HC Deb 16 April 1959 vol 603 cc1227-52

Order for Second Reading read. 7.48 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is substantially to consolidate highway law but, as it goes beyond pure consolidation and makes minor Amendments, in the words of the expert Committee's Report not of substantial importance", it has to follow a special procedure.

A Committee of experts under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Marquess of Reading and including my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Sydney Irving), and a number of leading experts concerned with the administration of highway law, was set up last year. It studied the complex collection of legislation on highways which has grown up over the past 100 years, in fact since the last consolidation Act in 1835, and it made a report which contains this draft Bill, Cmd. 630.

1 would express to the Committee the warm thanks of the Government for performing this arduous and very expert task. The Bill has been considered by a Joint Select Committee of both Houses, which has been through the Bill Clause by Clause. It included the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), and it recommended certain minor Amendments which are now incorporated in the Bill. The draft Bill is a consolidation of the law relating to the administration of highways and bridges, as distinct from traffic regulations, and excluding London. The Schedules to the Bill list more than 30 Acts to be wholly repealed and as many again to be partly repealed.

Consolidation will obviously be a boon to all concerned with highways administration. Although it will still be a formidable task to read through the 313 Clauses of the Bill, it will be a far lighter task than searching through 60 or 70 Acts, which has to be done now. The Amendments incorporated in the Bill are all of a minor nature. The expert Committee set out to provide us with a Bill which Parliament could treat as an agreed Measure. In the course of its Report, the Committee comments upon the Amendments of substance which it might have made but would be inappropriate in this Bill. These will have to be dealt with by new legislation some time in the future. The Bill will at any rate provide a sound basis for that work in due course. In that connection the expert Committee's Report makes very helpful and constructive suggestions which can he taken into account in due course.

Turning to the Bill for a moment, I think that hon. Members will have noticed that Clause 38 says: After the commencement of this Act no duty with respect to the maintenance of highways shall lie on the inhabitants at large of any area. Those time-honoured words are now to disappear and highways are to become maintainable at the public expense In this connection, tradition has had to bend the knee to clarity. With regret, I commend that change to the House.

Another highlight in the Bill is the repeal of Section 72 of the 1835 Highways Act, as the result of which it is no longer an offence to bait bulls on the highway. I commend this to the hon. Member for Enfield, East, as an alternative sport to baiting Parliamentary Secretaries, in this context. There is much interesting material in the Bill. Nevertheless, I suspect that the House would prefer that 1 should resist the temptation of going through its 313 Clauses Clause by Clause.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

Why not?

Mr. Nugent

Well, I might be tempted, but I resist the temptation. I will stop short at recommending those hon. Members who are interested in highways to read the expert Committee's Report, which is a first-rate document and is full of valuable material.

Before concluding, I would give a brief description of the procedure, as I believe it is not often used in Parliament. First of all, a draft Bill was examined by the expert Committee under the Marquess of Reading, and the Bill was then introduced into the House of Lords and given a Second Reading in the ordinary way. At that point, a Joint Committee of both Houses was appointed to consider the Bill. The Committee made its Report, which recommended a few further Amendments, not of a substantial nature. The Bill then had its ordinary Committee stage in the House of Lords. The Amendments which had been suggested by the Joint Select Committee were then considered and approved. The Bill was then given a formal Report and Third Reading and, in that shape, it cones to this House.

Here it goes through the normal procedure of Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading. It means that hon. Members are constitutionally entitled to put down any Amendment or new Clause they might wish; but in practice I would feel bound to advise the House or the Committee, as the case might be, not to accept an Amendment or new Clause of substance, however meritorious it might be, because that would be contrary to the general spirit of the procedure, which has been a self-denying ordinance throughout, in order to bring about consolidation.

Those familiar with highway law know of all kinds of useful Amendments which could be made. That is true of hon. Members and local authorities, and many other people who are very interested in the matter. In those circumstances, we have either to do a major job of amending the law, or to do no more than consolidation, which is, in fact, what the Bill sets out to do.

Mr. D. Jones

This is a rather important point. I gather from what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is saying that this is not pure consolidation because the Bill contains a number of Amendments. Would it be possible for the hon. Gentleman, for the convenience of the House, to publish between now and the Committee stage something to show us which parts are not pure consolidation?

