other thing necessary is for the Ministry again to consider whether the 30-year road plan cannot begin to be put into effect. Everyone who has had anything to do with road construction, or has studied it, knows the great importance of continuity in the building of roads. If we build roads in short stretches, especially with modern mechanisation, the costs rise out of all proportion. Road construction abroad, especially in the Colonial Empire, show that the whole basis of proper economy depends upon continuity of construction. With a mechanised process this is especially true: costs can drop in the most astronomical way. It would be well worth the while of the Minister to get round the Treasury on this point and induce it to look again at the 30-year plan.
On the more parochial matter, I hope that the Minister will consider Staffordshire's eight-year plan. Everyone wishes my right hon. Friend well. He has already done a great job. He has already made a great step forward with the £3 million spent last year on the black spots, the £50 million to be spent in the next three years and the 13 per cent. increase in road maintenance for this year. I salute him again as the "Colossus of Roads" but ask him to make even greater strides.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)
I do not know how we all received the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite) about the £500 million loan, but I am certain we all agree that he spoke with a vigour that has been absent from his speeches for a long time. One can only think that he finds the air of the back benches much more invigorating than he found the air at the Dispatch Box.
I did not quite like his suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) about any fund that might be raised. It must have been in the minds of many hon. Members that my right hon. Friend was referring to a great occasion when the present Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer and took to raiding the fund to balance his budget.
I want to deal with one specific point rather than to cover the subject of the whole road transport system of Scotland. Even if I were to attempt to deal with the problems of the Highlands and Islands, it would take far too long. I am a little surprised that there is no representative of the Scottish Office present this afternoon because last July the Secretary of State for Scotland announced a further scheme of new roads costing £100 million; but by the beginning of the following week, the Scottish Office had to issue a statement making it clear that the scheme also included some substantial road schemes which had been planned under the Labour Administration and cancelled because of the economy cuts.
I propose this afternoon to deal with the problem of the Forth, which is an outstanding subject to Scotland, and will continue to remain so until a road bridge is built across the Forth. This is a necessity which I do not require to bring to the notice of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who represents Fife, East. There has been so much criticism of his actions and speeches since he became a Member of the Government that he wants to forget about it.
We hoped when we had a visit from the Minister of Transport last year that it might have been possible to bring more forcibly to his notice the need for this road bridge. It is true that the Minister did not have a great deal of time to spend 1684 in Edinburgh; he was there for approximately 12 to 18 hours, and it would have taken at least half that time to give him a practical demonstration of the ferry. It is true that the journey either way takes only about 20 minutes, but the congestion at both the north and the south ends of the ferry is such that many hours are wasted, not only by private but also by commercial motorists. That was one of the things to which my right hon. Friend referred, and it is, as he said, one of the things which is never included in the balance sheet.
There was some resentment in Scotland about the Minister's reply to a Question on 20th January, when he said:I would make this plea, that the more there is talk about a Forth Bridge, the less likelihood there is of getting on with something that is really possible within the next few years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1954; Vol. 522, c. 1,000.]We rather regarded that as a threat. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman did not mean it in that way, because we in Scotland have been very patient with regard to this road bridge.
The need for it is now more apparent than ever, because in recent years there has been the development of the new town of Glenrothes, which is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton). If that new town and the surrounding area are to have a chance to develop properly, then, like every other part of the country, they must have efficient road transport.
There is also in that area the tremendous development of a new coalfield, which makes it more essential than ever that there should be decent road transport. It is estimated by the Forth RoadBridge Committee that the loss caused by this awful bottleneck amounts to no less than £1 million a year. Therefore, the question is not whether we can afford the bridge, but whether we can afford to be without it.
One other thing which was brought very forcibly to my attention last week was the fact that the Fife ambulance service was not given priority on the road from Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. One would have thought that in these days such a service would receive top priority. It is true that when coming from Fife to Edinburgh the ambulances are given priority on the ferry, but when returning to the areas which they have 1685 to serve they are given no priority at all. Many hours are wasted because of this, and it is quite possible that owing to the congestion on the Forth ferry many people are denied the use of the ambulance service.
There has been some dispute as to the traffic figures. I believe that the local Forth Road Bridge Committee has asked the Minister to supply the figures of those who used the ferry during the past year. The Committee is prepared to accept the Minister's figures, though it reminds him at the same time that many people, rather than suffer these awful waits, take a much longer route round by the Kincardine Bridge.
This demand for a Forth road bridge is not new. It began before the war, and, as time went on, the excuse was made that we could not go ahead with it in view of the demands made upon us owing to our preparation for war and because of our war economy. That was reasonable, and the Scots regarded it as reasonable. Following the war, they were again patient. They realised that because of the almost total stoppage of road work during the war it would take a considerable time to make up the leeway.
They appreciated the demands being made on the national economy for such work as the building of new houses and the repair of bomb-damaged property, and so on, but, as the years have gone by, they have begun to feel that the time has arrived when there should be a definite statement from the Minister on this subject. The shortage of materials is now not nearly so great as in the immediate post-war years. Indeed, the output of steel is rising very considerably.
The excuse that we require labour for other jobs is not borne out by the latest figures issued by the Ministry of Labour on 10th February, which show that unemployment in Scotland is at present running at the rate of just over 72,000, or 3.4 per cent. of its insured population, the highest figure of unemployment for any part of the country. Indeed, with the exception of Wales, 3.4 per cent. is more than double that in the rest of the country. The last monthly figures show that unemployment in Scotland went up by 9,500 as compared with an increase of roughly 11,000 for the whole of the London and south-eastern area. In view 1686 of these figures, the argument about labour goes by the board.
Surely the building of a bridge which is going to do so much good for the community must call for some high priority. Many proposals have been made with regard to the bridge. When the Minister came to us at St. Andrew's House on 19th June, he said that he was prepared to refer to an independent outside committee the proposals of Sir Bruce White regarding the Forth Bridge. Since then we have heard nothing further, but there has been a change in the plans which we submitted to the Minister.
In the original plan the estimated cost was about £13,300,000. In the new plan submitted by the Forth Road Bridge Committee this amount has been reduced to approximately £9,500,000. We are not asking the Minister to carry out this expenditure in a year or two; the plan is to carry out the work over a period of eight years. In the first year it is estimated that the cost will be £200,000; in the second year, £400,000; in the third year, £600,000; and in the fourth year, £530,000. The remainder would be spread fairly equally over the last four years.
As the Minister himself quite well knows, even the local authorities were prepared to make some contribution to the Forth Road Bridge, and I should be grateful if, in his reply, he could tell us something about this new proposal by the Forth Road Bridge Committee for a bridge at an estimated cost of £9½million as compared with the £13⅓ million estimated for the proposal first submitted to him.
There have been some suggestions concerning ferry improvements until such time as the Minister comes to a decision about the bridge. I know the Minister dealt pretty extensively with an improvement of the present ferry system, but I think all hon. Members will agree that even an improved ferry service is no substitute for the bridge. There has also been a suggestion that he might do something about the old Granton—Burntisland Ferry.
The Minister has no responsibility for this—it was something started by private enterprise but it did not prove a success, and the Minister is now being asked, of course, to rescue it. Many people think that, with all its assets still there, it could make a very substantial contribution to 1687 the present congestion. I should be grateful, as I am sure would all my Scottish colleagues, if the Minister, in his reply, could say something specific about proposals affecting the Forth.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Captain Richard Pilkington (Poole)
We have had a refreshingly non-party approach to this problem, to which the speech we have just heard has been no exception. The central problem we have to deal with is that of our resources which, we recognise, are limited. We can argue either that those resources should be increased in respect of the Government's allocation, or that the amount which is allocated should be used in a different way. As has already been pointed out, if the amount available were increased it is likely that more lives and more money would be saved, and less time wasted.
There has been one very remarkable figure amongst those put before the House—that the number of commercial vehicles on the roads has doubled since pre-war days; against the general background of an increase of all vehicles from three million to five million. One wonders why more commercial goods traffic should not be put upon British Railways, which need it. Could not the Minister urge that more of this traffic be carried on the railways and less on the roads?
The Federation of British Industries has said that if our present system were under the control of an industrial corporation—no doubt a private enterprise one—thestate of affairs as it now is would not be tolerated for a single moment. And it has been said by the British Chambers of Commerce that our present system is a costly and an increasing burden on industry. It has also been stated that today the cost of maintenance of our vehicles, due to the state of the roads, is 40 per cent. higher than it need be.
If to these considerations we add the calculation that the present cost to the community, in accidents, is about £140 million a year, and then consider the average amount which is to be spent annually upon roads in this three-year period—namely, some £17 million—its inadequacy is apparent. It is the more so when we compare that figure of £17 million a year 1688 with the pre-war figure which, in comparable terms of money, has been estimated as being about £160 million. I add my voice to those already raised this afternoon to ask that, if it is possible for the Government to allot a bigger proportion of our resources to this urgent problem, they should do so.
I turn to the second part of my remarks, which is the actual use of the amount which is to be made available. I have on another occasion—and I will not repeat it now—given examples, in my own constituency, of the terrible state of some of the subsidiary service roads which serve many hundreds of thousands of houses up and down the country. These roads, in most cases under the local authorities, are in an appalling condition, and accidents are caused, not so much from vehicles going along them—because those vehicles have to crawl at walking speed in any case, wasting petrol and time—but from the holes in those roads, which trip up people walking along them in the dark. I would urge again that more of the national wealth should be contributed to dealing with this type of road.
I think it is true that our secondary system of roads in this country is second to none in the world, but our main trunk roads do not stand comparison at all with those of other great nations—America, France, which has improved her roads immensely in recent years, Italy and Germany. Yet, as the Minister has said, our density of traffic is greater than that of any other country.
With the sum of money at present available, some minor improvements are being carried out; some are admirable, others less so. I will give two examples, on a road which I know well, of improvements which I think are very useful. They are two straightenings of the main road into Dorset—one east of Hursley, one west of Romsey—and those two sections of the road are very much safer as a result.
Two examples of improvements which I do not think have been so useful consist of minor widenings of roads in great use—the approach road immediately east of Camberley, and also the Basingstoke by-pass. Neither of these improvements really warrants the amount of money and work devoted to it. Would it not be 1689 better to hold the money until more can be done?
For instance, in such a case as the approach to Camberley, there could be laid down a duplicate road alongside the existing one. Sooner or later that will have to be done. Such a course would have been comparatively easy because there is waste ground—mostly forest ground, and although we want to keep our trees, this scheme would not destroy many. A second road could be laid down with a curtain of trees between the two. That sort of thing has been done on the roads to Brighton and to Portsmouth, and on some of our main bypasses.
I wish to list six short points which, I hope, will receive the Minister's attention. First, I should like to know whether there is now an accepted form of the best non-skid road surface in use; and if so, if it is a general rule that wherever a road is repaired that form of non-skid surface is used? I cannot but think that the answer should emphatically be in the affirmative because, as I think we all know, there are some surfaces upon which vehicles virtually do not skid.
Second, is there also an accepted form of best lighting? I think that the cold white light used in some areas is extremely dangerous in wet weather because of reflection. Some forms of the red type of lighting, on the other hand, are extremely good. I have mentioned Camberley already, and I think that the lighting of the main road through Camberley is excellent.
Third, would the Minister urge that the old custom of having mileages on signposts be restored? For some extraordinary reason, in the years between the wars this fell out of custom, and it is very irritating to British drivers and particularly so to drivers from abroad when a signpost indicates where the road is going to but does not have any mileage indication upon it.
My fourth point concerns the Staines by-pass. Is there any possibility of this? I know it means a bridge over the river, but there is a tremendous bottleneck in the town, and I should like to know if there is any possibility of getting this by-pass soon.
Fifth, I think that the habit which has grown up in London since the 1690 war of not enforcing lights on parked cars in well-lit streets is very good; and I should like to see this custom extended to other well-lit cities.
I come to my sixth point. The figures given the other day, and repeated this afternoon, of the number of accidents per vehicle, showing the way in which they have decreased in the last 20 years, are encouraging. But could anything be done about the type of person who causes a large proportion of these accidents—the habitual middle-of-the-roader? I refer to those people who continuously drive in the middle of the road and tempt other drivers to pass on the wrong side.
I should like, on the other hand, to pay a tribute to a class of road user which has not received many tributes—the dogs and hens of our countryside; I think they have developed a remarkable road sense during the last 20 years. Finally, in the Empire and the Commonwealth we have the reputation of being the greatest road builders since the Romans; and I think it is high time that we put our own house in order.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
I apologise for not having been here for the whole of the debate, and if I am not able to hear the Minister's winding-up speech I hope he will forgive me. I am one of several hon. Members who are busily engaged at the moment in preparing a written report for the Secretary of State for the Colonies before he leaves for Kenya.
I wish to speak for a few minutes about a matter which I think is of vital concern to my constituency and to the country I refer to the Rochester by-pass road. I have received letters from people up and down the country, including industrialists and holiday makers. The industrialists are rather alarmed because, added to their present difficulties of getting to the valuable industries in the Medway towns, they may have still further difficulties to meet because of the Dartford Tunnel. Therefore, they are most anxious that a by-pass road should be constructed.
Holiday makers who come to the delightful seaside resorts in the south-east of England often have part of their holiday journey spoiled by having to wait outside the city of Rochester, some- 1691 times for hours, and on the return journey as well they have the same disadvantage, which is not the most pleasant way of ending a holiday. I think the Minister has an obligation to consider this matter most seriously. I am not suggesting that he has not done so, but I suggest that this proposal should receive the first priority.
The Rochester by-pass road was thought 30 years ago to be an absolute necessity. Since that time traffic has considerably increased and the population has grown, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Rochester by-pass road is now absolutely vital in the interests of industry, holiday resorts and the safety of people, which is the most paramount consideration of all. The area of Rochester and Chatham is most densely populated. I am told that 78 per cent. of accidents occur in built-up areas, and one could not find a more built-up area than this. Therefore, for the safety of persons it is important that a by-pass road should be constructed.
Another argument in favour of it is strategy. It is well known that we have the Royal Dockyard and military establishments there. From my personal experience during the war, I know how important it is to have ready access to these vital services. For all those reasons, I plead with the Minister to reconsider his decision to put the Rochester by-pass road in the second category.
As for taxation, it would be wrong to argue that all the £370 million which is taken from the motor industry as a whole should be spent in helping either the motor industry as a whole or in building roads. It is a form of revenue, in the same way as is the tax on tobacco. Nobody would argue that the whole of the money raised in Tobacco Duty should be used for making cigarettes or pipes better or cheaper. It is a form of revenue which helps the national income.
But I do suggest very strongly that at least the £65 million which is raised in the form of motor licences should be spent on the roads. If that were done, it would assist considerably in road construction. If the Minister can see his way to persuade the Treasury to do that he will get enough to enable the Rochester by-pass road, belatedly, to be started.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to an area that has something in common with the area mentioned by the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley). I refer to the Tamar River. This river has no crossing at all at the moment. We have heard hon. Members asking for improved tunnels, bridges and roads, but the area I speak of has no road at all. As the Minister knows—he has set up an inquiry which is to report to him in the summer—it has one peculiarity which has to be overcome. I believe that the Admiralty need access for all naval craft up the Tamar, and when the report reaches the Minister I hope he will give special consideration to the possibility of erecting a low-level bridge. This should commend itself to him because it does not cost as much as a high-level bridge. I understand that it can compete with the tides and that it will allow access of all types of naval craft.
Having, I hope, established the fact that there is a problem concerning the Tamar, I would draw the attention of the Minister, briefly, to four general points about road safety. I was unable to learn from the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is the Government's view that speed and safety can be reconciled. I gather that that is the view of the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker). I think that is a wrong view. At the moment, the emphasis should be on safety. There is a kind of madness in this century, in that people want to get from A to B at ever-increasing speed, and, having got there, to do less and less.
Another point which the Parliamentary Secretary did not make clear, at least to me, was whether it is the policy to spend the available funds on a few major roads, or whether they are to be dissipated in speeding up the traffic on winding and narrow roads. I feel that the latter course would be disastrous, and that what money is available should be spent on the roads which will carry a large proportion of industrial and commercial traffic.
There are four points which I ask the Minister to consider. First, under his and other administrations there has grown up an idea that the pedestrian is always right. When I am a pedestrian I take 1693 the view that the motorist is always right, because that is the most expedient view to take. By education and indirect and direct propaganda pedestrians should be made considerably more frightened and cautious. It is worth while reflecting that if motorists took the liberties on sidewalks and pavements that the pedestrians take on the roads, there would be an uproar and an outcry. Belisha beacons, zebra crossings and flashing lights have given the impression that pedestrians have an excessive amount of rights.
Secondly, a high proportion of accidents occur at road junctions and in built-up areas. The Minister has the figures, and he knows that such accidents account for a very high proportion of the total number. They happen in places where motorists are supposed to be going slowly and are not. I would ask the Minister to carry out an experiment which has worked successfully in France, which is to construct shallow gullies 20 or 30 yards from the road junctions. These can be marked with cats' eyes and by ordinary signs, and they would compel cars to slow up.
The conventional arguments against this proposal are, first, that unless it can be done everywhere it will not work. That is a feeble argument. Secondly, it is argued that it would do some harm to the cars. I think that it is much better to do harm to the cars than to pedestrians. Thirdly, it is argued that it would slow up traffic. That does not matter very much. This is a serious suggestion, and I would ask the Minister to consider it. It works very well in France and it has never been tried here.
