§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Lindsay (Solihull)
I make no apology for raising this important subject once again, because everybody must know that the estimated increase in the number of road vehicles over the next few years will cause fantastic chaos unless there is a positive and constructive Government plan, and one of sufficient imagination and magnitude to deal with this rapidly growing problem.
Before the war there were 3,150,000 road vehicles. Today there are nearly 5½ million. In other words, road traffic has increased by approximately 75 per cent. in 15 years. Yet during that time we have built no new roads to take the almost 2½ million extra cars and lorries. The position will get worse, as another 250,000 vehicles appear on the road every year. The problem is nothing less than desperate.
Except over very many years we cannot do all we would wish to do. We know from experience that the preparatory work, such as planning and acquisition of land, takes at least two years before any policy decision can even begin to show results. What is to happen in the next two years? In that period the density of traffic will have increased by nearly 10 per cent., another 10,000 people will have been killed upon the roads and about 400,000 will have been injured, and the appalling waste of man-hours, fuel, and vehicle life will continue, with the consequent unnecessarily high cost of road transport which is, of course, reflected in the cost of living and in our export prices.
I am not suggesting that any Government are to blame for the past neglect. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that it would have been very difficult indeed to have diverted more of our resources to road development in the immediate post-war years. But, in the past year or two, we have surely begun to enter into a new era of national prosperity, with a national income which is continuing to increase.
692 No one is keener than I am about Government economy in order to reduce taxation, but I believe that economies on road expenditure are false economies. We know that the cost of the road improvements needed would be absolutely astronomical, but today we have read in the newspapers a forecast that before long the Government intend to embark on a great acceleration of the road programme at a much increased level of expenditure.
I hope that this forecast will prove true, because it is quite obvious to anyone that the present proposed increase in the Exchequer expenditure to £50 million in the next three years together, and about £14 million or £15 million a year thereafter is a very long way indeed below what is necessary. It does not even begin to measure up to the problem with which we shall soon be faced.
I am convinced that this problem must be tackled with the same vigour and imagination with which this Government has tackled the housing problem—and with an even greater degree of priority. We know that the difficulties arise not from lack of labour or materials but of finance. In every successive debate on this subject, speakers in all parts of the House have agreed that the necessary expenditure cannot be financed from current revenue.
We must either have a road loan, or the road work on the scale necessary must be treated on a capital basis and paid for largely by posterity. I cannot see any objection to that, because it would provide a capital asset of permanent value. We have as yet had no adequate explanation from the Treasury as to why such a procedure is not possible.
For my part, I believe that very large sums spent on the roads would pay dividends. The estimated cost of road accidents alone, including loss of earning capacity and the throwing of dependants upon public funds, is £150 million a year. All responsible authorities agree that this appalling loss could be cut down if we had new and better roads.
Seventy per cent. of all goods traffic is carried on our road system. We are told that its cost would be reduced by a very large amount—we have had estimates of 30 per cent.—with efficient 693 modern roads. The cost of road transport of both the raw material and the finished product enters into the price of every single thing we buy at home, and into the price of all the exports we send abroad.
It is, therefore, no wonder that both the Federation of British Industries and the Trades Union Congress have together agreed that the greatest single contribution to greater productivity would be a vastly improved road system. We can well understand the expression of opinion of Sir Harry Pilkington, speaking as Chairman of the Federation of British Industries, when he said that, given the choice, industry would much rather have increased expenditure upon the roads than a corresponding reduction in taxation.
The completion during the next three years of those listed individual projects which were announced on 8th December last year by the then Minister of Transport will be very welcome, but we must realise that these projects will remove only a few of the bottlenecks from a few of our out-of-date main roads. We require in the provinces today modern highways with dual carriageways and flyovers in all the principal directions, such as the present A.1 to the North-East and to Scotland, from London to Birmingham and to the North-West, from London to South Wales, and so on. When shall we even begin to face up to requirements such as these?
I should like to say a word or two about London, which is not only the capital of the Commonwealth but the biggest city in the world. Conditions in London today are already quite chaotic in certain places at certain times. What they will be in a year or two, with the extra road traffic, almost defies imagination. We have proposals under consideration for three large underground car parks, but much more is required; to give just one example, bridges or tunnels at the principal bottlenecks such as occur where the exits from London northwards have to cross the North Circular Road, and also at Hyde Park Corner.
I have felt for a long time that the Ministry of Transport should take a great deal more interest in these matters than it does. Hon. Members who drive in London will recollect that only a few years ago the Minister of Works made a 694 double-sized exit at the western entry into Hyde Park at Kensington Gore. Before then, only one vehicle could enter at a time. The gates have now been widened, and two cars can go in abreast and two can come out abreast.
I asked the Minister of Transport why the same arrangement could not be made at Hyde Park Corner where, as hon. Members will know, only one vehicle can enter and one vehicle can pass out of Hyde Park at the same time. The Minister's answer was that there is a long-term scheme for improving Hyde Park Corner. Why should we wait three, five or seven years before this scheme is put into effect?
Why cannot that entrance to Hyde Park Corner be immediately doubled in size, so that two cars can pass in and two cars can go out at the same time? To my mind, that ridiculous reply is typical of the attitude of the Ministry of Transport to this problem. The position about London is that the L.C.C. has a modest 10-year programme of road development, the cost of which is no more than £4 million a year which, in relation to this problem, is a very small expenditure indeed. But even this is awaiting Ministerial sanction.
Whatever is decided upon in any one financial year takes years to fructify. What is going to happen when more and more cars come on the roads every year, while we are waiting for these major developments to get under way? As the traffic density becomes greater each year, I believe that we shall have to give increasing consideration to temporary restrictive measures, however repugnant they may be, such as increased restrictions on private parking and upon new entrants into the road haulage industry, compulsory staggered hours of work in the big cities and so on, although these palliatives, imposing greater restrictions upon vehicles and drivers, will redound only to the disadvantage of the great trade and industrial centres which very largely rely upon road transport for their existence.
But there is one restriction which everyone would welcome immediately, namely, a restriction upon the carriage by road of outsized objects such as steam rollers, locomotives, liner funnels and large launches, which are only too familiar objects in these days. They are carried 695 upon trailers escorted by platoons of police upon our main roads, and they hold up queues of vehicles behind them. Goods of this nature should be forced to return immediately to the railways.
The problem of traffic congestion is becoming increasingly grave. In the interest of industrial prosperity, public wellbeing and safety, the nation must have modern roadways, free from terrible bottlenecks. I seems to me that far too much time has been lost, and that an entirely new approach to the problem is necessary. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary may have some encouraging news to give us upon this subject tonight.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) may count himself fortunate in that, quite unexpectedly, a little extra Parliamentary time can be devoted to the very important matter which he raises. It is a coincidence that during Question time today I was pressing upon the Leader of the House the necessity for allowing more time for the discussion of a kindred matter. I had no realisation that Providence or some such force would come to our aid and give us this unexpected extra time. We ought to use it to the best advantage.
Although I agree with most of the contentions of the hon. Member for Solihull, I feel that there was an air of unreality about much of his speech. This applied, for example, to his demand that we should ignore the question of cost because road improvements are so very important. It is not from his party or its conferences that we have been shown very much willingness to drive the Chancellor of the Exchequer into incurring expenditures which will involve higher taxation. I agree that higher taxation is involved, and in view of the many things which need to be done to provide a proper road system it will amount to a considerable burden, made no less by very serious and continuing neglect during the past few years.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
Questions of taxation involve legislation, and are not in order on the Adjournment.
