HC Deb 04 March 1955 vol 537 cc2529-40

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. R. Thompson.]

4.8 p.m.

Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)

A few weeks ago the House welcomed the statement by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation that a road crossing of the Firth of Forth would be begun within four years. This afternoon I wish to urge upon the Government that an essential accompaniment to a Forth tube or Bridge is a road crossing of the Firth of Tay at Dundee. A most superficial glance at the map of Scotland will prove the point I wish to make. The East Coast of Scotland is deeply indented with two broad Firths at present crossed by cumbersome ferries. On the Tay the first road bridge is more than 30 miles from the mouth and is 22 miles inland from the City of Dundee.

If a Forth crossing is to do more than merely link the south of Fife with the Lothians, useful though that may be, then a road crossing of the Tay at Dundee is also required. The Forth crossing, by its estimated cost, is, quite clearly, a national rather than a local project. Indeed, when the Minister made his statement a few weeks ago he specifically described the Forth Bridge project as a major national project.

If it is to fulfil a national function it ought to be regarded as the first link in a great eastern road joining Aberdeen with Edinburgh and the South. Such a direct motor road necessarily involves the crossing of the Firth of Tay at Dundee. I should like to put the matter in this way. Let us assume that the Forth crossing has finally been established. If one goes across the Forth by road and then has to make a detour to Dundee and the north by Perth, or, alternatively, to risk the hazards of the Tay ferry, and all the hold-ups that that involves, obviously, in the long term, it will be a nonsensical situation.

Twin crossings over both the Forth and Tay would cut down the road journey from Dundee to Edinburgh by 27 miles. It would bring about a saving of more than one-third in the distance and a saving of considerably more than that in time—as the Minister of State, Scottish Office, could tell the Joint Undersecretary. The noble Lord recently made a journey on official business from Edinburgh to Dundee via the Kincardine road bridge. As a consequence he arrived at Dundee a couple of hours late.

Very wisely, and very revealingly, he chose to make the return journey by rail because, of course, the railways for two generations have recognised that it is only a Forth bridge and a Tay bridge taken together that really meet all the transport needs of the East Coast of Scotland. Fife, Angus and the Mearns would have faced disastrous isolation if the railway companies in the last century had been as laggard about bridging the Firths on the East Coast of Scotland as successive Governments have been in the present century.

It is 80 years since the first railway bridge across the Tay was begun, and even in those far-off days the Corporation of Dundee fought vigorously but in vain to have attached to the railway bridge some sort of crossing for other than rail transport. Between the wars the Tay road bridge was accepted repeatedly as a Government commitment. In 1923, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, speaking for the Cabinet, said, at a public meeting: We propose to construct a road bridge across the Tay which has long been demanded but which has been waiting for money. He added that the Government would provide most of the cost, and that as soon as the local authorities had agreed on their share the bridge would be put in hand. The 1924 Government honoured that pledge of the previous Administration. They put up the whole cost of carrying out a survey of the river and making the preliminary borgs and the preparing of detailed designs for a bridge. The 1929 Government continued the commitment. The Lord Privy Seal of that Administration said, in 1931, and I quote from the official minutes of the Dundee Corporation, that the Government were anxious and willing to proceed with the construction of these road bridges … and were wholeheartedly with the local authorities in the project under discussion. Unfortunately, the financial arrangements were torpedoed by the economic crisis of 1931. I think, in retrospect, that we can agree that it was tragically stupid, at a time when one-third of the Dundee workers were on the "dole," to decide that we could not afford to undertake public works of that nature. The present impatient queue of vehicles at the Tay ferries is a monument to that shortsighted folly. But for that, today we should have had the bridge, and all these arguments would have been over.

Today, there is a different situation. In some ways it is a curious one. The economic situation of the country as a whole makes spectacular public works schemes more difficult than in the idle 'thirties. But the economic situation in Dundee makes the need for a bridge over the Tay more urgent than it has ever been. Dundee, once a good example of a depressed one-industry city, is today a "boom town."

Government planning of industry has brought some of the most modern factories in the United Kingdom into the city, and the enterprise of our own native jute industry, which has spent £5 million on re-equipment since the end of the war, has given Dundee the most modern textile industry in the country. While we have mid-20th century machinery in Dundee, unfortunately we are still suffering from 19th century communications. Dundee has no air link with London and no direct road link with Edinburgh.