My third point concerns dummy accidents. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House who drive would agree that nothing makes a driver more cautious than to see an accident. At very little expense to the police and local authorities it would be possible to stage an increased number of dummy accidents at strategic places on such days as the roads carry heavy traffic. It is already done. The police and ambulances have to be on duty. All that is needed is an upturned cat and, perhaps, a stretcher, and the accident can be made as realistic as possible. It costs very little and it makes drivers cautious. I wish more use could be made of this.
1694 My last point concerns the suspension of motorists'licences. There is nothing more maddening for a motorist than to have his licence taken away, even for a week. There should be something between endorsing a licence and taking it away for a long period. Where it could be establshed that the driverwas driving without due care the police should be allowed to take away the licence for a short time. This would make motorists much more careful than they are at present.
We should try to instil a greater fear in pedestrians and a greater fear of the law in motorists—not only fear of the law, but fear of their own skins and vehicles. I ask the Minister to find out whether the suggestions which I have made have worked with success or failure in other countries, as my information is that they have worked with success.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
In spite of the programme announced by the Minister on 8th December, I feel that the Government have failed miserably to grasp this opportunity to formulate a coherent and planned national road policy. I have looked very carefully at the comparative figures of traffic and expenditure before the war and now. These figures bear careful study, because they are startling. In 1939 there were roughly 3 million motor vehicles, of which under half a million were goods vehicles. The total road expenditure was in the region of £64 million, which is equivalent to about £150 million today. The growth of traffic since 1939 has been phenomenal. Today, there are about 5¼ million vehicles on our roads, of which over 1 million are goods vehicles.
In the face of these facts, the Government's plans for our roads fade into complete insignificance. It is, at best, a programme of shreds and patches. One gets the impression that no planning has taken place on the Ministerial level, but that a patchwork of suggestions, as it were, has been put forward from below. We have had a fine piece of window dressing from the Parliamentary Secretary in opening the debate. I did not like the way in which he related the condition of our roads to road accidents. He was, I think, quite wrong in his conclusions.
The position is summarised very succinctly by Professor Harry Jones, the 1695 chairman of a study group which has investigated 30,000 accidents to children on the roads in 1951. Professor Jones says:Because human error has been reported as the primary cause of more than 90 per cent. of accidents, it is assumed that road defects contribute but little to the total. But efficiency and safety are so closely interwoven that they cannot readily be separated. They are Siamese twins. An efficient road system is a safe system and an unsafe system is an inefficient system.That is a wise comment on the importance of the condition of our roads in relation to road accidents and road safety.
I am disappointed in the Minister, because it is he who has to assume complete responsibility for this programme. He has recently been gaining a very great reputation—according to the Conservative Press.
§ Mr. Hughes
What has he done to deserve this reputation? [Hon. Members: "That is what we should like to know."] He is responsible, in the first place, for the recent Conservative Transport Act of incredible stupidity. We realise where he is leading this country, particularly when we read the recent figures of railway costs. He will be known as the Minister who failed to produce an articulated road policy at a time when Britain's need was greatest. His sins of omission are equalled by his sins of commission. There is no breadth of vision and no sense of the needs of our time in the Government's attitude towards our roads.
I shall endeavour to illustrate the Government's shortcomings by referring to one major scheme. Hon. Members from Wales were looking forward on 8th December to hearing what the Minister had to say about the great Severn Bridge project. It is very many years since local authorities and other public bodies in the Principality and in Somerset, Gloucestershireand other counties first began to support this project. This bridge would link up the great ports of South Wales with Bristol and the South-West. I have here a note of the resolutions that were passed in 1923 by the Chepstow Council and in 1928 by the Gloucester County Council. In 1935 the Commissioners for the Special Areas recommended this pro- 1696 ject. In 1935 it was the subject of a Parliamentary Bill.
In spite of all this pressure during more than 30 years, in spite of the obvious need for the project, the Severn Bridge still remains a dream. It is quite amazing that in this day and age Glamorgan and Monmouth on one side of the estuary, and Somerset and neighbouring English counties on the other, should be kept apart. There has been a real need for this project for well over half a century. Think of it! It would bring the great port of Bristol and its environs 50 miles nearer to Cardiff and Newport and the industrial areas of South Wales.
The failure to carry out this project has meant that the great industrial powerhouse of South Wales has been virtually isolated from the rest of the United Kingdom. It has stunted the proper development of South Wales. The present exits from South Wales to London and the Midlands and to Bristol are dangerous bottlenecks. They are narrow, turning roads with many steep hills. The question I would ask the Minister to answer tonight is, how long is South Wales to be starved through the lack of this bridge?
I want to make it clear that I am not looking at this problem in any parochial way or in a peculiarly Welsh nationalistic way. I am endeavouring to look upon it as a United Kingdom problem, because this bridge is important not only for South Wales and Bristol; it is for Great Britain as a whole. Everyone will agree with me who thinks it important that every area in Britain should play its part in our struggle for national survival.
Let the Government show that they possess imagination. The Severn Bridge project is a masterpiece of design and ingenuity and research. With its 3,300 foot span it would be the largest suspension bridge in Europe. Have we passed the stage when we are anxious to show other countries what Britain can achieve in the sphere of bridge building? Surely this is the very moment in history when this country, which produced Stephenson and Telford, should show the world that in skill and engineering genius it is second to none. It is major projects such as the Severn Bridge which would excite the curiosity of the whole world and induce other countries to send their experts to this country to see what we were doing in this sphere.
1697 Then possibly all corners of the world would send for British firms and British engineers to build their bridges. There is no end to the possibilities and to the returns we might expect. This would be a great piece of investment. This is not the time for a timid approach to these matters. It is a time for greatness. It is against that wider canvas and not a parochial angle that I want the Government to look at the Severn Bridgeproject, and the Forth Bridge project as well. I understand that both these schemes have a great deal in common, and that work on the one would pave the way for work on the other.
Members from Wales hoped that on 8th December the Minister would say that he was going to make a start on the scheme. We realise that a scheme of this sort cannot be accomplished in one or two or three years, but we hoped he was going to say that he would make a start on it. He put us off with reasons we cannot accept as anything like adequate. I appeal to him to look at the matter again, not for the sake of South Wales alone but for the sake of British prestige in a world of increasing competition.
In his statement on 8th December, the Minister said he hoped to include £500,000 in the 1954–55 programme fox the new Conway Bridge. We were very glad to hear he had that in mind. The ward that worried me in that statement was the word "hope." Can the right hon. Gentleman say he is going to give us something more tangible than hope? Will he tell us whether he is going to give us a bridge or not? Is the Minister saying yes? I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, the Conway Bridge. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the assurance that we shall have this bridge in the very near future.
§ Mr. Hughes
An important subject that has not been dealt with in this debate so far is that of class III roads and unclassified roads. Those roads are of major import to British agriculture today. The highways authorities are up against a real difficulty about them and are finding it practically impossible to main- 1698 tain and repair them. In Wales, for example, they amount in all to 78 per cent. of all the roads of the country. It was only in 1946–47 that the grant of 50 per cent. was given towards the maintenance of class III roads, and they are still virtually in the same poor condition as unclassified roads. They are in an appalling state.
I made the suggestion to the Minister in the debate on 27th November that the method of grants for class III roads should be revised and that the grants should be on a mileage basis of £150 per mile. I would ask fine Minister again to look into this very carefully. It would mean only a very small increase in the present total grant for the whole country, and I thank that it would be a very much fairer way of distributing it.
The burden of unclassified roads falls directly on the rates, and county councils are finding it extremely difficult to cope with them. Here, again, my suggestion is that a grant of £100 a mile should be paid towards unclassified roads. I speak subject to correction, and the Minister can verify these figures, but I understand that if such a grant were paid it would amount to no more than £5 million a year for the country as a whole. This form of grant would do something worth while for the rural areas. It would be a considerable assistance to agriculture and to farmers and would help to increase the yield from our land. My suggestions are, I submit, the only way to solve what is becoming an increasingly grave and serious matter, and I should be glad to have the Minister's comments upon them.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
My first plea, which I will express in the mildest possible terms, is to the Government to see how far it is possible in future to give the House even longer notice of the subject for debate than they are now able to give. This is important, for it is quite impossible to prepare speeches and consult the authorities appropriate to a serious debate of this character, staged in the House of Commons, if we have only between Thursday afternoon and Monday afternoon in which to do it. Very often hon. Members cannot rearrange their week-end engagements in time to make the consultations which they should make if they are to discharge then duty properly. 1699 I am inclined to think that the quality of this debate has, therefore, dropped somewhat from the quality on previous occasions and that hon. Members have been obliged to do some quick thinking and to consult one or two people in their constituencies and perhaps to put forward entirely or partially constituency pleas.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I expect the Minister will reply that the Opposition asked for the debate today, but I should point out that we gave warning of it at least a fortnight ago.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I quite agree that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends gave warning, but often they give warning which is not followed out in practice. The House relies on the authoritative announcement of Government business on Thursday afternoons. I think my plea will remain, at any rate as far as my hon. Friends are concerned.
I will do my utmost to desist from making a constituency speech or even from asking my right hon. Friend whether I can have the Great North Road. I am sure that many of us feel very strongly on that issue. The only comment I want to make, by way of a side issue from what I conceive to be the main character of the debate, is to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), who, I am afraid, has left us for a moment. He spoke about the fly-overs which the French successfully erected on the roads out of Paris just before and since the war. Part of the announcement which my right hon. Friend made the other day concerned the extension of the Cromwell Road scheme. In the London area that is the most important of the new developments since the war.
I understand that where the new road crosses the Hammersmith Bridge Road, there is to be neither a fly-over nor a fly-under. In fact, there is to be the same form of drearyroundabout or dreary traffic light scheme as those which characterise every other part of the country. Is this really the way to inaugurate the post-war era of road development in London, with all the people coming from abroad and having seen the new development abroad? Is this all we shall be able to show? I very much hope that if 1700 the matter has not been finally decided my right hon. Friend will reconsider it and see whether the necessary finance cannot be provided.
Finance is the only other topic on which I wish to say a few words. I promise the House I will not be long. How are we to find adequate finance for the road programme upon which the House and the country are determined. The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) mentioned tolls, and I quite agree that where there is a well-defined new road, bridge or tunnel a toll project for that individual concept is a feasible operation, but I do not think we can indulge in toll roads in this country to the same extent as is the case in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, where one can go for tens or hundreds of miles before there is any inlet to the road of a substantial character.
The administrative costs of operating such a toll system are very low. In this country they are bound to be high because it is impossible to go for more than two or three miles without meeting an important road which must be given access to the toll system. I am afraid that that consideration must defeat any general use of tolls in this country.
What is to be done to provide the finance on another basis? My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone said we must have continuity. He said we must have a 30-year plan, and he pointed out that that cannot be formulated if we provide the finance year by year, upon the Estimates, so that any Chancellor of the Exchequer can look at the Estimates in relation to the general economic situation of the country, chop and change them, cut them down, and make a slash at the Ministry of Transport here and another slash at the Ministry of something else there. How on earth are we to get a forward programme of road development, whereby savings and economies can be made by virtue of the fact that it is continuous and properly organised operation, unless we look at the problem in a different way?
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite), until recently Parliamentary Secretary to 1701 the Ministry of Transport, has put forward, with all his knowledge, an important suggestion for a loan of £500 million to last 30 years. I think that something on that basis is what is now required. I cannot go as far as to agree with such a vast project as that which my hon. Friend outlined.I think he regarded it as to be done shortly while the market terms were good. Where would the money go? It would have to be lodged with somebody, and the interest to be paid for the first few years, at any rate, would have to come out of the fund created.
Something between what we are doing now—which is to provide these quite inadequate sums from the Exchequer—and what we might do under an imaginative scheme such as that which my hon. Friend described, is the target at which the House should aim. I have done some research into this question with the help of a document called the Final Report of the Committee on the Form of Government Accounts, commonly called the Crick Report, which the right hon. Member for Derby, South and his hon. Friends must have had very much in mind during their period of office, though they did very little about it. The Crick Report makes certain suggestions as to the way in which these finances should be handled in the future. I will not go into them in detail now; they are more relevant to a debate on economics than to the present debate.
But it is a fact that out of £35 million voted for the Ministry of Transport for roads this year, over £7 million is for new road development, or pure capital. We have reached the ridiculous situation where, in the Budget year by year, we are providing for long-term capital projects. Surely something could be done immediately, without introducing anything very novel or fantastic, such as a road loan?
May I say, in parenthesis, that except in war I do not know that the State ever raises a loan tied to a specific project. We might run into great constitutional difficulties on that point. While we cannot get a Road Fund of that kind, we should initiate a moderate change by putting a fair sized portion of the existing expenditure on roads by the Minis- 1702 try of Transport year by year below the line in the Budget.
How right the Parliamentary Secretary was to say that this House desires to see taxation lowered. But if the new roads which we all want are built on the present system taxation will be increased. Therefore, instead of being provided out of taxation above the line in the Budget, the amount should be provided below the line and balanced by loans and other capital repayments to the Treasury. I will not pursue that argument further, but it is a possibility. I assure the House that if only we could co-ordinate our activities and get this matter thoroughly thought out, it is possible to develop a semi-loan operation for the roads, extend the programme and, at the same time, relieve taxation.
Unless we can decide upon the importance of doing that, we are in a very awkward situation indeed. I am not talking about Her Majesty's Government for the time being, but the British State, whatever party is in power, is in a ridiculous situation, compared to any commercial firm in the country one cares to name. If any such firm wants to indulge in long-term capital expenditure it raises loans by going to the local authorities, to the Government or to the Stock Exchange. The State ought not to put itself, by contrast to these parties, in such a false position.
My final word is this. I think that, politically, there is also some danger in this situation. There are two things which the electors, at the appropriate time, may very well say they do not like at all. One is a policy to develop roads and to save increasing roads accidents which falls down because of an archaic accountancy system. The other thing which I do not think they will like, although it is often said, but not in any of the speeches so far made, because this House is a good deal more progressive than many other sections of the community, is, "Let us leave the roads over to the future; let us regard them as public works if and when unemployment in this country arises." There are two false things about that suggestion. The first is that it leaves the roads completely out of line with any other great enterprise in this country, and the second is that it envisages a period of unemployment which is to be satisfied by road projects when we all know that 1703 we are doing our utmost to see that unemployment never arises at all.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)
The hen. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), in his opening remarks, referred to the time that had been given for this debate, and suggested that hon. Members had not had time to consult their local authorities. I would say in passing, as one coming from the North-East, that we have had time to consult our local authorities since the announcement made by the Minister on 8th December.
Many of us felt that the announcement then made about road improvements was very disappointing. The reason is not far to see. We had been keyed up to a certain amount of expectancy that, after a long time, something tangible was to be done to meet the highway problem with which this country is faced.
The highway authorities responsible for road maintenance and development, along with such organisations as the British Road Federation, believed, as hon. Members and the local authorities believed, that something was to be done at last to improve the highway system. During the course of the announcement, the Minister said that we could not afford any longer to delay an extended programme of road improvements without serious damage to our economy. I submit that those words were very important.
They prove, only too well to us, the serious position into which our highways have been allowed to fall. And knowing this, what happened? The Government, through the Ministry of Transport, sought to impress the House and the country with the way in which they proposed to tackle this great problem. As a first contribution they decided to spend £50 million over a period of three years. I am at a loss to understand how the Government, with all the evidence at their disposal, could think that £50 million, under present conditions, would bring any great easement to the problem.
The reports which have come in since the announcement was made proved quite the opposite. As was stated in the London "Evening News," following the announcement of the Minister: 1704The proposals are no more than a first desultory nibble at a major national problem which ought to challenge all our resources.Where is the greater part of this £50 million to be spent? It is to be spent on schemes that have been outstanding since before the war. Therefore, if the conditions of the highways are such as have been described, surely it will be a very long time before we catch up with the problem by spending only £50 million.
We have been reminded today that the Road Fund went out of existence in 1937. I think that is unfortunate. The Government, in my opinion, in the position as now presented to us, ought not to be talking in terms of £50 million over the next three years but of something like £200 million.
I know that some say that that figure is quite unreasonable. But is it unreasonable against the amount of money obtained by the road vehicle tax, petrol tax and even by Purchase Tax? Let us consider, in contrast, the amount of money which came in during the last year. Between £370 million and £400 million came in from those sources of revenue, and out of that amount only £80 million was spent on the roads for maintenance and repairs. Two million pounds were spent on new roads over the last year. Speaking on behalf of the North-East, I must say that we are very disappointed with the proposals which the Minister has presented to the House, without any serious consideration so far as that important part of the country is concerned.
Let us look at the list voted for England, leaving Scotland and Wales out of the picture. In the list quoted for England, we find that the nearest scheme to us in the North-East is the reconstruction of Mill Bridge, at Doncaster. Does the Minister really think that he has given reasonable consideration to the North-East, an area which embraces three county authorities, eight county boroughs and a population of approximately three million? It has had no consideration in its major problem. It appears that we have already lost one item of priority, which has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), and that is the Tyne Tunnel.
