§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.35 p.m.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. D. Heathcoat Amory)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The main purpose of this short Bill, which I am sure the whole House will welcome, is to give the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself power to make grants to highway authorities for the improvement of unclassified and un-adopted roads in livestock rearing areas. Before I deal with the Bill in detail, however, I should like to say a few words about the background.
The Bill is intended primarily as a measure of assistance to the upland farming and forest areas in Wales. The need for special action to deal with the problem of access roads in the Welsh upland areas was brought to the attention of the Government by the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire in two Reports made in 1950 and 1953. Among other things, these Reports drew attention to the continued drift from the rural areas of Wales and the difficulty of many Welsh upland farmers in getting out of the land the most of which it is capable and in some cases even of making the fullest use of the 1317 Government grants available to them. In the Council's words:…much of the farming is economically vulnerable and has to be conducted against rather heavy odds.…I am sure that hon. Members from Wales will agree that that is not an over-statement of the position.
Hon. Members may recall that the two Reports pointed to the poor state of some of the roads in the Welsh uplands and observed that the dilapidation of the roads serving the agricultural community was quite an important factor in the situation which was resulting in some farms in Wales becoming derelict. Elsewhere in the Reports attention was drawn to the poverty of the Welsh rural authorities in terms of rateable value and rate product, and the view was clearly taken that it was beyond the powers of these authorities to restore the roads without some aid. In the Reports it was proposed that where the condition of the roads was a major obstacle to the general improvement of services and facilities or particular developments, appropriate contributions might be made to the expenditure of the highway authorities in carrying out the necessary work.
The House has already had a statement of the Government's view on these proposals in the White Paper on Rural Wales presented to the House in November, 1953. In the White Paper the Government recognised the condition of some of the minor roads in the Welsh uplands as being very poor and as possibly constituting an obstacle to development.
The White Paper pointed out that in the case of classified roads there is already in existence a system of grants by the Minister of Transport and that there it is really a matter of working existing machinery. However, there remains the problem of unclassified and unadopted roads, and these are at present ineligible for direct aid from the Government.
In some of the livestock rearing areas many of the roads have fallen, I understand, into a state so low that farms are virtually without any access at all in some instances, and, further, these roads, though adequate to the purposes for which they were originally constructed, are not capable of meeting the much heavier demands that modern agriculture puts upon them.
1318 We have to remember that many of these farms under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts have had quite a lot of Government money spent on them. Yet the purpose for which this expenditure was incurred has been partly defeated by the inadequacy of the access roads. At the same time, there being no grant available for the maintenance of unclassified roads, they, perhaps naturally, come low in the priorities of the highway authorities. As far as unadopted roads are concerned, although they are often public highways, they are usually the personal responsibility of the landowner concerned and they are not being dealt with generally for lack of resources. So, clearly, there is a gap in the system of rehabilitation under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts that needs to be filled.
Perhaps I may quote from my own experience to show how real I believe this need to be. I spent an interesting day some while ago—not, I hasten to say, during the recent Election, as I was fully occupied elsewhere—in seeing something of the Welsh upland areas. I saw some of the improvement schemes which had been carried out by the aid of grants under the Livestock Rearing Act. The ones I saw seemed to me to be sound and worth while and exactly the kind of improvement which that Act was intended to encourage.
I was much impressed with the results which some of these robust farmers, as they seemed to me, were getting in the face of many obvious difficulties. The aspect of the situation that made the deepest impression on me was that of the long, narrow, hilly approach roads leading eventually to remote farms. Once or twice I was not absolutely certain whether it was a water-course or a road along which we were driving. I thought I was well acclimatised to difficult approaches in my own counties of the South-West, but after my Welsh visit I felt that my own home county was almost a built-up area. The reason for these scattered homesteads in Wales can be found in the history of the social and economic development of Wales, and the fact that the manorial system was not developed there in the same way as it was in much of the rest of Great Britain. Incidentally, I hope no one will ask me today to pronounce the names of the 1319 places I went to during that brief but enjoyable Welsh visit.
In all these circumstances, the Government promised in the White Paper to make proposals to Parliament for enabling the Ministry of Agriculture to contribute towards the cost of improving such roads, on the condition that any unadopted road so improved would become the responsibility of the highway authority. The first object of the Bill which I am now presenting to the House is to carry out that promise.
I have dealt at length with the Welsh problem but this Measure applies impartially to similar cases in the whole of Great Britain, except certain crofting counties in Scotland about which I will say a word in a moment. I will explain why the Measure is to apply to the whole of Great Britain with that exception. In the course of our discussions with the National Farmers' Union and the County Councils' Association about the problem of these major roads, we were told that Wales was by no means in a unique position in this respect and that much the same tale could be told about hill farming and livestock rearing areas in other parts of the country. I dare say that hon. Members who know the livestock rearing areas in other parts of the country will agree with that view.
We have made some preliminary inquiries, though I am not claiming that we have been able to conduct the kind of thorough survey that was carried out by the Welsh Rural Development Panel. However, it is clear from the information we have that in some upland areas in England and Scotland there are at least substantial pockets of difficulty of much the same character as in Wales, though I think that the need for special assistance for these access roads is not on the same scale as in Wales, certainly not if we compare the respective countries as a whole. But there are certain counties or groups of counties which may well throw up comparable problems which, again, are beyond the powers of the county highway authority to deal with without assistance. So we have come to the conclusion that it would be wrong, as a matter of principle, to rule out the claims of other livestock rearing counties outside Wales for comparable assistance.
With that introduction I will now turn to the Bill itself. Clauses 1 and 2, read 1320 together, make provision for the central proposal for Government grants to highway authorities. It is proposed that the process of making grants should be in two stages. First, under Clause 1, highway authorities may submit to the Secretary of State for Scotland or myself proposals for improving unclassified and unadopted roads serving livestock rearing areas within the boundary of the local authority, and the appropriate Minister must then consider whether to approve such proposals. Secondly, under Clause 2, the Minister may then make grants towards the expenditure incurred by the highway authority in carrying out the proposals which he may have approved under Clause 1.
Under subsection (2) of Clause 1 the possibility of approval is limited to roads in or affording access to livestock rearing areas, the improvement of which will be of benefit for purposes of agriculture or forestry.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
Would the right hon. Gentleman care to say whether this proposal means that in the areas designated as falling within the terms of this Bill it will be competent for the local authority to recommend grants for accommodation roads on privately-owned estates?
Yes, if the local authority then proposes to adopt those roads, but only if it so proposes. The improvement may be for an unadopted road, but the local authority will only be able to obtain a grant on condition that it then adopts the road and undertakes the responsibility for its future maintenance.
I was referring to forestry as well as agriculture. Hon. Members may recall that in the Report of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire it was stated thatIn many parts of the survey area and of the other rural areas the primary support of agriculture should be found by bringing forestry into partnership.I believe that that is sound.
The livestock rearing areas are defined in the interpretation Clause, Clause 5, as areas "consisting predominantly of mountains, hills or heath," in which the principal industries, or one of them, are thebreeding, rearing and maintenance of sheep or cattle.1321 That definition, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) will remember, is more comprehensive than the definition of livestock rearing land in the Livestock Rearing Act. The reason is that the object of this Bill is to complete the job that has been started, under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts. We are deliberately not defining land too rigidly for this purpose, our aim being to benefit upland areas as a whole. Therefore, we do not want by the definition to exclude an area simply because that area may include a few dairy farms.
Some hon. Members may perhaps feel that the assistance proposed should not be limited to livestock rearing areas as they are defined, but should be available for similar improvements in other kinds of farming areas. I understand that desire, but the answer is that the Bill stems primarily from the special needs of certain upland areas in Wales where a combination of circumstances makes the difficulties in the aggregate exceptionally formidable. The kind of circumstances I have in mind are the exceptional mileage of both the unclassified and the unadopted roads, a very scattered population, the particularly difficult geographical features, a form of agriculture which is certainly not very intensive—all these, combined with the high expenditure in terms of rates that the local authorities are already incurring on road improvement and maintenance.
The Bill proposes that the money that the Government have felt that they could make available for this purpose should be concentrated in the areas where the improvements are most needed and least likely to be provided without some special assistance.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
Clause 2 (3) says nothing specifically about the sort of grant. The kind of areas the Minister is talking about are obviously areas which are not financially well off; they are areas which are heavily depressed. Can he say what sort of grant he has in mind?
I was just about to come to that, though whether I shall be able to say as much as the right hon. Gentleman would like me to say I am not quite sure.
The Bill does not prescribe any rate of grant but, following other precedents for grants to local authorities—the Land Drainage Act, 1930, and the smallholdings legislation afford examples—it leaves the precise rate of grant to be determined by the Minister, subject to its being only a proportion, as the Bill says. If I may be so bold as to translate that legal qualification into plain English, it means, I imagine, less than the full cost. There is some information for the right hon. Gentleman, anyhow.
We feel that as a matter of principle it is only right that some contribution should be made by the locality. We also accept that for unadopted roads the highway authority should be given a somewhat higher rate of grant than would be given for unclassified roads, in recognition of the fact that in taking over unadopted roads, the local authority would be incurring a new liability for their maintenance, as provided in Clause 1(5).
Subject to these general principles, we propose to settle the precise rate of grant in the light of the circumstances as we find them when the time comes. We have in mind, as soon as the Bill becomes law, to invite the local authorities concerned to submit schemes for improvement for any unclassified or unadopted roads serving the areas which are eligible and which they consider require improvement. When we see the number of these schemes and the mileages—and I must admit that at present we have only a very hazy idea of the mileages which require this treatment—we shall be in a much better position to judge, in the light of consultation with the local authorities, what scales of assistance are needed.
I say straight away that we envisage a substantial contribution—something more than 50 per cent., I should think. It will depend, but two-thirds will perhaps come into the picture somewhere; perhaps even more in some cases. We shall have to see.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
If my right hon. Friend has no idea of the size of the grants which, as far as I can make out, will range between 30 per cent. and 90 per cent., why does he fix £4 million as the total sum? He 1323 says that his ideas are very hazy. I should have thought that the £4 million was hazy, too.
Four million pounds is a substantial sum. The Government decided, in the light of a study of the general position which we have been able to make up to date, that that would seem to be a reasonable sum to cover the sort of mileage that our present estimates give us.
If I could give some idea, I think that the mileage will be 2,000 to 3,000 miles in total in the livestock rearing areas—something of that order. We want to keep our proposals as flexible as possible until we can get a better idea of the precise mileage and the local needs of the situation. Some of the schemes that may be put to us may be so uneconomic that we may not be able to meet them, much as we should like to. Therefore, we want to keep some flexibility until we can see the situation a bit more clearly.
I do not know where my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) got the idea of 30 per cent. to 90 per cent., but I will bear in mind that he thinks that that is the range in which these grants should fall. This is an aspect which no doubt we shall discuss further in Committee.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
This £4 million is to be spread over ten years—only £400,000 a year. Does the right hon. Gentleman really envisage that this will meet the needs of these areas?
I hope it will go a very long way towards doing so. I imagine that the cost per mile of improving these roads might be between £2,000 and £3,000. Hon. Members can do a little bit of arithmetic and see how far £4 million is likely to go. I hope that it will go a very long way towards meeting the needs on the kind of total mileage to which I have referred of between 2,000 and 3,000 miles.
Hon. Members will note that seven crofting counties in Scotland are excluded under Clause 1 (1, b). They are listed in the Schedule. The reason is that already separate provision is made for them in special Scottish legislation known, I believe, as the Congested Districts (Scotland) Act, 1897. I hope that a 1324 mere Englishman has got that rather mystifying title correct. When I saw the counties myself I was not absolutely certain how congested they were likely to be, and in what sense.
Clause 1 (5) provides that the Minister should not approve a proposal for an unadopted road unless the highway authority undertakes to adopt the road and accept responsibility for its future maintenance.
§ Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
I should like to ask a question which is of some importance. Supposing that a local authority undertakes work on a road and then adopts the road, will the authority then qualify for grants for future maintenance?
If the road is adopted, and it becomes an unclassified road, the local authority would receive no grant, though I understand that the maintenance expenditure would qualify for the Exchequer equalisation grant. If that road subsequently became a classified road, then, of course, it would.
I do not think that anyone will quarrel with the principle of subsection (5). It would be a mistake to pay a grant for the improving of a road without ensuring that definite arrangements existed for someone to be clearly responsible for maintaining the road properly thereafter.
Clause 2, which provides for the grant itself, embodies the usual requirements that it shall be in such proportion as the Minister may approve; that the expenditure shall be reasonably incurred and that the Minister must satisfy himself that the work is properly done. As for finance, Clause 2 (4) enables—it has been already referred to—a total of £4 million to be spent for this purpose over the period mentioned. As I have said, no precise estimate is possible about how this will work out. I surmise that if local authorities come forward with improvement proposals as we hope, about half, or perhap a little more than half, of the money will be devoted to the Principality.
I do not think I need make any reference to the other Clauses, except perhaps Clause 3, which enables highway authorities to accept voluntary contributions from persons interested in the improvement of roads, whether unclassified or unadopted, and provides that local authorities may enter into agreements with 1325 such persons for that purpose. I hope that that will be of help to local authorities, particularly in carrying out the work proposed in the case of unadopted roads.
Clause 4 deals with the administrative expenses, which are very small indeed, and Clause 5 with the interpretation. I have already drawn attention to the definition in this Bill of livestock rearing areas. Clause 6 is the usual citation and extent Clause. This Bill does not cover Northern Ireland, because Northern Ireland does not possess, to any material extent, the kind of livestock rearing areas which we have defined as such in this country.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
I wonder whether the Minister would indicate who actually decides whether a given area comes within the definition of the Clause. We all have an idea of what is a livestock area within the meaning of the Act. But in this case there must be administrative action taken in deciding which applications are, within the meaning of the definition, from livestock rearing areas.
I believe the answer is that a local authority would form its opinion as to whether an application came within the definition, and if the local authority believes that it did it would forward the application to the Minister. But the ultimate responsibility must, I think, be on the Minister concerned to decide whether an application falls within the definition.
§ Mr. Roberts
Will county councils alone decide, or can county councils refer to county agricultural executive committees?
I think that a county council may consult whom it wishes and form an opinion, but the Secretary of State for Scotland, or I, would have to be satisfied that an application fell within the definition.
This Bill has as its object the furthering of the work on which such a good start has been made under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts for the rehabilitation of agriculture in upland areas and, more especially, to restore the fortunes of upland farms in the Principality. I am sure that this is a cause which all of us have at heart, irrespective of party, that the House will agree that this Bill 1326 will make a useful contribution to the problem and that hon. Members will show their agreement by giving the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
I wish, first, to acknowledge the great honour done me of being able to follow the Minister on behalf of my colleagues.
I was interested to learn of the journey of the Minister through some Welsh districts. The right hon. Gentleman did not signify which districts he visited, but 1 am glad of his visit from the agricultural standpoint and from the point of view of roads, and because this Bill has been introduced. From the political standpoint, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am still a Member of this Chamber, and I hope that I shall be for a long time.
§ Mr. Watkins
We have listened to the Minister with great attention and I wish to thank him for his references to the Welsh aspect of this Bill. Our great disappointment is that the right hon. Gentleman has not been forthcoming about the amount of the grants. All the Welsh counties, and no doubt all districts interested in the provisions contained in the Bill, will be disappointed tomorrow morning at not knowing the amount of grant which may be envisaged. That is important and I hope to deal with it later. I think we may agree with all the other aspects of the Bill, but there are some comments which I wish to make.
I would remind the House that this is not a new subject to Welsh Members of Parliament. On every occasion when there has been a Welsh debate, and when we have discussed problems of agriculture, I have drawn attention to this very important question of access roads in farming districts. And not only in debates. Month after month I have put down Questions in an effort to get something done about these roads. There has been great agitation, not only by Welsh Members of Parliament but by the Welsh Committee and 1327 the National Farmers' Union and the Welsh Counties Committee.