Mr. Nugent

Yes. The hon. Gentleman will find the points which are amending rather than consolidating very clearly set out in the Report of the expert Committee. I think that the hon. Member will be satisfied, if he reads it, that what has been dealt with is of only minor importance and not of substance. It is a document well worth reading both with regard to the Bill and the suggestions it contains for the future. I have mentioned the procedure because I thought it was a matter of special interest. It shows the flexibility of our institutions to be such that we are able to make arrangements to deal with almost any kind of legislation. I think I have said enough to indicate the purpose of the Bill, and I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.

7.56 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

I congratulate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the brevity with which he has introduced this little Bill. In less than 10 minutes he has disposed of 313 Clauses and 26 Schedules. I was very pleased to hear him say " Turning to the Bill for a moment".

Possibly the Joint Parliamentary Secretary might have given the House a little more information about some of the Amendments which have been made to highway law during the various stages of the Bill. As he pointed out, the Bill goes beyond pure consolidation, although he advised the House not to endeavour to add any more Amendments; but it is open to the House to do so.

This is a very bulky Bill and provides great opportunity for obstruction from this side of the House. I imagine what might have happened in a previous Parliament when Mr. Geoffrey Bing was Member for Hornchurch. He took advantage of every opportunity, when he considered it desirable, to obstruct legislation. The Bill could keep the House busy, if we so desired, for the rest of this Parliament.

In spite of the procedure which has been followed so far, the Government are asking the House to act with rather great speed. The Bill is receiving a Second Reading today and is coming before us in Committee on the Floor of the House next Tuesday, I believe. That gives us very little time to consider Amendments of a minor character which we might wish to put down, which all the Amendments so far, it is claimed, have been.

The Reading Committee, to which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary referred, did an extremely good job, in my view. I have studied its Report, and I will add my congratulations to those of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the work which it did. It has certainly made the task of hon. Members of this House far easier. In fact, we could not have tackled this formidable task but for the work of that Committee. This combination of hon. Members of both Houses and of the experts from the Ministries and outside is an excellent procedure.

In passing, I would correct what the Parliamentary Secretary said at one point, when he referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Sydney Irving). It was my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) who represented the Opposition on the Reading Committee.

The Parliamentary Secretary referred to a self-denying ordinance which hon. Members have imposed upon themselves. The Report makes it quite clear that its terms of reference limited the task of the Committee to the removal of anomalies, inconsistencies and ambiguities, to abrogate provisions which are obsolete or otherwise unnecessary, or to modernise procedure. On the whole, I think one could say that was the limitation observed by the Committee.

I was on the Joint Select Committee of both Houses and it was interesting to find that the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, on the one hand, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, on the other, did not always take the same attitude towards what was considered an ambiguity or anomaly. In the case of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government some of the Amendments which were agreed to were certainly interpreted rather widely as being anomalous. Be that as it may, I think that the procedure which has been followed in this case, for which no doubt there are many precedents, is a little open to question.

I wonder why, with a Bill which consolidates a very large number of old and more modern laws, the opportunity was not taken to amend the law to a greater extent. It would have been possible procedurally to have done so, but presumably it is a question of the physical ability of Parliament to do so in a reasonable time. I can quite understand that once consolidation has taken place it will be simpler to amend the law. I fully appreciate that, but I can see circumstances in which it might have been tackled differently.

For instance, if this Bill had been introduced at the beginning of a Parliament, there might have been time available for the Bill to be carried over from Session to Session and for the law to be amended as considered desirable at the same time as it was consolidated. That would mean one stage rather than two stages, whereas one fears that the second stage of bringing the law more up-to-date will now be put off for some time.

There remain in the Bill a number of provisions which are not in accord with modern requirements. Various associations concerned with it, particularly municipalities, have drawn the attention of hon. Members to aspects of the highways law which they wish to see changed. I should have thought that some of those which are not very substantial could have been dealt with. Others may have been of such substance that it was not desirable to incorporate them, but I feel that the Committees concerned have gone a little too far in being meticulous not to amend the law in substance. The opportunity could have been seized to bring it more up-to-date.

There are still some Amendments that I should like to see in the Bill. Some were drawn to my attention by parish councils and other by those interested in open spaces, National Parks, and so on. They have drawn my attention to the fact that certain aspects of the law relating to rights of way and dedication are unjust. Between now and next Tuesday there is not much time, but we on this side of the House will look at this matter and consider whether we should put down an Amendment in that connection.

Another Amendment in the same class, to which my attention has been drawn by parish councils, concerns the erection of direction posts by parish councils. They are permissible at present only when they are provided for in local Acts. It might have been desirable for a general enabling Clause to have been included in the Bill to extend that power to parish councils. The law on closure and diversion of highways is very confused and needs complete overhaul, but that might he beyond the scope of this Bill.