Leaving aside the major projects, we are not even given consideration in the supplementary list of trunk road schemes 1705 of over £100,000. The Minister's proposals contain nothing on our side of the Pennines between Ollerton Bridge in the North and the schemes in Scotland. The nearest to us in the North-East is in the North Riding of Yorkshire, at Sinderby Bridge. We do not complain that that scheme is going ahead—it is a good and desirable scheme and ought to be proceeded with—but there is nothing in the "kitty" as far as the North-East is concerned.
Let me say a word about the Durham County authority. The highway authority in Durham, as in Northumberland, gets no consideration regarding schemes of over £100,000, in spite of the request made to the Durham County highway authority five years ago by the Ministry's divisional road engineer to prepare two schemes for high priority. The first of these schemes was on the A.1 road, from Browney Bridge to Farwell Hall, and it was to cost £108,000. The other was on the A.19 road from Wolviston to Sheraton and provided for reconstruction with a 30-ft. carriageway, at an approximate cost of £380,000. Both these schemes were asked for on a priority basis five years ago at the request of the divisional road engineer.
It appears that what Durham is now to receive, as far as trunk roads are concerned, is a short diversion at Thinford Crossroads, at an estimated cost of £42,776. Even the sanction for proceeding with this scheme has been awaited for the last two years. Among the major schemes which have been overlooked, as hon. Members from the North-East on this side of the House know full well, are the Western by-pass and the Tyne Bridge, by-passing Gateshead and Newcastle. Then there is the Gateshead—Felling by-pass, at an approximate cost of £500,000, the Sunderland by-pass, the proposed motor road to by-pass Darlington, and the Salt Works Bridge scheme at Billingham, which runs through the I.C.I. works. The I.C.I. chief engineer has been making representations to the Durham County surveyor for proceeding with this project. These are all important schemes.
I speak on behalf of an important area whose road problems ought to be given serious consideration. If the Minister has not yet given serious con- 1706 sideration to the rapid growth of traffic over the present carriageways of the North-East, it is time that he did. Northumberland and Durham, through their highway authorities, are faced with a serious problem of mining subsidence which calls for special attention. Northumberland should receive the same kind of treatment as I ask should be given to Durham in its trunk road schemes.
Let us see what is happening in Northumberland. It is well known that the Denton Burn scheme, which was started in 1946, was suspended in 1950 after an expenditure of £45,000. The work having been discontinued, no benefit whatever is derived from this project. Does not the Minister think that it would be as well for the scheme to be proceeded with and completed? And what about the Haltwhistle diversion, which was started before the war and is still uncompleted?
We hear a lot these days—we heard it from the Parliamentary Secretary and from other hon. Members during the debate—about safety on the roads. I used to be a member of a road safety committee. It was our practice to go out and meet the representatives from the local authorities. Some of those road safety committees used to believe that Whitehall was not interested in the way that it ought to be as far as the safety of highways was concerned.
The only positive way to tackle this problem is for the Government to inject more capital into road maintenance. We were greatly perturbed when we heard of the cuts in the trunk and classification grants for 1953 and 1954. The county highway authorities knew full well that those cuts could lead one way only, to further deterioration in the roads. Therefore, even ruling out the possibility of overtaking the arrears of maintenance which have accumulated during and since the war, such reductions as the Ministry imposes will not permit of the level of maintenance which is required to keep the roads of the North-East even in their present moderate state of repair.
The North-East is an area which is mainly industrial in character. Naturally, we feel the effect of the increased traffic on our roads. Accommodation has to be given to the industrial and commercial 1707 centres which are firmly established in the North-East. These centres generate a large volume of traffic, together with the development of the motor bus systems. All this creates, as in other areas, a major problem for the highway authorities concerned.
The traffic position has been accentuated by the special problem of thousands of tons of coal which must be transported over county roads to central dumps in the two counties. Further traffic increases have resulted from the haulage of dolomite and other basic minerals which are in urgent demand for work of national importance. Everyone will agree that it is vital that none of these industries of national importance should be handicapped by the acceleration of other road traffic.
It is clearly obvious to us, as a result of the increase that is taking place, that unless something is done within the next few years whereby much of this traffic could be by-passed, the North-East will be in a very serious position. Therefore, we appeal sincerely to the Minister to give serious consideration to our problem so that some of the trunk road schemes that have been prepared and agreed to should be allowed to proceed within the next few years. Will he not consider increasing the grant figure to £20,000 as the minimum appropriate to enable satisfactory progress to be made with smaller schemes of under £5,000 to deal with particular black spots? If my information is correct, all that Durham will receive is two such grants of £5,000. For a county like Durham, with its present problems and conditions of travelling, it does not meet the position at all.
These are reasonable requests, and I hope that the Minister will be able to meet them. I would also point out to him that the increased traffic in the North-East has not only occurred on the Great North Road, but similar increases have been found on other main roads. That is revealed in a number of pilot censuses that have been carried out recently. I hope that, following this debate, the Minister will be able to give some further accommodation not only to Durham or even to the North-East, but to all those areas which have been brought into the general picture during the course of our deliberations.
1708 Let me remind the Minister, in conclusion, that representations have been made to him—I do not know whether he is aware of this or not—on behalf of Members from this side who represent North-East constituencies. We wrote him on 20th January and we are still waiting to hear that he is prepared to meet us. I have not covered all the schemes that have been under consideration by the highways authorities in the North-East, but I just want to tell the Minister that the North-East is just as important a part of this country as any other and is making a considerable contribution towards the solution of our economic problems. I hope, therefore, that more consideration will be given to these matters in the near future.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Fitzroy Maclean (Lancaster)
The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) addressed his remarks to the special problems of the North-East. I should like to address mine to the special problems of the North-West, and in particular to the stretch of road, A.49 and A.6, which runs for 60 miles between Warrington and Carnforth, and which is probably the most dangerous and worst congested stretch of road in the country. I am interested in it personally for two reasons. First of all, because it runs through my constituency and because, incidentally, the city of Lancaster represents one of the worst bottlenecks on it; and, secondly, because I live within a mile or two of it and constantly drive up and down it myself.
It may be argued, and probably will be, that it is a local problem, but I do not agree with that. I think this particular road is a national problem. Of course, we all feel that about our own bits of road. But, oddly enough, there is more justification for so thinking in this case than in most others. It is, after all, one of the two main roads from London to the North, and it runs through one of the most important industrial areas in the country.
For some time past we Lancashire Members have been urging on successive Ministers of Transport a scheme for a north-south motorway. I am glad that it should have been a Conservative Minister who has at last made some response to our representations. But, as far as this particular problem is concerned, I cannot help feeling that what 1709 we have been promised is not enough and is not coming soon enough. The problem, it must be remembered, is an urgent one. Every year that goes by means more and more human lives lost, ever greater losses to industry and, on the military side, an ever greater danger to our national security.
The particular stretch of road of which I am speaking was built the best part of 150 years ago. Even then it was not considered a very good road. A traveller whose works I was reading yesterday wrote this about it towards the end of the 18th Century:I know not, in the whole range of language, terms sufficiently expressive to describe this infernal road.Since those days quite a lot of things have happened. First of all, the motor car has been invented and has taken the place of horse transport. Secondly, the population of Lancashire has risen from rather less than 1 million to rather more than 5 million, so that one-tenth of the total population of the United Kingdom—more incidentally than the population of Scotland—is now crammed into one-sixtieth of its total area.
The road from Carnforth to Warrington runs through one of the more heavily populated areas in this country: through three county boroughs, seven boroughs and urban districts, and 14 villages. It is built-up for 50 per cent. of its total length of 60 miles. In addition, it is narrow, it is winding, it is badly aligned and it is grossly overloaded. I thought my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was being very over-optimistic when he said we have a road system which is second to none in the world. Our roads may have very good surfaces—I do not think anyone denies that—but they have a greater volume of traffic per mile than the roads in any other country, and that, surely, is an even more important consideration.
To return to the Carnforth—Warrington Road: the result of its being left in its present state is, first of all, that there is a very high accident rate indeed. This accident rate, incidentally, is typical of the whole of Lancashire where there are 20,000 casualties a year—proportionately twice the national rate for the rest of the country. Anybody who goes to Lancaster Infirmary and has a look at 1710 the surgical ward will find it filled every day with new maimed and mangled patients who have been brought in there from one part or other of A.6.
The second result is the most terrible congestion. Here, again, I should like specifically to mention Lancaster. It is an old town, and, without knocking large portions of it down, wide through-roads cannot be built. The result is that this very important trunk road winds in and out of a lot of narrow streets, which is hopeless for traffic and is extremely disagreeable to the inhabitants of Lancaster. It goes over one narrow bridge, Skerton Bridge, which can carry only two lines of traffic. Very often in the summer lines of traffic stretching over two miles will be held up in one place for as long as two hours. I know, because quite often it has happened to me.
In an important industrial area like Lancashire that means enormous losses to industry. It means a great deal of unnecessary wear and tear on vehicles and an enormous loss in man-hours. Thirdly, there is the strategic, military danger of which other hon. Members have spoken and which is a very real one. Anybody who saw the results of heavy bombing in the last war will realise how the strategic bombing of key points can easily be made to block main traffic routes. A town, if it is literally knocked to pieces, presents a formidable blockage of a main road. One could see that from some of the towns in Italy which were destroyed for that very purpose.
The present A.6 road is quite incapable of improvement on its present alignment. As I have said, you cannot build a trunk road through an old town situated on a hill, as is Lancaster. The only possible answer to this problem is to have an entirely new road, a wider road, a straighter road, and a road which by-passes built-up areas.
It is true that the programme of the Ministry provides for a by-pass at Lancaster and another one at Preston. I welcome that step and I am glad that it should be a Conservative Minister who has taken it, but unfortunately it will not be taken until 1957–58 in the case of Lancaster and 1956–1957 in the case of Preston. Meanwhile there will be more deaths every year, more loss to industry and a continued danger to national 1711 security. And even when these two by-passes are constructed, they will represent only a third of the total scheme.
Whilst I appreciate what the Minister is doing, it seems to me that he is taking two rather leisurely bites at this particular cherry. Of course, it will be objected that the cost is heavy. But the scheme for a north-south motorway amounts to less than £15 million and would be spread over a considerable period. The initial cost would be more than compensated, not only by the saving in human lives, but by the saving to industry and by averting the great danger which this road in its present state would represent in case of war. Quite apart from considerations of humanity, we must remember that on an average every road accident represents a cost to the community of £250 which, in the case of Lancashire alone, where there are 20,000 accidents a year, represents £5 million, which is quite a considerable sum.
Reference has been made to the road tax and the motor vehicle licence, and it has been argued that because we pay tax on beer we cannot expect that the funds derived from that source should be devoted to producing more beer. That is not an entirely fair analogy. I think the motorist is entitled to get something back for what he pays. In the case of Lancashire, of every £100 paid in tax by the motorists there, only about £4 or £5 is spent on roads, and in the nine years since the end of the war only two miles of new roads have been built there. That is not much.
While £15 million is a large sum, it does not seem so large when compared with the huge sums spent on defence, on National Health and on the equipment of industry. In the long run, it would represent not only a saving, but an asset on all these counts. I am sure that the Minister could find no better use for any surplus funds he may have than to put into execution immediately the scheme for a north-south motorway.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I am glad that the hon. Member forLancaster (Mr. F. Maclean) caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, and mentioned the needs of the North-West. I also wish to engage in a form of special pleading—for the 1712 real North-West, which is slightly north of the area mentioned by the hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Peart
I am glad the Minister has indicated that this is not the case and, as his Joint Parliamentary Secretary has said, he will consider serving the needs of the area in question.
On 10th February I asked the Minister to reconsider the matter and to give a measure of high priority to the West Cumberland Road. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would certainly look into my last point about the importance of the area's economy. West Cumberland is in a peculiar position, so I make no apology for pressing its needs. A former distressed area, it became after the war a Development Area, and through the Cumberland Development Council and the energy of well-known Cumbrians, such as Lord Adams, the Secretary of the Development Council, and under the aegis of the Board of Trade, there has been an extremely successful development of the area. New industries and new skills have been attracted to west Cumberland, so that in addition to coal and steel we have a number of new industries. Indeed, as I sought to impress upon the Minister last week, we now have at Sellafield an important atomic energy establishment.
Unfortunately, it has been somewhat isolated because of the geography of the area and because our rail communications are not what they should be. We are off the main routes and so this area, which is expanding economically, must of necessity rely on its road communications. For that reason, they are vital to the successful development of the area.
I know that this matter has been pressed upon other Governments; indeed, even before the war the Cumberland County Council approached the Ministry 1713 of Transport. Schemes were put up then in conjunction with the Lancashire County Council to develop the road outlet from the south of Cumberland to north Lancashire. Naturally the war hindered those schemes, but in 1943 the Lancashire and Cumberland County Councils put forward a scheme to cross the Duddon with a new bridge construction. Again that matter was held in abeyance, and later I tried to impress my hon. Friends when they were in office in 1947. I urged in the House that something should be done.
There should be developed quickly a west Cumberland trunk road. There is no problem of a survey here. Surveys have been carried out. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned earlier today, in connection with one of his propositions, that one of the difficulties of new road construction was the supply of labour, engineers and technicians. The road communications which we are seeking in Cumberland have been surveyed. Indeed, in 1947 it was agreed that the scheme for a west Cumberland trunk road should go forward. So there is no technical problem. At that time in 1947 I tried to impress upon my hon. Friends that we had the necessary raw materials and had the labour force to do the construction.
No one wishes to take important labour from other projects. That is why I tried to intervene when the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite), put foward his interesting financial proposal. He tended to under-estimate the importance to planning of raw materials and the importance of obtaining the right technicians to carry out the necessary survey. It is all very well to allocate money. One must also have the physical allocation. We in Cumberland believe that we have the physical resources which could be developed.
I hope that the Minister will reconsider the position in west Cumberland. Naturally, I should have liked to have a decision on a west coast trunk road from the south of Cumberland through Egremont, right through Aspatria to Wigton and Thursby. The Minister said that it would cost £2¾ million. I recognise that that is a tremendous amount of money. He based his answer to a 1714 question which I put to him on the fact that the area had not the traffic which other areas carried. He quoted a figure to show that only 230 vehicles per hour woulduse the road. I do not know where he obtained that figure, but I have been informed that there has not been a census of traffic in Cumberland in the past few years. If the Minister's Department held a census I should welcome it, and I am sure that the county council would co-operate. The figure may or may not be right. All that I am saying is that a census has not been held recently. If a Minister of Transport census were held to find out what industrial traffic flows in and out of west Cumberland, we should be very grateful and be better able to appreciate the Minister's position. We believe that the area is important and that it is essential to have that outflow of traffic carrying the goods and services which have brought new life to the area.
If, however, the Minister does not budge on this issue, let us then have an improvement of the outlets to the south. They are not in my constituency. This point affects the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. F. Anderson) and concerns roads from Whitehaven to Egremont, to Bootle through the Whicham Valley, joining the main north-south road at Levensbridge. I understand that such improvements would not involve a new road, except in small sections, and that they would cost about £250,000 to £500,000. Such a scheme would confer great advantages on the area. It would allow us to have an outlet for industry into industrial Lancashire and the Midlands and the South, and it would also relieve roads passing from west Cumberland and through the Lake District, our National Park, and then joining other roads which have been mentioned by other hon. Members.
I admit that I am pleading a special case, but I ask the Minister to consider it. I recognise that other areas have particular claims, but I maintain that we are in the peculiar position of living in a new Development Area which is expanding and is economically important not only to west Cumberland but to the rest of the country, owing to the developments there in connection with atomic energy. It has been a geographically 1715 isolated area, it is an area close to the Lake District with all its beauties, and we should prefer to have heavy traffic diverted from that area along new roads leading to the South so that we should have industrial access to north-west Lancashire and the Midlands. If the Minister would look at the problem objectively, as I am sure he will, he should certainly give us a high priority on the basis of need, which should be the only criterion.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Storey (Stretford)
During the time when I was fighting by first election for my present constituency it so happened that my local football team, Manchester United, had to play the team from my old constituency, Sunderland. The local newspaper produced a two-headedphotograph of me with the suggestion that I was facing both ways. As I listened to the pleas put forward today from the North-East Coast I felt in somewhat the same position, but from a fairly wide knowledge of the roads on the North-East Coast and also of the roads in south Lancashire I have no hesitation in saying which way I am facing on this occasion.
Anyone who represents a Lancashire division would be ungrateful if he supported the Amendment which is before the House, but he would be wrong if he did not say that he had considerable sympathy with the latter part of it. In Lancashire, major road projects are essential if we are to reduce the toll of accidents, if we are to speed the flow of traffic and if we are to increase our industrial productivity.I therefore welcome the decision to proceed with the Preston and Lancaster by-passes. They are vital links in a north-south motorway with which it is right that progress should be made. My only quarrel is with the timing and the omission from the essential Lancashire projects of the most urgent, that for a new Barton Bridge.
The road which Barton Bridge carries is signposted as a route to the Midlands and the South for traffic seeking to bypass Manchester and Salford. It is used by 9,600 vehicles a day, excluding cycles. The volume would be much greater if it were not known to be a notorious bottleneck. The carriageway on the bridge is only 17 feet 6 inches wide and its
1716 approaches are undoubtedly one of the worst lengths of class 1 roads in the whole of the country. It has eight bad bends. The carriageway, at Eccles railway bridge is only 19 feet wide and for half a mile where the road adjoins the Bridgewater canal the carriageway is only 15 feet. It also crosses the main Manchester-Liverpool highway and the approaches to that crossing are narrow and steep. In three-and-a-quarter miles there have been over 125 accidents in a period of six years, involving 147 casualties, five of which have been fatal.