Representations were made to the previous Minister for Welsh Affairs, Lord Kilmuir, and I must say that he welcomed the representations made to him. There is no doubt that he did his best, as will the present Minister, to see that we get all the help possible in dealing with rural depopulation. I accompanied a deputation of the Welsh Counties Committee to see the Minister for Welsh Affairs before this Bill was drafted and I am certain that we shall welcome most of the proposals contained in it, although I must offer some criticisms.
I am glad that the Minister paid a compliment to the Council for Wales and expressed his appreciation of the Council's memoranda in connection with this matter. I would pay tribute to the Chairman of the Rural Development Panel, Sir William Jones, for his splendid work and the excellent reports he placed before the Government. There was also the White Paper on Rural Wales in which, in paragraph 33, this problem of access roads is recognised. This Measure will benefit Wales and also the appropriate parts of England and Scotland, and I would say a word about the need for it.
There may be some people in urban areas who are wondering why this amount of money is to be spent on the rural parts of the country. I wish to advance reasons and to place them on record. I think it the desire of everyone to try to rehabilitate the countryside, and I appreciate the work which has been carried on in that respect. Now that we have modern methods of farming, the problem of access roads is accentuated. Access to farms is now far more important.
In the old days, most of the commodities were carried to and from farms by ponies, and the nearest route was taken. In many districts today problems are created by the presence of water and other obstacles on these routes. That is not conducive to modern development as we should like to see it. Modern machinery needs very good roads, and, conditions permitting, it provides aids to good husbandry. The inward transport of lime and fertilisers is as important as 1328 the outward transport of the commodities produced on the farms.
The introduction of the hill farming and livestock rearing schemes were much welcomed, but those schemes have imposed an added problem on local authorities and the farming community. This Bill will give an opportunity to remedy some of the difficulties. Under those schemes, grants were allowed to be made towards the provision of private roads to farms, but that produced another problem. Having got these private roads, farmers found that there was no connecting road to the nearest classified or unclassified road. It left a sort of "no-man's land" for which no one took any responsibility. I hope that the Bill will remedy that position.
I do not propose to quote from the memoranda, but paragraph 146 of the second memorandum is a terrific indictment of the situation which one finds in some of the Welsh counties at the present time. One can sum it up by saying that, even in 1955, the exports from the farms have to be carried on foot. I am sure that such a situation cannot stand examination by a good House of Commons as there is at the moment, because I believe that all hon. Members are interested in the Bill.
Some time ago the county surveyors of the mid-Wales counties produced a report. It is significant that in that report attention is drawn to the fact that 11 per cent. of the hill farming schemes could not proceed because there were no good access roads. Such a situation is disastrous for the food production of this country and disastrous for the remedying of rural depopulation. Indeed, it is disastrous to all those people who are trying to do good farming at the present time.
When these schemes for hill farming were put in, those concerned were faced with a tremendous obstacle. They sought tenders for house construction and rehousing, and so on. Some were not given at all because it was impossible to get to the farms, while others of an inflated character were given which the farmers had to accept. I am sure that it is much better to pay grants towards a road than to pay an excess grant owing to non-access because of bad roads.
1329 I hope the Minister will look into some of the things that I intend to suggest to him and that, if he cannot reply to them today, they will be thoroughly dealt with during the Committee stage. First, I wish to challenge the Government on the fact that this is not exactly the sort of Bill that was first introduced last March. Many changes have been made in it, and no doubt we shall differ as to whether those changes are good or bad. There is one change at which I am surprised.
It is true that there are two Ministers concerned. I hope that they will agree to one of them taking charge, because we do not want it passed from one Department to another if progress is to be made with the Bill. Clause 1, as the Minister said, deals with the improvement of roads in livestock rearing areas. There are areas which go in for fatstock, crops and milk production on a large scale. These are excluded. The whole of Wales is not affected by this Clause and the County of Anglesey, in particular, does not come under it because it has no livestock rearing scheme. I would remind the Government there is heavy unemployment in Anglesey at the present time. Perhaps the bringing in of Anglesey would help to alleviate that unemployment.
Unadopted roads have been a nightmare to everybody for many years, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on being the first Minister to do something about them. In Brecon, we have sixty such roads 50 miles long and the county has been considering their adoption for a very long time. I hope that under this Bill something will be done in that area. In connection with these sixty roads, there are about forty farms, which means that about 21¼ miles of new road will have to be constructed. On average, it will cost £2,500 per mile to construct or reconstruct a highway known as an unadopted road. That is a huge sum of money, and I will have something to say about the £4 million a little later.
§ Sir R. Boothby
I suppose the hon. Gentleman realises that these sixty roads at Brecon, being 50 miles long, represent 3,000 miles. That is the total mileage given by the Minister of roads to be dealt with. It does not look as if the 1330 hon. Gentleman is going to have much of a time in Breconshire.
§ Mr. Watkins
Knowing what the hon. Gentleman does on television, I hope he will make that point when he comes to it later. It is very important.
I must congratulate the Government on the proposal to provide access roads for forestry. No mention of such roads was made in the White Paper. I hope that the county councils will not now lose the grants which the Forestry Commission has been giving for access roads. I also hope that such grants will not diminish under this proposal.
I welcome the proposed grants for unclassified roads. Radnorshire has adopted a number of roads in recent years, but, owing to the low rateable value, they cannot undertake any work. Only last Thursday I received six replies to six letters which I sent to the county surveyor in one week. Not a week passes that I do not have to send letters to the county surveyors of both counties in connection with this problem. Therefore, I welcome what has been done.
We are disappointed about grants. I speak not on behalf of the party, but personally. The only thing that we could have done about unadopted roads would have been to give 100 per cent. grant. I know that we shall not be able to get that, but I suggest that, if the highway authority is to adopt and maintain these roads after construction, the local authority should be given a grant towards the cost of maintaining them in the future. If that is not done, local authorities will be able to give no help at all in the matter of expenditure on unadopted roads.
I know that the highway authority will, in future, look after the adopted roads. That is a very good thing, but I would point out that in the matter of contributions new liabilities will arise in the future in connection with hill farmers. If they want an unadopted road which goes to three or four farms they are expected to make voluntary contributions. The local authority, when considering the scheme, will look to those people who have the biggest pockets, and who are prepared to pay the highest contributions, rather than to the need for the road for food production.
1331 It is very important that this should not happen. I should like an assurance from the Minister that an unadopted road which is used for agriculture and food production will receive priority because of that, and not on the question of contributions. I want to make my personal attitude about this perfectly plain, because there is enough capital expenditure available to make up these unadopted roads and to provide for their maintenance afterwards in order to get food for the nation.
There will be agreements about this scheme, but we have not heard a word about the method of these agreements. If there are to be voluntary contributions there must be a scheme. What is to be the priority of the scheme? Is it to be decided by the majority of the owners concerned with a particular road project? If it is to be a majority of the owners, is the majority to be by number, or will it be decided on acreage or on the value of the land? That is important. It is important to know whether one small hill farmer, with a long stretch of road will be called upon to pay the balance after the payment of the grant.
It is also most important to have more information about this scheme, because there may be five or six owners on an unadopted road. One of them may not be willing to come into the scheme and to "play ball." What, then, happens to the scheme? Will an order be imposed on these farmers saying that they must come in? We are entitled to have this information. It is on the information given on the Second Reading of this Bill today that farmers will give their blessing or otherwise to the scheme. Hon. Members opposite know that during the war, when several owners wanted to take over common land, if one owner was not prepared to join in the scheme the land was not taken over. We cannot afford to have that situation arise in the case of unadopted roads. I hope that a statement will be made about this matter.
I now turn to other Clauses. Clause 1 (6) was not in the first Bill. It appears to mean that certain owners of large estates, where there are enclosures of common land, and owners of land granted by the Crown and, maybe, the Forestry Commission, which has purchased estates, will be relieved of contributions towards the unadopted road scheme. Is that right?
1332 That is placing liabilities on the small men and allowing the large estate owner to escape scot-free without paying any contributions. That is how I interpret this subsection, and I think that is wrong. I hope that an explanation will be given as to why this has come about. Who has put pressure on the Minister to include this in the Bill? I have my suspicions, but I am fair-minded, and I will not give them at present.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
I am glad that my hon. Friend has developed a point which I tried to make shortly in an interjection. Does not he agree that if this policy is pursued it means, on the positive answer given to my question by the Minister, that this may tremendously increase the value to the private owner of a particular site as a result of public money being paid out for this purpose?
§ Mr. Watkins
Yes I can understand that, but I want to increase the value of the farming community in order to get food production.
On Clause 4, and the £4 million which is to be granted in ten years, I believe that it is totally inadequate. The Radnorshire County Council surveyor estimates that the county will get about £20,000 a year as a result of this Bill. Taking his figures, that means that Wales will receive £2½ million out of £4 million. What do the other parts of the country get? Is there sufficient money available for Scotland and other parts of England?
I hope that these suggestions will commend themselves to the Minister. I know that he cannot do anything about them himself, but he can pass them on to the Minister of Transport. There is one way in which we can get greater value from this £4 million. That is by upgrading the mileage of unclassified roads to Class III. I think that would commend itself to every hon. Member who represents a rural division in this House.
In 1946–47 Class III roads were introduced and a 50 per cent. grant was given in respect of them. Over 5,700 miles of unclassified roads were upgraded to Class III in Wales. Since 1946–47, only about 40 miles have been upgraded. I have been constantly pressing in this House for the upgrading of these roads. There are now 8,419 miles of unclassified roads in the whole of Wales. The majority of these are in the livestock rearing areas.
1333 I understand that the reason given by the Ministry of Transport why it cannot upgrade these roads is that it can only upgrade unclassified roads if there is a through value. Is not that entirely out-of-date? The local users will use these roads for conveying commodities and production from the farms and taking fertilisers to the farms, but that is not a through value at all. I suggest that that is entirely wrong. If a Loch Ness monster were to transfer to an isolated place in Wales and remain there, and people travelled to see it by an unclassified road, the road could be upgraded on the present through-traffic value formula, but local usage is not counted. This is a wrong formula and it ought to be changed. I hope that the Minister will look at these suggestions. If he allocates grants towards schemes, the grants should be uniform in character and not vary as between county and county and the localities in a county.
I should like to say a word or two about Clause 5. I welcome the reference to cattle grids. If reference had not been made to them in the Bill, some of us intended to move an Amendment in Committee on the first Bill, but the Minister has been saved from that debate. The interpretation refers to the…widening of the road, the cutting off of corners of the road,…Surely, in the case of unclassified roads, it ought to go further than that. Does it mean that resurfacing, channelling and draining is not included because it is very expensive? I hope it does not mean that. I hope that the Minister will include those things in the interpretation of the word "improvement." I do not know why subsection 5 (3) has been introduced, and I should like to know exactly what it means.
We welcome the Bill, and we shall give it every possible support in its further stages. We shall also take every opportunity of improving it. I would ask the Minister to consider whether it would not be a good thing to follow this Bill by other Bills of a similar character, which would deal with the question of access roads in country districts. We should not look at the Bill merely through the spectacles of the farming community. Other people reside in the rural areas, where the roads are not only an economic necessity but a social requirement for the transport of school children and for 1334 people taking part in religious and other activities. Above all, Bills of this nature —administered by local authorities and assisted by the central Government—should contribute towards the solution of the problem of the repopulation of rural areas. I welcome this opportunity of supporting the Bill on behalf of hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
The House will have listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins). His constituency is in a part of Wales which I have very great pleasure in knowing, and I agree that the problems and difficulties to which he has referred are very real. There was one part of his speech which I did not understand. At one stage he appeared to claim —possibly rightly—that at least half the money available should be allocated to his part of Wales, but at another stage he appeared to suggest that it would be much better if the money were distributed equally all over the country. The two statements somehow did not seem to fit together.
I want to go from the hills to the lowlands. The last occasion when the House discussed the question of agricultural roads was during the passage of the first and second Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Bills, at the beginning of the war. The first Bill did not deal specifically with hill roads but with fen roads, and its object was to enable agricultural production to be increased. It was pointed out—and the argument is just as good today as it was then—that with heavier crops of potatoes, beet and such foodstuffs, access roads must be made adequate, or there would be a great loss of production. Although Wales may have first priority it should not be considered that the principle of the Bill is one which cannot be extended to many other parts of the country.
I would ask the Minister how he is to ensure that local authorities come forward with their schemes. I do not think that there will be an ugly rush to come forward with schemes of this sort. I have made inquiries of my own local authorities and they said, in effect, "Of course, we should like help of this sort —we have many farm roads which need just this sort of assistance—but we simply 1335 cannot afford the money which we should have to spend if we accepted the Government's grants; nor have we the men or the time to deal with the problem of these roads. We should like to accept this assistance very much, but we simply cannot afford to do so." That seems to be a very true criticism. Quite apart from their own contributions, the maintenance of these roads will hit local authorities very heavily. If the Bill does nothing else, it draws attention to the great importance of using national funds to improve our roads without involving too heavily local government funds.
I want to impress upon the Government the importance of extending steadily these first steps towards the improvement of agricultural roads. At the beginning of my speech I said that these matters were last considered during the war. I give this awful warning to my right hon. Friend: one month after the first Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Bill was introduced in respect of the improvement of fen roads, another Bill was introduced to extend the grants for the improvement of additional agricultural roads. I hope that that sort of thing will happen in this case. These are first steps, and we welcome them as we always welcome first steps. One is always kind to toddlers—but if my right hon. Friend wants to win the approbation of the agricultural community he will not toddle; he will break into a smart double.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)
I welcome the Bill. I was pleased to hear the Minister refer to the fact that it had a distinctly Welsh pedigree. Unfortunately, it has had rather a long period of gestation, during which it has been fathered upon both England and Scotland. I should not complain about that if it were not for the fact that the provision for its maintenance has not been increased. I understood that when the Bill was originally conceived the Ministry had in mind £4 million in relation to Wales alone. That sum, apparently, has now to be shared between Wales and certain areas in England and Scotland. If the Bill is to make a really practical contribution towards solving the difficulties arising in connection with rural roads, its financial provisions must be implemented with a sense of realism.
1336 The Minister has conceded the existence of a real problem in regard to these access roads. It is not a purely agricultural problem; it has a social aspect. Many holdings in my area are likely to become empty unless something is done to provide reasonable means of access there. Hon. Members representing the rural counties of Wales are continually receiving complaints that merchants are refusing to deliver fertilisers, coal and similar commodities to these holdings because of the condition of the roads. Parents continually complain that it is cruel to send their children to school over some of the present roads in the upland areas. This situation presents our local authorities with a great headache.
There can be no doubt of the dire necessity of doing something in this direction. There can also be no doubt of the difficulties in which local authorities find themselves in facing their responsibilities for the maintenance of roadways in these areas. I want to give one or two figures to emphasise the difficulty which is being experienced by counties in rural Wales. The cost per head in respect of road maintenance in the rural counties of Wales is between £6 and £7. In England as a whole it is £1 13s. 9d. That illustrates the gravity of the problem in these rural areas as compared to the rest of the country. In regard to unclassified roads, I will take as an example my own county. We have 500 miles, 375 miles of which require to be brought up to a reasonable standard. That work would cost more than £1 million. After making all allowances for rate equalisation grant and other grants that might be obtained, this would involve a rise of 8s. 4d. in the £ in the rates.
The Bill envisages some of these roads being brought up to standard, and places rate burdens on the local authorities in regard to roads which are taken over. The figures indicate that unless the grants available in connection with these roads in livestock rearing areas are very substantial the Bill will be a dead letter. The same is true of Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire.
The Minister referred to the Report of the Rural Development Panel. In its survey of Montgomeryshire, it found 264 miles of unclassified roads, only 26 miles of which were anything like up to the standard. In Radnorshire, there were 1337 only 25 miles up to standard out of 252 miles of unclassified roads. If the Minister expects these local authorities to do anything under the Bill he will have to extend to them a grant of at least 75 per cent. for unclassified roads and for unadopted roads something amounting virtually to 100 per cent. Unless these grants are available to the local authorities, I fear that the local authorities will find themselves unable to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill.