Dundee suburbs 2. miles away on the south side of the river are isolated from the city by a 50 mile road journey from the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. when the ferries are closed. The ferries themselves are constantly congested. But the very heavy traffic on the Tay ferries is not in itself any measure of the potential traffic across the road bridge were it finally established. Perhaps I may give a personal example to the House.

I have been motoring around Dundee fairly constantly for over 30 years, and I think I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of occasions on which I have gone by car from Dundee into Fife. The fact is that nobody makes this journey, because of the heavy ferry dues, unless they have to do it on essential business. For a family party of four in a 10 horse-power car, a journey across the ferry means a charge of 7s. 3d. For tens of thousands of motorists north of the Tay, Fife and its fascinating coast is a foreign land.

If the case was made out between the wars for a Tay road bridge, on the traffic that existed then, certainly the case is all that much stronger today, because undoubtedly the traffic today in a prosperous Dundee is very much heavier than it was in the years before the war. I asked the Minister of Transport, some months ago, what the estimated traffic over the Mersey was before the tunnel was constructed and what the traffic is today. The figures were interesting. The estimated traffic before the tunnel was constructed was 1,300,000 vehicles a year. Today, there are 8 million vehicles a year going through the Mersey tunnel. In the light of that evidence, I suggest that the potential increase in traffic over a Tay road bridge is likely to be of a similar order.

I appreciate that it would be unreasonable of me to expect from the Minister the same sort of welcome statement about a Tay crossing as he was able to make so recently about a Forth crossing. Getting that kind of statement from the Government took years of effort in this House and elsewhere. But I would like the Minister to say, if he can, that he accepts the principle that the two crossings go together, that the Tay crossing is necessary as being complementary to a Forth crossing. I should like the Minister to give us a firm assurance that the Tay road crossing has its definite place in the queue of Government priorities. Will he now permit for a Tay crossing the same kind of preliminary work as was begun nearly ten years ago for a Forth crossing?

In 1946, the then Minister of Transport told the House that he would concentrate upon the preparatory work necessary to bring other major schemes, such as the proposed new bridge across the Forth, to the stage at which they can be commenced at short notice in the light of the policy of timed expenditure of public works."—[Official Report, 6th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 592.] I beg the Minister to make this kind of statement about a Tay crossing. It would allow the local authorities to begin their preliminary negotiations about this very long-term project. It would allow expert investigations to be launched into the various suggestions which are being put forward about possibly more economical methods of crossing the Firth of Tay.

The Government took the country by surprise with their ingenious suggestion about a tube across the Forth, and similar suggestions have been made about the Tay. I understand that at Rotterdam, in Holland, there is already a tube of this kind. It has been suggested that it might be cheaper to put a tube across the Tay at the narrow crossing between. Broughty Ferry and Tayport. It has also been suggested that there might be a. causeway across the tidal basin just west of Dundee, and there is, of course, the suggestion of a normal traditional bridge such as was designed in 1926.

All I would say about the suggestions is that, whichever one was proved to be most practicable, it is essential that the crossing should be within close reach of Dundee. There is no point in carrying a new road bridge up to the Perth area.

These matters require a lot of investigation, and now, I submit, is the time that we should begin to make our preparations. I am sure that the Minister is well aware that there is strong and widespread local feeling on this issue, as there has been for a very long time. Dundee Corporation is sending a deputation to the Secretary of State for Scotland shortly, and I welcome the presence here this afternoon of the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart). The Corporation will make the same sort of points as I am making now.

In another year's time, the Secretary of State for Scotland will take over direct responsibility for the Scottish roads programme, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not use that fact this afternoon to avoid making a full reply to the case which has been put. This is, after all, not a matter of short-term Departmental decision; it is not something which will be altered within twelve months; it is a question of long-term Government policy, a major national project. Surely the Minister of: Transport and the Secretary of State for Scotland already have an agreed view on the subject of the Tay road bridge.

Whenever there is a slackening of the economic effort or a blessed lessening of the arms burden which we have to bear, we must be ready quickly to inject big public works schemes into our economy, and the preparations for them must be made now. That was the point which the former Minister of Transport made in connection with the Forth crossing in 1946 and I suggest that it is the proper approach to the question of the Tay crossing today.