But that is not all. Barton Bridge is not a fixed bridge, but a swing bridge. In the course of the year it opens about 7,000 times, or 19 times per day, and 88 per cent. of openings take place between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. when the main volume of traffic is using the road. The openings vary in length from four to 13 minutes and often the congestion caused is not cleared between successive openings. The Ship Canal Company do their very best to meet the legitimate claims of road and canal traffic. They try to restrict the openings at the times of peak traffic. Yet a recent census showed that in five working days, from Monday to Friday, when the bridge was opened 107 times, no fewer than 18 of those times occurred during the restricted periods.
This road and bridge, in addition to the through traffic I have already mentioned, has to carry the industrial traffic from Lancashire to Trafford Park—the most highly concentrated industrial area in the country, where, in less than four square miles, there are 150 firms employing 60,000 workers in the widest possible range of trades. No fewer than 15,000—a quarter—of those workers come from north of the canal and cross Barton Bridge going to and from their work. There are 150 buses serving those living at a considerable distance from Trafford Park which have to cross Barton Bridge four times a day. The consequences are appalling.
Vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians lose thousands of hours annually. Workers not only lose wages through arriving late at work, but suffer from serious interference with their social life by arriving home late at night. Often a journey which ought to take one hour takes as much as two 1717 hours. Manufacturers not only lose production, but experience great difficulty in recruiting, retaining and transporting their labour. For instance, when the lease of a factory just north of the canal and employing 200 or 300 workers expired and the work was removed to Trafford Park, only 30 or 40 of the employees would face the journey to and fro across Barton Bridge.
That is the picture, yet Barton Bridge by-pass which would form part of the Manchester outer ring road, link up with the Liverpool and east Lancashire highway and the proposed highway to Yorkshire and do away with the appalling congestion which hinders industry in Trafford Park and affects the lives of thousands of workers, does not figure in the three-year plan. We do not know what the intentions of my right hon. Friend are. I should know for, on 2nd February, his Ministry told an important body of my constituents that the Minister was writing to me and they should ascertain the contents of this letter from me. On 10th February I asked for that letter, but I have still not got it. It may be good tactics for the Minister to keep his powder dry, but I do not think it is good tactics so to treat one on whom he counts for support.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I went, some time ago, journeying by night and arriving at six o'clock in the morning, to look at Barton Bridge in company with the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor). I am acutely conscious of the problem. On the other hand, the Lancashire authorities told me that Preston and Lancaster bypasses and Wilderspool crossing at Warrington should come first and I had to pay regard to that advice. I am not quite sure what has happened to that particular letter. I hope my hon. Friend will not think that I would hold up a letter in order to deprive him of ammunition in a debate of this kind. I think that is an unworthy suggestion which, on reflection, he will withdraw.
§ Mr. Storey
I will most certainly withdraw it. I do not wish to impute any unworthy motives to my right hon. Friend. He has almost taken the words out of my mouth.
I was going on to say that I hope he is not going to rest on the fact—we did appreciate that he got up at six o'clock 1718 in the morning and studied the problem—that he authorised Lancashire County Council to start upon the south approach without certainty that they will receive a grant. I particularly hope that my right hon. Friend will not tell us later that there is no hurry because, at the present rate of tipping, the south approach will take 10 years to complete. The present tipping is only a gesture which is being made by one firm, and they are paying for the privilege of making it. Let the Minister name an early date for the whole work to be put in hand. Let free tipping be advertised and he will be surprised at the result.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will also allow Lancashire County Council to proceed immediately with the north approach on a grant-aided basis. There is the culverting and diversion of the Salteye Brook to be done before tipping can commence on the north approach and the cost—75 per cent. of £170,000—would not make a big inroad into his resources. If this were done and the Preston by-pass brought forward one year—as Lancashire County Council want it brought forward—Barton Bridge by-pass could take its place in the 1956–57 programme.
I beg my right hon. Friend to reconsider the whole problem with a view to expediting a solution. The representatives of the Trafford Park Traders'Association will be only too ready to assist in any way they can, but they urge that something should be done quickly to expedite their production, to solve their labour problems, and ease the traffic conditions of their employees.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. John Baird (Wolverhampton, North-East)
After listening to so many constituency and regional speeches, I am tempted to follow in the footsteps of so many hon. Members and point out the need for a by-pass round Wolverhampton, one of the most congested industrial towns in the country. However, as I want to raise a national point, I will desist from the temptation.
In representing Wolverhampton, North-East, in the industrial west Midlands, I have to spend a considerable time travelling along two of the most congested trunk roads in the country—Wolverhampton—Birmingham—Coventry—London, and Watling Street. In doing so, I am 1719 impressed by the fact that, while road improvements would make a considerable contribution to solving the problem, the best way of tackling it is to see whether we cannot find an alternative method of transport for many goods. In that way more than any other we shall get more road safety and more efficiency.
There is no one alternative method. I believe that much of the traffic now carried on the roads could go on the railways, but another aspect is not sufficiently ventilated. We have not seriously looked at the possibility of using our canal system more than it is used at present. I am convinced that there is no logical reason which can be put forward to justify the present policy of allowing so much of our canal system to fall into neglect.
I make no apology for raising this matter, because one cannot discuss road policy in a vacuum. It has to be discussed in relation to other forms of transport. In the old days of free capitalist enterprise, when the railways were able to get hold of various sectors of the canal system, they nationally sabotaged the development of the canal system. In the days of lush Victorian capitalism we could afford such wastage. Today our national survival depends upon an efficient transport system. That is why I deplore the attempts to hand back road transport to private interests. It is not in the national interest. I cannot understand why, now that we must have co-ordination and not competition, now that the canals are nationalised, we have allowed the old railway attitude toward the canals to persist in this nationalised industry.
Eighteen months ago hon. Members received a very interesting circular from the National Waterways Association, a voluntary body of canal enthusiasts. I read that document with great interest, and as my constituency is one of the nerve centres of the canal system in this country, I have been looking further into the matter. I have been staggered and shocked at the amount of sabotage which I have found going on, even today, concerning our canals.
I do not wish to waste the time of the House on minor details, as, for example, the fact that in some areas canal authorities will not allow fires on the barges 1720 and in others that all traffic on the canal must stop at 4 p.m. Where urgent repairs are necessary they are sometimes not done and after a period of months, or perhaps a year, the canal becomes derelict and goes out of use. That has happened time and again for many years, and is continuing today.
It is not only with regard to the Transport Commission that this is happening. Even many of our industrialists and businessmen do not appreciate the value of canals for transport. One of the worst offenders in Staffordshire is the National Coal Board which, for some reason, has placed a levy of 2s. on every ton of coal carried by barge. The result is that on the Worcestershire and Staffordshire Canal coal transport has completely disappeared and much is being carried on the already congested roads.
One of my constituents who is interested in this matter writes:In the case of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal there were, however, some very special circumstances. The first need is to ascertain why the coal traffic, formerly carried in no fewer than 70 boats, suddenly ceased. We have never been able to get at the facts; and I suspect that great authority would be needed to do so. The National Coal Board and the British Electricity Authority have both gone into the Press as blaming the other. A firm of carriers concerned wrote to me that it was not a matter of the rate, but of a sudden fiat from the Coal Board; which other information tends to confirm. It is widely believed that in the Midlands there is an important official in the Coal Board who is rabidly opposed to transport by canal. There are many indications of this: one particularly disgraceful one is that immediately the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal traffic ceased, the loading installations were completely demolished so that the traffic could not easily be resumed, even, for example in the event of war.That comes from a gentleman who is a member of the Inland Waterways Association and an authority on canals in that area.
It may be that there is good reason for this policy of allowing canals to drift into neglect. It may be that canals are costly and slow. It may be that they are out of date. It may be that the capital cost of making them efficient would be too great. It may be so. But what information I have points in the opposite direction. Under private enterprise, according to the Royal Commission in 1906, there were some 154 separate 1721 canal undertakings and about 40 owned by the railways. It was impossible to get a co-ordinated canal system then, but now we have a nationalised canal system. For the first time we have an opportunity to co-ordinate and build up a national system.
In the case of a considerable amount of traffic carried on the roads today there is no desperate need for speed. What is required is regularity of delivery, and the canals can deliver with a regularity which is sometimes even greater than is achieved by road transport. It is wrong to assume that the canals are slow. They are slower than road transport, but according to the Royal Commission of 1906, and to experiments made in the last few years, canal traffic is faster than the railways. The railways, of course, spend a lot of time shunting traffic in and out of sidings, and so on. I will not go into details, but roughly speaking, traffic on the canals moves at four miles an hour and railway traffic at three miles an hour.
It is true that there has been a certain loss on the canals, but that loss does not compare with the loss made on restaurant cars on trains. Narrow boats which can take 35 tons of freight are now carrying only 25 tons because the canals need dredging. I am also told that these boats are working at under 10 per cent. of their capacity. If canals were used as they should be, far from a loss resulting, prices would be cut and I believe it would be possible to make a profit.
One of my hon. Friends argued with me today that canals are out of date and cannot compete with road or rail traffic. I would ask any hon. Member who has travelled on the Continent to recall that in France or Germany or the Low Countries where there is an efficient canal system in operation there is nothing like the traffic congestion that we have in this country. The bulk of the traffic there is carried on the canals and it is not until one gets to Italy, where there is no efficient canal system, that congestion appears again. In view of the success of the canal system on the Continent, I do not think that anyone can claim that canals have no part to play in the transport system of this country.
We have heard a lot about what the Government are doing for the roads in the matter of repairs and widening and so on. 1722 I am told on good authority that it would cost £20 million to bring our present canal system into a state of efficiency, using the present 35-ton narrow boats. That sum spread over 10 years would mean a capital cost of only £2 million a year. That is nothing compared with what we spend on the roads, and yet the contribution both to efficiency and road safety which would result would be much greater than if we spent £2 million on road development.
If we brought our canal system up to Continental standards, and boats of 100 tons were used—which would be more efficient in the long run—the cost would be about £60 million or a capital cost of £6 million a year over 10 years. Again, that is nothing compared with the amount of money spent on the roads.
Canals are used for other purposes, including drainage, for the watering of cattle and for protection against fire. They are also one of our finest amenities, as they go through some of the most beautiful parts of the country. I was surprised recently to read a document from the National Association of Parish Councils advocating the development of canals which, they stated, would prove to be one of the greatest contributions to raising the standard of life and to producing rate revenue in the country districts.
Those of us who have spent motoring holidays know that there is little pleasure nowadays in such a holiday. A growing number of pleasure craft are appearing on our canals, and that is a very pleasant way of spending a holiday. It may not be long before such pleasure craft will make a considerable contribution to the upkeep of the canals.
I wish to quote from a communication written by Mr. Robert Ackman, founder and vice-president of the Inland Waterways Association, who writes:The trouble, I think, is that in our view the need is for nothing less than an entirely new and constructive national waterways policy. Ever since the railway companies acquired their deplorable ascendency over the industry, the policy has been one of atomisation and of dealing with every case so locally that the trees can be cut down one by one before anyone notices that the whole wood is disappearing.That summarises the position. I am no expert; I do not pretend to be; but we are all very worried about the dangers 1723 from foreign competition. One of the major factors in our pricing is the cost of transport. If we can make some contribution towards a reduction in transport charges we shall be making a valuable contribution to our national survival. Another consideration is that of road safety. If we can divert even a proportion of the traffic which is now on our congested trunk roads to some other comparable method of transport, we shall make a great contribution to road safety. I do not know all the facts, but before we allow any more of our canals to go out of commercial use there should be a public inquiry so that we can be given the full facts.
§ 7.31 p.m
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not pursue the arguments put before us by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird). I should like, however, to take up just one of the points he made. He deplored the fact that so much traffic was being diverted to the roads from the railways, yet he admitted that he spent his own time driving by road rather than travelling by rail. Perhaps if he were to learn the lesson from himself and set an example that would be helpful.
Earlier in the debate I made a pencilled note at the top of the piece of paper which I hold in my hand that this was developing into an interesting debate. I have recently changed that note into, "not an interesting debate," but not, of course, as a result of the last speech. There have been a series of parochial points which we have heard over and over again ad nauseam. I will not disappoint the House in that respect at a later stage.
However, I am glad that the Opposition put down the Amendment. It seems to suggest that they now realise that the nation is in a financial position to take up the prosecution of a vigorous plan of road development. That state of affairs is sadly at variance with what one hears outside from time to time about the economic poverty of the nation, the difficulties we are having, and the moaning cries about the shortcomings of the Government. In fact, the Government are doing something about road development and launching the new plan.
1724 I wish to take up one point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker). If I interpreted him aright, he seemed to imply that a large expenditure on roads would automatically lead to a reduction in accidents. If I misunderstood, I am willing to give way.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I said that engineering was the proper care—engineering designed to segregate different classes of traffic; engineering which would cut out accidents where, at present, accidents frequently occur.
§ Mr. Williams
I should have thought that the education of children in methods of road behaviour was perhaps the most fruitful means of reducing accidents. Everyone recalls the picture one used to see, before the war, of children running out into the road chasing a ball. How often do we see it now? Very seldom. That is almost exclusively a result of the education which has been carried out by road safety committees.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Just because so much effort has been made in education and in the enforcement of the law, that makes it the more obvious that it is engineering that lags behind. A very great deal has been done in the education of children with the startling result, which I quoted this afternoon, of the fall of deaths of children on the road.
§ Mr. Williams
I accept that, but it does not completely get over the difficulties of expenditure in towns where, however much one may deal with the roads, there is a certain limited width that one can use. Accidents will automatically continue to occur unless there is education of the type I have mentioned.
I turn to the whole question of road safety and accidents. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward) is not beside me to nudge me into saying this, I will say that there has been a great deal of abuse of women drivers. It seems to me most unfortunate that the woman driver should continue to be a music-hall joke. In my experience a good woman driver is as good as most men drivers, if not better.
§ Mr. Williams
Now that my hon. Friend is rather closer, I think that I had better not say too much about bad women drivers.
There are one or two points dealing with road safety which I should like to put before the House. The first is a suggestion for the extension of the use of the cats' eyes to bring added safety to driving at night, especially during fog. Those of us who were in the north of England over the week-end would probably be coming back from meetings, and so on, when we encountered thick fog. If we were out in the country we probably found that the cats'eyes down the centre of the road were of great assistance.
I have often wondered whether or not it would be possible to have cats' eyes on the left, down the centre and on the right of the road. There might be considerable confusion about this, but it is not beyond the realm of imagination to have a system with green eyes facing towards the driver, on the left, and to have red eyes on the other side of the road. Such fittings in time of fog might well be of great assistance.
Another suggestion is that we should consider adopting a method of speed limitation which is used in a number of other countries. The flat rate of 30 miles an hour seems to be too inflexible. We might consider using a 10 miles-an-hour limit in extremely dangerous areas, a 20 miles-an-hour limit in other places and perhaps a 40 miles-an-hour limit on the outskirts of towns. There is far too much rigidity. There should be greater ability to change the figure of 30 miles an hour.
There was a suggestion about guard rails. Those are obviously needed in the centres of all major towns. Perhaps when considering the question of cross roads in the centres of major towns we should transfer the question from the pedestrian protection aspect to that of the speeding up of traffic. Although it may be politically rather difficult to say so, perhaps "No Right Turn" signs might be of greater use in the centres of towns. Wherever we have a turning right in the centre of a town at a major cross roads, we have traffic turning across the oncoming traffic. The result is a considerable hold-up and delay.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Gentleman said that; I did not. I am talking about traffic, and he knows that full well. If he thinks of his own home town of New-castle-upon-Tyne, and recalls what happens at the foot of Northumberland Street, he will know what I mean. Conditions would be much safer if traffic there had to go round the block instead of being able to turn right.
Perhaps we ought to consider what is done in South Africa when new buildings are built in the centres of cities. When that happens the authorities insist on underground parks being built under new blocks of offices and flats. It may well be that we could do something like that in London to assist in our parking troubles. I have often wondered what is the influence of the "courtesy cop." One hon. Gentleman suggested that what made drivers pause and drive rather more carefully was the sight of an accident. I wonder what is the influence of a policeman in uniform. I think that road patrols used more extensively could be of great assistance. They need not drive cars but, in the interests of economy, they could use motor-cycles. The road patrol can exercise an influence which will oblige the driver to behave in a more reasonable manner.
I promised the House not to disappoint it by not putting a parochial point, and it is natural for me now to turn to problems affecting the North-East Coast. This may not be the prime industrial area of the country, although we who come from it think it is, but it is certainly a vital industrial area, with shipbuilding, engineering, the manufacturing of aircraft parts and the various other industries which go with it. We ask for two things—better internal communications and better communications with other parts of the country.
With regard to internal communications, a number of hon. Members opposite have mentioned schemes, such as the Tyne Tunnel, the Newcastle by-pass and the Sunderland-Gateshead road. The Durham City through-road has not yet been mentioned, and there is also the possibility of a Sunderland by-pass. 1727 There is one other point in relation to counties like Northumberland and Durham, which are great coal-producing areas. In those areas small railways are used for transporting coal and at a great number of points they cross major roads. The road between Sunderland and Newcastle has three or four level crossings which have to be opened and closed over and over again, with subsequent holding up of traffic. On that road alone there is a terrific loss of industrial efficiency because of the holding up of traffic. If a major scheme is not possible, I wonder if it is feasible to advise the county councils and other bodies concerned to do something about the timing of the closing of the level crossings so that the firms and industries which use such roads will at least know when the roads will be open for use.