§ Mr. Hudson
I thought that on the Adjournment one was fairly free to discuss such matters, although I was aware 696 of the rule to which you have called my attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
I am not suggesting there should be now any particular legislation or taxation. I am merely saying that if there were to be a tremendous road programme of the sort for which the hon. Gentleman has pleaded it would involve expenditure that would have to be met either by taxation or by some other means. However, as I may not go any further into that matter, I will leave it there.
I thought the hon. Gentleman was congratulatory to his own side of the House in suggesting that the Government should do about a road programme what they have already proved they can do about the housing programme. Much of the housing programme is in a state of suspense. It was a programme that should have provided us, they said, with 300,000 houses a year, but the number of houses being provided for those most needing them, who can afford only to pay rent, is down to a vastly lower number than 300,000.
If there is to be a great road programme in addition to the programme for house building and for the building of schools and hospitals, all of which need to be very carefully considered, and all of which have their claim to make on the money available, I doubt whether we shall get very much further with either the road programme or the housing programme while the present Government are in office, despite the enthusiasm with which the hon. Gentleman has spoken about a first-class road programme.
Although I utter those words of warning about the difficulties in the way, I agree that a road programme on a vastly bigger scale than any the Government have yet suggested will be necessary if drastic curtailments of the right to use the roads as they are are not to be considered. We may expect an increase in the delivery of new motor cars in the next few years. The motor industry of this country will not go on for ever enjoying its present rate of exports. It has been encouraged to believe that it will be able to put on the roads in the next few years a great many more vehicles. It was argued in the early days of the export drive that the development by special means of the export trade in cars would so increase productive capacity that the production of motor cars would become 697 so much greater numerically and so much cheaper that eventually a great many more cars could be sold in this country as well. So we may expect, as the hon. Gentleman inferred, that in the next few years there will be a tremendous increase in the number of motors of all kinds.
I was pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman suggest that special articles of commerce now carried on heavy vehicles on the roads ought to be sent by rail, by sea or by canal. I agree that that problem ought to be tackled at once. However, because of the Government's policy of "setting the people free" to use road transport pretty much as they like, we are now far less able to integrate road traffic with rail traffic than we were a short time ago. We have produced a situation, for which we in this House are responsible, that is so serious that either there must be a considerable extension of the road servicing and building programme or there must be a very great curtailment of the right of the people to use the roads.
Perhaps I may tell the House of a journey which I regularly make from the House to my constituency. I pass over the cross-roads which have been mentioned so often in the House on behalf of people who have been greatly inconvenienced by the delays there—the crossing at Park Royal, where the North Circular Road runs across Western Avenue. The other night I went to my constituency about the time when people were travelling from their offices to their homes. The traffic was enormous.
I always have to wait at this crossing, but on this occasion the delay was up to three-quarters-of-an-hour. The queue beginning on the London side of Park Royal, with two cars abreast along the Western Avenue, was nearly a mile in length. It consisted of industrial vehicles, private cars and buses—bus after bus waiting in the queue. Sometimes, in the queue running parallel, I would see a bus crowded with working people, some of them standing, making their way home after a weary day at work. If they waited as long as I waited in my car, they spent an additional three-quarters-of-an-hour in passing through that one centre.
For years proposals have been made to deal with the problem. The Ealing Council has strongly urged the Minister 698 of Transport that this crossing cannot remain in its present state. There are natural features—the tilt of the roads and the hills—which might make it easier to construct a fly-over there than in most places, but in any case, whether it is easy or difficult, the money which will have to be spent to put the matter right is very considerable. The amount of time and money which is being lost now, and the loss of the opportunities of good living for our ordinary working people, who have to wait there for long periods night after night, is also considerable. I have to wait there on the one or two nights when I make that journey, but these working people have that inconvenience every night.
As a private motorist, I could not object if an edict were issued that, in the interests of people who have to go from their homes to work in the morning, and who later want to get home again, I must not drive my motor car in that area. I could not object if it were said, "This problem is insoluble, and you must stop driving your car in this area You cannot come into London. You must stop in some parking place far out of London and finish the journey by bus, as other people do, sharing the inconveniences which you are helping to increase by driving a motor car containing only one person."
The driving public of this country must face it. These traffic problems exist in practically every town of the country. Think of Doncaster: who has not driven along the Great North Road on a Saturday in the summer, or been anywhere near Doncaster at the time of the races, and seen queues of cars four miles long? It takes one-and-a-half hours and sometimes two hours to get through Doncaster. Having got through it there are other bad places still to be negotiated. This problem is of such a character that there are only two things possible, either curtailment of the present extent of usage of the road—let all motorists face it—or the very considerable expansion for which we are pleading.
You would not expect me to speak in a matter of this sort, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, without raising my King Charles's head. I propose, with your permission—and I am not suggesting new legislation—to ask the House to look to the personal behaviour of those who use the roads and who, as a result of that behaviour, are intensifying the problem 699 which we are discussing. I am not merely referring to the question of drink, although I say that it does affect road traffic problems by reason of the carelessness that is bound to follow from indulgence in drink.
I say that the need for greater care in every way, need for greater efficiency, need for those who have cars to subject themselves and their cars to regular tests, so as to help us solve the road problem which confronts us today, has become greater than ever. The taxi driver or the owner of a taxi has his vehicle subjected to the most meticulous inspection as to its safety on the roads, and questions are regularly asked concerning the ability of the man who drives it.
I agree that ought to be so. But it also ought to be so for the driver-motorist. The car with defective brakes is a serious menace on the roads; and the evil that is bound to follow from the large-scale trade in second-hand cars, sometimes good but often very much less than good, can only be met by a very much better system of inspection, organised by the Ministry of Transport, than anything which exists at the present time.
We all know, following the most definite medical and scientific investigations which cannot be gainsaid, that the taking of alcohol slows down the reactions of a person driving a car. Yet we know perfectly well that in every village and town there are public houses which advertise their capacity to supply the passing motorist with alcohol. That is a situation which should not be connived at very much longer. There should be re-assessment in this House and by the Government of this problem.
I am very pleased indeed—although discussion of this matter must be left for Monday—that in the new Highway Code a most admirable statement is made in large type and printed in red letters—the sort of ink that ought to be used to mark the special danger involved—pointing out that among five special things to be remembered is that alcohol, even in quite small amounts, make one less safe on the roads.
Having discovered that, and knowing that in every town and village people are engaged in pressing the sale of 700 alcohol on the attention of motorists, what does this House propose to do about it? I cannot answer the question, because that, too, would involve legislation; but I can ask the question, what does the Minister of Transport propose to do about it? The new Highway Code is a good piece of work. I should have said that on Monday, but I am saying this foreword now. I agree with the Minister of Transport that the question of alcohol must be regarded as one of the most serious difficulties that we now face.
I know what will be thrown up against me. I shall be told that the statistics show that only 1 per cent. of the accidents are due to drunkenness or to a car being driven by a driver while under the influence of drink. This collection of the statistics is all wrong. We are shown in another place that an accident is caused by a head-on crash. Many a head-on crash takes place because a man suddenly cuts out of the queue and tries to get further along the queue and meets the oncoming traffic; that is the head-on crash. If the driver's sense of care has been diminished by alcohol, that is never shown in the statistics.
A proportion of the head-on crashes, the dangerous driving round bends and the cutting in, is mixed up with the question of alcohol. I suggest to the Ministry that there is need for a much more careful reassessment of the collection of statistics about driving and accidents if we are really to face up to this evil. At any rate, I can say this much for the Ministry of Transport: surely it suspects the evil to be measured by more than 1 per cent. of the accidents when it puts in the Highway Code as one of the five special dangers the use of alcohol by motorists.