I referred to minor matters we shall be looking at between now and Tuesday and said that if we consider it advisable we may put down Amendments. As the Committee stage is to be taken on Tuesday and today is Thursday, if such Amendments are put down on Monday and are starred, I hope that the Chair will not rule them out of order simply on the ground that longer notice has not been given, because there will not be opportunity for tabling Amendments before Monday.

There is a further topic to which I draw the attention of the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. In the Reading Report and in the Report of the Joint Select Committee attention has been drawn to the fact that some of the penalties which apply where offences under the provisions of the Bill are committed are quite out of keeping with the offences for which they are provided. There is no question that there are inconsistencies in fines imposed as between one offence and another. It would be highly desirable that the penalties should be overhauled and brought more into line with current money values.

It was pointed out in the Reading Report that the maximum penalty under the highway law which is being consolidated in this Measure is 40s. and that under the Public Health Acts the maximum penalty is £5 for a number of offences, the gravity of which is comparable.

The inadequacy of the penalties can he shown by drawing attention to the fact that where animals stray on the highway the person guilty of permitting them to do so can be fined 5s. The maximum amount, no matter how many stray on the highway, is, I understand, 30s. In this modern day with, we hope, modern highways coming along, the law providing that a farmer, or whoever is responsible for animals straying on the highway, shall be fined only 5s. per head, is quite inadequate. The Report of the Reading Committee stated: There are, we understand, strong feelings about this on the part of many local authorities particularly in certain areas where straying animals create a special problem. It is difficult not to feel some sympathy for the claim that the maximum fine, fixed long before the coming of motor traffic on the roads, is due for revision. We feel, however, that any increase would evoke opposition from many persons and ought not to be effected in a Bill of this character but by a separate enactment. I do not share that view. I raised this in the Select Committee, and we had a brief debate on it. The Committee decided, however, not to attempt to bring the various penalties into line, but to refer to the matter in its Report. It was certainly beyond the scope of the Select Committee, but I do not think it was beyond the scope nor ability of the Committee of experts to go through the various penalties which are imposed and to bring them into some order of consistency and into line with modern values.

It seems regrettable that we shall be enacting a Bill which continues many penalties for offences of varying degrees when those penalties will not be adequate to fulfil the purpose of deterring the Commission of the offences. It seems foolish for the House to pass legislation incorporating fines for offences which the House is fully aware mean very little to those who will be called upon to pay them if they commit the offences and are convicted.

The House is enacting penalties which it knows are not adequate to the occasion, and I should have thought that during the various stages of the Bill, which has taken between eighteen months to two years from the first draft, a sub-committee of the Reading Committee could have been working on the problem in an attempt to bring the penalities up to date.

By coincidence, this matter was raised at Question Time in the House today. My hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) asked the Home Secretary what steps had been taken to bring penalties more into line with current values, and the right hon. Gentleman replied that there was a Home Office committee considering this matter and that progress was being made. I asked whether the opportunity should not be taken, when consolidation Bills were being considered, to bring the penalties up to date, and the Home Secretary replied that where practicable that was being done. I should have thought that this was a practical case.

The Minister will recall that we did this in the Road Traffic Act, 1956. When that was being passed through the House many changes were made in the fines and the prison sentences which the Bill permitted and a number were stepped up considerably. If it were practicable to do it in the Road Traffic Bill. I do not see why it is impossible to do it in this Bill.

There is not much more that I want to say at this stage. The Bill is valuable in as much as it consolidates the law. It is of value to the extent that it makes amendments to the law where it is obsolete and where it needs clarification and the removal of anomalies, but I do not think that it has gone far enough in that respect. The highways law dates back to the Magna Carta, and although there was a consolidation in 1835 the necessity for consolidation of the provisions now was obvious. Many of our roads are about as obsolete as the highways law, and the Bill has no effect on the building of roads or even on bringing them up to date, except in one or two minor particulars.

After my experience with the Bill so far, I cannot but be greatly worried at the confused state of so much of the Statute law, of which this is a very good instance. Much of it is obsolete, a considerable part of it is ambiguous and a great deal of it lacks clarity. It is chockablock with inconsistencies and is riddled with anomalies, and the penalties which it provides are no longer appropriate to the offences to which they apply. The punishment does not always fit the crime.