I want, in conclusion, to mention the main communication from the North-East to other parts of the country, the Great North Road. Those of us who use it from time to time would prefer to delete "Great" and "Road," for it is not great and at times one wonders whether it is even a road. It would be of great help in the industrial sense if the North-East could have an assurance that within the measurable future, with a Conservative Government continuing in office, something could be expected to be done about improving the Great North Road in respect of its standard of quality and width. My plea is that the North-East shall have better internal communications and also improved connections with other parts of the country.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles)
It is a great pity that we have not a representative of the Treasury listening to the debate. Our greatest difficulty is not with the Ministry of Transport, nor with physical facilities or labour and materials, but with the financial provisions. If the Chancellor were here listening to the pleas of hon. Members on both sides of the House, he would have a better appreciation of the position in which the country finds itself than he will have when a report of the debate is conveyed to him, no matter how good the person conveying that information may be.
I consider that if the Government's programme were doubled it would represent 1728 just about the minimum which is necessary at the present time. But I agree with many hon. Members that we cannot consider the problem of the roads in isolation. In this country we have to consider the problem of transport as a whole if we are to make a success of our transport system. Rail, road, canal, sea and air transport should all be considered in conjunction with one another, and we should make national decisions which would give us an efficient transport system all the way round.
Without our railways at the present time we could not sustain ourselves as a great industrial community. I believe that the railways are well suited to carry very much more of our heavy traffic than they are doing at present. One of the ways in which to deal with congestion on the roads is to make sure that our railways are used to a proper extent. At the beginning of the war a tremendous burden was thrown upon them, and it would have been a disaster if they had been unable to sustain it. The Government should be warned to keep in existence an efficient railway system for the sake of defence as well as for the sake of our economic security.
The programme announced by the Minister does not really meet the national needs, and I plead with the Government to give the matter further consideration and immediately to increase the programme. One cannot separate the problem from politics. The Government have decided that long-distance road transport shall be in private hands to a certain extent, and, as the House of Commons, we have to face the consequences of that decision. It might easily mean that very much more traffic will be thrown on to the roads.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how the amount of long-distance road transport can be increased merely by transferring its ownership from the State to private individuals?
§ Mr. Proctor
The hon. Member was a distinguished member of the staff of the former Great Western Railway, and if, when he was working for the Great Western Railway, he did not know how road traffic could be increased, he must have been asleep the whole time. The 1729 way road transport can be increased is by taking traffic off the railways and sending it by road.
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Member cannot have appreciated my point. How can the sale of certain lorries belonging to the British Road Services increase the amount of transport on the roads?
§ Mr. Proctor
I urge the hon. Member to read the debate that we had on transport and the contribution of his hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby), who warned the Government about the consequences of passing their Measure, saying that there would be such an increase in the traffic on the roads that the measures which would have to be taken would make what the Labour Government did in nationalising transport seem palatable.
§ Mr. P. Williams
Was the hon. Gentleman referring to the part of my hon. Friend's speech in which he said that the private road hauliers will provide in greater detail exactly what the customer wants and, consequently, traffic will be transferred from the railways to the roads?
§ Mr. Proctor
No, I was referring to that part in which he said that the suggestion that private road hauliers would supply exactly the needs of the customer was quite wrong.
I wish to consider the whole system as it stands at present. We should make decisions which would allow each system of transport to use to the national advantage all the resources that it has at its command, and unless we make these decisions on a national basis we cannot hope to have an efficient system of transport. When the last war started the nation was faced with the problem of bringing into being a national system of road transport. That was done by the Government of the day, and the Labour Government re-created it on a public ownership basis. The present Government have dismantled that great instrument, which was the best road transport system in the world. We shall be faced with the consequences of that dismantling in the immediate future, and we must deal with this problem on a national basis.
I plead with the Government to give consideration to a further inquiry into the whole problem of transport at 1730 present. I know that we have had many inquiries over a long period in the past, and that we can quote numerous inquiries into problems of road, rail and canal transport and almost every other form of transport. What we want at the present time, however, is an inquiry which would take account of the economic circumstances of the present day.
In pre-war days, when we had these inquiries, the economic circumstances of this country were entirely different from what they are now, and there is at present an urgent need for an inquiry into the whole transport system and for an assessment of our economic ability to sustain roads, railways and canals. Firstly, we should ask this inquiry—whether it is carried out by a Royal Commission or by some other means—to assess our needs in road and rail transport, to determine how for the various forms of transport can be co-ordinated and what is economically possible at the present time.
In previous debates in this House, I have spoken of the possibility of road and rail co-operation, and I have also referred to the possibility of producing a vehicle which could easily be transferred from road to rail, so that it could travel part of its journey by road and part by rail. I think that, on the occasion of the last debate, I suggested to the Minister that there should be some careful inquiry into the possibility of expediting such a development.
I now find that, recently, America has gone very much further in this direction than we have, and I would ask the Minister to consider am article published a few weeks ago in the "Railway Review," in which the editor indicated what had been accomplished in America in this direction. The article is headed "Can 'Operation Piggy-Back' save our Freight Traffic?" The editor writes from the railway point of view, and points out that, in America, this operation, which is known as "Operation Piggy-Back," has been carried out to a very considerable extent, because that vehicle is capable of travelling on the roads, yet being easily transferred to the railway to travel for considerable distances, and then returned to the road without being unloaded.
This is a matter which should be carefully considered by the Ministry of 1731 Transport in order to see whether some such system can be brought into operation in this country, because it would give us a very great deal of relief as well as increased efficiency. I do not despair of the project being adopted just because there are private road operators, and I do not see that such co-operation should be impossible between publicly-owned transport and private operators. If we are to have a return to privately-owned road transport, we should accept the fact when considering this matter, but we should also see whether a system of co-operation between the privately-owned concerns and the national transport system could be worked out and be of great benefit to the public.
The other matter to which I wish to refer, and I make no apology for mentioning it again, has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey). One of the best features of this kind of debate is that we can co-operate to press the Government to meet particular local needs on a basis that has no party feeling in it at all. I am now referring to Barton Bridge, and I should like to ask the Minister a question about it.
There were three main problems in Lancashire which we brought to the attention of the Minister of Transport, and the Minister himself kindly came to Barton Bridge at six o'clock one morning in order to examine the situation himself. Clear details of the situation at Barton Bridge have already been given to the House by the hon. Member for Stretford, and I do not propose to go into the details any further.
I would say, however, that it is a very serious matter when 9,600 vehicles are passing over a bridge which is closed to road traffic so many times a day. There are 60,000 workers in Trafford Park, which is one of the private enterprise trading estates in the country, and perhaps the first trading estate, and this situation, as far as the transport of these workers to and from their work is concerned, is absolutely intolerable.
During the time when it was impossible for this country to carry out any major improvement schemes, these workers behaved very well, and, when we first brought the situation to the 1732 notice of the Minister, we put our case with restraint. We realised that it was a project of great magnitude. But it is a matter of great disappointment to the 60,000 workers in these factories to find that this project is not on the high priority list.
When it is considered that, if a decision were taken now to proceed with the bridge, it would be impossible to complete it within three years—and it would probably take longer than that—there is an overwhelming case for the Ministry of Transport giving this project high priority. I hope that the Minister will consider every word that was said by the hon. Member for Stretford, and everything put to him by myself and by others interested in the matter, and see whether or not a different decision cannot be made.
The Minister mentioned his advisers, and said that his advisers in Lancashire advised him that this scheme was not of such high priority as many other schemes.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not want to put the responsibility on my advisers. I said that that was the impression I formed after talking to responsible people in Lancashire, who said that there was other work which was more important. It is true that my advisers advised me, and I must take the responsibility for that advice and I am very glad to do so, because it is invariably right, but all I did was to try to express what the local feeling was.
§ Mr. Proctor
The Minister said that in reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Stretford. I am fairly widely experienced in public life, and I note what the Minister has said, but I still have some suspicion that there is something behind this. There seems to me to be some other reason, other than the facts stated here, for this project to be given less urgent priority than others, and I say that no one who was making this decision and who took all the facts about this situation into account could have come to any conclusion other than that Barton Bridge has an equal claim to priority with any other scheme.
When I took the matter up with him, the Minister of Transport in his reply to me indicated the possibility that the 1733 approaches may take 10 years to complete. I say that that attitude is disastrous from the point of view of the workers in this area, and that something must be done very much earlier than that. I appreciate the immense difficulties in the way of doing anything about this great problem of carrying a road over the Manchester Ship Canal, but we have here a feeling of serious dissatisfaction by the trades council in the Eccles, Swinton and Stretford areas and among the traders in Trafford Park.
The workers who travel to and from the Trafford Park area, mostly passing over this bridge, come from about 10 different divisions in the Manchester district, and I think they will be very busy in bringing pressure to bear on their Members of Parliament to get the Minister to alter his decision. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will show some sympathy with them, and that he will do something to hasten the construction of this bridge, which is one of the most pressing needs in Lancashire today. I think a case has been made out for a complete reassessment of the position.
I do not ask the Minister to come to Barton Bridge again at six o'clock in the morning, but I press him to find some way of influencing the Chancellor to find the money necessary to provide this bridge over the canal at Barton. I draw the Ministers' attention to the fact that this is the most highly industrialised square mile in the country and that we have some of the most important industries in the export trade. I assure him that the matter calls for his most careful consideration.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) that this is a good occasion for pressing local needs. I regret that the debate has brought far too many parochial matters before the House at a time of great national need in transport matters. I would pay a tribute to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) who pointed out how railways and canals are connected and interwoven in the transport system. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will carefully consider what the hon. Member said about canals and the possibilities of using them, be- 1734 cause that is the type of thing which will be of assistance at the present time.
I have no axe to grind at all because, in my constituency, we have the beautiful Thanet Way. Our roads are excellent and compare well with those in any other part of the country. Hon. Members may come there any time they wish. I can, therefore, be completely judicial and impartial in what I have to say to the House. Moreover, I am the only hon. Member who is not asking my right hon. Friend for money but who proposes to show him a method of getting very substantial finance at this time. He has been trying hard to get an immense amount of money for his Ministry, we know. When the party opposite were in power their Ministers did the same, and completely failed.
The Minister of Transport then and his Parliamentary Secretary the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) both pointed out very fairly that they could not secure any more money from the Cabinet. We have the same situation at the present time, so far as the Ministry of Transport is concerned, and we should devote ourselves to finding methods of assisting the Minister to get more money to cope with some of his terrible problems.
The matters to which I want to address myself are the introduction of car parking meters, and the installation of underground car parks, as well as one or two other questions of that kind. The advanced methods in this field come from the private enterprise that has been developed in the United States of America, which is the real source of study on transport matters. The most advanced ideas about motorways and car parking installations arise from the people of America.
Let me recite two or three short facts about roads to lead up to my argument. We have over 5 million vehicles on the road and by 1958 we shall have 7½million vehicles, or twice as many as pre-war. There are now 8 million licensed drivers out of a population of 48 million. Therefore, one man or woman in every six people is a driver. We are the most congested country in the world, because in the United Kingdom there are 18 vehicles per mile. America has only 17 and Belgium 16, while France has only one-third of our 1735 number. Our expenditure on roads—and I do not blame anyone for this—is only three-quarters of what it was before the war, although the cost is three times as great. Let me show the House the effect of this upon London.
The unfortunate bus driver in London has the worst time of the lot. There are more cases of duodenal ulcer among bus drivers than in any other occupation.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I can give the hon. Member the figures. My profession, the barristers, is the next worst.
§ Dr. Morgan
I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman's figures. I see duodenal ulcers every day, in London.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
These are figures obtained from the "British Medical Journal." The hon. Member can turn them up. Let me pass on to other matters.
What are the significant facts? The first is that traffic is not going too fast but too slow. Look at the buses. The speed of an omnibus in London averages 11 miles per hour. If the London buses could have increased their speed to an average of 13 miles an hour the whole of the recent fares increase would have been avoided. Even an increase of a further mile an hour would give a saving of £2 million a year. The slowness and the traffic congestion are giving duodenals to the drivers and every sort of other trouble to my right hon. Friend, and to hon. Members in general, many of whom get home very late to their wives.
On the average, the buses lose 800 scheduled miles each day owing to traffic congestion. The position can be much worse than that. On bad days they lose from 5,000 to 8,000 scheduled miles in one day. Hon. Members can ask the Transport and General Workers' Union, as I have, and the union will confirm those figures. The estimated loss due to traffic delays is £70 million per annum. I got that from the Traffic Advisory Committee. Now let me suggest how we can deal with that position.
There are three things we must do. The first is the provision of car parks above ground and below ground. It is no good 1736 thinking of asking the Minister to provide them, because he has not the money without the parking meters. The second point is to ensure the introduction of a national scheme of parking meters, with a pilot scheme started in the middle of London, the West End, and extended to the City of London. Thereafter, when we have underground and overground car parks, we can get the parking meters working in all of them. Then we can introduce and enforce a unilateral waiting system in most of the streets. Within 18 months this plan would be making a definite contribution.
As to finance, there are, first of all, the parking meters. These have been installed in 2,800 communities in America. Only one community has raised any effective objection, and that was North Dakota. The parking meters are doing a business estimated at 76 million dollars a year. The figure is given by the American Municipal Association, as covering the year to January, 1953. There are 1,113,000 parking meters in operation in those 2,800 communities. California's cities alone take more than 4½ million dollars annually from their parking meters, and Pennsylvania takes more than 2,300,000 dollars. The figure in San Francisco is more than ¾ million dollars in the year. All this is done by the active co-operation of the users.
§ Mr. Proctor
Has the hon. Member seen what motorists in Manchester think of the proposal to police them by means of parking meters? Does he know that each of these parking meters would cost in capital and upkeep £6 10s. a year, which would have to be paid by the waiting motorists, for nothing?
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The hon. Gentleman, by his interruption, evidently knows nothing of the subject, and I hope that he will leave it to me. I have made the most complete investigation of the subject and I am about to give figures which will show that the case is proved. In my profession, I am accustomed toproving a case and I am going to prove up to the hilt this case with regard to parking meters.
Let me give the House the advantages. Let me say straight away that it would be entirely a matter for each particular city whether to accept the system or not. 1737 Nobody suggests that we should put parking meters in villages and small towns, and there is no need to do so where the local authority feels that there is no such need. As there undoubtedly is the need in London, it will be done here.
There are five main reasons for installing parking meters. The first is that users find that they can get space in a busy centre, they can speed traffic and they can prevent unnecessary users in a crowded area. Of course, people will not go in for parking in the areas they otherwise would. From the commercial point of view the advantage would be that shoppers would have parking facilities nearby and there would be a speedy turnover as people would not leave their cars so long. Moreover, staffs would be stopped from parking outside the shops.
Traffic control would be simplified for the local authorities and the police. All the policeman would have to do would be to keep his eye on the red ball. If and when the red ball went up he would know he would have to run the man in for obstruction. It would be very simple for the policeman to ensure that an offence had been committed. As to the money, short-term parkers would pay 6d. an hour or a 1s. for a couple of hours. Long-term parkers would pay 2s. for a whole day. The cost of meters is £30 on installation, and that is paid for by the motorists within six months.
The proposition that is contained in the Report of the Working Party on Car Parking, which has produced a most valuable Report on this matter, is that 659 meters would provide a profit of £43,000 per annum. This Working Party is a most fair-minded body of men, who have considerable experience in this matter. In the United States there are more than a million of these meters in five of the major cities. In New York alone there are 30,000 of them, bringing in a revenue of £1,800,000 a year.
There is one point in the Working Party's Report about this scheme which, in my view, is quite wrong. A scheme of this kind, if it is to be successful, must cover the whole of a given area. It is essential that enough of these parking meters should be installed to prevent a man from dodging a meter by putting his car in a neighbouring street. So 659 meters for the centre of London would be wholly insufficient in the circumstances. 1738 We ought to introduce something in the neighbourhood of 2,000 or 2,500.
They would be installed, of course, in the side streets, not the main streets, so that the trouble that exists today of traffic congestion in London would be avoided. We should avoid the untidy parking on both sides of a street, holding everybody up, and hindering business men from going in and out of their offices, and we should save a great deal of the loss that is caused at present.
For all these reasons I urge that we introduce car parking meters into this country, and that we do not wait for long thereafter to install the contemplated underground parks under the main squares of London. We ought to have an all-party outlook upon the problem, because I am sure that everyone in the House wants to overcome traffic congestion and to try to speed up the traffic in the congested areas and to ensure the saving of many millions of pounds at present being lost because of our traffic conditions.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) I have no local constituency matter to grumble about. Unlike him, however, I am not concerned with any particular scheme. I do not altogether agree with him about the scope of the debate, for I do think that this is the sort of opportunity for hon. Members who have occasion to do so to urge the Minister to do something more for the areas they represent; if necessary, to complain because he is not doing enough.