I will make one or two comments on the details of the Bill. I am glad that the initiative is to come from the local authorities who, after all, know local conditions, the roads and the areas where the need is greatest. The Explanatory Memorandum suggests that the scheme will be spread over ten years, but if the local authorities take up the Bill the £4 million will be absorbed not in ten years but in a year or two. If the Bill is to be a good one, all the money set aside for its operation will be absorbed in a very short time indeed.
I agree with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) about the position that may arise under the Bill if we call upon farmers to contribute in respect of one adoption and not in respect of another. I do not quite understand whether the question of contribution is to be gone into before the grant from the Government is determined, or not. I do not know the order of events from the financial aspect of the scheme.
I welcome the fact that these contributions are to be voluntary. They will depend upon amicable arrangements between the local authorities and the farmers. I anticipate that when we work out schemes it will be found that it would have been far better if the contributory element had been eliminated altogether. What will be gained by getting contributions will I be outbalanced by the administrative trouble and inconvenience, and the danger of dissatisfaction and of a sense of unfairness, as between one scheme and another. I invite the Minister to change the Bill in this respect.
If the Bill is to operate effectively, I hope the Minister will think in terms of most generous grants, particularly for the Welsh counties. Otherwise, the Bill will be a complete failure. If the machinery of the Bill is operated to anything like the extent it should be, £4 million will be wholly inadequate to meet the situation.
1338 Bearing in mind these limitations, I welcome the Bill and sincerely hope that the Ministry will look upon schemes submitted to it with sufficient benevolence to make it possible for local authorities to do something really worth while towards solving our difficulties in the field of road communications in our upland areas.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
The Bill raises a very important principle regarding public money for improving private property, which we shall have to face increasingly. Although we are now dealing with a very limited sphere indeed in respect of farming roads, yet over the country as a whole there must be tens of thousands of farm roads getting into a deplorable state because of the mechanisation of agriculture. This is not the occasion for further comment, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) has said, we get numerous letters about the condition of these roads.
Although I represent a semi-industrial area I frequently get letters from farmers and others who are worried about the unadopted and the unclassified roads. In my constituency, we have the further problem of scores of miles of roads which served the tin and copper mines in the past, but are now in a dreadful state because they have never been adopted. In my area we were unable to carry out a road improvement quite close to the school at Cusgarne simply because the money was not available for the purpose of doing it.
What worries me about the Bill and about the debate is that the Minister has been very hazy about the cost per mile of the roads that should be improved. I did not take down the figure, but if my memory is right he mentioned £2,000 to £3,000 per mile. If we take the figure £2,500 per mile, then, to judge by a county survey for Brecon, the utmost we could hope to get done for £1 million would be 40 miles. That would be the total cost.
Even if the Ministry gives a grant of 50 per cent., all we should get would be 80 miles. As the total expenditure envisaged by the Bill is only £4 million, all we can expect to get done in ten years under the Bill is 320 miles of roads. The Minister himself mentioned that in these hill farming areas there are thousands of miles of roads involved, and it 1339 seems to me that, although the Minister is making a good start, he will have to improve on it very soon.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
This will be a speech of record-making brevity, because there are only two points I want to make.
I must say to begin with, however, that I have seen some "rum" Bills introduced in this House, but this Bill seems to me to be one of the "rummiest." I came to the conclusion when I read it first of all that the Minister must himself have concluded that this House of Commons will now swallow anything; and I must say that I think he is entirely justified in reaching that conclusion, for so it will, by the gulp, as we have heard this afternoon. I confess that, although I think the gulp on this occasion is very much too small, I have hopes of it being enlarged at a later stage; and I have therefore no hesitation in putting it down.
The Minister is asking for a rather tall order from the House of Commons. He started off by saying that this Bill was devised primarily for Wales. I find that mildly irritating. In fact, the Minister made it pretty clear that if the Bill had not been designed for Wales it would not have been introduced at all. Then it appears to have dawned upon him that there would be a tremendous hullabaloo from England and Scotland if the Bill applied only to Wales; and here again the Minister was perfectly right.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Does my hon. Friend really resent one Bill which is primarily intended for Wales after such a shoal of Bills over many years which were primarily intended for Scotland?
§ Sir R. Boothby
That is quite an unworthy interruption, and I should not dream of attempting to answer it. If this Bill had been introduced and confined to Wales, my hon. Friend would have heard about it from the Scots, and in no uncertain voice. It does now apply to Scotland; but it is a tall order which the Minister is asking for.
We do not yet know what these areas are. We do not know how they are to be defined. How high are the hills to be, and what precisely does "a livestock-rearing area" mean? If there are any 1340 livestock about they are apt, if left alone, to have calves from time to time, and in that case it seems to me that most agricultural land in due course becomes a livestock-rearing area. There is no attempt to define, as such, an area which is to qualify for the grant.
Nor do we know how many miles of roads are involved. The figure of 3,000 miles was vaguely mentioned by the Minister, though I could not make out that it was for any particular reason; and so hon. Members on both sides of the House have been making pot-shots at the number of miles of unclassified and unadopted roads that may be dealt with under the Bill. Nobody has produced any very good reason for any particular figure—all the figures are widely different from each other—and we have had no assistance from the Government in reaching an estimate.
We do not know what the percentage grant will be. I suggested that between 30 per cent. and 90 per cent. was a reasonably wide range, but the Minister rather objected to it. When he asked me why I suggested 30 per cent. to 90 per cent., I said that I thought of it only because it seemed a wide enough range. Since then, we have had 100 per cent. suggested by hon. Members opposite for unadopted roads, and the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), who spoke for the Liberal Party, suggested 75 per cent. for unclassified roads. I do not know if that is right, but at any rate it is a figure, which is more than we got from the Minister.
Finally, we do not know what principle, if any, will guide the Minister in coming to his decisions. All we do know is that £4 million is to be made available for the next 10 years; but we have not a clue on what basis this figure has been reached—not the foggiest idea. There is one thing I can say with great conviction. It is not going to be nearly enough; and 1 quite agree with the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) that, if the Bill is to succeed, the Minister will have to come back and ask for a good deal more money than he is asking for today.
In conclusion, I want to say that if any constituency is a livestock-rearing area my constituency is. It rears more livestock per acre than any other section of 1341 the globe at the present time; and, therefore, whatever definition is laid down of that term, it must come into this Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Spence) will agree with me that we have a very nice line in unclassified roads in Aberdeenshire—several thousand miles of them—which ought to be put in good condition; and the present condition of these roads affects greatly the efficiency of farming in this area, where farming is otherwise very efficient.
We could do much more. We should do much better and put our unadopted and unclassified roads in rural areas into good order. It is one of the most serious problems affecting the north-east of Scotland at present; and, to strike a serious note as I sit down, that is really why I have been a little depressed by the tone of the debate this afternoon. This is not really a small thing; it is a burning agricultural problem.
I am sure that the condition of out roads is having a bad effect on farming efficiency. We should not have a fiddling little Measure which is inadequate to deal with the problem. We need a comprehensive Measure for dealing with unclassified roads in the rural areas throughout the country on an adequate scale, and with adequate funds; and I am certain that we shall have to direct our attention to this problem before very long.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
I am bound to say that I think the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) has introduced some reality into this debate. I listened carefully to the Minister, and the further he went in explaining this little Bill the more depressing he became. The right hon. Gentleman, for the benefit of his health, spent some time in East Anglia in the early part of this year, and I thought then that he would have taken some notice of the condition of the unclassified and farm roads, but he seemed to have his eyes fixed principally on political matters.
If a policy for agriculture is to be a success, quite clearly it must come down to the hard facts. I do not think the Minister really meant it when he said that the whole House would welcome the Bill. Why, indeed, should it? There is nothing 1342 in the Bill for the whole House to welcome. There is something to give a little pleasure to hon. Members from Wales, but otherwise the Bill is of such small stature that it does not look as if it will make a contribution, or at least a worth while contribution, to the well-being of agriculture. If it does, the local authorities or the local owners or other people interested in these roads will themselves have to find a pretty substantial contribution.
I should have thought that it would have been possible right from the start for the Minister to be able to say on what kind of road he would give a certain percentage grant. It seems to me that the local authorities are left in the dark. Will it be worth while for them to go to the expense of initiating schemes and sending them up to the Minister, not knowing whether they will be approved or whether the amount of the grant will be sufficient to make it worth their while to do the job? I think we should have had a great deal more light on that subject.
The purpose of the Bill is to assist what are described as livestock-rearing areas. It is about time that somebody's attention was drawn to them. I took a note of the figures issued by the Ministry last month showing the position of our livestock at 31st March, 1955. What do we find? We find that the number of cows and heifers in calf was down by 28,000; male cattle two years old and over by 60,000; heifers two years old but not in calf by 13,000, and heifer calves under a year old by 36,000.
As compared with March last year, the female cattle from which we breed our stock had decreased by 77,000. Something has happened to agriculture in the last few years. It had been on the upgrade, but something has happened to bring down the numbers of those vital breeding animals. Without them we cannot have future supplies, and a blow has therefore been struck at British agriculture whereby our potential meat production must decrease during the next year or two.
Not only have we this tremendous decrease in the number of cattle, but just look at the sheep: because they are being killed at much earlier ages, there is a reduction of 158,000. That means less provision for our future sheep production. With pigs, the figures are devastating.
1343 In March, 1955, as compared with March, 1954, there were 51,000 fewer gilts. That could mean as many as 700,000 fewer pigs produced in the next 12 months.
The assistance of £4 million over 10 years given to livestock-rearing areas makes this a miserable Measure indeed, and one not likely to encourage the farmers and the farming community to bend their backs to the task of producing more food at home so as to save imports at a time when we are in a very critical position. It therefore seems to me that this Bill is most inadequate.
I was very grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) for reminding the House that when a Bill was brought in during the war to provide for the construction of roads through the fens it had to be enlarged in a very short time. I was glad that he mentioned that, because we in Norfolk are now concerned as to why the Government have not included in this Bill provision for the maintenance of those roads, as I understand was at one time their intention.
What is the position? A vast amount of money was spent 10 or 15 years ago on constructing concrete roads through the fens. These roads are now deteriorating so rapidly that they will become unusable, but there is no road authority charged with their repair and maintenance. I believe that some of them come under the drainage authorities. In fact, during this week I had a letter from the clerk to the Hilgay Parish Council—that is a place in the fen area—asking me to bring to the Government's notice as a matter of urgency the fact that roads which were constructed during the war and for which no local authority is at present responsible are deteriorating so rapidly that they will, unless something is done, become useless for their purpose.
The National Farmers' Union in Norfolk was expecting the Government to do something with regard not merely to these roads in the fen district but to others leading to outlying farms—and there are some stock-rearing areas even in a county like Norfolk. I think that we rear as many stock in Norfolk as they do in Aberdeenshire—probably more—and I am certain that they compare in quality also.
§ Mr. Dye
Norfolk is the one county in the British Isles where the stock-carrying capacity has gone up during the years. In spite of this big drop in other parts of the country, Norfolk still has an increase in its livestock and is prepared to continue to increase it. If we are to have the stock we must rear more in the county because of the fall elsewhere. But if we are to make the fullest use of our potential resources, and if we are to cope with increased mechanisation, someone at some time must tackle the problem of our farm roads and fen roads.
The job is too big for the county. The cost would be far too great, because we have a very big mileage to deal with. If we are to meet the needs of hardworking farmers in out-of-the-way places who are rearing stock in disadvantageous conditions; and if we can do anything to help them by improving their roads, we ought to do it. It ought not to be postponed. The sum of £4 million is not enough. If it was increased to £40 million and spent in less than 10 years, we could begin to do something for the transport of crops and stock from the farms and of fertilisers and other essential things to the farms.
I cannot welcome the Bill. I feel that the Minister did not learn much from his visits in Norfolk in May, but I hope that he will come back again very quickly and try to meet our road problem as well as trying to do something for the roads in Wales.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
I welcome the Bill as a small step in one direction, but I should like to see the Minister move in other directions also. The definition relates mainly to high ground, but I should be glad to see it extended to some of the more level parts of the kingdom. I, too, speak for parts of Norfolk and East Anglia where it is difficult to make roads. Our countryside may be flat, but we have a lot of soft land and a prevailing shortage of road-making materials. It is therefore correspondingly expensive to put roads in order —it is difficult to get the hard bottom that is needed.
I was interested to note that the figures put forward by the Minister as the likely cost of reconditioning some of the hill 1345 roads in Wales—£2,000 to £3,000 a mile —agree with the actual cost—or, indeed, are rather less on average—of putting into order some of the fenways which, though treated in the war, have now lapsed into bad condition.
One of the troubles about the system of the fen roads is that wartime legislation empowered internal drainage boards to organise a road-hardening scheme in conjunction with agricultural executive committees. That had to be done in a hurry, and concrete was used. Probably concrete is the most useful material in those circumstances, but when it is laid on soft ground it cracks if it is not reinforced. Because of the shortage of materials in wartime, much of this work could not be reinforced and it has since broken up. Now one is left not so much with the problem of maintenance as of complete reconditioning.
At the moment this task is placed on the shoulders of the local internal drainage boards, which have neither the facilities nor the resources to cope with it. I hope that at a very near date the Minister will look at the problem of roads in the sparsely populated areas of East Anglia. I hope he will see whether the definition of a livestock-rearing area can be widened to include a lot of our grazing marshes, and also whether the principles of this Bill can be extended so as to let in any unadopted highway road for maintenance of which a local authority is prepared to be responsible thereafter.
As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) pointed out, there is not likely to be an ugly rush to put these roads in order. If in future a local authority thinks that it can produce funds for maintenance, that in itself is a reasonable guarantee that the road in question is worth putting into order with the grant so that it may become adopted.
It is worth noticing that the internal drainage boards have the main task of carrying out drainage work for which they receive very useful grants. The usual figure for reconditioning a dyke is 50 per cent., but the cost of reconditioning a dyke is only about one-third of the cost of reconditioning a fenway.
1346 As hon. Members from all over the Kingdom have pointed out, there are many unclassified and unadopted rural roads which need urgent attention. Those representing rural areas are all familiar with the sight of groups of cottages and houses at the end of an unadopted road which has been a public highway since living memory but which no one has seen fit to repair. As a result of neglect and its use by tractors and so on, the road quickly becomes impassable, particularly in winter, for farmers and workers who live at the end of the road. If hon. Members could see the struggle which people have with perambulators, for example, they would see that such houses must fall out of use.
Land which is worth cultivating and houses which are serviceable for living in will fall into disuse, not because the land is not worth cultivating or the houses are not worth living in, but because people cannot get to and fro. The Minister is on this occasion taking what we might describe as the high road over the mountains, but I hope that very shortly he will be minded to turn to some of the low roads through the valleys and across the fens.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)
I am particularly interested in this Bill. Some hon. Members sitting around me may recall that on 3rd March last year I was privileged in the Adjournment debate to raise the subject of roads in Merioneth. In replying to that debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport rather rapped me on the knuckles for inferring, as he thought, that the Government were not at all interested in the unclassified and unadopted roads of Merioneth. I am pleased to see that the promise made that evening has been implemented in this Bill. Indeed, the Bill goes further than was promised then. Not only does it deal with unadopted roads leading to farms, but also with roads leading to forests, and there are a large number of such roads in my constituency.
Unlike a previous speaker from this side of the House, I find the Bill fairly commendable. It can be made very useful and valuable in a county like Merionethshire. It is true that this is not a perfect Bill. Who would expect perfection from a Conservative Government?
1347 Allowing for that, I am prepared to say that it is perhaps the best Bill of its kind. I am going to deal with one or two of the snags in the Bill and to show its imperfections.