Unless that issue is faced more seriously, surely not much heed will be paid to our appeal by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when it comes to asking him for the millions and millions that must be provided for an effective road programme. If we can save some of the millions by more careful driving on the roads and by more careful consideration of the cars used on the roads, at least we ought to do it. I hope that, in continuing this debate, Members will keep in mind not merely the demand for money for an extended road programme, 701 but also the demand for care by which, if it were exercised, much of the money might be saved.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
I share the pleasure which, I know, the whole House feels that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) has been fortunate enough to select this subject for the Adjournment debate tonight, and I was very pleased that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) should comment on the fact that we have a lot more time tonight in which to discuss it. As the hon. Member's speech gathered in length and also in breadth, however, I began to think that perhaps he had used the wrong pronoun. If the hon. Member is not careful, speeches of that length will gain for him the reputation of volubility of a Minister of the Crown, and I know that he would avoid that if he possibly could.
I think that no harm would be done if the House now turned its mind from the dangers of alcohol, which arouse alarm and concern with many of us, including the hon. Member for Ealing, North to this question of the congestion that we are all experiencing on the roads as we go about our daily business.
It seems to be reducing the question to proportions altogether too simple to say that congestion is arising because there are too many vehicles on the roads. Of course that is the reason, but to, blame our congestion today on the fact that we are increasing the number of vehicles used, and solely to that fact, is to blind ourselves to the fact that there have been considerable road improvements over the last 20 or 30 years in an attempt to keep pace with the demand that increasing traffic makes. I have noticed, travelling about the roads quite a lot, that the real cause of congestion—leaving aside the traffic block congestion type of problem in the centre of a city—arises where a main trunk road has been partially widened but is obstructed, perhaps by a public house, at the entrance to, or the point of departure from a city.
I have the honour to represent a part of the great city of Liverpool, which stands at the mouth of the Mersey. Into Liverpool flows a great stream of traffic from the whole of industrial Lancashire and a great part of industrial Yorkshire. Much of our traffic, of course, is headed 702 for the Liverpool docks, where it about turns and heads out of the city again. But much of it is heading across the river, and in order to meet obligations that resulted from this great flood attempting to cross into North Wales and perhaps into the south, we built the Mersey tunnel, one of the greatest civic enterprises, I suppose, that stand to the credit of this country, perhaps in the world. It is a really wonderful engineering achievement which has made a really wonderful contribution to the solution of the traffic problem.
At about the same time was built the East Lancashire Road running from the city of Liverpool to the city of Salford carrying much of this traffic from the Lancashire industrial areas to the Liverpool and Birkenhead docks. But between the mouth of the Mersey Tunnel in Liverpool and the East Lancashire Road where it comes into the city is a string of small, inconvenient winding and very uncertain roads stretching perhaps, if my memory serves me, about three miles. So the traffic, which travels at high speed from Salford to the Liverpool city boundary, threads its way along these inconvenient and not very well marked streets and so loses much of the speed it had gained.
The same is true at the Salford end. If anyone wants to go from Liverpool to Manchester—I find it difficult to see why they should—and places beyond Manchester, they make the journey from the Liverpool boundary to the boundary of Salford at a great pace, and then they run into the same tortuous problem of small streets and insufficient carriageways. So the first thing to which the Ministry of Transport should put their minds is not building great new roads with magnificent fly-overs and 60 milean-hour speed-limits and that kind of thing, but to solving the problem of how our present trunk roads do their jobs at the points where they begin and end after crossing large areas of country.
Secondly, it seems the Ministry of Transport should be examining the problem in this way. They have been asking how many vehicles go past a given point in a given period of time. I now imagine they must have a complete confusion of statistics on the point, because a Doncaster race meeting on one day will produce a completely different set of figures 703 on the same road at a different time of the year. In my constituency on a day of an Aintree race meeting, or in the area of Everton Football Club when Everton are at home demonstrating their science to other leaders of the First Division, a different picture of the traffic condition will be seen than what generally prevails.
What the Ministry of Transport ought to be doing now is studying what I might call for the want of a better word, the "tides" of traffic. Where do the tides of traffic in any area or on any road regularly flow? I have been mentioning the regular flow of traffic into or out of the bottleneck of the city of Liverpool. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull, who raised this matter, has the privilege of representing a part of the city of Birmingham. There is not an hon. Member in this House who has driven a motor car anywhere near Birmingham who does not view with the utmost horror the prospect that he might get landed in the central streets of Birmingham. It has been said that the only way to find a way out of Birmingham once one has found one's way in is to notch the posts along the route on entering the city and by that way find one's way out.
The tide of traffic has got to be studied by the Ministry and the convenience of this great volume of traffic met as far as is possible. I was concerned when my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Ealing, North both ended by talking about the problem of London traffic. We know the problems of London traffic are very considerable and bear very hard on all those who have to live with them. But the Ministry of Transport should not be bulldozed, dragooned, driven or bullied into believing that London is the whole of the British Isles. We have the same problems in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Doncaster, Sunderland and elsewhere throughout the length and breadth of the land.
I do not think there is much to be said for the solution offered by the hon. Member for Ealing, North to drive everybody off the roads because there is no room for them. I am sure the solution is that proper roads should be built wherever there is need without allowing ourselves to be overborne by the threat of this great sprawling Metropolis, which 704 in my view has already had its fair share of what this country can afford.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I shall be extremely short. I usually talk about roads in remote parts of the country where there is not too much traffic but where the question is the ability of the few cars to travel on the roads that do exist. I just mention that in passing to keep the subject in the forefront.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) for raising this matter. He has made the main case which in any event must be well known to the Minister. He and the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) mentioned the need for flyovers on main roads. The hon. Member for Walton stated that in his view what was needed was not so much the construction of new main roads but the improvement of bottlenecks on the existing main roads. I would imagine that the hon. Member for Solihull would agree with that, as I would, but what I doubt is whether that can be done without virtually constructing new roads.
I occasionally motor from London to the extreme north of Scotland, to Thurso in Caithness, and when I go through such places as Doncaster or Darlington on the one side or Lancashire on the other, I come more and more to the conclusion' that new roads will have to be driven through these industrial areas. Until that is done, if we clear bottlenecks in one place, they will occur somewhere else.
Will the Minister say something about the policy of his Ministry on fly-overs? I understand that a new road is to be constructed which will run parallel with Chiswick High Street and join with the Great West Road, but that it will not have a fly-over where it crosses the road over Hammersmith Bridge. If that is true, there will be the most appalling congestion in that area, which is already impassable during certain times of the day. It is of no use constructing main roads unless we make sure that traffic will flow and will not be snarled up every four or five miles by a bottleneck.
The trouble is where the money will come from. Much as we may sympathise 705 with the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), if he has his way there will be less because, if we all give up drinking and smoking, the country will be reduced to penury. There has been talk of the possibility of tolls. I hope the Minister will say something about that point, because it may be the solution. If necessary, why not have a public corporation authorised to build and charge for some main roads? But if there is to be a charge for them, let us ensure that the money goes back to the roads and not into the bottomless purse of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)
What about the Prime Minister becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer again?
§ Mr. Grimond
That is a hazard which we can now ignore. Road construction is inevitably expensive, but there are certain frills, like kerbs and the widths of the verges, which are sometimes included, which not only add to the expense but are wasteful of agricultural land. We must keep down construction to the point of utility white making the roads wide enough and rightly cambered. And we must ensure that they are used to the best advantage by the traffic.