What I am concerned about is the trouble underlying the whole business, but I am more concerned about the problems arising out of the road problem than about the road problem itself. Everybody agrees in deploring that we are not spending more money on the improvement and the extension of our roads, or on the building of new ones. I sympathise with what the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet said about the desirability of car parks, because what he has seen in London I, for years, have seen in the City of Liverpool—the congestion arising from the parking of cars on both sides of a road. This practice not only causes delay but often may be the cause 1739 of accidents, because motorists driving along a road in which there is double parking cannot see well when pedestrians want to cross. The parked cars obstruct vision.
The complaint is that we are not spending enough on the roads. That may be true, but I wonder whether the Minister is doing enough in other directions. One of our great troubles, as I have seen for myself on the trunk roads, is that some of the vehicles using them have done altogether too much damage to them, and even indeed destroyed them. More money is needed for repairs than should be required because of the harm done by some of the vehicles. I have always been of the opinion that there are heavy loads on the roads that ought not to be allowed on the roads. I cannot see any justification for a load per vehicle of more than 10 tons at the outside.
We have the finest railroad system in the world. Why it is not used more I do not know. Of course, the Government have taken some of the traffic that could go by rail away from the railways and given it to their friends, the road hauliers, by their denationalisation policy, so that their friends could have better opportunities than hitherto. That has been the greatest mistake. From the point of view of road safety, road development and road improvement it has been the greatest mistake to undo what the Labour Government were doing to strike a balance between the railways and the roads in the haulage of goods. I cannot share the point of view that has been expressed about the canals, for I believe that in the long run the slowness of the canals is all against them.
The Government—if not this, the next Government—must see that the roads do not carry loads they were not intended to carry. In every city and town we see heavy loads on the roads that ought not to be there. We are seeing an increase in the volume of road traffic. There are twice as many vehicles now as there were pre-war. With the growth in road traffic there have been more and more heavy vehicles coming on to the roads and carrying goods that should be diverted to the railways. That is the thing I am concerned about. One of the big blunders of this Government has been the reversal of the policy of the 1740 Labour Government which would have had the effect of reducing the burdens on the roads.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet referred to the speed of vehicles in London, particularly of buses. He complained that the average speed of buses was 11 miles an hour. He thought it ought to be more. I dare say it could be, but it would be at the expense of some children's deaths.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I do not think that that is fair to the bus drivers of London. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that they have the lowest accident rate of any drivers in the world? They do not for a moment think that if they were able to go only a little faster on the average that would have the slightest effect on safety. It is the congestion of the traffic and not the speed that is dangerous.
§ Mr. Keenan
I listened very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said, but it did not convince me. In an Adjournment debate a couple of months ago, I took the opportunity to pay tribute to bus drivers. Indeed, it is a pity that some private car drivers have not at least half the road sense of the bus drivers. I do not think anybody has ever complained about the standard of bus driving in this country; certainly, I have never heard such a complaint. I believe that the standard is as high as the hon. Member suggests and I have every admiration for it.
It is true that several of the bus drivers suffer from the problem which he outlined, but the fact remains that speeding is the cause of accidents. I was told last Friday of a quarter-of-a-mile of road near Liverpool—my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Porter) knows it, too—where there were 192 accidents last year. That is the result of speeding.
I am not blaming bus drivers. The fact is that the companies—sometimes public corporations—for which they work have so arranged their schedules that they have to speed—and they do speed. We all know aboutspeeding; any night of the week we can see not only buses but also private vehicles in Whitehall travelling at 40 to 50 miles an hour.
1741 The figures for road accidents indicate what is the consequence of this mad speeding. Nearly every hon. Member who has spoken today has been worried about the motorists'loss of time and the fact that they are held up and cannot rush hither, thither and everywhere at top speed. But look at the figure of road casualties—54,000 accidents to pedestrians in 1952. I believe that pedestrians suffer in over 25 per cent. of all the road casualties and that about six pedestrians are killed every day of the week.
In this mad desire for road improvements I am afraid that there is not a corresponding desire to keep the roads safe. Perhaps I may take this opportunity of suggesting to the Minister that the time has arrived when private motorists should be excluded from London at certain times of the day so that the traffic may move reasonably freely. I think it is true to say that 70 per cent. or more of the traffic which passes through the streets of London consists of private cars. I do not think we can afford that. If we are concerned with the problem of commercial road transport, if we are in a position which leads to every hon. Member grumbling about road conditions, and if the Minister says he cannot find the money for road improvements and extensions and cannot do the necessary maintenance work, then we have to look at the reason the roads are in this condition.
I would remind the Minister that one of the greatest causes of road accidents today is the motor-cycle. I do not think the rider of a motor-cycle has anything like the same control over his vehicle as has the driver of a car or any other vehicle, and I believe that the time has come when we must limit the speed of motor-cycles.
The reason some of the roads are in the condition about which hon. Members complain is the speed at which the vehicles travel and the weight of the vehicles. These factors make it impossible to keep the roads in a reasonable condition. I am particularly concerned with the present speed limits of 30 miles can hour in built-up areas and higher speeds outside built-up areas. It seems to me that if the Minister is serious about the question of road safety, as we all say we are, and if he is horrified at the number of accidents to children and adults and at the fact that we had over 1742 200,000 accidents in 1952—and we know that the number is rising all the time—then he will agree that we must do more than has been done in the past to meet the problem. I assert to the Minister that in parts of Liverpool, as well as in parts of London, 30 miles an hour is too high a speed. It should be 20 miles an hour or even less, as one hon. Member has already suggested.
I do not want to take longer time than other hon. Members have taken because I have been pleased to note today that no hon. Member has abused the privilege of taking part in the debate and all have sought to give as many hon. Members as possible an opportunity to speak. I have spoken of one or two matters on which I feel keenly. It seems to me that the fault in this debate is that very little consideration has been given to the pedestrian. It seems that we are anxious to provide better roads so that the average motorist can go faster. But look at the present position. Take the zebra crossings. People complain that the pedestrians are afraid to cross. Of course they are afraid to cross; so am I. We have to rely upon the motorist being prepared to stop, but we cannot always rely on that. It is a matter of coercion with nine motorists out of ten, as everybody knows.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Transport and the Home Office are not doing enough to ensure that the vehicles allowed to use the roads are kept in a proper condition. When speaking the other day to those concerned with road safety, I learned that in one road in Liverpool in the last fortnight they checked six defective vehicles. We must devote more attention to that point. We must see that speeds are reduced, where that is desirable, and we certainly must see that we do not provide speed tracks. Moreover, we must do something about the heavy loads on the roads.
For those reasons, I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to say a few words in the debate, because I think that if we are serious when we say how sorry we are for the thousands of people killed and maimed every month—nearly 250,000 in 1952—we must do more than give lip-service and more than demand extra money for the roads so that more speeding can take place.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), in opening the debate, very rightly said that in the matter of road safety the idea of defeatism was entirely wrong. I entirely agree with him; I think most hon. Members do. It is a pity that he then went on to become a prophet of gloom by talking about what was likely to happen in the near future if we did not do something about this matter. I want to emphasise the thought that we must never give up and have an attitude of defeatism about this matter of road safety, otherwise it will be very bad for any future developments.
The right hon. Member spoke about congestion as being the cause of the high accident figures. I do not agree with him entirely, because I do not think that that is the only reason. There are other very important causes. May I point out to him, however, that about seven out of the 10 projects announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister in December were directly based on relieving congestion, and, therefore, I find it difficult to understand why the Amendment says that the plan, announced by my right hon. Friend in December, will not relieve traffic congestion or reduce the appalling toll of road accidents.
I ask hon. Members to note these words in the Amendmentwill not relieve traffic congestion…I think that it might be more in accord with the spirit of the House to use the words in the Motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), which welcome the contribution which has been made to road safety and the relief of traffic congestion.
May I say, even at this late hour, something which has not yet been said in this debate, and which, I think, ought to be said? There has been a lot of talk about my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Government taking bites at this cherry. I want to put on record that in December, 1953, at last someone did make a start on the road traffic problem. That cherry may have had only a small bite taken out of it in December, but it is a cherry which had been suspended for six years since the war, and nothing but a very hesitant bite had 1744 been taken out of it up to December, 1953.
That having been said, let us go ahead with this problem and hope that the Minister will get more money from the Treasury so that we can do a bit more. I am sure that neither my right hon. Friend nor the Government nor Members of this House are complacent or satisfied about the extent of this programme. We all wish that more could be done, but I think that we should be showing ingratitude by not expressing some satisfaction at the start which has been made, and that at least we have £50 million on the Statute Book to begin with.
I want to say something about the question of road safety from the point of view of what was said by the right hon. Member for Derby, South. I do not believe that the engineering on the roads will do a great deal to make the roads safe. I believe that the greatest single factor in road safety is the human element. I like the word "education," which the right hon. Gentleman used, rather than the word "propaganda." This is entirely a matter of education.
If hon. Members will cast their minds back to 25 or 30 years ago, they will remember that the maximum of education on road safety given in the home to the child was, "Be careful how you cross the road. "Now if we stand in any street, as I did at lunch time today, we see many new devices, some good and some not so good, used in an endeavour to instil road safety into the mind of the pedestrian, adult or child, and also to encourage him to take elementary precautions in road safety. This process has to go on. It is an accumulative process. The youngsters of today are the drivers and pedestrians of the world of tomorrow.
As we have to inculcate ideas of food hygiene, the early prevention of tuberculosis, and similar matters into the minds of the coming generation, so we must try to inculcate the idea of road safety. I do not believe that we can educate the person of 60 years of age and upwards, because he has been crossing roads in a particular way all his life and we are not likely to change his way of living.
§ Mr. Cole
I am coming to that point.
I am going to suggest chat the greatest responsibility for the inculcation of road safety lies on the parents of the nation. I have three children of my own of various ages, and sometimes I carry out tests with them. I put them through the drill. Some years before the war we had something called "kerb drill." It was a very fine thing, but not much is heard about it nowadays. That is the way we will get road safety.
We must educate the children who are the coming generation, adults who are still in the impressionable years up to 40 or 50 years of age and the motorist. The motorist is becoming educated by a process of propaganda, or whatever one likes to call it, police action and in various other ways, and by things which one cannot miss when driving along the road. That side is being taken care of, but, as with so many other things in life, road safety must start with education in the home and the schools. That is how we can get it.
I do not believe that all the mechanical devices can do it. Zebra crossings will not do it unless we inculcate in the children and others concerned the reason why the crossings are put there. If we do this, we will begin to get the effect.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
I am following what the hon. Member says, and up to a point we all agree with him. But, surely, the good work which can be done with children in teaching them road sense will be entirely undone, and is being undone every day of the week, if irresponsible people in charge of lethal motor cars drive on to zebra crossings in spite of what a child does in accordance with the drill it has been taught.
§ Mr. Cole
I have applied my comments not only to the child, but to the people who have the lethal weapons. Let me say, in fairness to the motorist and pedestrians, that although a motorist may be driving what is called a lethal weapon, the lethal effect of that weapon is not always caused by the motorist, but sometimes by the pedestrian. This is a dual matter of the pedestrian and the motorist. In fact, it all comes down to the question of good manners and courtesy, the one to the other, on both sides. Then, and in that way only, shall we get road safety.
1746 The contributions of engineering on road matters are of some help. We can have skids and experiences of that kind on bad surfaces, but by and large I am convinced that the real solution to better accident figures, irrespective of all the propaganda, engineering, and everything else, is to make road safety so much a part and parcel of the psychology of the adult that he takes care and precautions in every part of his daily life on the roads in the same way as he does in other things. Nobody eats food which he thinks is tainted, or from a tin which has been kept too long; people are cautious because of possible repercussions. They must inculcate in themselves the same attitude with regard to their use of the roads, whether as pedestrians or as motorists.
I want to say something about the question of finance, because for quite another reason, for the development of the economic resources of the country, we must have a road programme. We want something more than a three years'programme. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that we should have a scheme extending over about 10 years. Everybody knows that before one can turn the first sod for any kind of scheme for a road there are innumerable preliminary preparations, including consents, acquisition of land and matters of that kind, all of which take a considerable time. It would be much better if we knew for the next seven, eight or 10 years what sort of schemes were envisaged—no question of finance arises for the time being—so that the necessary preliminary work could be got out of the way before we finally made a start on the roads.
That brings me to another matter, which has been mentioned by one or two hon. Members, and with which I entirely agree. I said in the debate on 27th November: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 27th November, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 693.]What I said then I still believe to be true. It seems to me wholly wrong, with a matter so important as our roads, that projects can be stopped or started depending upon the country's financial prosperity in any period of one or two years. Roads are as vital to us as fighting a war, and they should be over and above temporary 1747 emergencies or prosperities. That is why we should plan this matter on a long-term basis with long-term finance.
We cannot expect to pay for these schemes out of revenue for the time being. If we are to depend on what we can spare out of our national resources in the next 10 years, we shall not have the road development programme which either my right hon. Friend, the Government, or Members of the House want to see. I am convinced that something in the nature of a loan should be raised, rather than that these works should be financed out of revenue. This is not altogether bound up with the question of labour and materials. The whole of the loan does not need to be taken at one time. It can be spaced over a period of years, but what I am fighting for is the principle of having it.
I repeat that the whole basis of road safety is the question of the loss of human lives. Have we paused to consider what is the potential loss and the actual loss of human life? Have we thought what a person might have been who has been killed upon the roads? If we tackle the material aspect with a modern financial policy, I believe we shall get over it quickly. If we can do it with boldness and faith and inculcate real ideas of road safety into our land, we shall see our roads safe in our time.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
So many hon. Members have chided others for making constituency points that I think I had better abandon the point I was going to make to the Minister, stressing the desirability of having a pedestrian crossing at Yeading Lane, a matter which has been vigorously pressed by the Hayes Accidents Committee. I will confine my remarks to road problems in London, and I should like to begin by saying something about parking meters and underground and multi-storied garages which have already been mentioned by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies).
One hon. Member opposite hoped that we would approach these problems in a non-partisan spirit, and, therefore, I have much pleasure in telling him that the London County Council, with its large and well instructed Labour majority, will be asked at its meeting tomorrow 1748 afternoon to approve an experimental system of parking meters in London, and also to approve in principle of the working party's recommendation on garages below and above the ground.
Having said that, it is necessary to link it up with what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that this sort of provision will be extraordinarily expensive. The working party it self estimates that if there were a garage under each of the nine central London squares it would cost more than £3 million, and even then parking space would be provided for only about 3,500 motor cars. In a more limited scheme covering Grosvenor, Berkeley, Cavendish and St. James' Square accommodation would be provided for 1,800 cars and the cost would be £1½ million.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
In fairness to everyone, the hon. Gentleman should remember that in addition to that calculation it has also been said that the revenue from the meters and from the fees of the underground parking would make it a self-balanced project save for the sum of, I think, £15,000 a year.
§ Mr. Skeffington
It may be that that is merely taking into account the interest, for I understand that the annual net income from the parking meters would only be £43,000 a year. However, whatever the position is, it certainly is a financial problem and has to be carefully considered by the authorities. It may be that the Minister himself, in his reply, will be able to say something about these projects. Certainly, the working party found that at the maximum period in any one day there were about 24,000 vehicles parked in the inner London streets, of which 64 per cent. were there for more than two hours. This is a very large number indeed. It is clear that with this number of vehicles not only is traffic showed down but accidents occur, and London and other cities will have to tackle this problem with Government help.
Like other areas London was disappointed with the statement made by the Minister on 8th December. Apart from the Cromwell Road extension, there is no contribution towards solving the appalling traffic situation in London. I should like to say here that I do not believe that we can solve the road prob- 1749 lems of congestion or accident merely by the expenditure of large sums of money. Indeed, a good deal of the literature which deluges me, and I am certain other hon. Members, before these debates, and comes from organisations whose business is the construction of road highways, leaves me rather cold. I think that they might be spending their money more effectively in other ways. The creation of high speed roads, for example, without taking into account other considerations, may lead to more accidents and more deaths, and that is no solution of the difficulties facing us.
We must realise, first, the extraordinary intensification of traffic everywhere. I noticed that the Chief Constable for Cambridge, in a discussion in the "News Chronicle" today pointed out the fact that there are 18 vehicles per mile of English roads, the highest proportion in the world, compared with 16 vehicles a mile in the United States of America. The following figures show the position in London. Traffic licences issued by the London County Council in 1951–52 numbered 485,000 whereas for 1952–53 they were 533,000, an increase of 10 per cent. The vehicle licences issued by the L.C.C. in January, 1953, amountedto 285,000 and in 1954 to 311,000, an increase of 9 per cent. That refers only to the driving licences and vehicle licenses issued in London and that, of course, is not the only traffic which uses the London streets. However, the increase is continuing year after year and gives an indication of the growing density of traffic in our cities which, together with parking, is creating an appalling traffic condition.
The police do not seem to have made a traffic census of London for 1953; at least, if they have, I have missed it. However, I saw from the 1952 report that in the inner area of London a considerable number of thoroughfares were carrying such a volume of traffic that it was physically impossible to carry any more unless there is a substantial reduction of even the current low speed. Again, according to the 1952 census, the volume of traffic at Hyde Park Corner, Trafalgar Square, the Bank, Marble Arch. Piccadilly, Hampstead Road and Euston Road had already reached the 1939 volume when it was suggested that those
1750 thoroughfares could carry no more without the results I have mentioned.
At other points, according to that census, there had been increases over the 1939 figures. Vauxhall Cross was up by 10 per cent., Chiswick High Road and the Great West Road by 9 per cent., Putney Bridge by 28 per cent. and Eastern Avenue by 22 per cent. It is quite clear, therefore, that radical action will have to be taken if the traffic in London is not to come almost to a standstill.