Taking Merioneth as a typical example of a hill farming county, the county council there is helpless to deal with most of the unclassified roads and certainly with the unadopted roads. The product of a 1d. rate in Merioneth is in the region of £500. I hope the Minister will make special note of that, because that is where one of the snags occurs. In some counties, even in North Wales, the product of 1d. rate is in the region of £3,000, but in Merioneth—a purely rural hill farming area—it is in the region of £500. When I remind the House that in the county there are 350 miles of unclassified roads, apart from unadopted roads, the magnitude of the problem there can be readily appreciated.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins). In my opinion, there is only one solution for the unclassified roads, and that is to upgrade them as Class III roads. I can see no other solution to this problem because, however generous the grants may be, for instance under the Bill, the problem of maintenance will remain. When the product of a ld. rate is only £500, it can readily be appreciated that the finance committee of the Merionethshire County Council would have to think twice before it put the provisions of the Bill into operation. It would be compelled to do so because it would have to consider where the money would come from.
I am very sorry that the Minister has imposed a ceiling of a mere £4 million. I say "mere" in view of what has been said during the debate. One mile of road in Merioneth cost £80,000 to construct, and I am sure that the £4 million would easily be expended in the counties of Merionethshire and Caernarvonshire put together. I therefore urge the Minister to try to influence his colleagues in the other Department to do all that is possible to upgrade these unclassified roads in such a rural area as Merionethshire, as I am sure that is the only solution.
May I come for a moment to the question of the unadopted roads, which are no one's responsibility? The Government 1348 are pressing farmers to produce more and more, and nothing would assist hill farmers to increase their production as much as the provision of decent roads leading to their farms. It is a very costly business nowadays to convey such things as fertilisers and machinery to the farm and afterwards to convey the products of the farm to the markets. I repeat: nothing would assist the farmers to produce far more than they produce at the present day than the provision of better and adequate roads leading to and from their farms.
I wonder how many hill farmers can take advantage of the provisions of Clause 3, which reads:Where the council of any county, county borough or county district in England or Wales, or the council of any county in Scotland, propose to improve an unclassified road or unadopted road in their area, and the improvement is one to which this Act applies, the council may enter into an agreement under this section with any person willing to contribute to the improvement.That sounds very reasonable and fair but is it practical for hill farming? In a county like Merioneth, one finds that not even some of the large farms on the hills are as prosperous as farms in the Lowlands. They are family farms, difficult of cultivation, with not much surplus of profit.
I am convinced that the vast majority of the farmers in my constituency have not the capital to spend on these unadopted roads. It would therefore be adding insult to injury to tell them, "We should like you to have better roads and we will assist you on condition that you assist yourselves." They are not in a position to assist themselves, and such a situation would be most tantalising. The intentions of the Bill may be commendable and made with every sincerity, but unless they are practical they are of no avail.
It is pleasing to note that there are provisions in the Bill to deal with forestry. The workers in the forests today are greatly hampered by the terrible conditions of some of the roads leading to the forests, and I am glad that through the provisions of the Bill there are hopes that these roads will be greatly improved.
I shall carefully watch the Bill passing through Committee. It is a fairly good Bill but it is capable of much improvement, and I hope that in his reply the 1349 Minister will say that he has specially noted all he has heard from both sides of the House so that at the close of the debate there will be hopes of getting a far better Bill than that which has been presented.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) pointed out what a tremendous task is involved in making even modest improvements on hill roads, and perhaps I could take that as my cue for the few remarks which I shall make.
When we are voting money to be spent on an agricultural Estimate, I suggest that the best test as to whether we are wisely voting is whether or not we shall get an increase in production from the money which is to be spent. The amount of increased production which can be derived from spending hundreds of thousands of pounds upon long stretches of Highland roads is very doubtful indeed. One could imagine that one would spend an awful lot of money and get perhaps a bit more dairy farming done at some remote place and have the milk more easily carried to and fro.
On the other hand, if the question of fen droves were taken in hand, we should get an immense increase in fertility in the fens, an increase in livestock production there and a very much better return on the money. As there is such a limited amount to be spent, I am very sorry that none of it is apparently to be spent in my constituency or in any part of the fenland areas.
This fenland problem is twofold. First, we have the problem of the droves, the unadopted roads, which have to be seen in winter to be believed. The reason for which they are in such a bad condition is partly that many of them lie at sea level or very near to it and partly the very nature of the soil, which makes road building more difficult. A further problem which I am afraid arises far too often is that a large number of small owners or small tenants whose land adjoins the droves have over the years found it very difficult to co-operate in providing the money. I dare say that if there were the inducement of a Government grant they would get together much more readily. The money would be well spent there.
1350 I heard of a drove the other day which is quite impassable in winter for any kind of traffic and sometimes difficult even on foot. It was called "Labour-in-Vain Drove." Very many of these droves would be rightly so described.
Another problem is that of the droves which were made up during the war into concrete roads. Where they have been adopted by the county council, as in one of the fenland counties, it seems to me that no problem arises, but in those counties where the county councils have not adopted the concrete roads, they have become a wasting asset. They are deteriorating very quickly indeed, and it seems ridiculous that for the expenditure of a comparatively small amount—in fact, it is a trifling sum—we should lose the total value of these concrete roads. I hope that my right hon. Friend will state the Government policy on these roads. I am told that if they were reclassified so that the county councils received a 75 per cent. maintenance grant, which, although it sounds a large percentage, would not be a large annual amount, there would be no difficulty in the councils maintaining those roads in future.
It seems to me that if we want higher production and the best use made of our best land—and the fenlands are undoubtedly our best land—we must do something some day about the fenland droves. It seems a great pity that while we are legislating on this subject we are doing nothing at all to solve this problem. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts before long.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
I rise mainly to refute the suggestion made by the hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton), which was, if I understood the hon. Gentleman aright, that the criterion in these matters should be how much production we can get out of these areas when we spend this money.
§ Mr. Roberts
If the hon. and learned Gentleman had listened to his own Minister, he would have heard that this little Bill was the result of urgent representations from Wales where, for generations, people have been concerned not only about the 1351 quality of our agriculture and our uplands but about what I can only describe as the gradual liquidation of a national community.
This question of handing out public money to increase production here or there is not the only criterion that an assembly of this character should consider. In so far as this Bill is to be welcomed, it is a small attempt to help a section of the population of this island which, for many years, has been fighting hard economically and culturally to maintain its integrity and its existence. I should have thought that in every quarter of the House there would be acclamation for any attempt to rescue these people from the poverty and the hopelessness which so often has overtaken them.
I wish I could welcome the Bill more warmly, but its main purpose is out of all relation to the character of the problem with which we are faced. It comes to this, that until we have reformed the whole basis of local government finance, particularly in Wales, this kind of Bill will not do the job we wish it to do. We have heard from more than one Member of the basic inability of the local authorities to find even a small proportion of the costs of these schemes. I am afraid I must agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) that even this small Bill may well become a dead letter in the rural counties of Wales unless the grants in each case approach practically 100 per cent. That is not the fault of the local authorities. It is the flaw in our local government system of finance, and until we do something about that, we shall have these Bills attempting to patch up here and there glaring faults in our economy and in our local amenities, and we shall continue to feel frustration and inadequacy in the face of this large problem.
I fear that the administration of this Bill is going to prove difficult, and I hope that between now and the Committee stage the Minister will consider very carefully how the £4 million is to be distributed over the next 10 years. This Bill exacerbates the latent dichotomy of interest between the ratepayer and the farmer, and I can envisage councils with very small financial resources practically forcing the farming community to enter 1352 into arrangements with them so that the burden on the rates will thereby be lessened.
Again I do not blame the authorities. Between the two inhibitions—the poverty of the local authorities and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) mentioned, the comparative poverty of a great many of the farmers which the Bill is supposed to help—this Bill may well be a dead letter. I hope it will not be. But there surely must be some way whereby we can ensure that the comparatively small boon contained in this Bill is taken up by the people for whom the Bill was designed.
I wish the Bill well. It could, I think, help Wales a little where our national difficulty is felt most at the moment. I wish more money were provided by the Bill, and, above all, I wish the money were being provided under a different system from this pestiferous grant system involving first the central authority and then the local authority, and the evaluation of schemes in such a way that there is bound to be complaint and ill-feeling between applicant and applicant.
We on these benches will do our best in Committee to help this Bill through and to strengthen it, and I know from experience of the Minister and his assistants that he also will be most ready to do his best to improve the Bill.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. H. R. Spence (Aberdeenshire, West)
It must be quite clear to the Minister, having listened to the speeches so far, that the whole House supports the principle of this Bill. The criticism of the Bill, too, has been almost unanimous, namely, that the amount proposed for road improvement is too small.
It seems to me that before the conclusion of the debate we should have from the Minister more information about the method of allocation which is to be employed. I understood the Minister to say that he envisaged 50 per cent. of the grants being allocated to the Principality. It seems, therefore, that, in saying that, the Minister must have in mind some method of allocation. To decide to allocate about £2 million for the improvement of roads in Wales leaves only £2 million for the whole of the rest of Great Britain, which is far too small a sum.
§ Mr. G. Roberts
Would the hon. Member also be fair enough to recognise that there has been Bill after Bill which has attended to the special needs of Scotland, and especially the Highlands—for instance, the 1897 Bill?
§ Mr. Spence
It would be out of order for me to refer to all the Scottish Bills which have been passed. Here, we are dealing with these particular roads in the rural areas and the problem of the agricultural community. It seems to me that Scotland will come off very poorly if half the grants are to be given in advance to Wales. It would be of great benefit to all of us if the Minister would indicate the basis on which allocation is to be made.
Are all country authorities throughout the country to submit their plans, and will the money be allocated upon a mileage proportion? Is it a fact that the larger the mileage for which a county applies, the larger will be the grant to that county; or will it be on a basis of so much per county irrespective of their proposals? If we could have more details of this kind, they would help greatly in the preparation of plans, for we must have more idea of how the allocations are to be made.
A great deal has been said during the debate about the need to improve and increase agricultural production and the purely physical side has been emphasised strongly. Even more important is the human angle and the social side of this development, for it is, above all, important to stop the drift from the land by improving the conditions on the land. It is this aspect that will have the greatest long-term benefit for the industry.
My right hon. Friend can be assured of our support. We hope that between now and the Committee stage he will consider his methods of allocation and whether it is possible to be more precise 1354 about the nature and amount of the payments that are to be made. Could he give a figure for unclassified roads and a figure for non-adopted roads? These details would be helpful to local authorities and I hope that my right hon. Friend may see his way to giving them before the Committee stage.
We also hope—I am sure the whole—House hopes—that this Bill is merely an introduction to the work of improving these roads and that we may not regard it with finality, so that as the requests for help come in, as they will do, from all over the country, the Government may perhaps see their way to make the grants bigger and progressive as the years go by.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
I think I can say a few words to allay some of the doubts in the minds of hon. Members who do not belong to Wales and who cannot possibly be expected to understand the nature of our particular problems. I am very glad that the Bill attempts to ease certain onerous conditions affecting hill farming and agricultural life in the hill districts in particular. We all know that Wales is a highly elevated country, topographically and in every other way. There are problems that are not due to any fault of commission or omission on the part of the population.
I know my Wales very well. I know Scotland very well superficially. I have a great affection for Scotland and the Scots folk, and there is no occasion in this House for bringing up any sense of rivalry between the people of any parts of these kingdoms. We are a great people and I am very proud of my association with the countryside as well as with the industrial life.
I was a coal miner; that is my trade. I know that trade very well indeed. I have given the best years of my life to coal mining. I would never get such years again. I have been very happy in this House during my 33 years of service here, but I think that my best time was spent when I was young in the mines and I came to know some of the best people in the world. What we must always remember in this House when anyone refers to England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland, is that the people in our countries are among the best people in the world.
1355 We should be careful at all times not to miss a single opportunity of improving the industrial conditions and life in the countryside. The problem which has hurt me perhaps more than anything else in recent years is the problem of the deserted countryside. The countryside is being deserted even now in Scotland. The countryside is deserted even now in Wales, and there are people whose sole ambition and purpose in life is, by some means or other, to settle in the cities or, perhaps, abroad. There is no hope or prospect for a contented full life for people in their own country. That is the state in the rural districts in Wales at the present time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins)—my neighbour—has to represent two counties. He is not a very big man physically, but he has to divide himself in two to give part of his time to Breconshire, a very extensive county, and part to the still more extensive, but less populated, area of Radnorshire. In Glamorgan, where I live, we have 16 Members of Parliament. We have smaller and more compact constituencies and a more urbanised life generally. We have far more physical comforts, far more conveniences and a higher standard of education. All these things are being evolved through the Bill which has been brought before the House today, and I hope that this House will not neglect the opportunity of doing what is vitally necessary in the interests of parts of Wales, parts of Scotland and also rather extensive areas in England, too.
Let the English people speak for England with their greater familiarity with their country than I have, but I have seen very much of England. For many years I was a member of the Forestry Commission. Does anybody think that I took that up to gain credit and fame as a good forester? Oh, no. I knew that the job had to be done in all parts of the kingdom, in England as well as in the other countries. Very great neglect had led to the deforestation of tremendous areas of land.
When anybody grudges the spending of money in rural areas, let it be remembered that we are now spending £1 million a year on afforestation. That 1356 money is not spent so much in places like Hertfordshire, Middlesex and the southern counties, but is spent generally in the kind of areas to which we are referring today. I know almost every forest in Scotland. I have walked through nearly all of them. This work was started by Philip Snowden, a wicked old Socialist, as he was called, but a great man who had the assistance of great Scotsmen who were forest experts. In 1929, we started a plan of afforestation, with which I have been associated directly and actively for twenty-five years and to which I still attach myself from time to time. I never miss a year without making a trip to the forests. There are 87 of them in Wales. People have no idea of what this has meant. These forests are beautiful to look at and a joy to behold, even to people from any part of Europe. They are better than the rich forests in Europe. Britain grows better and more timber than any country I know, and I have seen a few of them.
That public expenditure has benefited the rural areas. The amount of money that is being spent now is about £1 million a year and it is spent mainly in this same kind of area. What we from Wales are now saying is that there is no need to have special forests or agricultural segregation. I warn the House not to neglect too long the problem of the deserted village. Goldsmith has given us poetic reference to this kind of emigration from the countryside. If the people leave the hills of Scotland and the hills of Wales, as other people left the mineral areas of Cornwall, they will never go back again, and those parts will be less agreeable for the rest to live in, and Britain will be the poorer. The level of cultivation is coming down very rapidly, coming down to 800 and 600 feet, and nowhere is that more evident than in Wales.
I want the Minister to be given carte blanche by this House to do what he can. Let him not squander money, but let him place sufficient money at the service of agriculture to stop the further emigration of people from the agricultural areas. Let him renew the conditions of life in those areas, the transport, the social amenities—and the chance for the parents in rural areas to send their children to school, for they cannot go to school these 1357 days in some places because of the neglect of the roads.
Here is an opportunity for the House and the Minister to do something for the benefit of the countryside. Let each one of us picture in his mind what he ought to do today, and imagine how, at some future time, he will feel if he were today to withhold, or to try to withhold, a grant for this purpose today, a grant of money to stop the emigration from the countryside, to stop villages being deserted as they were a century ago. Let us put a stop to this desertion of the countryside. Let us by all means ensure that the men in the rural areas are given, by financial provision out of which new roads, new cottages, new schools can be built there, a chance to live well again in their own country. And by that word "country" I do not mean Wales only. Perhaps I should say, to live well in their own countries, these countries of ours, which are the best in the world, with the best countrysides. Let us not neglect them. If we do, we do so at our peril.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
In following the Father of the House, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) who, as usual, has impressed us with his sincerity and his love of his own country, I hope he will not think that because I live in the Fens I feel any resentment at this Bill being primarily of benefit to Wales. If any right hon. or hon. Gentleman thinks that any of us who speak for areas outside of Wales have any resentment against the Bill on that account, or against Wales, he is quite wrong. We are sympathetic to the Bill.