On this point, is it impossible to use some of the more or less unused railway lines, such as certain branch lines? For instance, there is a line north of Inverness which could be turned into an autobahn. The hon. Member for Solihull spoke of palliatives until the road programme can get under way. I would go so far with him as to agree that something should be done to restrict traffic in London and other big cities. For instance, we might put a heavy tax on anyone, such as myself, who occasionally tries to drive a car in the centre of London without that being strictly necessary. I suppose the difficulty would be that many people would have to leave their cars outside London with nowhere to park them. However, I would not like the Minister to think that he can escape under a cloud of palliatives. Sooner or later he must tackle the roads question, because we cannot have an industrial country of this size with a totally inadequate and out of date road system to carry its goods. If the Minister is allowed to produce palliatives, such as restricting 706 the amount of traffic, we shall never get anything done.
The solution may be to charge the people who want to go on the roads more by way of tolls, and possibly to put a tax on unnecessary traffic in the centre of London. However it is done, I am certain that in the long run a radical reconstruction of the entire roads system must be carried out if our industry is not to labour for ever under an intolerable handicap.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
I join with those who have already spoken in this debate in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) for raising a subject dealing with a 20th century covering of 17th century roads, because it seems to me that we have progressed in only one way, in the way we surface the roads rather than in their construction.
I would declare my ambition at this stage of the debate, which seems to be opposite to that of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), of seeing every man who works in this country able to own a car of his own and drive that car safely on the roads of this country. I do not think that he can take these restrictions on the number of vehicles too far. I would rather see the roads of the country meet the needs of the country and of the working people.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
I was not opposed to that idea. I only said that the question of restriction would have to be faced unless the other things were done.
§ Mr. Williams
I am very pleased to hear that the hon. Member is 100 per cent. for the expansion of the road programme, for which this evening we are all trying to press.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull in saying that what is needed at the moment and in the near future is a national road campaign, a national road construction crusade and not, in the sense in which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) referred to it, a series of palliatives. I would rather see the temporary palliatives left undone even at the expense of certain roads falling into a bad state of repair if, at the same time, 707 we had a major road construction programme linking the major centres of industry.
I divide the problem under three main headings—money, men and materials. On the money side, I hope to see some form of public corporation which could raise a loan, build the roads and carry out the maintenance. I am not in the slightest afraid of the possible imposition of tolls so as to get some return for that expenditure. The Mersey Tunnel has been mentioned. A number of us in the North-East, long before I came to this House, have been pressing for the construction of the Tyne Tunnel. That tunnel, linked with the Newcastle by-pass, would help in a great way to solve the problem of the road congestion which occurs in that heavily congested area surrounding the Tyne and the River Wear.
If the tunnel were built by that method, or if it were subscribed for and built locally and the initial loan repaid over 20 years, it would be a major contribution to solving some of the road traffic problems of the North-East. There is no reason why we should not think also in terms of diverting a certain percentage of Road Fund licence fees—let us be moderate and say at this stage only 25 per cent.—into a special road fund, so that there could be some certainty over the years of a definite amount being diverted into use on road construction.
Turning away from the financing of road programmes to the question of materials and men, we have heard in various debates such as this that neither the men nor the materials would be available for such a programme. Quite frankly, I do not believe that that can be true in a country in which in the last few years we have seen an increase in the building of houses factories and schools, in spite of what was said by the hon. Member for Ealing, North. The materials can be there if there is a long-term certainty and the right type of planning.
When one mentions planning in relation to roads, I feel that always at the back of the mind of the Ministry of Transport is the word "unemployment." I raised this matter in a slight form in an earlier debate, and I cannot speak now without mentioning it again. If at the back of the mind of the Ministry of Transport is 708 this idea that road building is a problem to be solved when there is unemployment, I would say to the Ministry that first of all we cannot calculate, and neither party calculates, on there being unemployment. Even if that were to be an assumption, which none of us would make, it is not the sort of solution we need for this problem, which is the problem of a prosperous nation, not a nation of unemployment. It is a problem that needs solution if we are to meet the problems that face a prosperous industry.
References have been made to by-passes and fly-overs and other adaptations of modern road development. I understand that certain towns and cities are afraid of by-passes. The traders and local industrialists and shopkeepers say from time to time, "If we have a by-pass round this town, it will take custom away from our shops and people away from our town. I just do not believe it.
Recently, when visiting the United States of America, I saw on the outskirts of Los Angeles, for example, by-passes that had been driven round or express ways that had been built through a number of small towns. The net result was not to divert business from those towns but to make it easier for people living around them to go there and conduct their shopping and buying operations. A by-pass may help a town by facilitating its trade. I suggest to those who are afraid of by-passes that they are boxing with shadows and attacking the wrong opponent on this issue.
Probably all of us have heard in the last few days of the discussions taking place on the width of vehicles. It is suggested that the width of vehicles allowed to travel on the roads has become too great. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if it is not a fact that even in the last few days there has been a suggestion that even wider lorries should travel on the roads. I must admit that I have only heard a rumour to that effect, but if it is true it is a regrettable development. There should be no further expansion of the width of vehicles allowed to travel on the roads.
One point made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North which I should like to take up is the question of second-hand cars. I believe that in music-hall jokes the trade ranks second only to mothers-in-law. During and since the war the 709 second-hand car dealer has been the butt of a great many jokes, some justified perhaps, but a great many unjustified. One thing which is quite certain is that the standard of cars which come on the roads through second-hand car dealers is not always quite what one would expect, to put it at its lowest. I should have thought there was a very strong case for an inspection of all cars coming on the roads in second-hand condition. That is something which is done in a number of other countries. There has to be a Government certificate that a car meets a certain standard of road worthiness before it can appear on the roads again after it has changed hands.
In referring to some of the smaller questions about traffic congestion within towns, I suggest that lack of road courtesy is regrettable. The way in which those who drive cars behave and the way in which we often approach traffic lights is regrettable. There is the idea that we must just get across and beat the amber. I suggest to the Minister that it might be worth while conducting an experiment in certain limited areas to see what is the effect on the speed at which traffic can be kept moving in towns by changing the system of lighting at crossroads.
There should not be the "stop," "stop, caution," and then "go" and the reverse, "go," "caution" alone and "stop" but an attempt to have a lack of overlap in the lights so that both lines of traffic are stopped at one time and no one has the right to go. Again that is often done in other countries as an attempt to stop people beating the lights. How often have we seen others, or perhaps done it ourselves, going away when the lights are at "caution"? How much better it would be if they said "all stop" until the other line was at stop and then changed to "go" without any "stop caution." That is certainly something worth while attempting or testing. Another question is that of turning right at right-angle intersections. I know the unpopularity of saying, "No right turn," but if there are no right turns at right-angle intersections there would not be the hold-ups which one frequently sees in the middle of towns, where traffic turning right holds up everything coming on or everything which is behind.
If pedestrians crossing at traffic lights were controlled in the same way as 710 motorists are controlled, I believe that it would lead to a greater measure of safety both for pedestrians and motorists. I think that a matter worthy of consideration. In other countries, there are traffic lights for pedestrians which say, "Walk" or, "Do not walk."
To speed up traffic in the towns and to make for greater safety, there is a need for a greater amount of courtesy on the part of every motorist in the land. At present not enough courtesy is shown by motorists. There are too many attempts to get there five seconds before the other fellow. In 10 journeys that may be achieved, but in the eleventh a tragic accident may result.