The London County Council has itself estimated that the traffic delays in central London are at present costing about £7 million a year. That is because of delay and does not take into account the cost of time wasted by individual travellers on buses or coaches. It is the actual cost in vehicle hours owing to delay. The chief engineer of the L.C.C. instituted a number of tests throughout different parts of London. He found that the average car speed in London between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. was only 15 m.p.h. If one takes the shorter period from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. which includes the two rush hours, the average speed was only 13.5 m.p.h. If one estimates that an average speed of 20 m.p.h. would not be unreasonable in London, one can gather from those figures how costly are the delay and the cost. At Hyde Park Corner 900 vehicle hours are lost each working day.
During a debate in November, the Minister said that his advisers had told him that traffic in London was moving at 1 m.p.h faster. As far as I have been able to check up from figures taken at a number of points, that would not seem to be the case. I hesitate to say that the Minister has been wrongly advised, but from the figures which I have obtained his conclusion seems highly unlikely.
As to the position of London generally, it must be realised, first of all, that the 28 Metropolitan boroughs who are the highway authorities received no financial grant at all from the Government. Therefore, the amount which the Minister indicated would be spent in London, I suppose over the next three years—a sum of £2,500,000 with some slight additions—is really a very small contribution, particularly when contrasted with the London County Council's own plans contained in the 1751 County of London Plan. The County Council estimated in 1950 that those plans would cost at least £4 million a year, yet the amount offered to London is only £2½ million over three years.
Another astonishing thing about the London situation is that except for work which the Council has been able to carry out in new developments, like the Lansbury project, there has been no major new thoroughfare in London since the building of Kingsway in 1913. For the capital city of the Commonwealth that seems rather shabby. After all, London is the location of the Royal residences, with all the ceremonial that that fact necessarily entails and its effect on traffic. It is the home of the Government, of the Law Courts and hundreds of other institutions. It is an industrial and commercial city in its own right, with one of the largest dock systems in the whole world.
I should have thought that it might have been possible to make a rather larger allocation to London, particularly in respect of its danger spots. London has found that two-thirds of its accidents occur at road junctions and of those two-thirds most occur where the traffic turns to the right. I do not want to make a political allusion in that connection. It has been made already this afternoon. We find that the accident rate in a well constructed thoroughfare like Kingsway is very much lower than it is in the Strand. That is not because the traffic moves more rapidly, but because the flow is more even and because there are regularly sited pedestrian refuges which make it easier for drivers and pedestrians to go on their way without colliding.
I should have thought that in connection with our danger spots, where a limited expenditure of money would considerably increase the flow of traffic and reduce the high rate of accident, the Minister might well consider spending further sums of money.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Commander C. E. M. Donaldson (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
I should like to take the House to Scotland at the highest possible speed, because I must resume my seat before nine o'clock. There has been one speech from a Scottish Member on 1752 the Opposition side and I should like to redress the balance.
In the days when I did some singing I used to sing about a famous man known as Captain "Jock" Macpherson. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport might well put himself in that famous man's place, because the words which I sang went something like this:North and south, east and west,From 'Frisco to Perim.It doesn't matter where he goes,They're always after him.That is what has been happening today. The debate has been good-natured and speeches have been brief, and I am forced to follow that example whether I want to or not.
I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to the problem which concerns the people of Scotland and which was introduced by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy). I wish to substantiate what he said. There is really little that differentiates the two main parties in Scotland on the issue of a Forth Road Bridge. Many Questions have been directed to my right hon. Friend on the subject in the past few weeks and months. I must assure him from this side of the House, as he has had the assurance from the hon. Member opposite, that the people of Scotland are sincerely and genuinely desirous that he, his Ministry, and the Government should take serious note of the sincere desire of Scotland for the building of a Forth Road Bridge at an early date within the compass of those things allowed to be done in the finance made available by the Treasury.
I can assure my right hon. Friend that this is no mere uprising of Scottish nationalist feeling, but the view of a sincere cross-section of the country from north to south, east to west, from the Border to John O'Groats. We have been given some assurance that there may be an implementation of increased ferry services and I think that anyone would be foolish to reject that offer. But whatever is done, this summer, in particular, will find us again in increasing difficulty in relation to the passage across the Forth from south to north and reverse at Queensferry.
Some years before coming to the House, my work lay with the duties imposed on the Scottish Tourist Board. I wish to stress that there 1753 is a tourist feature in this difficulty of a Forth Road Bridge. It may not be an insurmountable difficulty but it certainly does entail a loss to industry in movement of freight and traffic. But it also entails inconvenience for our friends from America, where traffic moves at greater speed. Tactful notices could be placed at the approaches which could be observed by motorists asking them to slow down and directing the attention of tourists—who very often do not want to travel at very high speeds—to the route which would take them north and south across the Kincardine Bridge further up the Forth. That might be helpful, particularly during the peak period in the summer, when traffic across the Forth is at its heaviest.
I wish to say a word on the subject of education in relation to school children. I have never seen any real point to be gained by an annual one week safety campaign. Safety should be impressed on the minds of all, not for one week in the year, but for the whole 52. It should be instilled into the minds of children every week and every day in some form or other. My right hon. Friend should consult the Minister of Education to see whether at closing time in the schools each day, the younger children especially could be taught to recite, "Traffic safety; look right, look left, look right again and cross. "If they repeated that every day of the year, it would be helpful.
Finally, I again assure my right hon. Friend that the feeling in Scotland is deep and sincere and that the people there look to him for guidance on the question of the bridge across the Firth of Forth.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
I appreciate the courtesy of the hon. and gallant Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Commander Donaldson) who resumed his seat at the time when it had been agreed that the winding-up speeches should begin. He has the consolation that his difficulty about lack of time was shared by my hon. Friends who represent Scottish constituencies, and that he assisted in making unanimous the pressure on the Minister for the Forth Road Bridge. His speech was typical of the trend shown by this debate, in which hon. Members on both sides have presented 1754 convincing cases for new road works and improvements in the different parts of the country which they represent.
The most courageous speech from the Government benches, in my opinion, was that of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite) a former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, who spoke from experience when he stressed the inadequacy of the Government programme. He made certain proposals about how it might be increased by new forms of finance as did other hon. Members. The impression made upon the Minister by my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) and Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) and others will be difficult for him to ignore. At times I felt almost sorry for the right hon. Gentleman, because the cases made out were so convincing as to make it extremely difficult for him to deal with them on a basis of priorities.
The argument for increasing the Government programme, both from the national point of view and in detail, has been overwhelming and I found the attitude of the Government rather extraordinary. It was exemplified by the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. Government spokesmen have admitted the extent of the problem, but then seemed to hypnotise themselves, and appeared persuaded that this proposed insignificant contribution is adequate, and the most that can be afforded. A right diagnosis has been made by the Government of the deterioration in our road system, but the remedies they prescribe are inadequate and they will find themselves faced with a further deterioration in the situation.
A Motion moved on 27th November by my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) was accepted by the Government. On that occasion the Parliamentary Secretary gave figures, relating to the deterioration in the maintenance of our roads and revealing the need for major improvements, which emphasise the strength of the case made today by hon. Members on this side of the House. But today the hon. Gentleman seemed to retreat from the attitude he adopted on that occasion. I do not know whether the fact that in November his Minister was out of the country 1755 affected his attitude then, but this afternoon he was far more complacent and far less amenable.
There was one feature which I am sure the whole House welcomed. That was his announcement of an additional expenditure on maintenance of £4 million this year. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me whether this brings the figure to be spent in 1954–55 up to 100 per cent. of pre-war. I very much doubt whether it does.
On 8th December the Minister announced his programme of expenditure of £50 million. He stressed the urgency of the problem and the difficulty we were in. He said:…it has become clear that we cannot afford any longer to delay an extended programme of major road improvements without serious damage to our economy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 1821.]The Minister having said that, one would have thought that there would have been announced a programme which would have considerable effect upon our road system and bring about some improvement in the problems of congestion and road safety and materially aid the flow of traffic to assist trade, industry and agriculture. But all the right hon. Gentleman announced was that there would be a programme of £50 million.
When that is analysed, it is not what at first sight it appears to be. This £50 million is to be authorised over the next three years. It is not to be spent over the next three years. It does not mean that in the next three years £50 million worth of work is to be done on our road system. All it means is that schemes which will involve that expenditure ultimately will be approved. The Minister explained to the House, that, for various reasons, in the coming year, 1954–55, the additional expenditure above the £5 million, which is already being spent in any case, will be practically nil; but the following year it will be £2,500,000 and in 1956–57 it will be £7 million.
That means that over the next three years the additional amount of money to be spent on major works is only £9½ million to £10 million. Subsequently, £10 million a year in addition to the present £5 million is to be spent. On my reckoning, that means that the maximum 1756 likely to be spent, if the figures are adhered to, will be £80 million in 10 years.
Having worked that out, I found myself somewhat surprised when the Parliamentary Secretary, after challenging the British Road Federation figure of £50 million in 10 years, which I am not here to defend, suggested that within the next 10 years £150 million would be spent. He specifically stated the figure of £150 million, which he raised to £190 million by including in it the rate contribution. The figure he gave the House to justify the Government's programme was quite misleading. It was misleading because it includes the £5 million which is currently spent each year and has been spent over the last few years; and because the maximum of £10 million a year will be reached only after three years. Therefore, if we talk in terms of 10 years, we must take into account the smaller amount which will be spent in the first three years, and I therefore reject the Parliamentary Secretary's figure and claim £80 million as the correct one.
The Parliamentary Secretary contended, with emphasis, that this is the maximum which can be afforded at present, but the Conservative Government boast that they have brought about economic recovery in this country, and that our economic and financial position is far better today than when they took over the reins of office. Consequently, it As difficult to believe that the Government cannot afford to spend more than £10 million on road improvements during the next three years, cannot afford to increase to any extent the £5 million which is already being spent in 1954–55. cannot afford more than an additional £2,500,000 next year and cannot afford more than £7 million in 1956–57. If that is the position.—it is the position as I understand it from the figures given on 8th December—surely the Tory boast about improving our financial situation falls to the ground or there is some reason why the Government will not increase the figure.
I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary, this afternoon, gave away the reason why additional money will not be spent on major road improvements during the next few years. He said that the Tories had promised that there would be tax reductions, and that some had already 1757 taken place. He added that he preferred tax reductions, and implied that if there is a choice between the two, the Government prefer tax reductions to increased expenditure on the roads.
He must recall that in the debate of 27th November last he quoted a statement by the President of the Federation of British Industries that, if given a choice, industry would prefer increased expenditure upon the roads to a corresponding reduction in taxation. If the head of the biggest association of industry in this country takes that point of view, it is surprising that the Government take a different one.
More important, the fact that the head of the Federation of British Industries prefers greater expenditure on the roads to a reduction in taxation, shows how much value industry puts upon the urgency of increasing the programme.
§ Mr. Molson
The hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken if he supposes that the policy of Her Majesty's Government depends entirely upon the views of the F.B.I.
§ Mr. Davies
There are different views about that; but the two are certainly not always unrelated. Be that as it may, a further argument is the one which I was just developing, which is that trade and industry realise that the waste resulting today from our inadequate road system is so great that our economy is harmed and costs are affected. Industry demands of the Government that the road improvement programme should be increased.
As the Minister listened today to the speeches from both sides of the House he must have realised how many extremely urgent schemes have been omitted from the programme which he announced to the House. The list of major works to be undertaken did not include, apart from the Clyde bridge, a single project which will alter the basic road pattern. It is merely ad hoc patchwork, mending and making do, and it is quite inadequate to the needs of the country today.
The Minister stated that in the first two years the work was to be limited, due to the necessity for making plans. That one can understand, but, even so, the list does not include a large number of projects which have already been started 1758 and could be carried out immediately if the authorisations were given. Again, on 27th November, the Parliamentary Secretary stated that those works which were ready for carrying out or had already been started would cost more than £20 million, and I should have thought that, as these are the plans which are ready, and the works which could be begun almost immediately, the authorisations could and should be given.
Like my other hon. Friends, I want to introduce a constituency note into the debate, and it is in regard to the Great Cambridge Road. Most hon. Members here, I know, have used it on many an occasion, and they know how the dual carriageway comes to an end when it reaches Edmonton, and that, from there through Enfield to the Hertford boundary, there is a single carriageway. The Minister has stated that this year he will authorise the building of the dual carriageway from Edmonton as far as the Enfield border. That extends for two miles, and I understand that the cost is less than £100,000; in fact, it is estimated to cost £40,000 per mile.
Surely the Minister can take one bite instead of two at this cherry. Why cannot he complete the whole five miles in one operation, which would cost less than £200,000? This is not a large sum which is being asked for in view of the relief to congestion that would result, and I urge the Minister to look again at this question of the Great Cambridge Road, because it is not a local road but a national arterial one. Fatalities are high and the dual carriageway along the whole length should be completed equally in the interests of road safety.
The overall position as I see it is this. The transport system of the country is deplorably old-fashioned, and we all know the reasons for it. The railways were built during the era of the horse and cart, and they are quite unsuited to the present age of electricity, internal combustion engines and the jet. Complementary to the railways is the road transport system, but this, equally, has been left in an old-fashioned state.
As we have failed to modernise our Victorian railways, so have we been negligent in failing to bring our road transport system up-to-date and make it suitable to serve the needs of the present age, with its heavy diesel-engined and 1759 articulated vehicles. If these two systems cannot be modernised, at least one of them should be brought up to date to meet more fully the present needs, and the roads could be with the expenditure of a more reasonable amount of money, but not the niggling amount which has been suggested.
There is only one answer to the present problem, and that is either to improve the road system by building more roads or to reduce the number of vehicles using them. We have either to make the roads adequate for the vehicles or limit the number of vehicles flowing along them, to improve the highways or to restrict their use. This may mean that restrictions will have to be put on some of the traffic which is at present using the highly congested road system.
When hon. Gentlemen on the Government side and some of my hon. Friends were talking about the congestion in London and the necessity for parking meters, underground garages, and so on. I could not help thinking that a better solution in the most congested parts of the Metropolis, and possibly in some other urban areas, might be to ban the entry of private vehicles during certain periods of the day. I note that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) dissents, which does not surprise me. It may be unpalatable, but the fact remains that if private vehicles continue to use the centre of London carrying one or two persons at a time, as compared with the much greater number carried in the buses, and occupy road space in car parks or at the side of the road, the position will become impossible unless action is taken. If we engage in some form of restriction of vehicles it will be difficult to decide how it should come about.
While we were in office we attempted to start to solve the problem by introducing planning into the transport system. The 1947 Act pointed the way, but it has, unfortunately, been abandoned and the position has deteriorated with the increase in competition on the roads. That Act contributed substantially to improvement on the roads. Large-scale organisation of road haulage under the British Road Services resulted in fewer vehicles carrying the same amount of traffic.
1760 Statistics show that the number of vehicles and the staff employed dropped far more than the tonnage carried or the mileage run. They show the great economy that can be brought about in operation by the reduction of the number of vehicles carrying the same amount of goods and thereby reducing the traffic upon the roads. The tonnage carried in November and December, 1953, was higher than in the same months of 1952, but it was being carried in fewer vehicles and by a smaller staff. That is one way in which we made a contribution to the planning of transport and reduction of congestion on the roads. British Road Services contributed in another way by introducing night running, taking the vehicles off the roads in the daytime and operating them on the trunk services at night.
There is another matter which has been raised this afternoon and which was referred by the former Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West, who regretted that the new road traffic Bill had not yet been introduced, the Measure which was to contribute to road safety. I would ask the Minister when we are to have it. It was referred to in the Queen's Speech, where we were told that legislation was to be put before us, but it has not yet appeared. I can understand what the former Parliamentary Secretary feels about this matter, because it fell to him as long ago as 20th June, 1952, to tell us that an early statement was promised on the matter, and, on a subsequent occasion, to remind us that legislation was to come forward very soon.
I ask the Minister, what has happened to this legislation? Is it that other Bills are taking priority over it? Do the Government prefer to push ahead with such Measures as that for the proposed commercial television, and others that are unwanted and unnecessary, in preference to introducing Measures to increase road safety? Must a Measure to save lives and reduce the appalling toll of the roads take second place to those that make money for private interests? Perhaps the Minister will tell us tonight what is holding up this legislation, and whether it will shortly be coming forward. If not, we shall have to interpret that as meaning that priority is given to those Measures that benefit the friends of the 1761 Government rather than the community as a whole. What is holding up the publication of the Highway Code? Why is so long a time necessary for this Code to be revised? It was the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry who told us as long ago as June, 1952, that this was being revised and was likely to make its appearance very soon. That was 20 months ago, and the Minister has been asked time and time again in this House during recent months when the Highway Code will appear. I ask him to inform us tonight when we can expect it and what is the reason for the delay.