Perhaps the provisions of the Bill will play in Wales a part not altogether dissimilar from that which the hydro-electric scheme in Scotland is playing for that country. There is a social purpose to be served by this Bill as well as an agricultural one. I do not think I would follow my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) the whole way in saying that the only criterion by which to judge anything done in the countryside is the measure of a consequent increase of production. Of course, we all want increased production, but there is no question that we shall not have increased production unless amenities in 1358 the rural areas are improved, and improved much beyond their present state in some areas which so far have not benefited by other measures which were designed to improve them. It is on that aspect of the matter that I would address the House for a few minutes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) and the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) both touched on a subject which, as the Parliamentary Secretary will remember full well, is one which has caused both him and me a good deal of concern in the past. I mention it today because I hope that the Minister will take upon himself this extra burden, and call for the file on this subject of the concrete fenways which have not been adopted by county councils.
The county which I represent in this House, the Isle of Ely, was wise enough, under the financial povisions provided in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act passed during the war, to take over those roads straightaway, and to make them slightly wider than they had to be under the Act. and to turn them straightaway into Class C roads. As a result, the county has been able to use that Act to enable link roads to be made across what otherwise would have been rather isolated fen areas. That policy has proved thoroughly wise and far-seeing.
Unfortunately, the County Council of the Isle of Ely is the only county council which has done this. As the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West quite rightly said, the burden of maintaining roads which were not treated in that way now rests upon internal drainage boards, presumably because when those roads were first built the idea was to improve areas which, up to that time, were extremely badly drained. Some land has even been brought into production.
However, there is no question that those roads are deteriorating in a really alarming way. To the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, who has just reentered the Chamber, I would say that it is all very well to be rather unctuously self-righteous on behalf of a county council by putting the responsibility on the Government, but if his county council had been wise this problem would not have arisen in his county, just as it has not arisen in mine.
1359 It is ridiculous to expect internal drainage boards to maintain roads. They know nothing whatever about it. They certainly have not now the finance with which to do so, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South said, and if they were to raise their rates sufficiently to enable them to carry out the orders which have been served on them to keep those roads in good repair I think there would be a revolution among their ratepayers—and quite rightly so.
What I object to about the Bill is this. I object most strongly to three or four Ministers being made responsible for roads. It seems to me that the Bill ought to have been introduced by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. If his Department had done the job it ought to have done it would have already taken over the country roads which are causing concern to so many hon. Members on both sides of the House.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) appears to have forgotten that we have been able to debate the subject of roads in agricultural areas since the war, and I raised this matter with the present Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation some time ago in the hope that he would try to see whether he could do something to help the Norfolk County Council, in particular, to take over some of the roads. Not very much anxiety was shown by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation to take those roads over; not very much willingness to do so was expressed.
I sympathise with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food very deeply in this matter, because I know that his Department is not a road Department. While, under the Bill, my right hon. Friend will not be responsible for the roads, the finance is to come from his Department's Vote, but the responsibility for the roads will, presumably, be the responsibility of the local authorities and of the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, to whom the local authorities are responsible as highway authorities.
Therefore, I should have thought that this Bill ought to have been introduced by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. Let the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food take an interest in it, by all means, because the Bill will 1360 help rural areas, but the responsibility for it, and particularly the financial responsibility, certainly ought not to be his.
Nevertheless. I am the last person to want to stand in the way of anything to be done to improve amenities in the rural areas. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have already sufficiently clearly described the appalling conditions in some areas such as that in which I live. They are most appalling in the winter, when, in some places, there is no hard road at all near people's houses. People have to walk three or four miles, perhaps, along a soft road, perhaps axle-deep in mud—the sort of road only a horse and cart can go along, and not always even a horse and cart. That being so, I should have thought that we would not want to do anything to impede the passage of the Bill through the House.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will take this matter up with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and see whether we can secure a better solution of this problem than leaving responsibility for these roads in the hands of internal drainage boards which, having been served with orders to maintain them, are not in a position to do so. As a result, they have to watch the roads deteriorating, knowing full well that every year that passes simply means that either land has to go out of cultivation or an enormous cost must be involved in putting the roads right.
It is the most foolish form of economy possible to delay putting roads in good repair, because it means that, ultimately, the cost is infinitely greater. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will get in touch with the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and that if they together cannot solve the problem they will get in touch with the Prime Minister and see whether he can do so.
The internal drainage board has power to raise special rates for the repair of roads, which are levied on those who will benefit.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I hope my right hon. Friend will realise, as he will do if he goes to the trouble of reading the file to which I have referred, that the users of these roads are by no means confined to agriculturists. The roads are used by heavy traffic and at every weekend by 1361 many motorists who go out on them simply for pleasure. It is the heavy traffic which breaks up the roads most. I hope my right hon. Friend will realise that the present day cost is £3,000 per mile for 2½ inches to 3 inches of tarmac carpeting on existing roads. That is an enormous figure. To put up drainage rates sufficiently to cover that cost would cause a revolution among those who would have to pay them.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
I could not agree more with the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) when he says that this is a matter which primarily concerns the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. While I welcome the Bill, it can only be a qualified welcome because the Bill touches only the fringe of the problem. Those of us who live in the rural areas know that the problem has existed for many years and that with a great increase in traffic on the roads serving the rural areas the problem has become very great indeed.
I am quite ready to admit that the £4 million which will be spent under the provisions of the Bill will be of assistance in certain areas, but I want to stress that £4 million to be spent on improving the roads in rural Britain will go but a very small way towards doing what we all desire. What follows when the road has been put in order and has been adopted by the local authority, which then has to face the question of maintenance costs? It is a complicated business. Having to face the maintenance costs, it is no use the local authority going to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who, in the first instance, was instrumental in having the road adopted.
The Minister must then go to another Government Department where, up to now, no money has been made available for this type of road. He must plead with that Department—the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation—and say, "Please can you come to the assistance of an impoverished county by making a grant to help it maintain these roads? "This matter causes very great concern to local authorities before they start to think about putting some of these rural roads in order.
I was concerned that during the Minister's opening speech today no reference whatever was made to what has been 1362 described as the human element, I am sorry that the Minister did not once refer to the fact that, in addition to making possible roads upon which farm tractors can travel and animals can walk with a degree of comfort, the Bill would make possible roads which would serve a very human purpose in the rural areas. Among the problems with which an hon. Member who represents a rural area has to deal is the problem of rural roads which are nobody's concern. Sometimes when families are living in houses in muddy country lanes, one may go to a local authority again and again to plead for money to make the roads passable for them and enable them to reach the hard road, but, repeatedly, requests of this kind are turned down by the local authority.
I listened with great interest to the recital by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) of figures showing the alarming drop in the number of animals on English farms. He might have gone a little further and referred to the alarming drop in the number of men employed on our farms. Last year, the number of farm workers who left the land was over 16,000. During the lifetime of the last Conservative Government over 50,000 farm workers left the land. Is not that a matter for concern when we talk about providing amenities in rural Britain?
While I give a qualified welcome to the Bill, I say quite seriously to the Minister, "Carry on with this type of work, but do not spend all your energies in providing amenities for cattle and forget the desirable amenities for the people who have to tend the animals." If we are to stop the drift from the land—and this alarming drift which has gone on for many years is part of the problem—we have to talk not only about providing for the comfort of farm animals but more and more about providing the right type of amenities for the people who have to work on the farms.
A great deal of money is being spent nowadays on main roads. To a certain degree, I welcome the very considerable improvements which have been carried out upon them, but I have my reservations on that subject and I would much prefer that the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, at the suggestion of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, should see whether he can have 1363 made available a little more than the £4 million which is mentioned in the Bill, so that much more money can be spent on our rural roads.
I hope that the Minister will persevere in good works and carry on with this project. If, by his own effort, he cannot get something done, I hope he will see whether he can induce the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation to undertake the colossal and much-needed scheme which is needed in rural Britain if we are to maintain and increase agricultural production and keep our men on the land.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
On a point of order. is it not possible for one hon. Member from the West of England to speak in this debate? We have already had several from the Fen country and from Wales.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that that is not a point of order. Who is called is entirely in the hands of the Chair.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Those of us who represent Welsh constituencies in this House, on either side, were particularly pleased that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) had the honour of making the opening speech for the Opposition on this Bill today. Many of us were also pleased and charmed by the way in which he did it. The fact that he was chosen for that duty is, I think, recognition by the Opposition that this Measure is primarily designed to meet a particular need in Wales, just as the presence of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Minister for Welsh affairs during a large part of the debate is recognition by this side of the House that the Bill has that main purpose.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) was disturbed because such a large proportion of the money paid in grants—something over half of the amount—is to be given for roads of this kind in Wales. I am more disturbed by the knowledge that there is not a separate Bill for Wales with 1364 another Bill for other parts of the United Kingdom, because we are assured that it was originally contemplated that £4 million was to be spent in Wales alone.
There are many precedents for this, and I feel sure that if, in the future, we have a Secretary of State for Wales, this would be the kind of Bill to go before the Welsh Grand Committee, a suggestion that has often been made during debates on Welsh affairs. I was rather surprised when making some researches into this question to find that there is provision in the procedure of this House not only for a Scottish Grand Committee, but also for a Welsh Grand Committee.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
This is a most interesting suggestion by the hon. Member and I am not rising to oppose it, but I should like to remind him that if there were a Welsh Grand Committee the Government would be in the greatest difficulty in manning the Government side of that body.
§ Mr. Gower
That is amply covered by the procedure governing the Scottish Grand Committee, by which Members for English constituencies are recruited to make up and balance the strength.
I submit that what I have said has been borne out by the fact that the greater part of the money is to be spent on roads of this kind in Wales. I hope hon. Members will recognise that this is a special problem in the Welsh rural areas. Its origin was referred to by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech, and the degree of that problem is shown by the findings of the special panel which considered a specified area in mid-Wales.
One hon. Member suggested that this problem was quite common in other parts of the country. It may be the problem is general and that in Wales it is not different in kind, but it is certainly different in degree. I am sure the House will be interested to know that the panel found that in the rural districts of Aberystwyth and Tregaron, which cover an area of 410 square miles, there are between 60 and 70 miles of unadopted road, while in the rural districts of Knighton and Rhayader, which cover 281 square miles, there are 61 miles of unadopted roads. These lengths of unadopted roads are equivalent to 10 per cent. or more of the roads which are publicly maintained.
1365 Indeed, through the whole of the survey area there were about 10 per cent. unadopted in relation to the length of roads which are publicly maintained, and the findings of the National Farm Survey in the same survey area also bear this out in these words:Nineteen per cent. of the farm roads in this area were described as good, 40 per cent. as fair, 23 per cent. as bad, and 12 per cent. of the farms are reported as having no roads at all within their boundaries.That is the extent of our problem, and, of course, the consequence is that in many parts farms, smallholdings and cottages are becoming quite derelict.
That is the reason why the Council for Wales made certain recommendations and why, when the Government White Paper was published last year, the peculiarity of this problem was recognised and a promise made that special ad hoc assistance should be provided in such areas in the Principality for the unclassified and unadopted roads. Also, during the General Election an undertaking was given in the Conservative manifesto that these unadopted areas would receive attention. I gather from my right hon. Friend that this Bill is in fulfilment of that pledge.
We in Wales welcome this Bill. We do not regard it as lightly as the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye). He wanted a Measure that would deal with all the needs of agriculture. He dealt with the whole general problems of agriculture, but this Bill is not designed for those purposes. It is concerned with a particular problem, and I think the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) was right when he said that the amount of expenditure is not only to be justified by some recognisable increase in production, but it is also related to a particular form of trouble which was once described as social erosion within an area. It is not merely a question of production, but something far larger and in that respect this Bill is of particular value to these areas in Wales.
I should like my right hon. Friend to consider the number of representations which have been made from both sides of the House about the possibility of the global sum being inadequate. The very fact that such an amount was originally intended to be spent in Wales alone suggests that the sum must be inadequate, because parts of England and Scotland 1366 are now added. I ask my right hon. Friend to make representations to his colleagues in the Cabinet with a view to making the whole of this £4 million available for Wales, with a separate sum for comparable areas in other parts of the United Kingdom.
I disagree with those who have suggested that for the spending of this money there should be a tighter formula with percentages expressed in this Bill, because the Bill must be something of an experiment. It may be that the fact that such a formula is not inserted will give the Minister a much wider discretion. The very fact that this Bill has been brought forward is an indication that the Government recognise that this is a real problem needing a real solution, and if, by spending money or offering a certain proportion of the expenditure, it is found that the required result is not achieved, it will then be within the power of the Minister to increase the allocation and to demand less from the local authorities concerned. In that respect, I am glad that no too rigid formula has been included.
I welcome the Bill as much as any of the Labour Members from the Principality, who have welcomed it extremely generously.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
Having listened to the general chorus of approval which has greeted the Bill from all parts of the House, I would not dream of rising at this late stage to oppose it. But before we dispose of the Second Reading I have one or two small matters which ought to be mentioned as a matter of national policy when we are considering a Measure of this kind, which fundamentally affects the utilisation of the land. Like other hon. Members, I welcome any Measure which tends to increase the amenities and refinements of civilisation and the convenience which those of us who live in the towns enjoy as part of our natural inheritance, but which are so often denied to those in the more remote rural areas.
I have long been interested in rural districts and I claim that I am as familiar as most hon. Members with the mountains and valleys of Wales and Scotland, the Pennines, the Lake District and those beautiful parts of our native land of which we are so proud.
§ Mr. Price
Including Derbyshire. So I would be the last hon. Member to oppose anything which tended to increase the happiness and citizen rights of those who earn their living in those parts of the country.
However, it has always seemed to me, whenever we have discussed agricultural problems, even when they are related to the rich arable lands that have been dealt with in so many Acts of Parliament by both this and the previous Administration, and which flowed from that great Measure, the Agriculture Act, 1947, for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was responsible, that we very often forget that the social results which flow from great changes in our attitude towards agriculture are not always restricted to the agricultural product, or the amenities of the people who live and work on the land.
If the Minister, whose speech I heard with close interest and attention, and with whose views I found myself in agreement, will bear with me for a moment, I will put to him the following point. Any Measure which affects the fundamental betterment of land—and roads are one of the prime factors which affect the fundamental betterment of land—automatically increases the capital value of that land. One day a generation will arise—if I can say this modestly, without appearing in the role of prophet—which will recognise that the betterment of land created by the expenditure of public money is the property of the community.
These things used very frequently to be said in the days of Henry George, when an entire generation of Socialists drank rather deep at that fountain, but today they are generally forgotten. I believe that if the Government are now to embark with the general good will of the House on a programme of spending a large sum of money on a sort of pilot scheme on the valley and hill roads, then they may not get the kind of reaction which they anticipate.
We may get a situation in which those people who like to walk on the hill tops and in the higher reaches of the vales, where they are free from the dangers that beset them on the highways, will find that the broad reaches of the Welsh valleys and Derbyshire dales are infested by motor cycles and all the paraphernalia that now ply on the main roads. They 1368 will certainly find that once a road to a remote farmstead in a mountain valley is made at public expense the capital value of all that property, the land and buildings, will increase tremendously.
I expect that the expenditure of £4 million of public money on this work—I am not at all resisting it—will result, over the years, in a capital appreciation of the hereditaments adjoining that road by very much more than £4 million. To some hon. Members opposite these may be academic points, but there are many people who believe that these are fundamental questions which one day will have to be faced.
Many people have invaded the countryside in the last 10 or 20 years to become gentlemen farmers and enjoy the kind of contact with nature which is regarded as a good thing in the fulfilment of man's higher virtues. There will be an extension of the situation in which many people have gone into the mountains and said, "I should like to retire to this beautiful hilltop; I should like to buy this farm at whatever price I can get it and make a homestead here and make it a little palace." I have seen such places. But people refrain from doing that, because no transport system serves the place.