The task of revision is formidable and even frightening, but revision is as essential as consolidation. To the extent to which this consolidation is a preliminary to revision, and hastens it. it serves a doubly welcome purpose. The Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can, therefore, be assured that we on this side of the House will support the Bill through its remaining stages. It may be that in Committee we shall move a few Amendments, but they will not be of major substance because we shall abide by the self-denying ordinance to which the Minister referred.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

I agree with very much said by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), but while I agree with him about the penalties and the anomalous state in which the Reading Committee left them, I would point out to him that that Committee was appointed on 25th February last year and reported exactly eight months later, on 25th November, a period which included the summer Recess. I think that he will, therefore, see that to some extent that Committee tried to do the work expeditiously as well as comprehensively.

The review of penalties, which we all agree to be overdue, would, first, be a considerable task, and secondly, was at least arguably outside the terms of reference of that Committee. On the other hand, it was not outside the terms of reference of the Joint Committee of the Lords and Commons, but it may well be that in view of the period of the Session which we have reached it would be wise not to embark on that.

Like the hon. Member, I should prefer to see a Bill of this kind introduced at the beginning of the Session, because although it may be easier to amend the law after it has been consolidated, in fact what we are then doing is passing a neat Act of Parliament, bringing all the threads together and having only one Act to which people need refer, and then immediately beginning to pull it about and to spread the law again into more than one Act. It is a pity that we cannot follow the procedure adopted in the Road Traffic Act, where we had six or eight months of fertile legislation in Standing Committee.

My right hon. Friend the Minister assumed his present office in the middle of that Herculean labour and, with his collaboration and help, we had a pleasant time in Committee. It was one of the few experiences in my Parliamentary life when, for a long time, we seemed to have forgotten the existence of Whips on either side, and I feel that a highways Bill could have given us a renewal of that experience, because it is a completely nonpartisan matter.

The fact remains, however, that the Committee was appointed in February and reported at the end of November and that no time has been lost in introducing the Bill, first in another place and now in the House. Perhaps we can look forward in the next Session of Parliament to some important amendments of it.

Inasmuch as they are in order on the Bill, I want to refer briefly to two matters on which I should like to see major amendments, although, because of the timetable, I do not propose to put Amendments down about them, as my hon. Friend will be relieved to hear. The first, which I have never pretended is a minor matter or one of no substance, is that I should like to see the law altered about liability for non-feasance in highway repair. Here is an anomaly which has persisted in our law for generations.

If a highway authority deliberately does something on the highway whereby a passer-by is injured, he can recover damages from the highway authority, but if by mere inaction the authority allows the highway to get into so dangerous a state that a person is seriously injured, he has no redress in law. That is a strange state of the law. It will not be simple to remedy it, but the remedying of it is certainly not beyond the ingenuity of Parliament. I am sorry that we have not time in this Session to make that change.

The second proposal is that we should get round to doing something about the liability for making up private streets. Under various codes, mainly the Private Street Works Act, 1892, the burden falls upon the frontager according to the length of his frontage. In the draft Bill which the Reading Committee prepared we were able to put in one minor mitigation of that law, which will be found in Clause 210 (2). which empowers local authorities to do something that until now they have never been able to do, namely, to help by contribution, or even in an extreme case exemption, a frontager who has a heavy burden placed upon him because of a great length of flank or rear frontage.

It can happen quite easily that a man has a front in the strict sense on to one road, which is not the road being made un, and he can have a long garden wall flanking on the road being made up. In respect of that flank, which may have no access to the road being made up, he may receive a bill for road charges of anything un to £1,000. At this moment a local authority can help all the frontagers or none. If it is not willing to help all the frontagers, it cannot help an individual frontager.

I am glad to say that the Bill will make it possible for a local authority, if it wants to, to help one hard case. I should like to see the law amended so that in future local authorities must, not may, adopt the degree of benefit criterion. Ai present, if a local authority does not decide of its own volition to pass a resolution basing the charge for making up a private street upon the degree of benefit which each frontager will enjoy, no one can force the local authority to do it. If it does not do it, the cost is distributed on a strict arithmetical calculation of length of frontage and nothing else. I cannot see why the option of going by degree of benefit should not be made a mandatory procedure.

The next and more far-reaching change which I should like to see is the burden of making up private streets gradually transferred from the frontager to the local authority. That is not a change which one can make discontinuously, because, if one did, a man who, on the last day before the law was changed, had paid perhaps £400 or £500 in road charges would feel rightly aggrieved that everyone after that date would pay nothing.