I cannot see why the Minister cannot accept our Amendment—why he cannot accept it in substance. He accepted the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Southall on 27th November. He admitted himself that the situation had deteriorated and would become worse if action were not taken. He has not taken adequate action, and if the Minister is unable to accept this Amendment, or to accept it in principle, then I am afraid that that will confirm us in our belief that the Government regard the economic requirements for an adequate road programme and the needs of road safety as of lesser importance than temporary party successes, such as, as was suggested by the Parliamentary Secretary today, a reduction in taxation. I ask the Government, in the light of today's debate, to look at this programme of road improvement again and to accept the terms of our Amendment.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
This has been a very interesting and friendly debate with at least two welcome reappearances. I refer first to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite), formerly the Parliamentary Secretary in my Department. I can assure him that there is no question whatever of our jettisoning the road safety Bill.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
My hon. Friend knows the amount of urgent consultation necessary to make this a generally acceptable proposal. It is bound to be controversial. It will not, I hope, be contro- 1762 versial along limited party political lines, but it is bound to be controversial, and I personally prefer to try to get the difficulties out of the way as far as possible before I present the Bill to the House.
As for the Highway Code, in the work on which my hon. Friend played a very active part, he and I both share the view that the Highway Code produced by the Socialist Government was a prettty inadequate affair. We want a much better one, and I think it is worth while waiting a little longer to produce the goods in the end.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
There will be other opportunities to pinpoint this particular issue, and the record of last Wednesday suggests that hon. Members will not be reluctant to ask me Questions on that or any other subject.
My hon. Friend also raised the question of a road loan of £500 million. He said that much depends on the element of surprise. I am sure he will agree with me that nothing would equal the element of surprise in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer if I told my hon. Friend tonight that I accepted his proposal.
Having listened to the debate throughout, with very few interruptions, I wonder whether £500 million would be enough for all the various projects to which my attention has been directed. If all of those projects, each of which in the eyes of its passionate advocate comes highest in the national list of priorities, were to be included, then £500 million would be a mere bagatelle. I must say that the successors to Mr. Gladstone, as they like to regard themselves—some of the radical Members opposite—would do well to ponder on what his reactions would have been to some of the phrases which have been heard today—"A mere £15 million," and comments of that kind, which, added together, largely account for the difficulties from which the present Administration are now rescuing the country.
The other welcome reappearance was that of the right hon. Member for Derby, South(Mr. Noel-Baker), a former Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of which I am now Minister. I should like to thank him for his very attractive and impressive speech—a speech which will 1763 repay a great deal of examination, not only in respect of the suggestions which he made but also in respect of some of the things to which he did not refer. Were the Amendment in the same modest terms as the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who moved it, I might even be constrained to recommend my hon. Friends to accept it; but the Amendment is in very different terms, and I will come to it as I go along.
Strictly, this is a debate on roads, but naturally roads in their bearing on road safety have occupied a good deal of our thoughts today, and I should like to make one general observation about road safety. I missed, I am sorry to say, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) in which, I gather, among other interesting thoughts, he stressed the importance of good manners and of education in connection with road safety. I am a great believer in the power of leadership in this field. Much can be done if local campaigns in road safety are run with imagination.
A number of hon. Members, two at least, have spoken from the county of Staffordshire—one from each side of the House. I should like to pay tribute to the work which is being carried out, for example, in such places as Ashton-under-Lyne, where the red area idea in connection with road safety originated. The local road safety organisation picked out the most dangerous road in their area—a road which it would not be possible to improve. Let us call it, for example, "King Street." The people living in or near that street were all written to, being warned of the dangers there.
The aid of local shops and cinemas was enlisted to warn the public of the dangers of this street. All the children and all the drivers were warned of the dangers of this street. The effect has been quite striking. The number of accidents has fallen in that area by as much as 20 per cent. What is even more remarkable, the number of accidents has stayed down after the various warning signs have been removed. This improvement has persisted long after the signs have been removed. I think it not unreasonable to say that the road behaviour of the local people seems to have been permanently improved. That is the kind 1764 of imaginative education which is, I think, of the highest value.
In the case of London, I should like to congratulate the people of Islington and those who have been in charge of its road safety campaign, for there has not been, as I think the House knows, a single fatal accident to a child in Islington for the last two years. It is, therefore, possible to do something by leadership.
I am not myself defeatist on this issue at all, and I do not believe that we are bound to get worse and worse results as the years go on. If I do not deal at great length with road safety, it is because it is always in our minds, and there will be many other opportunities to talk about it. I understood this debate to be mainly on the inadequacy, as it is represented, of the Government's road programme, although, of course, with a bearing in that connection on road safety.
I must confess some surprise at the terms of the Amendment of the Opposition and the suggestion of superior wisdom and capacity that it contains. The speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) was certainly in the same vein. After all, they did have quite a long time to do something about this sort of issue.
It was on 6th May, 1946, when I was sitting on the benches opposite, that the right hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), then my predecessor as Minister of Transport under the Socialist Government, got up to announce a forthcoming happy event. He was a little uncertain as to the exact size of the progeny whose birth he was announcing. He said that the actual figure was to be £80 million in the first year but this was afterwards corrected. It was to be £38½ million in the first year but £80 million in the first two years. Then what happened? I think the people ought to remember this, when we are now trying to introduce a realistic programme.
Less than nine months afterwards, and contrary to what usually happens when parents make a joyful announcement, the right hon. Gentleman found himself completely let down by the "mother,"the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who had, if my memory serves me aright, sat beaming by his right 1765 hon. Friend's side at the time that he made the original announcement. No hint of financial difficulty ever crept into the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) got up at that time and said of the right hon. Gentleman:He has made a great song and dance about this statement, but not about its financial significance.The interesting thing was the answer given by my predecessor. He did not deal with the financial consequences at all, but just said:I would remind the hon. Member that in the last Parliament an undertaking was given that a statement on these lines would be made at the earliest possible moment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 593.]He had no regard as to whether he was realistic or not, but as a statement had been promised it had to be made.
Today, in the most interesting speech of the right hon. Member for Derby, South, there was no reference whatever as to how this work was to be financed. Such suggestions as have come on this most important subject have come from hon. Friends, like my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), the hon. Member who was my former Parliamentary Secretary, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole). They all had suggestions on this issue, but no suggestion whatever came from those who are challenging the Government with inadequacy.
What happened after that statement in 1946? Instead of there being £32½ million, if that was the right figure, actually £5 million was committed, and over the next few years only relatively small sums. It is true today to say that the commitments now announced for this year alone, 1954–55, of £18¼ million is almost as much as the commitment on major improvements and new construction in the whole of the Socialist Government's period of office following the announcement in 1946.
When the hon. Member for Enfield, East said, "But you are not going to spend much this year. What a derisory programme it is. You are spending only £5 million this year,"I would remind him that of the £80 million that his right hon. Friend had in mind for the first two years 1766 of the programme, such is the time lag between plans and payment that only £3 million would have been spent in the first year had the programme been carried out at all. So much for the main argument in support of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
The right hon. Gentleman referred to £18¼ million which is to be spent in 1954–55. Will he explain how that is made up?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am coming to the point where the hon. Member took my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to task.
The British Road Federation, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, is naturally very anxious to see more roads built—I share that view with the Federation, which has done some very useful statistical work—has come out with some very harsh observations about the Government. But I am anxious not to run the risk of incurring the same sort of charges that they levelled against the late Administration. I have read all their previous pamphlets.
They welcomed the 10 years' programme. After a year, they said that one year had gone by and there was not even the first stage of the proposal being translated into action. A month later they deplored the postponement of the 10 years'programme, which, they said, was "penny wise, pound foolish."
They described the cuts as "dangerous," and referred to the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) as "at once revealing and disturbing." They ended finally, in August, 1949, by saying that there wereso many items which aptly demonstrate the deplorable lack of an objective approach…despite the Government's programme, that only a small proportion could be included in their rather bulky leaflets. If we are attacked, I should prefer to be attacked for the inadequacy of our programme than for having raised the national hopes high and then dashed them to the ground.
We believe ours to be a realistic programme. It is not true to say, as has been said by the British Road Federation, that £50 million is the total Government contribution over the next 10 years that will be actually expended on major schemes. That is the total com- 1767 mitments for the first three years, but the programme does not stop at three years. It goes on continuously, and as one plan comes to an end another will move into its place in the queue. After the first three years'expenditure, if this rate of expenditure continues, the plateau will be reached of £15 million a year and £150 million will be spent in 13 years; or, allowing for the money attracted from local resources, £190 million.
That is a formidable sum. Of course, it does not equal the amount paid in various forms of taxation by the motoring industry or motor users, but no one, I think, would now try to subscribe to the view that the Road Fund, which exists in name only, should by some strange act of chance be allowed to include also the Purchase Tax on motor cars. The sum I have mentioned is a very substantial contribution, and a contribution with a strong industrial bias. Throughout these proposals I have been anxious to see that the industrial bias—and in industry I include agriculture—should predominate.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was able also today to announce a considerable improvement of 13 per cent. in spending money in maintenanceand minor improvement schemes to be allowed. The hon. Member for Enfield, East asked what effect this would have and how near this would bring the figure to the pre-war proportion. The answer is that that would bring it up to 78 per cent. of pre-war expenditure on maintenance, but allowing for the great improvement on mechanisation that has taken place since, it ought to be substantially more than that.
I have been very interested in the speeches that have been made about bridges and tunnels. I share the view that we ought to have a new approach to bridges and tunnels, conceivably along the line of toll bridges and toll tunnels. I think we ought to have a completely open mind on issues of this kind. When I read, therefore, the British Road Federation publication called "Cross that River," which came out a few weeks ago, I must confess to have been a little surprised. I have as I said a great respect for the organisation. The noble Lord 1768 who is its chairman is a very old friend of mine.
I opened this document and saw on the first few pages a picture and an account of the Conway Bridge, an account of the Linthouse—Whiteinch Tunnel in Glasgow, of the Dartford—Purfleet Tunnel and of the Cavendish Bridge on A.6. I thought this was a vote of thanks to the Minister for having authorised the schemes—two in the first year and two in the second year. But not a bit of it. Charge after charge was made about nothing being done about it.
I know of the difficulties of authors who go to print not knowing exactly what is going to happen by the time their books come out. I remember a well-known noble Lord, who was a Member of this House at the time, writing a book in 1932—I had just entered the House—in which he said that what England wanted were men like Kreuger, the Swedish millionaire industrialist. Before the book came out Kreuger had died rather dramatically and hundreds of thousands of people had been ruined. It would not have been beyond the wit or ingenuity or, if I may say so, the sense of fair play of the British Road Federation to have inserted a slip in their document showing what the Government were doing since it first sent its book or pamphlet to the printers.
Another issue raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, East dealt with the suspension of certain schemes. I have been anxious throughout that, where schemes have been suspended and money has been spent abortively, we should conclude those schemes, even though they may not necessarily be in the highest priority. It was for that reason that we have authorised the conclusion of the Ashford by-pass, even though there are other projects which should come higher, but much money has been spent on it.
The Dartford—Purfleet Tunnel will cost £10 million, and certainly it is of the highest priority. That is to start next year. I wish it had been possible to start it this year. The trouble is that the work is of such magnitude that it would distort the whole programme. I must say I have a particular affection for that project knowing what help it will bring to hundreds of thousands of people. The Cromwell Road extension is a very vital and 1769 important development costing £3½ million. Those three schemes involve a total of £13 million.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am coming to that. That is not an abortive scheme in the sense that work has not started.
§ Mr. Slater rose—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
If the hon. Member sits down he will hear the answer, but if he stands up I shall be talked out.
A number of hon. Members referred to the Forth Bridge. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Commander Donaldson) made an interesting suggestion, which I will follow up. The hon. Member for Enfield, East and the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) both spoke as though the Labour Government would build the Forth Bridge straight away. What actually happened? It did not even figure in the list when it cost much less, and when they authorised £80 million in the first two years. There must be an end to humbug of that kind.
May I make my position perfectly plain? I hope that we shall have a Forth Bridge. It is clearly desirable, but it would be absurd in a programme of these dimensions to take £10 million or more for that project at the expense of a host of other schemes, and I had no doubt that the Glasgow tunnel was the first priority in Scotland. I am doing my best, with the aid of the British Transport Commission, in the near future to improve the immediate facilities over the Forth, but it by no means follows that the Forth Bridge project has been abandoned.
I have been asked a number of questions about the north-eastern division, where it has been suggested that nothing is being done. There were particularly good speeches from the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) and Sedgefield (Mr. Slater). This year we are committing just over £1 million of Exchequer money to major improvement schemes in the north-eastern division. I wish it had been possible to put the Tyne Tunnel in the first three-year programme, but a project of that kind costing, some say. £9 million—a more modest scheme might cost £5 million—would throw the programme out of balance at this stage.
1770 However, I shall not lose sight of the importance of that project as I am fully conscious of its value and of the immense importance of that great trading community.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Poole (Captain Pilkington) asked me a number of questions, one about a bridge at Staines. I should like to see enterprising people putting up a project of their own for a toll bridge at Staines for Government consideration. Certainly it would have an interesting response. My hon. and gallant Friend asked me various other questions in regard to matters of road safety which perhaps, in view of the time, he will allow me to answer personally afterwards. They are all of the highest importance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J.Astor) asked about a low-level bridge over the Tamar. I am conscious of the need for something there and I can assure him and other hon. Members for the West country that the fact that they have been understanding about my difficulties has not had the slightest effect on the importance with which I regard their scheme. I think there is great need for work there and an inquiry is being made into the possibility of a low-level bridge. I am afraid, however, that I can give no undertaking that it would rank for early grant.
The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) asked about the Rochester by-pass. It is not in the first three-year programme, but I hope it will figure shortly afterwards. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South asked about the fly-over in the Cromwell Road at Hammersmith. It would have been my wish that there should have been a fly-over on that road, but the London County Council, who are the road improvement authority, wished to omit it there. However, the connecting traffic signals will be so constructed that if experience shows that the fly-over is desirable, it can be made with very little extra cost.
The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) asked about the Severn Bridge, but this project, with its approach roads, costing together £40 million, is really not one that any Government could entertain at the moment, and the £17 million which we are proposing to 1771 spend in Wales appears to us to be a far better way of meeting the immediate need. As regards Staffordshire, I am glad to say that I have been convinced by the many arguments put forward to me about their minor improvement and maintenance expenses, and this year they will receive 30 per cent. more money under this heading than they did last year. In addition, they are having a good deal of 'help in regard to the Stafford-Stoke road.
Finally, I come to the question of congestion. In regard to Cumberland, the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) asked me about the traffic census. I am hoping that at a fairly early date we shall be able to have a more modern one. I realise that the figures I gave him in a letter may not be altogether fair in the light of the recent industrial development in his area. I will gladly discuss with him in a day or so what steps we can take.
As to congestion, I am acutely conscious of my responsibilities with regard to the hold-up of traffic all over the country, and especially in London, where I have particular responsibilities. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South pointed out, seven-tenths of all the proposals which are now put forward are designed to relieve congestion. I have various projects in mind which I hope will be possible to suggest to the House, but meanwhile I should like to commend toeverybody a most careful study of the most interesting, and indeed most fascinating speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies).
He put forward arguments about underground garages and parking meters which I think the House should ponder with the greatest care and attention. They have proved elsewhere a very real contribution to the relief of congestion in the major cities. I hope that no one will approach these matters in a biased way merely because we have never tried that sort of project before. I very much hope that hon. Members who are interested will contact me and the Parliamentary Secretary about them, because I believe that it may be along those lines that a real contribution can be made towards the relief of congestion in the heart of London. There are other ways of helping London and other cities. I am 1772 glad to be able to announce, as I told the hon. Member for Enfield, East, that planning work for route C, the new underground which may turn out to be the greatest contribution towards relief of the congestion of London traffic, has been officially authorised.
I thank all hon. Members for the way in which they have approached the debate and the friendly way in which it has been conducted. Indeed, although the wording of the Amendment on the Order Paper has taken different forms there has been little in their speeches to distinguish hon. Members on one side of the House from those on the other. I hope that this bi-partisan approach to the problems of roads and traffic congestion will be a model for future debates.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the question which I put to him. He referred to £18,250,000 which will be spent in the coming year. I asked how it would be made up and he said that he would reply, but he has not done so.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I said "committed," and I expressly said that it would not be spent in the coming year, for the same consideration that obtained when the Labour Government promised £80 million in two years and they said, "We can only spend £3 million in the first year because of the preparatory work that has to be done." I said that that sum was "committed." I stand by that. To suggest that £50 million committed over three years is the sum total to be spent over 10 years is wholly untrue.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has a greater facility than even most of his colleagues on the Front Bench for changing his attitude now that he is on the Government side as compared with his attitude when he was in Opposition. When he was answering my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) about the Forth Road Bridge, he said that if it was to be a matter of politics then he was going to be a little more aggressive in his reply. But much of the criticism that has been directed at the Government is due directly to their own irresponsible, care-free attitude in the days of their rapturous opposition to a Labour Government when by Questions, implications and 1773 speeches they sought to pin the responsibility on the Labour Government of those days.
If I may refer to the question to which the Minister made a late reference—the Linthouse-Whiteinch Tunnel—I want to suggest to him that it is not quite sufficient to say that the sum of money—
§ It being Ten o'Clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Committee Tomorrow.
§ SLAUGHTER OF ANIMALS (AMENDMENT) [MONEY]
§ Resolution reported,
§ That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to implement certain recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry into the Slaughter of Horses and otherwise to amend the enactments relating to the slaughter of animals, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the said Act—
- (a) in the administrative expenses of the Minister of Food or the Secretary of State; or
- (b) in the sums payable out of moneys so provided under Part I or Part II of the Local Government Act, 1948.
§ Resolution agreed to.