Once we have roads in the more remote stretches of the country, there will be a tremendous business among estate agents with a lot of advertisements in the "Sunday Observer" and the "Sunday Times" of desirable property in the dales of Derbyshire and the mountains of Wales at fantastic prices.
§ Mr. Price
We have often objected, in the House, to ribbon development which is against all good town and country planning, and which has gone on in an alarming degree in all parts of the country. I believe—and I ask the Minister to bear this in mind—that any unregulated rebuilding of country roads should be hedged around with satisfactory 1369 covenants to prevent ribbon development where there happens to be a beautiful view and where land would be sold for that purpose.
I hope that I have put those reservations fairly and without rancour. I ask the Minister to consider them as part of the social attitude that the House should adopt towards problems in which the land is involved.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
Not for the first time in my 24 years in the House, my heart is warmed by the speech of the right hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). He described the plight of some of his friends in the Welsh valleys and hills. My people in the Highlands of Scotland are suffering and have been suffering from the same sort of difficulties as his people in Wales, so a bond of sympathy between us in this matter exists across the Floor of the House.
The problem of the Scottish Highlands is one of depopulation, just as much as in Wales. If this little Bill—and I emphasise "little"—will do anything to alleviate the difficulties of those in the Highlands, it will do a great deal of good. The main problem in the Highlands is that of transport. We have done a great deal in extending electrification—we are doing that still. We have developed hill farming and other schemes, better housing for our shepherds and cattlemen and so on. One thing which seems to be missing is the road to the hill farm, the road to the shepherd's cottage, the road to the farmer in his "livestock-rearing area," as the rather prosaic Parliamentary term goes.
I welcome this little Bill for what it is, and I am not pretending that it goes any further than it does. I welcome the fact that the Minister of Agriculture and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland are both interested in it. I disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) that it is the Ministry of Transport which ought to be concerned with it. If it had been, we should not have had the £4 million. It is only because we have managed to get £4 million from the Treasury through the Ministry of Agriculture that we have got anything at all.
We should proceed with the Bill on the line that we are experimenting in 1370 regard to unclassified and unadopted country roads, and if the experiment works—I believe it will work much faster than the Government at present anticipate—I hope that in due course when the £4 million is used up right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench in four or five years' time will not hesitate to come back to Parliament, not only for the purpose of increasing the sum but, if necessary, and if thought wise as a result of the experiment, to extend the scheme to other areas.
There is only one detailed point about the Bill that I wish to raise. It relates to the exclusion of the crofting counties—
§ Captain Duncan
No, Sir. Caithness is a crofting county but it is not the Highlands. Having been Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) should have known that. The problem of the crofting counties, so the Government say, is met because grants are available for purposes similar to those under the Bill under the Congested Districts Act, 1897; but that Act deals only with agriculture, dairy farming, and the breeding of livestock and poultry, and not with forestry. All through the 1897 Act it is clearly laid down that forestry is not included.
In the crofting counties a very large, and, we hope, increasing, amount of forestry has been done, and I believe that the future of the crofting counties depends very largely upon the development of forestry side by side with agriculture. It is a pity that in the Bill we have specifically excluded the crofting counties and, therefore, prevented the benefits going to forestry land. An enormous amount of forestry is being done, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson), the newly-appointed Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, whom we welcome on the Government Front Bench in this new Parliament, will be able to meet us on this point, if not by speech this evening, at any rate during the Committee stage, by ensuring that 1371 the crofting counties are given the whole benefit not only of the 1897 Act but of this Bill in respect of forestry.
I welcome the Bill for what it is, but I hope that in the future as the result of this experiment we shall be able to extend its benefits to unadopted and unclassified roads in other areas of Scotland besides the livestock rearing areas.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I am surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) should have dragged the crofting counties into our discussion on the Bill and suggested that something was being denied them. It is not long since we had a Measure dealing entirely with the problem of the crofting industry. I cannot remember any Amendments in the name of the hon. and gallant Member to that Measure, but I well remember Amendments in the names of hon. Friends of mine seeking to put responsibility on the new Crofting Commission for the problems of the crofters. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, who is now so sympathetically vocal, was absent from the Lobbies on that occasion.
§ Mr. Ross
This Bill arose out of the problem of Wales. I differ from some of my Scottish Conservative colleagues in that I wish that the Bill related only to Wales. In his speech, the Minister persuaded everyone of the need for the Bill, but when he dealt with the way in which the Bill would tackle the problem he disappointed everyone because of the vagueness of the provisions. There was uncertainty in the minds of hon. Members as to whether the global sum would be sufficient to deal with the problem, particularly when spread over 10 years, making it an average of £400,000 a year.
There is no intention necessarily to spread the amount over 10 years. From our point of view, the sooner schemes of the right kind are submitted, the sooner the money will be spent.
§ Mr. Ross
"The sooner the money will be spent"? Can we have an additional guarantee from the Minister that a further sum will be voted when that amount has been spent? Perhaps that 1372 must wait. At any rate, we have heard that sort of thing before.
I was interested to hear the Minister say that about 50 per cent. of the money voted would be spent in Wales. That led me to the belief that the Bill arose because of the needs of Wales and that the needs of Wales had been properly surveyed. I do not doubt that originally the Bill was meant only for Wales but that other people said, "This is a good thing. Let us bring other people into it." That meant that the total sum had to be increased. I am sure that the promoters knew exactly the amount that would be required for Wales, and that we could have been given a precise Bill for Wales.
Instead of that, by making the Bill a general one, the Government have destroyed any hope in Wales or anywhere else of getting anything out of it. With whom does the initiative lie for implementing the scheme? It lies with local authorities. Local authorities have to bear in mind certain factors when presenting the Minister with proposals. What local authority today, in view of the financial burdens upon local authorities, will submit a proposal when it does not know what financial burden will be involved? The Minister has already told us that the grant will probably be in the region of 50 per cent. but that it will vary. The Minister need not shake his head. I listened carefully to him and heard him say that he had in mind about 50 per cent. but the amount would vary.
The right hon. Gentleman went even further. We have had speeches from Welsh hon. Members talking about the scattered nature of the problem, but the Minister referred to long lengths of roads with which it would be uneconomical to deal. He ought to make the point very clear. He is speaking particularly to Welsh hon. Members. It strikes me that the real problem of the people out in the widely scattered and desolate parts will not even be touched because of the length of road involved and the cost of dealing with it. One hon. Member spoke about a cost of £2,000 per mile—
§ Mr. Ross
—and another hon. Member spoke about £3,500 per mile. The 1373 further we have to go into the more desolate areas the greater will be the cost. We have only to remember our experience in the Highlands and the crofting counties to realise what the problem is. I should not like to quote what it cost per mile to deal with a certain road in Inverness. I am afraid that these areas will get no benefit from the Bill as it presently stands because local authorities will not know what grants they are going to get but they will know what the road will cost, and they also know that if they take over an unadopted road they have to maintain it in future. So they know the extent of a certain amount of the liability, but they do not know what they will get by way of assistance from the Government. That is the weakness of the Bill.
When we consider the present conditions of local authorities, no one can have high hopes of great new roads spreading from Wales through the South of England. I say right away that although I would rather have seen this an entirely Welsh Bill, had that come forward I would have liked to see it followed quickly by a Bill dealing with the rest of the country: because the Highlands of Scotland are not entirely Scotland and this is a tremendous problem in the border counties. It is a problem, too, in the scattered sheep-rearing areas of Ayrshire and also in the Kilmarnock area, which takes in a similar type of country.
So I feel that we shall not see great improvements under this Bill, and I wish the Minister would think again. He has to take certain matters into consideration, and the least he can do is to tell us what considerations he will bear in mind. Is the consideration to be the length of the road, the cost of the road, or the poverty of the local authority? It must be remembered that, when we are dealing with these widely scattered areas, these are the poorest local authorities.
In the case of the larger local authorities, does the Minister mean to give them, say, the amount of help given in the crofter counties? I think I am right in saying that at present these roads are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland—
§ Mr. Ross
So already the Minister of Transport has nothing to do with them. Is the Minister going to vary the proportion of his grant according to the length of the road and the economic position of the local authority? He should give us some information in that respect because, without it, I think the Bill is well-intentioned but useless.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
I confess, frankly, that I am disappointed in this Bill. I am disappointed because in politics, as in so many other fields of life, the good is often the enemy of the best. I was comparatively happy at the end of the previous Parliament when a somewhat similar Bill was introduced because I thought it was a stop-gap Measure to meet an immediate need, and that although is had limited application it would do some good, particularly in Wales.
Now, however, the position is different. We have a new Parliament. It is the same Government but this new Parliament has four or five years of life before it and there are more supporters behind the Government, so we ought to be able to last for our normal period of office. I would have thought that, with the immensity of the problem of farm roads which faces any Government, now was the time to take a new look at the problem and introduce a comprehensive Measure to deal with it. A stop-gap Measure of limited application at the end of the life of one Parliament is one thing; to introduce a Measure of this kind at the beginning of what ought to be the long life of a new Parliament is quite another.
The problem of rural transport and of rural roads is one of the greatest problems that face the farming industry in England, Scotland and Wales today. It is at least comparable to the problem of rural bus services. The time is fast approaching when some of the financial help which is injected into the agricultural industry must be applied to the maintenance of rural roads and the provision of what otherwise would be uneconomic bus services in rural areas. But that is another matter, and now we are faced with this immense problem and I can only repeat my disappointment that the Measure is not dealing comprehensively and boldly with it at the beginning of this new Parliament.
1375 I said that I fear the good may be the enemy of the best because I am afraid that, having dealt with one small aspect of the problem, the most obvious and the most urgent, the Government will say, "We have dealt with roads and we need not do any more." If, however, the House can be told that this is only a limited Measure and that in the course of this Parliament we shall move on to something of real value to agriculture, I shall feel happier.
I am not happy about the definition of livestock rearing areas or about the administration of the Bill. It is placing an almost impossibly invidious task upon the Ministry in England and Wales and upon the Department of Agriculture in Scotland to decide where help should be given as between one area and another. Not only have we to decide as between one area and another, but as between England and Wales on the one hand and Scotland on the other. What is to be Scotland's proportion of the £4 million? Is it to be on the basis of the Goschen formula? How is to be decided that Scotland has her fair share of the limited amount that is to be allocated?
Then another division has to be worked out, the division as to the money spent for the benefit of farming and the money spent for the benefit of forestry. Very strong pleas will be made by that powerful body, the Forestry Commission, for as much as possible of the £4 million. I can see the Forestry Commission getting busy. I have no doubt that it is already busy getting all the schemes out of the pigeon-holes and making sure that it puts in its claims at once and presses them urgently and strongly. I fear greatly that at the end of the day forestry will win and farming will come off very much second best. So I say—and I say it with a full sense of responsibility as a supporter of the Government—that I am disappointed. I am disappointed because I think the Measure is inadequate and that the funds allotted are demonstrably so. It will be very difficult to administer fairly and it is tinkering with a very great problem.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)
I want to ask two questions. The first is, can any local authority in England, 1376 Wales or Scotland, apart from the counties named on the back of the Bill, apply under it for grants if they can fulfil the conditions of a cattle rearing area for an area within their jurisdiction?
My second question is, has it been overlooked that so many of our areas have bad roads because of disputes about ownership between either the people who live on the farms or the owners of the land and the local authority? These people are entitled to as much consideration as anybody else. I am thinking in terms of an area in my constituency which lies on a hillside just outside the town of Ashton-under-Lyne, where breeding of all kinds is discouraged because neither the veterinary surgeon nor the midwife can get anywhere near the farms on that hillside. The argument as to whose responsibility it is to repair the road, which serves about fifteen farms, has gone on for years.
I should like to know whether a question of that kind must be resolved before an application can be made under the Bill. How can we resolve the impasse? Can the Minister help us in this matter? Many of the bad roads in my constituency are in their present state because the question of responsibility cannot be resolved. I ask the Minister whether he can give me some advice.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
I should like to intervene, at this stage, to reply to some of the questions asked about the Scottish aspect of this debate. First, I should like to deal with the last point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) about the conception that there is some kind of contest between agriculture and forestry in this connection. That is wholly wrong. The Measure is limited in extent by the definition of livestock rearing areas and the condition that a grant can be given only if the area to be served is one:…in which the principal industry, or one of the principal industries, is the breeding, rearing and maintenance of sheep or cattle.It is clear that it would not be possible for there to be a contest between forestry and agriculture. They might be helping each other, but they certainly could not be in antagonism in making claims for grants under the Bill.
§ Mr. Grenfell
Timber can be grown on land which rises to a certain height, but sheep go far above it. One can look after the rearing of sheep without making any contribution to the growing of timber.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I appreciate that, but the point is that in Scotland the two functions of agriculture and forestry are so largely complementary, and will, we hope, become more and more so in future, that I see no antagonism between them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Spence) said that Scotland will come off very poorly under the Bill. I wonder. We must see how the Bill works. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) said that the Bill was devised for Wales. It is true that it had its origin in the Report of the Rural Development Panel of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire. It was inspired from Wales but that inspiration will, I hope, be of great benefit to Scotland as well. It can always be argued that the sum is too small, but we do not know the extent to which advantage will be taken of this Measure.
§ Mr. Willis
During the debate figures have been given in respect of Wales which afforded a basis on which the financial calculation was made. Are there similar figures for Scotland?
§ Mr. Macpherson
The suggestion was made by my right hon. Friend. It was his guess. He said, "I would surmise that 50 per cent. would be spent on Wales." We do not know how it will turn out. It is true that the Measure arose from the needs of Wales. It is now being applied for the benefit of England and Scotland. It is not possible to say how it will work out.
Mention has been made of the survey carried out in Scotland. There was a much fuller survey in Wales, because that is where the need arose. The question was whether Scotland should be brought in or whether we should delay events by having a full survey of Scotland. We thought it best to include Scotland and to ensure that we should get on with the work as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West suggested that there 1378 should be a plan put forward by the county councils. It is possible that that would involve a very full survey before any action was taken. That is not the way in which we anticipate that the Measure will work. We anticipate that many local authorities know of unclassified roads which would have been made up had it been possible for them to allot to them a high enough priority in their road programmes.
§ Sir R. Boothby
How high have the hills to be be? Have they to be very high hills or will medium-height hills do? There are a lot of medium-height hills in my constituency.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I do not know the height of the hills in my hon. Friend's constituency, so I do not know how to gratify him, but it will be clear from a study of the Bill that an area such as the one he represents is bound to be one of those which will benefit. I hope he will take that for the credit of the Bill which he welcomed rather less than most. He called it the "rummiest" Bill. I had always associated him with a superior and kindred spirit.
On the subject of the method of arriving at the grants to be paid and on the question of the programme, I would only say that the local authorities must have a clear idea of many unclassified roads which they would have made up had it been possible to allot to them a sufficiently high priority in their programmes. I should think that local authorities would wish at an early stage to put in proposals to the Secretary of State. It is up to them to decide whether those roads come within the terms of the Bill—whether…the road is situated in, or affords access to, a livestock rearing area, and that the improvement would promote the use, or the more efficient use, of land in that area for any purpose of agriculture or forestry.It is up to them to determine that themselves and, having done so, I should have thought that they would hasten to put in a trial proposal to see what happens.
Then there are the unadopted roads. Those of us who represent agricultural constituencies have for long been well aware of the need to improve roads serving livestock areas. In this case, obviously the proposals will come from those who are, and have been, clamouring for improvements to the roads. They will go 1379 to the county councils, and it will be for the county councils to decide how to treat the matter. It would be a very grave error not to take advantage of the Bill. There is a great demand for it. I am proud that I should be standing at the Dispatch Box today advocating a Measure for which there has been such a big demand among the rural community in my constituency and, I have no doubt, in the constituencies of others who represent livestock rearing areas.