I am sure that the Minister has a number of ideas for dealing with this problem of road congestion and road safety. I suggest that there is one way in which he can test the validity of any ideas which may exist at the Ministry of Transport or which may be expressed tonight. He should select one town or one largish area in the country in which to see how they work out. It is not within my right to give him the town of Sunderland, but if he wishes to do so, I am sure that the people of Sunderland would be happy to see this problem investigated there, or tested in a town such as Sunderland. I urge the Minister to consider trying out the suggestions made in such a "guinea pig" town, and as we are near the top of Division I, I am quite willing to offer him the champions of the season.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) for raising this matter, and I am sorry that I left the Chamber as soon as he began to speak, but I had been sitting here all day during the debate on the Civil Defence (Armed Forces) Bill.
Like the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) I am willing to offer my constituency as a "guinea pig." I am willing to say that there is greater congestion in the streets of the city of Lincoln than in any other city of comparable size in the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Don-caster?"] I agree it is bad during the races but during the Lincolnshire Handicap period it is even worse in Lincoln.
711 I wish that I had brought with me the figures given recently in the local Press, but I had no idea that I should be able to intervene in this debate. Only a week ago, at the peak hour, the level crossings across the principal streets of Lincoln were closed for as long as half of that time. I quote from memory, but I seem to remember that on Monday, in a period of 26 minutes, the gates were closed for 13 minutes. That is an under-estimate of the amount of dislocation caused to traffic, because, with the starting and stopping of heavy vehicles, the time at which traffic is at a standstill, or a near-standstill, is even greater. The problem is gigantic.
The city of Lincoln is built in two parts, one uphill and the other down. Historically, we have the cathedral, the Close, and what is still part of the residential area and was once exclusively the residential area, on top of the hill. In the valley on the flat there is the industrial area. They are connected by two roads, and across those roads lie the railways—a perfect example of the unplanned industrial expansion of the last century when the railways came.
What are we to do about this congestion? As I say, it is unlike that in most other places because it is a problem of level crossings. I raised this matter in the House in March this year and in July, and I do so again tonight. So long as I am the Member for the city of Lincoln I shall never lose an opportunity of raising this issue and asking the Minister of Transport what he intends to do to help the city. I am not expecting him to deal with this point tonight, of course, because he could have no idea that I was to raise it. He was good enough to reply to an Adjournment debate which I raised in, I think, July, but I hope soon to pursue this attack again to find out what has been done.
It is calculated that in Roman times it took a Roman 13 or 14 days to get from Rome to London, travelling as fast as possible. It took the same time 1,800 years later. With the arrival of the railways it became a matter of a few days, and, with the advent of air travel, a matter of hours. Lincoln is a Roman city—Lindum Colonia. A Roman legionary in the camp on the hill could get down to and across the Witham to 712 the southern part of what is now the city more quickly 2,000 years ago than a man today, by bus or any other form of vehicle, could possibly do the journey.
In 2,000 years we have advanced absolutely nil in this regard. If one tried to do the journey now one would stand for most of the time gazing over the gates of the level crossing at the railway waggons. [An HON. MEMBER: "Roman regimentation."] I shall not develop that point of Roman regimentation—we are, fortunately, now a modern democratic city, with great wisdom at the polls, as hon. Members will appreciate.
It is not only a question of amenity, or of travelling from one part of the city to the other. We are a great engineering city. It has been well said that roads are the conveyor belts of industry, and if the conveyor belt is broken every few minutes industry suffers. If the Lincoln engineering industry suffers we all suffer, not only in Lincoln but in the whole country, because we are one of the leading heavy industrial towns, as hon. Members know so well—even though they do not say so as often as I do.
In warning the Parliamentary Secretary that I shall again return to the attack, I should like to agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South when he said that we have a great deal to learn from the toll system and the by-pass system of roads in the United States. We should make a study of them. I have been in every one of the United States, except one. I have not driven in them all, but I have been in 47 of the States. I must say that one of the material features in American life which has impressed me most has been their road system, and the fact that they are not frightened to have a system of tolls to finance their roads. I ask the Minister to look beyond these islands to see whether we cannot gain something from the experience of big countries like the United States.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), great long-distance runner that he is, must have a considerable contempt of motorists; and I do not wonder at it, because he must often find himself in the position of being able to overtake the motor traffic in his own constituency. 713 I can assure him that if he came to the old town of Huntingdon in my constituency, he would not have to put on very great pace in order to get through it quicker than the motor traffic.
I am sorry that, as I have been refuelling, I was not present when my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) opened this debate. We have had debates on traffic congestion several times a year each year since the war ended; and I am sorry to say that we are likely to continue having these debates several times a year for a number of years to come.
One of the first questions that we have to ask is whether this is a soluble problem wholly or in part? The obvious answer is that it is not likely to be solved wholly in our lifetime, because it is a bottomless pit. We can expect an ever-increasing number of motor cars of all kinds with every year that passes, so long as our economy goes as well as we wish it to go. Therefore, so far as congestion in the cities is concerned—and I am not only referring to London—we are faced with the problem that the more space we provide, the more cars we are likely to get as the years go by. But that must not deter us from doing all we can to reduce the problem.
In order to clear our minds, we should recognise that the problem of congestion in the cities and the problem of congestion on the open road are quite separate, and should be dealt with in separate ways. I will deal with them separately in my few remarks to the House. It seems to me that in London and in other large and small towns we must, first of all, get over this difficulty about parking.
Recently the Embankment from here to Blackfriars was immensely improved, at considerable cost. The tramlines were taken up. A dual carriageway was made, with a nice thin strip of pavement and grass down the middle, and it looked as though it was going to be a pretty good way of getting from east to west quickly across a congested part of London. But within a very few weeks of the completion of that work, there was a row of cars parked, with official permission, on each side of the carriageway for a great part of the length, and at times practically the whole of the length.
714 It is obvious that, if we wish the best possible use to be made of our streets, we have got to reduce the number of cars parked on them. We can only do that by providing car parks; and in doing this, we can go either underground or above ground. I feel that underground car parks are limited in the space which they can provide. There are all sorts of problems involved. I think, however, that we should make such use of them as we can, but the provision of a few underground car parks in London will not do more than scratch at the problem.
What we have to do in London and in other large towns is to plan and prepare for very large car parks above ground. When I say large, I do not mean large in superficial ground area. I refer to the holding capacity. We have got to go up into the sky a bit, if we are going to get car parks which will help to solve the problem. It may well be that the Ministry of Transport, in conjunction with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, has considered the important question whether town development plans have provided for space for car parks of that character in the years to come. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can say whether that is a matter which has engaged the attention of the Ministry.
I am sorry that I have not given the hon. Gentleman notice of this and other points which I am raising. We have been unexpectedly lucky this evening in having this amount of time for debate, and I have not had time to give him notice. I feel very sorry for him in having to reply to so many points so unexpectedly; but I know that he will do his best to answer them, as he always does.
Important road improvements in large cities are likely to cause so much expense and inconvenience, because of old buildings having to be pulled down, that we cannot expect to see them carried out in a short time. They cannot even be made in the City of London, with its vacant bombed sites, because even those are not so conveniently sited as to enable suitable through roads to be made. Therefore we must consider the question of parking, first and foremost.
I do not want to go into detail about the amount of money involved, but I would ask the House to keep an open mind about the use of parking meters. 715 Experience across the Atlantic and elsewhere has shown that the use of these meters has been an extremely convenient way of raising cash quite quickly for building other kinds of car parks. The motorists of this country—and I speak as a member of a motoring organisation—would be very narrow-minded indeed if they shut their minds to that possibility.