I plead with the Minister to say that a Tay road crossing is firmly on his list of forthcoming commitments and to give the House an indication of the degree of priority which such a project enjoys.

4.22 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) has just referred to the fact that the Dundee Corporation has asked the Secretary of State to receive a deputation and that he has agreed to do so. I am, therefore, somewhat embarrassed in dealing with this subject. As the Secretary of State for Scotland already exercises very great influence in everything which pertains to the building of roads and bridges in Scotland, and as he will be the Minister responsible for it from next year, it is obviously impossible for me in any way to anticipate what he may say when he receives the deputation from Dundee, or what he may decide to do himself when he has become the Minister responsible for the roads of Scotland.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

The deputation from Dundee Corporation was originally decided upon to deal with two points—a hospital at Dundee and the Tay road bridge. The deputation does not now need to deal with the hospital because an announcement on such a project was made from the Front Bench of this House. Surely the fact that a deputation is pending on the Tay road bridge does not prevent a similar sort of statement being made now by the Government.

Mr. Molson

I should imagine that statement about hospitals was made from the Scottish Office, but the position here is entirely different. At present my right hon. Friend is the Minister responsible, and in the course of a year or so there will be a transfer. Therefore, in what I say today I want to make it perfectly plain that I am going to deal with this matter from the transport point of view as we see it at the Ministry of Transport at present, and I must not be taken in any way to prejudge what may be the decision of the Secretary of State for Scotland when he becomes responsible.

On the first occasion when I answered Questions for my present Department in the House, I answered a Question by the hon. Member on this subject. I then said: The construction of such a bridge …would not be justified in the foreseeable future by the volume of traffic likely to benefit."—[Official Report, 18th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 1711.] As the hon. Member has mentioned, we have recently announced a greatly increased programmed of expenditure upon roads. In that programme, I think I may say, Scotland has a very large share.

Among the schemes listed, there is the great Whiteinch Tunnel, costing more than £2,400,000; the Glasgow—Stirling Road, costing £1 million; improvements to A9 in Perthshire, costing more than £100,000; there are to be, in the near future improvements to A74 and the Glasgow—Carlisle Road costing £2½ million and part two of the Glasgow—Stirling Road, costing another £1 million. The whole list adds up to £13½ million. That already exceeds the amount to which Scotland would be entitled under the Goschen formula, but that is not all.

As a result of the promise which has now been made on the occasion when Scotland is launching out on its own—which causes us certain sentimental regrets—we are making a parting gift of a Forth crossing. I hope it will prove to be the Forth road tunnel, estimated to cost the Exchequer £3¾ million, but if it turns out that a bridge is necessary, that will cost the Exchequer £11¼ million. In this large and costly programme, the Tay bridge at Dundee does not appear.

I ask the hon. Member to draw two conclusions from that. The first is that at a time when we are trying to carry out great improvements in the road communications of Scotland—acting to a great extent upon the advice of the Scottish Office—we have not considered that the bridge which he is advocating today appears very high in the list of priorities for Scotland. Secondly, I feel bound to add that in view of this expenditure in excess of the Goschen proportion it is scarcely likely that it would be possible for anything as costly as that bridge to be added to the programme at this stage.

Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not advocating that the Goschen formula is to be applied to anything except the proportion of the education grant? If so, that would be a most amazing circumstance and would be received with dismay in Scotland.

Mr. Molson

I am not saying that the Goschen formula is to be accepted for the future, and no decision, as far as I know, has been given, but the Goschen formula is based on an estimate, made at the time, of the population of Scotland and of England. For general purposes, it is a good working rule.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

Not for roads.

Mr. Molson

I do not know why it should necessarily not apply to roads——

Mr. Willis rose——

Mr. Molson

It would be better if I continued to deal with the matter raised in the Adjournment debate. I merely made the point that the treatment afforded to Scotland has been generous, and I do not think it would be at all likely that anything as costly as this bridge would be added in an extended programme.