I should like to deal with two other questions, one relating to the Highlands. I assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) that in the Congested Districts (Scotland) Act, 1897, there are all the necessary powers that are required, not only for dealing with roads in livestock rearing areas, but also roads serving forestry districts.
§ Mr. Macpherson
The reference is in Section 4 (1, f). There are two distinct paragraphs, each of which stands on its own. As my hon. Friend will see, there are powers in that Act, as it says,to aid the providing or improving of …public roads and bridges…That being so, there are all the necessary powers to confer on the Highlands all the benefits which are conferred by this Measure without the Highlands being actually included in the Measure.
§ Captain Duncan
Is not that governed by Section 4 (1, a), which restricts it to agriculture, dairy farming and the breeding of livestock and poultry?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I am advised that it does not, but I will have another look at it before the Committee stage.
The only other point with which I wish to deal is that raised by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) concerning the amount of the contribution. My right hon. Friend dealt with the matter in his opening speech. He mentioned an amount of two-thirds, or better. I do not wish to expand that, because my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary-Secretary will be winding up the debate, and it will be for him to deal with the matter as it affects all three countries. I believe that this is a Measure which 1380 will bring increased prosperity and happiness to areas where livestock rearing is one of the principal industries, and to those whose living is connected with that industry.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
Hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent Scottish constituencies will be exceedingly disappointed at the speech of the Joint Under-Secretary. We sympathise with him in having to make his first speech as a junior Minister with so little to say to the House. I should have thought that before he told us that this Bill will be so welcome in the livestock-rearing areas and will bring such happiness and prosperity to those areas in Scotland he would have said how many miles of road, roughly speaking, it was hoped would be improved. But he could not tell us that. He has not the foggiest idea. Nor has he the foggiest idea of the amount of the £4 million to be expended in Scotland.
There is only one thing the Joint Under-Secretary does know; it is that this Bill will limit Government expenditure to £4 million, roughly half of which is to be spent in Waes. That is a great disappointment—
§ Mr. Macpherson
Would the hon. Gentleman prefer that we should have the normal proportion for Scotland on the Goschen formula?
§ Mr. Fraser
I am greatly surprised. The Joint Under-Secretary has been in this House for a long time and should know by now that the Goschen formula has never been applied to the allocation of funds for improving highways but only in connection with education; it has been applied recently in the matter of Exchequer equalisation grants, but no further than that.
The hon. Gentleman told us that rough surveys have been made in Scotland, not the same close surveys as in Wales, but he did not tell us how many miles of roads there were in those areas which he estimated would stand to benefit from this Bill. He said that local authorities would be delighted that they were to have this bit of legislation. But local authorities do not know what they are to get. There never was a Bill brought before this House with so little justification for it from the Minister. The only justification is in the case of Wales.
1381 This Bill is plainly designed to deal with a Welsh problem. I speak for hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies when I say that it is quite wrong to attempt to deal with the problem in Scotland merely by extending the provisions of a Bill intended to apply to Wales. No one has the foggiest idea how many miles of road is to be improved, how much money will be available to be spent in Scotland, or what kind of percentage grant will be made available to local authorities. The Joint Under-Secretary has not dealt with one of the several important questions asked by hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent Scottish constituencies.
§ Mr. Macpherson
May I ask if the hon. Gentleman would prefer a long detailed survey and the postponing of this benefit or would he prefer that we should go ahead with this as quickly as possible?
§ Mr. Fraser
I prefer that we should know how many miles of road are to be improved before deciding the amount of money to be made available. I most certainly prefer that we should wait six months or twelve months to know the size of the problem before introducing such a Bill as this. In any case, if, as everyone has prophesied, the £4 million proves to be a hopelessly inadequate sum, the Joint Under-Secretary, or his right hon. Friend, will have to come back to Parliament for more money to do the job properly. It would have been far better to measure the problem before deciding on the remedy, or to extend this Welsh Bill to deal with the serious problem in Scotland.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I hope the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) will forgive me if, to use the well-known words, I do not follow him. It might be better if I did try to follow him, but my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary would certainly never forgive me, and we cannot agree with the short tirade—which told us very little—which was raged against my hon. Friend on this his first appearance at the Dispatch Box.
§ Mr. Fell
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has "had a go." I suggest now that he allows me to have one.
1382 In my constituency we have no mountains or hills. I do not think that we have any heaths, but we have some unadopted and some unclassified roads. Norfolk is the wealthiest and finest farming area in the country, but it is common for us to have to go to the succour of Wales, and occasionally to the succour of Scotland. Nevertheless, there are problems in my constituency which mostly affect those areas of very low-lying ground where there is some poor land, and where there exist unadopted and unclassified roads.
Some hon. Members who have spoken have not seriously thought about the size of the problem. They appear to think that every unclassified and unadopted road in the country can be dealt with under some such Measure as this, which is really nonsense. There are few such roads in my constituency compared with some Welsh constituencies and many English constituencies. But if we made up all the unadopted and unclassified roads in my constituency, I estimate that it would cost nearly £500,000. It must be reasonable, therefore, to confine this to roads in the poorer areas where help is needed.
There is one thing which I wish to ask my right hon. Friend. I have no doubt at all that it was right of the Government to bring in what has been described by one or two hon. Members as a stopgap Measure and that it was right to help Wales and Scotland by bringing in the Bill as quickly as possible, but I should like to know whether some thought is going to be given to the other unclassified and unadopted roads in poorer areas which do not come into the category of livestock-rearing areas and of "mountains, hills or heath." I very much hope that such thought will be given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.
§ Mr. Hayman
The hon. Gentleman has already ruled out that possibility by decrying the suggestion made from this side that consideration should be given to unclassified and unadopted roads in other parts of the country.
§ Mr. Fell
I have not decried any such thing. I am saying that this is a Bill which has been brought in quickly to help this specific problem, which the people of Wales have welcomed very 1383 much and to which the people of Scotland, who are not always too eager to welcome things too wholeheartedly, perhaps, for some reason, have also given a qualified welcome.
This is a start, but let us make sure that we continue the work and see that what money is needed in the future is forthcoming. May we also have some consideration given to those roads which do not specifically come under the Bill, which, after all, was really designed to cover those areas based on the contours and district of Wales. I refer to unadopted roads on the poorer lands which do not come into the category of "mountains, hills or heath."
§ Mr. Hayman
Will the hon. Gentleman take into account the calculation I gave the House, which was that on the basis of spending £4 million in 10 years and the cost of building these roads being something like £2,500 a mile, all that we shall achieve with a 50 per cent. grant is 350 miles?
§ Mr. Fell
Of course I shall not take that into account, because I know how fair the hon. Gentleman is, and I am sure that he could not have been in the House when my right hon. Friend replied in an intervention to the charge that the money was going to last for 10 years. I believe that the Government are very hopeful that the money will be quickly used in order to get the job done.
§ Mr. Fell
Of course it does not, but I have not heard any Government spokesman say that at any time in the future, when the money has been used up, there will be no more money. This is a Bill 1384 which has been designed to deal with a specific problem and one promoted by a progressive Government who have taken the initiative in dealing with the problem and who will go on tackling it.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)
I wish to welcome this Bill on behalf of those of my constituents who live in the hill farming and livestock rearing areas in the Craven district. I hope that the highway authorities, urged on, no doubt, by the National Farmers' Union, will not be backward in submitting proposals to the Minister. I was particularly glad to note that Clause 5 provides for cattle grids.
My right hon. Friend told us that he intended to give a more comprehensive definition to the livestock rearing areas, with particular reference to the production of milk, because the old definition has often precluded farms from being included under the provisions of the Livestock Rearing Act. The problem of milk production and the getting of it to the collection point is one very much concerned with the provision of better road facilities.
I hope that my right hon. Friend's reference to a wider and more comprehensive definition means that when the present Livestock Rearing Act shortly comes to an end, he has in mind introducing a new Measure which will be more comprehensive than the present Act, because it is often not clearly understood by farmers in livestock rearing areas why one farm benefits from the provisions of that Act and a neighbouring farm does not.
I wish this Bill a speedy passage through the House. Like other hon. Members, I also feel that the £4 million may not prove to be sufficient, but let us first spend that money before we ask for more.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I support this Bill as far as it goes, although I am not quite sure whether it goes as far in solving one problem as I had hoped. It is the problem of the unadopted road as it applies to a farm which has no other means of access. That is a farming problem concerning the production of livestock which is by no means confined to Wales or even to Scotland.
We have a number of such farms in Cornwall, though I am not sure whether they come within the definition of Clause 5. We have many miles of unadopted roads on the North Coast which are the despair of the local authorities, and particularly of the parish councils who do not know how to deal with them at all. These roads came into being mainly as mine roads a very long time ago when mining enterprises in Cornwall which have long since disappeared grew up.
The roads have no known owners. They are not situated on large estates and are not estate roads in any sense, so that in their case the several hon. Members who are concerned about money being spent on taking over the liabilities of big estates need feel no alarm. That question does not arise at all because the roads pass through smallholdings in what was once mining country. The mines that were once there have been replaced by a number of scattered holdings in a fairly thinly populated area.
The frontagers are far too few for the local authorities to be able to insist on these roads being made up by them, and their state is really quite unbelievable. The only way to see anything comparable in this country would be to go to a cinema and see an American comic film. Some of the roads have holes in them up to two feet deep and are permanently flooded. Others take a right angle turn to avoid a boulder and have never been properly constructed. They represent the only access to the smallholdings and farms, many of which consist of buildings constructed as mine cottages and other mine buildings in the far distant past.
I feel that in these abandoned mining areas, many of which are situated on the North Coast, which is famous for its beef production—productivity could be con- 1386 siderably increased if the roads were improved. Although these areas are dealing with the breeding, rearing and maintenance of cattle and sheep, I am not sure whether they would be considered to be mountains, hills or heaths within the definition of livestock rearing area in Clause 5, unless one could say that St. Agnes beacon is a mountain and the rough land on the coastline of the North Coast is heath.
I hope that it may be possible for some of these roads to be improved under the provisions of this Bill. If this can be done it will meet part of a very urgent problem which has existed in Cornwall for some time and where, incidentally, we have never had a three-field system of agriculture as mentioned by the Minister of Agriculture. The villages are scattered and strung out; not like English villages in the Saxon parts of the country which are collected round one central spot. The improvement of roads is of great importance to agriculture in areas of the West, such as Cornwall. I hope that something can be done under this Bill to proceed in that direction, but, if that is not possible, perhaps some further measure may be brought in later to deal with these areas.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
I rise to reinforce the protest made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) concerning the lack of information about Scotland and the reasons why Scotland should be included in the Bill. We are all anxious to obtain what the Government desire to do, namely, to encourage agriculture and increase food production. But we have had no information as to how Scotland is placed under the Bill.
I interrupted the Joint Under-Secretary to ask whether there were any statistics for Scotland comparable with those given for Wales. One hon. Member opposite gave us certain information to the effect that in certain areas, where surveys had been made, one-tenth of the roads came within the provisions of the Bill. This gave an idea of the mileage involved. He gave a number of other figures; but we have no idea at all what is involved in Scotland, and I think that we should be 1387 given some information before proceeding with the Bill.
My second appeal is concerned with the financial implications of the Bill. Outside the seven crofting counties, in something like ten counties in Scotland, most of which are affected by the Bill, the product of 1 d. rate is less than £500. According to the figures given by the Minister, every mile of road dealt with under the Bill will cost between £2,000 and £3,000. Supposing that the Government give a 75 per cent. grant—and we have no guarantee that they will—for every mile of road dealt with there will be an increase of ld. on the rates. To deal with 12 miles of road in a year will increase the rates by 1s. in the £ in these areas.
I should have thought that these areas, not in the crofting areas at all, needed more generous help if they were to get anything done. That raises the question of agricultural rating in the counties of Scotland, which is a very much bigger problem than this. Surely, when we come to look at these things, the Government cannot be so optimistic as the Joint Under-Secretary led us to believe.
How many miles, for instance, in the county of Berwick, which has a large number of hill sheep areas and is a fairly large county where a 1d. rate raises under £500, will be dealt with? I cannot imagine the Berwick County Council increasing the rates by 1s. in the £ in order to get 12 miles of road dealt with. That is all the mileage they will get if the rates are raised by Is. in the £. Is that the kind of progress the Government expect to make?
Far more consideration should have been given to the position in Scotland before including it in the Bill. Regard should have been given to our experience in the crofting counties where a scheme, as the Joint Under-Secretary has said, has already been in operation for a great many years. Even in the crofting counties, in spite of the most generous grants given, the county authorities find it very difficult to do all that is necessary. They cannot get on with the work. I should have thought that, in view of the experience in the crofting counties—because unlike the rest of Britain we have experience of this—the Government 1388 would have looked at the Bill again before including Scotland in it.
We have every sympathy with the objects of the Bill and no desire to oppose it. We should like to see it accomplish what it sets out to do, but no information has been given to us to indicate that this will be done. From my examination of the Bill and its financial arrangements, I think that the results will be meagre and certainly very much less than the Joint Under-Secretary gave us to believe.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
The Bill does only one thing. It fills a day of Parliamentary time which the Government were obviously a little hard-pushed to fill successfully. There is nothing else that it does. The Bill has not grown out of any desire to deal with the roads in Wales or anywhere else. What has happened is that the Government, having suddenly changed their minds about having a short Session and having decided to have a long one, had a note sent out by the Lord President of the Council to his colleagues saying, "As we have to carry on until July before we go on holiday, has anyone any Bills ready?"
I have seen that sort of note before. We know that such notes are circulated. The Lord President of the Council got on to the Ministry of Agriculture saying, "Have you anything?" The Ministry said, "No," and the Lord President said, "You had better get something ready quickly." The Ministry said, "We intend to do something about roads. If you are hard up for a Bill, here is a Bill."
We shall have had three speeches from the Ministers by the end of the day. We have had two Ministerial speeches both of which have been miserable performances, because there is nothing to say about the Bill. There is nothing that the Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland can say.
No one knows how much mileage is to be dealt with; no one knows how much the roads will cost. I have seldom heard the Minister of Agriculture speak in such a pathetic fashion. He almost complained, "Fancy asking me how many miles we are to deal with. I do not know how many miles of road are to be dealt with. Fancy asking me how much it is to cost. I do not know how much a mile it will 1389 cost, I do not know how many miles and I do not know what the total cost is. Fancy saying that it will last ten years. I do not know how much we can do each year."
In the good old days of British constitutional practice Ministers used to think about a Bill before rushing it to the House. My complaint is that this Bill has been landed upon us without anybody having a clue about what is involved in the problem with which it sets out to deal. The responsibility for this ill-thought-out, pathetic little Bill does not rest solely upon the Lord President, who wanted a Bill introduced quickly into the House. Part of the responsibility lies upon the Minister for Welsh Affairs—the Home Secretary—whom I see sitting at the end of the Government Front Bench.
Having received the report of the Council for Wales he was faced with the problem of having to be able to say that the Government were doing something about it, and I have no doubt that he said, "Well, Chancellor, how much can you afford to let us have?" and the Chancellor said, "Well, if you do not take more than £400,000 a year for the next ten years I shall let you have a ten years' purchase, or £4 million, but do not take it too quickly; spread it over ten years." The Minister for Welsh Affairs then said, "Now I can go to Wales and make a speech saying that we are all for Wales and we have voted it £4 million." That is the other half of the story; it is a pathetic business.
A very great problem is involved here. Every hon. Member who has spoken—including the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson)—has stressed the need for a road policy in the rural areas. They have, in fact, been appealing to the Government to apply their minds to the problems of rural Britain, and especially to the road problems. That is the appeal, and that is the problem to be attacked. The Bill does not do it. The hon. Member for Truro knows that his problem is not attacked by the Bill. As the most perspicacious speaker from the benches opposite—the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley)— said, this was a stop-gap at the end of the last Parliament; it remains a stop-gap at the beginning of this Parliament. It does not apply itself to the problem.