Although major improvements may take a long time, there are many small ones which could be made quickly and at very small cost. The width of some pavements could be reduced. I do not think that pedestrians would resent it, because those pavements are quite unnecessarily wide, and in the interests of pedestrians as well as of the free flow of traffic, it would be far better to give a few extra feet to the carriageway.
Another suggestion is that pavements and their corners should be re-sited so as not to obstruct traffic. This is a matter of detail, but I think that every large city should be surveyed by the highway authority and the chief constable in order to see if awkward corners could be cut off. An immediate easement of the flow of traffic can sometimes be made by merely reducing the size of a traffic island.
On the open road we should try to get rid of the bottlenecks, which are caused by the 20 miles-an-hour speed limit, which is imposed in the case of large vehicles. It is so frequently not observed; but when it is—no doubt by zealous drivers doing their duty—bottlenecks are nearly always caused, and that is against the interests of road safety and the free flow of traffic. I cannot see that any increased danger would result from making legal and general what is already the practice in a great percentage of cases.
By-passes should have a very high degree of priority in general road improvements. They can do much to ease the flow of traffic. Road schemes which, in some cases, as at Alconbury Hill, in my own constituency, were started before the war and are simply waiting completion, should be completed at an early date. I can only hope that Her Majesty's Government will see that these will be completed as soon as possible, and as the economic condition of the country allows.
716 This debate has produced one surprise for me. I never thought that I should hear the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), or anyone who professes to be a Liberal, suggesting that we should restrict freedom on the roads or anywhere else by higher taxation.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I shall try to be brief, because others want to take part in the debate. Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), I was in the House to hear the opening of the debate by the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay), who was fortunate in the ballot, and I congratulate him on having been so fortunate, and on having chosen this subject for debate, and also on the very important points he made. He spoke of road development and restriction of road use, and recognised the potential dangers. It is, perhaps, significant that none of the other Members who have spoken but who did not hear him has referred to the danger on the roads. The hon. Member for Solihull did, and it is to his credit that he did. He even visualised the possibility that, with conditions as they are, there may be 5,000 deaths on the roads per year.
I do not want to go into these matters of road safety in the way I usually do if I ever have an opportunity. The reason why I usually do so is, as the hon. Member for Solihull knows, that I feel very strongly about that subject. Tonight I want to deal rather with one or two of the questions that have emerged from the debate. The hon. Member for Solihull brought up one as worthy of consideration by the Minister, and it was also referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Huntingdon. That was the question of the carriage of heavy goods on heavy vehicles on the roads.
The hon. Member for Solihull wanted them to travel rather faster than they do. While it is true that vehicles limited to 20 miles an hour do travel very often at 30, the fact remains that the faster those heavy loads go on the roads the greater is the risk. I am not certain that the roads they go upon are meant for heavy weights of that kind to be carried at increased speed. That is a matter for the road users, the owners of the goods and 717 the vehicles and the drivers of the vehicles and the public authorities to settle between them, as it will have to be settled before there is any agreement that the 20 miles an hour limit should be raised to 30 miles an hour. It has been under discussion for years.
The outstanding fact is that heavy loads on the roads delay traffic all the time, and they also cut the roads up. The amount of this heavy traffic can be imagined from consideration of the fact that 70 per cent, of our commerce is on the roads. That is far too great a percentage of it, especially when we remember, as I wish hon. Members opposite would, that we have the finest rail system in the world.
Hon. Members opposite have been complaining tonight about the congestion on the roads, the difficulties of getting the traffic moving, the delays and the expense involved. I ask them, what have they been doing in the last twelve months? They have been doing their best to clutter up the roads by taking from the railway system so much of the goods traffic.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro) rose——
§ Mr. Keenan
I have only got a few minutes, and I said I wanted to be brief, and I am not going to give way to an hon. Member who has only just come in.
§ Mr. Keenan
The railroads could take, as they took in the past, much of the traffic which is now being put back on the roads. There is no doubt whatever that we have the best railroad system. The attempt we made to integrate road haulage with the railways has been undone by the Government supported by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I agree with the hon. Member for Solihull about that 70 per cent. I should say that nearly half of that should be diverted back to the railways.
718 What would be the position if it were? It would relieve the highways from town to town, the arterial roads, and the roads in the centres of the towns and in the industrial areas of the vehicles that are carrying goods. It would relieve the roads of thousands of vehicles per day, and so would facilitate the flow of traffic. The Government must look into the problem and see to what extent we can take from the roads traffic which has no right to be there, sending it by rail and relieving the congestion on the roads.
Of course, that alone will not solve the road problem. I cannot agree with the motorists of this country who, through their associations and federations, claim that all they pay into the Exchequer should be used for road development. We might as well make the same claim for every branch of taxpayer and say that all we put into the Exchequer should be used for our benefit and not for the general good of the country. The motorists came long after the roads. The roads were here before them. What contribution did they make to the original building of the roads, which was done long before we had motor cars?
I agree that something must be done about London's traffic problem. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) that until the roads are adequate we may have to restrict the volume of traffic. In fact, I made such a suggestion 12 months ago. What is London's traffic problem? Largely, it is that there are too many private vehicles, each carrying only one or two people; there are probably 10 private cars to every bus or lorry. I do not know whether a toll or extra taxation might limit the traffic, but if we do not take some steps to limit it we are bound to have the congestion which has worried everybody for years.
I agree, too, that parking is a serious problem. My own observations in Liverpool lead me to believe that a lot of the congestion in our cities is caused by cars being parked in the roads. Many of those who park their cars in our cities and towns are friends of the local councillors and so nothing is done to make the watch committee do its job. It is only in the last year or two that we have had city councils tackling this question, and even now much more could be done. City councils must tackle the problem of 719 people who park their cars in front of their business houses, on the main roads, for the whole day.
I am grateful for the opportunity tonight to speak on the question of the road worthiness of vehicles and the conduct of drivers—a point which I did not discuss on the previous occasion. Some hon. Members look upon me as an anti-motorist, and if motorists are to continue to kill people at the present rate, I shall continue to be an anti-motorist. I blame the motorist, because the pedestrian does not knock the motorist down; it is the motorist who knocks the pedestrian down. It is all very well for hon. Members to speak about travelling at only five or ten miles an hour. If the cars were stopped they would not knock anybody down.
It is the present tendency to speed which causes me to resist all these efforts for road improvements. If we make carpet-like surfaces, the faster we shall make the traffic and the greater will be the danger to people.
The hon. and learned Member for Huntingdon mentioned a factor which causes me concern and about which I am questioning the Ministry of Transport. It is the question of zebra crossings. I am puzzled by the disappearance of zebra crossings. In the town in which I live, near Liverpool, there is one point from which I have to walk nearly half-a-mile to find a crossing on the main road. Where does the pedestrian cross in safety? In Liverpool I was told yesterday that there are 130-odd crossings in the city, which has a population of 800,000. I think that roadworthiness is an important factor, but no attempt is made to test vehicles.
I am sorry that I shall not be able to be here on Monday, because of other business, to hear the debate on the Highway Code, but if I may refer to it tonight, I would say to the Minister that it is no good his saying to the motorist or pedestrian, or anyone else, "You should do this." The thing to do is to say, "You must do it." We ought to put a sanction into it. That is the only way to make people face up to their responsibilities as citizens. I think that the Highway Code from that point of view will fail as the last one did.