Naturally, in the Ministry of Transport we have been considering whether at some time in the future it may be necessary for another bridge to be constructed across the Taiwan have considered the three sites where a bridge might be beneficial. There is the possibility of one at Friar-ton, which we estimate would cost £3 million, there might be one at Abernethy, costing £6 million, and there might be the one which we are discussing which, I am advised, would be likely to cost £10 million. We tend to favour the bridge at Friarton because it would be the least expensive. [An. Hon. Member: "The Ministry always does."] Economy is not a bad principle for Government Departments to apply.

Secondly, it is nearer to the centre of Scotland, and we are inclined to think that that is where there would be the maxi- mum traffic. We are, however, also still considering a bridge at Abernethy, which was advocated by Lord Elgin in another place in a debate on 12th May last. The noble Lord has been to see me upon the subject, and we have carefully discussed the possibility that that might be an alternative to the bridge at Friarton at whatever time in the future it may be decided to build an additional bridge.

If it is possible to provide a satisfactory crossing of the Tay at Friarton at a cost of £3 million, that might be taken to be the cost of providing a bridge for general north-south through traffic. Therefore, if the cost of building the bridge at Dundee would be £10 million, one might consider that the cost of providing for local requirements would in that case be £7 million.

This bridge and the road upon it would fall into the category of a classified road. We certainly definitely reject the view, put forward by the hon. Member, that this should be regarded as a major national problem. We regard it as being a road which should be dealt with on the basis of a classified road mainly for the traffic requirements of Dundee and that part of Scotland. In this case, therefore, the initiative must properly lit; with the local authority, and before coming to any final conclusion we should certainly await any initiative which the local authority might, and should, take.

On the previous occasion when this matter was discussed, it was suggested that the bridge should be a toll bridge. It was announced by my right hon. Friend that in the case of some of the new construction in the roads programme, we are prepared to contemplate tolls upon both roads and bridges. And so if, at some time in the future, the local authorities—the Corporation of Dundee and the neighbouring authorities—like to come together and prepare a scheme and put it up to the Government, and perhaps rely to a large extent upon tolls to cover the cost attributable to meeting the requirements of local traffic, that would certainly be given most careful consideration. At present, however, we are not disposed to think that this is a major national problem requiring to be dealt with in the same way as the general programme already announced by my right hon. Friend.

4.34 p.m.

Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)

There are two points in the very disappointing reply by the Parliamentary Secretary which will be regarded with public dismay on Tayside. The first was when he said that the volume of traffic which might use the bridge would not be sufficient to justify the cost. It is not so very many months ago—perhaps two years ago—since the same statement was made from that Box by the previous Minister of Transport about the proposed crossing over the Forth. Now the Parliamentary Secretary tells us that as a parting gift, and in a generous and friendly manner, his Department is passing over to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the present of a promise of a Forth road bridge.

If it is now feasible, and if it has been decided that it is undeniable and imperative that we must have the Forth road bridge, why cannot the Government be equally generous in this case and recognise that these two projects are part of the same transport system in the East of Scotland, that the East of Scotland is one of the greatly developing areas of Britain, and that, therefore, its transport needs are becoming more and more pressing?

I must make it clear that both the Government and the Opposition have reached complete agreement upon this principle, that the Goschen Formula is not to be mentioned in the international affairs of the two countries as being any yardstick, except for the one issue of education and, possibly, of equalisation grants. The hon. Gentleman, a few weeks ago, made it perfectly clear, and in some detail, that in all other aspects of Government policy in our international financial relations we should have no regard to the Goschen Formula as being any yardstick.

The City of Dundee has been recently in the mind of the House in connection with the Measure which merged the University of St. Andrews with the Technical College of Dundee. Now the University of St. Andrews embraces the College in Dundee. The two cities have one common university, but, although close geographically, they are far apart because of transport. It takes a long time and is very costly to go between them.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

The distance between the two directly is about 40 miles—by the Tay road bridge. Otherwise, the road journey is about 56 miles.

Mr. Taylor

I thank my hon. Friend.

In these days, as the industry of the district develops, the need for a modern road link between the two sides of the Firth becomes more and more pressing. Dundee has spread over the Firth. Although the principal part of the City of Dundee, of course, is on the one side, a large part has spread over on to the other side of the Tay——

The Question having been proposed after Four o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-two minutes to Five o'clock.