1390 This £4 million is voted in respect of a job which may or may not help some areas. It will do nothing upon a coordinated basis. Some people, if they are quick and lucky, will get some money, and people in other places who may need it more badly will not get anything, because the money will have run out before they put in their schemes. Some places, in respect of which the expenditure of money upon the roads is tremendously important, will not get the money because—under the Minister's own definition—it will be too uneconomical to carry out the schemes.
The frightening thing for both Wales and Scotland was the Minister's statement —which I took down—that "when the schemes come up we can see if they are worth doing. Then we can see whether they are not too uneconomical. If they are not too uneconomical we can do them." The problem facing Wales, Scotland and some parts of England is the fact that the putting right of their roads is too uneconomical, in that sense. If the Bill were to do what is largely claimed for it, it would be tackling that problem. That is just what it is not tackling, and that is just what the Minister has not the slightest intention of tackling. The Minister for Welsh Affairs—and the Chancellor is prepared to let him do it—is spreading £4 million around as thinly and as easily as he can without really tackling any problem. One Joint Under-Secretary has failed to deal with the problem; we shall try the other one shortly.
From the point of view of the taxpayer, what is the use of using £4 million to encourage authorities to take over unadopted, inaccessible, little-used roads, at considerable capital expenditure, and then saying to them, "You will not get any grant in respect of the subsequent maintenance of those roads"? That is merely telling the already over-pressed ratepayers in those areas, "You do this, and your burdens in future will be even greater than they are today." What help is that to rural Britain? It is not the least help. It merely adds to the burdens.
The Bill is not only petty and not very useful; it is also downright bad in that conception, and I warn the Minister that he will have to fight very hard during the Committee stage if he is thinking of letting this Bill go out without any provision for maintenance expenditure in 1391 respect of the roads dealt with under it. He will have to do something about that, and I hope that he will have second thoughts.
Another worrying feature—and this shows how little the matter has been thought about—is that the Minister, when asked what sort of grants he had in mind, said "We shall have to see how many schemes come up. We have £4 million. We can spread it out over the ten years. We shall have to see how the schemes come in." In other words, the more that local authorities try to do, the smaller grant they will receive. The law of diminishing returns will apply. If the Bill encourages them to attempt something, the pro rata grant is bound to be reduced.
I believe that I answered that question earlier, when I pointed out that we were not spreading this money over a period of ten years. The pace at which it will be spent will depend upon the number and type of schemes put up.
§ Mr. Brown
But if the Minister now says that he will take up all the schemes which he thinks are right, no matter if the £4 million goes in the first or second year, what is to become of his other answer, namely, that he cannot say what the rate of grant will be until he sees how many schemes are coming in? He cannot have it both ways. He cannot say, "We will wait to see how many schemes we get," and then also say, "We are not going to wait to see how many schemes we get; we are going to spend all the money." If he is not going to keep anything back for the later stages of the ten-year period, why cannot he tell us now what the rate of grant will be? If he is prepared to see all the money go in the first two years he must make up his mind what will be the rate of grant.
What he will do is to see how many schemes are likely to be coming in—through his officers—and make a general rate of grant which will ensure that all the money is not spent too quickly. He 1392 will make as good a calculation as he can of the rate at which the money will go out, so that he makes sure there is some money left for those counties which cannot get in quickly enough. He has to do that administratively, otherwise areas where assistance is badly needed will be left out. I repeat that the more work that is done the lower—inevitably—must be the rate of grant in respect of each scheme. That is a sad and awfully bad thing.
Let us consider the scope of the Bill. We are told that the cost per mile of carrying out the various jobs will be £3,000, and the rate of expenditure will be £400,000 a year, that is, 130 miles of roads per year, for ten years. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) was talking about his fifty schemes, with 60 miles of roads in each. All this money could be swallowed up in Brecon and Radnor and the effect hardly noticed.
We have been trying for a long time to get this Government to live up to their pre-1951 story about the need for a long-term policy. On many occasions I have tried to persuade the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture to drop his coyness and live up to the demands he used to make for a long-term policy. The last General Election has had this effect on the Conservative Government: it has made them get long-term ideas. They have not produced a long-term policy, not only for agriculture but for rural Britain. This scheme for 130 miles of road a year for ten years is their long-term policy.
§ Mr. Hayman
If my right hon. Friend includes in his calculations a 50 per cent. grant in relation to the probable expenditure of £2,500, all that we shall get will be 80 miles per year.
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend is an educationalist while I am only one of the products of the educational system. I might well get 130 as my answer where he gets only 80.
Anyhow, 1et us not be unkind to this miserable Government and to this pathetic Bill. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt and say that 130 miles of road per year will be the extent of their long-term policy. The problem is very real and there is great need. The Government have the money and can make 1393 the money available if they will only decide how to tackle the road problems in rural Britain and in the farming areas where the roads are so bad. Let them decide how to tackle the problem of the lack of amenities in the countryside.
The problem is not limited to Wales or to Scotland. I have seen the roads in the Fens and I know there is a considerable problem there. There are also problems in Cornwall and elsewhere. The Government would have done much better to have dealt with those problems than to bring in this Bill.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
If the right hon. Gentleman's Government had only taken a little more notice of what some of us were urging them to do in relation to concrete fenways at that time, we should not be in the position in which we find ourselves today.
§ Mr. Brown
If only the Labour Government had done everything that was likely to be needed to be done there would be no need for a Government any more. Fortunately for us politicians, everything does not get done. If only the hon. and gallant Gentleman had taken more notice of what we did he would not have been quite so miserable as he was during those years. At any rate, we never introduced anything so miserable as the Bill. I am on the hon. and gallant Gentleman's side at the moment and he has been a little less than grateful for my support.
The Bill does not deal with the problem that exists. I quite agree with the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns; this is a disappointing Bill and is a waste of Parliamentary time. Whatever value it has, it will make other problems worse for the counties that take action under it. Administratively, it will be extremely difficult to handle, as the gentlemen at No. 55 Whitehall know, and it will leave the problems just as severe and difficult at the end. We shall have spent £4 million to case the way for the Minister for Welsh Affairs when he pays his rare visits to Wales and we shall have solved a problem for the Lord Privy Seal in that he will have used up one more day of Parliamentary time between now and the Summer Recess. That is all we shall have got for our £4 million, and I hardly think it is worth it.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
Despite the right hon. Gentleman's knock-about turn at the end of his speech, this Measure has been universally welcomed by the people in the areas most affected, and particularly in Wales. There was no doubt about its general reception in the House. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman was not in the House when these speeches were being made. He dodged in and out a good deal in the course of the debate. He had a crack about the effect of the last Election on the Conservatives. We can bear the effect of the last Election much better than he can. It is an effect in which the country rejoices.
This Measure does not set out to be dramatic. It is a beginning in an extremely difficult field. A Welsh Member on the Opposition side made the point that he thought this was the best Bill of its kind. He did not qualify it as he might have done, because it is the only Bill of its kind. It is a start on a very difficult problem and it is inevitably difficult to give precision to exactly what mileage can be covered.
The definition of the Bill is that it will assist the rebuilding of unadopted and unclassified roads in the livestock rearing areas. We had some precision in the survey in Wales, but less certainty in other areas. We have a broad estimate of about 4,000 miles of roads which might qualify for grant, and the mileage in Wales would be rather more than half of that figure. I am not disputing for one minute that road problems exist outside the livestock rearing areas of course they do. They exist in the Fens, in Cornwall, in the lowlands of Wales, in Scotland, and in many other areas throughout the country.
The Bill makes a start in the upland areas where we know that the problems are most severe. If the right hon. Gentleman had been in the House when his hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) was speaking—
§ Mr. Nugent
—he would realise that the speech carried quite a bit of weight when making the point that expenditure 1395 of public money on the improvement of roadways inevitably increases land values. It does, and that is one of the points that the Government must have in mind in bringing a Measure of this kind before the House. Another point is that where the Government commits public funds for essentially local problems they must be extremely careful that each problem is recognised nationally as something to be dealt with nationally.
In this approach we have concentrated our attention on those upland areas, the livestock rearing areas, particularly with reference to Wales, where the problem is well known to exist. We judge that public opinion generally recognises that here is not just an agricultural problem, and not even just a road problem but, as several hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, a sociological and human problem. These areas are becoming depopulated, particularly in the uplands of Wales. There is a national problem, if we are to make it possible for people to continue to live and work there and to have reasonably happy lives.
In these areas public opinion recognises that public funds may properly be spent. It is in those circumstances that my right hon. Friend has brought this Measure before the House. We need not make any excuse for not going further at this stage. We are doing something new and to that extent the Government should be commended rather than criticised. It would be wrong to commit larger sums of public money on such expenditure without making a start in this Bill and seeing how it goes.
I have given a figure of 4,000 miles which we think will qualify, but how much of that will actually be applied for we cannot anticipate. The process of application will be that county councils will judge whether the need is strong enough to warrant their putting forward a scheme, knowing that they will have to bear the maintenance costs in the future. I was asked on more than one occasion the procedure with voluntary contributions. The county councils will make their proposals to us, and we shall consider the merits of the applications first of all with regard to the farming and forestry considerations involved and as to what extent farming communities will benefit by the proposition. Secondly, 1396 we shall consider the length of roadway concerned. We shall not have an exclusive consideration of the rate income of the county concerned. We may take that into consideration, but, primarily, we shall be concerned with the benefit—agriculturally, socially and economically —to the area concerned.
After we have decided what rate of grant we are prepared to give, it is then for the county council, if it so wishes, to invite the local landowners to make a contribution, if, in the judgment of the county council, it is wise to do so. It is entirely for the county council, and we would make our grant quite independently of whether or not it received voluntary contributions. We recognise that, by the very nature of things, the landowners in many areas could not possibly make a voluntary contribution, for they simply have not the money with which to make it, but there will be some areas where the local landowners may be in a better position.
There may be some areas where, perhaps, the landowners would go to the county council and say they were prepared to make a contribution, and will try to prompt the county council to make a proposal for a scheme of this kind. That is, broadly, how the application will work and how we shall make the assessments for grants.
In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend said that he thought it was unwise, at this stage, to define a rigid scheme of rates of grant, but that he intended that the rates of grant may be as much as 66 per cent., and, indeed, might be higher. They might be as high as 75 per cent., but what we wish to do is to see what sort of applications we get and how they look as propositions as they come in, and then we can begin to assess what sort of rate of grant will be needed to get the work going.
It is certainly our intention to spend the £4 million. If we can spend it in less than ten years, we shall be delighted, but it is simply impossible to tell at this stage. What we are doing in the case of county councils, which are, as we know, bodies with very limited resources which have not been able to tackle this problem up to date, is to put them in the way of tackling it by making some contribution. If they have no resources, we will put 1397 them in the way of raising them. We shall be ready and willing through our Agricultural Land Service to advise the county councils concerned of the agricultural or forestry situation which exists in their particular areas, and as to what sort of roads would be suitable to serve the particular needs of these people.
I ought not to leave the House in any doubt that my right hon. Friend and I feel most keenly the human problem which is involved in these areas. The people who live in these remote upland areas are grand people. They have to be; if not, they would not live there. Most of us go into these areas in the summer time, when it is very nice to go for a drive and see beautiful country, but when we come to the winter, we find that life is hard there. Therefore, anything that we can do to make it a little less difficult for them to get to and from their homesteads and farms we shall be very glad to do. We believe that this Measure will help them in this way.
I must deal with one particular point —a complaint about something which is not in the Bill—on which I know some of my hon. Friends, and particularly my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) feel very keenly, and that is the question of the fen roads. I certainly do know them, as my hon. and gallant Friend has said. I have seen them many times, and I know a good many of them. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that we have looked at them extremely carefully in this context.
We had a survey made last month in order to give us an indication of the sort of condition they are in. I think it would be right to say that there is only one important link road, in South-West Norfolk, which is being used for through traffic—the sugar beet traffic—and it is the Duchy Road, and I understand that there is some prospect of it being dealt with.
The Ministry of Transport has offered to classify it as a Class II road, so that its future maintenance position will be taken care of. I understand that the Ministry of Transport is still in consultation with the Norfolk County Council, and that it is not impossible that some solution may emerge from these consultations. We are most anxious to see that something shall emerge. As for the rest of 1398 the roads that are really farm access roads, their condition is still quite adequate.
§ Mr. Renton
My hon. Friend is, presumably, speaking from the report made last month. Has he had a report made on the condition of these roads during the wet winter months?
§ Mr. Nugent
I have had many reports and I have seen many photographs, and I accept that these roads do not make a very wonderful picture in the winter months. The point we have to consider here is whether the road fits into the general considerations which I tried to define to start with, and to what extent the Government are justified in spending public funds on essentially local purposes, which will increase local land values and, at the same time, put a burden on the taxpayers nationally.
§ Mr. Dye
What, then, is the difference between these roads, which lead into and go through a stock rearing area, and those which lead to the Fens and are really connecting one farm to another and one village to another? The hon. Gentleman is laying down a principle, and I would ask him what is the difference between the two.
§ Mr. Nugent
The difference is a very simple one. If the hon. Gentleman goes outside the House and talks to anyone outside, let him tell the world that the fen farmers are in a state of extreme difficulty, that life is extremely hard there and that they are faced with the same kind of geographical and climatic problems as the people who live in the Highlands of Wales. The answer is that the nation as a whole is simply not conscious, nor indeed am I, that the two problems are comparable; they are not.
I recognise that there are problems in the Fens, and that these roads are not being maintained as we would wish them to be, but the fact is that the internal drainage boards have a statutory obligation to maintain them, which was placed upon them by earlier Governments, and, to maintain them, they can raise a rate-from adjoining farmers who benefit from them, and it is very hard to say that that is a need which should be met from funds obtained from the taxpayers as a whole, for the benefit of people who live in the Fens.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I think my hon. Friend has put his finger on the nub of the whole problem. Is it fair to expect internal drainage boards to maintain these roads? That is a matter of policy which my hon. Friend has to decide. Has he got any nearer to a decision on this problem, which has existed for a number of years?
§ Mr. Nugent
One internal drainage board has now proposed to levy a rate and I understand that others are thinking of it. We are now arranging local conferences with the internal drainage boards concerned to advise them as to the sort of standard necessary for these roads. We have a strong impression that the sort of standard of which they are thinking is that for county roads, which would, of course, put an enormous burden on, and be far beyond the needs of, the localities. Bearing in mind, however, that these are farm access roads with limited traffic, and not through roads, the cost is not too high, and the general condition of the metalling of the roads is still quite sound except, according to the Report, to a limited extent in the Mildenhall district. The cost, therefore, is really not beyond the means of farmers and others in those localities, so we feel that we must ask the internal drainage boards to have another go at it.
§ Mr. Nugent
The problem of soft droves has been particularly mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill). I agree that there is a problem there. There are these soft droves, and they give very poor access to the people living at the end of them. Once again, I feel that we are not able to deal with that and many other problems that exist in the lowland areas by this Measure, which makes a start with particular problems in a limited field where everyone accepts that there is a case which the Government ought to meet out of public funds.
Perhaps, one day, the problem of these soft droves can be coped with—together 1400 with all these other problems in the lowland areas—but at present we have brought this limited Measure before the House to deal with this particular section of the problem. I hope and believe that it will go some way towards doing it.
I was very delighted to hear one hon. Member after another, particularly from Wales, welcoming the Bill. I hope that they will encourage their county councils to put forward claims. We shall do our utmost to get them going and to treat their applications generously. We are most anxious to see this Bill used. The £4 million has been laughed at as being a small sum of money, but it is a large sum of money and has to come from the pockets of the community. We are committing it because we believe that it is committed in a worthwhile cause. I would, therefore, conclude by asking the House to give this Bill a Second Reading, to send it to a Committee with good wishes and to provide thereby something which will be, I believe, of great value to those in the upland areas.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 [Committal of Bills].