720 I am told by some of the commercial people that the conduct on the roads today of the majority of motorists is as bad as can be; it is very unsatisfactory, to say the least. I believe that one of the reasons for this, which I should like the Minister to note in particular, is that a large percentage of motorists today have never had to undergo a driving test. They ought not to be allowed on the roads until they have become proficient and experienced. We allow motorists, no matter what their age may be, to continue to drive any motor. We accept their word that they can see for a distance of 25 yards—and they have to sign a form to that effect—but they do not undergo any test. I can safely say that I know several people who, because of infirmity and defective eyesight, have no right to drive a car. We all know people of that kind. Until we can attend to that matter, we shall never get improved conduct on the roads.
I want to see better roads, but I also want to see safeguards for not only road users but for the pedestrian who is at the wrong end of the argument when a motorist runs him down.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
The hon. and learned Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) expressed surprise that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) expressed the un-Liberal principle that we should impose higher taxation in order to get rid of road congestion. I do not express any surprise that two members of the Socialist Party who have taken part in the debate this evening both put forward the suggestion that one way of curing congestion on the roads would be to prohibit people having motor cars.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), it is true, put that forward as an alternative, but another of his hon. Friends seemed to think that would be a splendid way of eradicating road congestion. It certainly would be. If there were no motor cars, there would be no traffic on the roads.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
I did not say that we should have no cars at all. I said that if a person had a car, he should not come into London with it.
§ Mr. Wilson
There is congestion in other places as well as London. The 721 basic transport problem is that which was mentioned in our debate last Monday. It is that the man who wants to take his goods from one place to another does it by the cheapest or most convenient method open to him. If he finds that the road is the most suitable method, he will use the road.
§ It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. Allan.]
§ Mr. Wilson
If the motorist finds it most convenient to him, by road he will go. It is no use hon. Members opposite saying that he should be prohibited by this way or that. He will find some way of doing what he wants, and he can only be stopped by force. The only way to make him travel by train, if that is what is desired, is to provide attractive train services or such rates as will attract him to return to the train service. Alternatively, if he is expected to go by road, we must either develop the roads so that they can take what will be the estimated amount of traffic, or we must develop such alternative routes as are possible.
One is well aware of the tremendous cost of road construction in this country. It is not really fair to compare this country with many others, because this is a heavily built-up area and the cost of our agricultural land is much higher than in many other countries. I do not know offhand the comparable figures of road construction for other countries, but the cost certainly is much higher here than in some of the countries which have provided speedways, autobahnen and facilities of that sort.
We should find ourselves in difficulty, therefore, if we tried to imitate some of those methods. To get rid of congestion we should, no doubt, do more than we are at present doing. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Minister has this matter very much in mind and that the Ministry will spend as much as it is able to spend on road improvement.
A number of suggestions have been made, particularly for getting rid of bottlenecks, and so on, but there is one small point which I wish to mention. In considering demands for particular improvements, it is sometimes overlooked 722 that an improvement may provide relief elsewhere than on the route for which it is asked. I have in mind the Tamar Bridge, for which we in Cornwall and Devon have been asking for a long time. I have never contended that the claims of the Tamar Bridge could be quite as high as some of the other urgent claims which have been put forward for road improvements, bridges and tunnels, but one point about the Tamar Bridge is sometimes overlooked.
Not merely would the Tamar Bridge connect south Cornwall with Devonport, but it would provide an alternative route to the A30, which is already getting very congested. A large part of the traffic by road into Cornwall from Devon and up-country goes down the A30, and if there was an alternative route further south across the Tamar Bridge it might afford considerable relief. I hope that this point will be borne in mind when the problem comes to be considered.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I will be short, because I want to leave my hon. Friend the Minister time to reply to the many speeches that have been made. I think that a very large expenditure will have to be incurred upon roads in the near future, and since our resources are limited, it is important that we should direct it into the most useful channels.
Before long, we must also spend a very large sum of money upon the railways. They are equally in need of a development programme which will make them more efficient, because both roads and railways are the arteries of commerce and of normal social life. We must look at our communications as one single problem. Although our railways were the best railway system in the world, they are perhaps not so now, but they must be made the best again by very large capital expenditure. Bearing that in mind, we must look at the requirements of the road system and what we can manage in relation to it.
It may be that we cannot entirely meet the expenditure out of current revenue. I do not know. But I am not myself inclined to believe that we can cut our way through this Gordian knot by a road loan.
723 There are so many demands on our financial resources in the immediate future for development of the Colonial Empire and for various other commitments that I do not think the financial device of a loan rather than current expenditure is going to open wide to us the gates of unrestricted road development. That being so, I suggest that we should concentrate on our main difficulty. My experience of roads in this country and other countries is that we have here a better system of secondary roads than anywhere else. We have very good secondary roads indeed. Of course they can be improved. There are many particular spots on particular roads and most hon. Members appear to have such a road in their constituencies.
Where we are greatly defective, greatly inferior to many foreign countries and are growing more inferior, is in our trunk road system. Our trunk roads should be like our main railway lines. I would not venture to offer the House an opinion on whether we should alter and amend existing roads or drive through new main roads. I am inclined to the view of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that we shall have to drive through new arterial roads, but when that is done it has got to be done really ruthlessly. We must not allow any egress to or ingress from local residential areas. One will have to cut off side roads quite ruthlessly. The new roads will have to be like, railway lines, with no pedestrians on them, no bicycles and no stopping except for lay-bys. They will have to be proper roads where people can do considerable speeds, and let us not be afraid of speed as though it were some sort of wickedness. We want to live faster in this country.
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Member opposite has a phobia about motor-cars, but he is at least logical and consistent. But the fact is that mechanical transport has come and our job is to find out what people want and give it to them, and not run out to see what little Johnny is doing and tell him not to. We want to give people the roads that people want. Germany and other foreign countries have them. One can leave a town there and drive along a dual carriageway and drive 724 comfortably and safely at 60 miles an hour until one reaches one's destination and then one goes into the town into which one wanted to go.
That may cost a lot in additional expenditure, but it pays for itself very quickly indeed. My only fear is that, having built these roads, we may allow buses back on them and put up bus stops and allow residential neighbourhoods alongside them until we get people writing to M.P.s asking for pedestrian crossings and 30 mile-an-hour speed limits and all the rest of it. Western Avenue is a monument to just that kind of thing.
So much for the main roads. I do not think there is any more to be said about it. We want half a dozen of these roads so that people wanting to go quickly, lorries, freight vehicles or motor cars, can go on these main arteries straight through and come out on to a secondary road. We do not want a great many, only a few.
The other matter is quite separate, and that is congestion in big cities like London. I do not think that much can be done about it, and if anything significant were done it would cost hundreds of millions of pounds. My advice to the Minister is not to spend the money. Central London is jammed up, but that is a very good deterrent to people from bringing their cars into London. It is probably an easier way to deal with the matter than to suggest a system of permits or special taxes.
§ Mr. Bell
Those who have to bring their cars into London do meet with difficulties. I appreciate that there are difficulties, but on the whole a parking space for a car can be found outside the congested area and people who do not need to bring their cars into London will not do so. I am not welcoming that as something which I like, but if we are restricted in what we can spend in the near future, then we must not spend large sums on what will be a slight palliative in Central London. Let us spend the money on great arteries of commerce and industry which we terribly lack. As a trading nation, to be without these is a great handicap. We have only to think of the time and money wasted every day on our main trunk 725 roads. We simply must have those main arteries.
If I may, I should like to make a trifling suggestion about the exits from London. It is that there are far too many traffic lights on them. I am not a great believer in traffic lights at important junctions. I think it very much better to have the major road and minor road system. A terrible congestion and slowing down of traffic has resulted from the proliferation of traffic lights in the last 10 or 20 years.
There is one final point I should like to make on this, and it is that we must have from big cities like London one or two or three main exit roads which go under and over other roads. In this matter too we have got to be ruthless and stop people going on them. We should tell the motorist that once he gets on to such a road he can go straight ahead until he is outside the built-up area. There is such a road from somewhere in Paris to Le Bourget, and they also run from some other continental cities. There are clear approach roads and a motorist cannot get on to them except by a flyover connection. There is no question of people walking across them. They are absolutely express roads in and out of cities.
There is no other solution, and we must face it. There must be a clear run, and as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, it is quite fantastic to have such a straight road running for some distance and then crossing over a main road. That is a waste of time and money.
The two remedies which I have suggested are the priorities on which we should spend our limited resources in the time immediately ahead. We shall come to the other smaller matters later. I think we should develop our railways so that we can have fast, fully-braked freight trains. That would take a good deal of freight off the roads. The increase in traffic on the roads is largely because of vehicles carrying freight. It is not the private cars which are creating the new congestion. If there could be the capital expenditure on the railways so that it would be possible to have these fast fully-braked freight trains that would be a contribution to our road congestion problem, and that together with the other matters I have suggested, would make a real contribution towards 726 solving it. We would see real progress and later we could look round at the smaller problems.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
I am sure all of us would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) on his initiative in raising this matter on the Adjournment tonight, and on the very fortunate chance that the other business ended earlier than had been expected, because our debate has shown how many hon. Members are deeply concerned about the various problems connected with our roads, our traffic and road safety.
I am sure I shall have the sympathy of the House in trying to reply to the debate, as so many various subjects have been raised, some of which are issues of principle and others, in fact, merely constituency questions. In the time remaining to me I shall try to deal on broad lines with some of the major matters that have arisen, and if in the last few moments I can do so, I shall try to answer other points raised by hon Members tonight.
I was glad that several hon. Members emphasised the difference between the problem of our general roads system linking one town with another and the problem of congestion inside those towns. The Government accept the general principle that it is necessary for there to be a large programme of road development as and when it is possible for us to finance it. We recognise fully that on many of our great trunk roads, which are essential to the industry of this country, there are bottlenecks which must be abolished as soon as possible. I could give examples, but some have been mentioned tonight and all of us who travel on the roads are aware of them.
The problem of congestion in the towns is different, as was emphasised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell). I agree with those who have said that much will have to be done to drive great thoroughfares through congested towns, and as to the need 727 for linking up the Lancashire highway with the Mersey Tunnel. I am sure that much can and should be done in that way.
Yet we have to recognise that our great cities are in a form which cannot be altered radically. At present we have rather more than an additional quarter of a million new vehicles being registered each year. Taking London as an example of what is happening to a lesser degree in our other great cities, there is a large influx in the morning and a corresponding departure in the evening. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South that there is a limit to what can be done in the way of providing parking spaces for incoming cars. I am not saying that more should not be done than has been done, but one has to recognise the danger that the more parking space that is provided, the more cars will come.
All those who were in London during the recent bus strike must have been impressed by the fact that, when the buses were off the roads, the congestion was worse and not better. That was a remarkable indication of how many there are who possess motor cars and yet, for their ordinary journeys to London on business or pleasure, find it more convenient to travel by public transport. Therefore, while not in any way suggesting that we should not try to improve parking, particularly in London, I think that we should be wise to consider carefully whether trying to deal with that problem to an excessive extent would present us always with an additional problem.
I have no doubt that for some time ahead, and it may be always, we shall need to have increasing restrictions upon parking. The Road Research Laboratory made a survey a short time ago and arrived at the astonishing conclusion, which has been mentioned to the House before, that in the middle of the day, in the great part of the West End of London, more than 75 per cent. of the kerb space is occupied by parked cars. That is the kind of problem with which it is impossible for any amount of road development and improvements to cope.
Hon. Members have also referred to road safety. There again we have to strike a balance between two extreme 728 views. We in the Ministry of Transport are anxious to press on with a great programme to eliminate the black spots where we know that there are frequent accidents. We believe that we are working on the right lines and that in time many of the most dangerous places on the roads will have been put right. At the same time I do not think it is true to suggest, as many enthusiasts for roads do, that the mere improvement of the roads and the building of motorways, double carriageways and so on, will of themselves reduce accidents.
The only serious accident that I have been in was on a good wide road when a car turned off some distance ahead without giving any warning. As a result, the next car skidded, and finally five cars were in collision. There is a similar example from Belgium where, as a result of carrying out great road improvements, the accident record on the stretch of road concerned increased by 300 per cent. There is a strong and unanswerable case for improving the road system of this country in the interests of commerce and industry and cheapening transport, but it is very easy to overstate the case on the ground of road safety.
I have been asked a number of questions and I should like to try to answer them. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull about the importance of trying to stagger working hours in order to reduce the burden of the morning and evening peaks. I would, however, respectfully differ from him when he suggests that it should be done compulsorily. What we must do, and we are going to try to do it, is to bring about a staggering of hours on a voluntary basis. That can not only greatly reduce the capital investment needed with regard to London transport but can greatly improve the travelling conditions of the workers.
Abnormal, indivisible loads have been causing great concern to the Ministry for some time. I am afraid that it is impossible to put those loads back on the railways. The fact is that these large loads are due in considerable measure to the great strides which British engineering has taken in the last few years. There are great electrical machines which are manufactured in inland towns and have to be transported to the coast. They cannot be put on the railways because they are too large to pass under 729 the railway bridges. So it is that, with great difficulty, routes along the roads have to be chosen where there are no bridges too low for the loads to pass under them.
§ Mr. Molson
They cannot always do so. We have to try to choose routes by which they can safely reach the coast.
I was very glad to hear from the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) that he was satisfied with the form of words which we have put into the Highway Code in regard to alcohol. I am so accustomed to his censures that to receive a word of appreciation and praise from him is very pleasant and agreeable. I entirely agree with what he and another hon. Member said about the importance of testing vehicles. A large proportion of motor cars on the roads—especially the older ones—are unsafe, sometimes because of defective brakes and, still more often, because headlights are imperfectly focused, causing most serious dazzle to oncoming traffic.
The fly-over at Hammersmith Broadway is under discussion at present between my Department and London County Council. We now intend to build a fly-over of a modern type on one of the by-passes which we are completing under the programme announced by my right hon. Friend last December. Our minds are open in regard to tolls, but I 730 am bound to say that the conditions which exist in this small island, where distances are so much less than in the United States of America, where the land is so much more developed and where people cling so much more to their farms and properties, make it very much more difficult than in the United States.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) said that motor roads, with no access from either side, must be driven through remorselessly. I should point out that that would bisect a great many farms and cause great dislocation to farmers. There would be strong opposition from the farming community.
In the short time available, I have tried to give as full an answer as I can. We are fully aware of the need for further improvement of our roads in the general interest of transport and in order to assist industry. We hope to give special priority to the removal of black spots, and there is no matter more prominently in the mind of my right hon. Friend than the need to do what can be done to deal with the problem of traffic congestion in the cities.
§ Mr. M. Lindsay
May I remind my hon. Friend that we should not have had any railways in this country if they had not been driven ruthlessly through farmland?
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.