Therefore. one would have to do it in a transitional way, perhaps transferring 10 per cent. of the burden each year for ten years so that nobody would have a harsh sense of grievance and eventually after ten years there would be no more measuring of frontages and rendering sometimes crushing bills to householders, forcing them, often enough, to mortgage their houses and sometimes even to sell them. I know, because I have had in my constituency cases of great hardship arising out of this.

I know that the New Streets Act, 1951, deals with this in another way by requiring owners of houses to pay a computed road charge to the local authority at the time that the house is built. In towns and urban areas, as the years pass, that certainly will mitigate this problem, but it has little application to rural areas. When the New Streets Act was going through the House I remember that I pressed for rural areas to be excluded, unless they applied to the county council to have the Act applied to them, because it can so easily happen in a rural area that a man will pay charges when his house is built. but no road will be made up for perhaps twenty or thirty years until sufficient density of development has occurred.

That did not seem to me to be a reasonable provision to apply indiscriminately and at once to all rural areas. There is this enduring difficulty about them. I cannot see that there will ever be any final solution to the vexed question of road charges except that which I suggest of a graduated transition from one system to the other.

These are not minor amendments of the law. They are very important ones. I do not propose to imperil the progress of the Bill by putting them forward on Committee stage. I mention them now in the hope that in the next Session of Parliament when, perhaps I put them forward in legislative form, if the Government do not, my right hon. and hon. Friends will smile upon them and help them on their way to the Statute Book.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

We have before us a fairly formidable Bill which contains several Parts and also 313 Clauses, to say nothing of 26 Schedules. It is a massive document for the House to digest. Nevertheless, the document is welcome to most people concerned with highway problems, in that it consolidates much of the existing legislation and will, we hope, make that legislation more easily understood and applied.

I suggest that the Minister takes the opportunity of making a radical reorganisation of the administrative responsibility for highways throughout the country. The radical reorganisation that I suggest to him is the setting up of a national highway authority in which should be vested all powers and responsibility, for our national highways. At the moment a state of chaos exists in the physical control of, responsibility for, and financing and maintenance of our highways.

Clauses 1 to 6 define the authorities responsible for certain portions of the highway. Clause 1 (1) states: The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (hereafter in this Act referred to as " the Minister ") shall be the highway authority for…. and reference is made to paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). Subsection (2) says that The council of a borough or urban district shall be the highway authority for all highways in the borough or district, whether highways maintainable at the public expense or not, not being. and there is reference to paragraphs (a) and (b).

Subsection (3) states: The council of a county shall be the highway authority…for all highways..." and reference is made to the three paragraphs that follow. Clause 2 is entitled " Highway authority for road which ceases to be a trunk road " and the title of Clause 3 says that the " Local highway authority may be highway authority for certain highways constructed by Minister ". Clause 4 defines a "Highway not a county road". The title of Clause 6 is, " Highway authority for approaches to, and parts of, certain bridges in non-county borough or urban district".

I suggest that the time has come when all that sub-division of authority should be drastically remodelled, and a central highway authority established in which should be vested responsibility for all roads, whether classified or district, and whether maintained by the Minister, the county councils or the district councils. Such an authority should have financial resources adequate to maintaining existing highways, and those necessary for building new highways and bridges.

If this opportunity were taken to create a single highway authority responsible for the physical maintenance and construction of roads and bridges, and for the necessary finance, it would make for greater efficiency, and the results would be far superior to anything we can expect from the present multiplicity of authorities, each responsible for a piece or parcel of our main highway system.

There is a further weakness in the present position. The Home Office has a certain amount of responsibility for highway control, and enforcement of regulations. One of my complaints is that the Minister of Transport is too fond of making regulations that the Home Office find almost impossible to enforce. I am not at all sore that there is the close cooperation between the two Departments necessary to avoid the right hon. Gentleman making regulations that lead, in some cases, to chaos, and the consequences of which the Home Office is unable to control.

If the attention of the right hon. Gentleman's Department is brought to abuses arising from some of these regulations, he says. That has nothing to do with me. It is for the Home Office to enforce any regulations that are made." At the same time. the Home Office finds it difficult, if not quite impossible, to control the consequences which flow from the regulations. We have this continual " passing of the buck," as it were, between the Departments.

A strong case can be made for a single all-purposes authority that would be responsible for the physical maintenance of all our highways for the building of new roads and bridges, and for the enforcement of those control regulations that are made from time to time.

This will probably be regarded as a revolutionary proposal, but I feel that there is substance in it. I have heard, as other hon. Members have heard, eminent men with an expert knowledge of the traffic problem advance the idea that the time has come for us to have a national highway authority with sole responsibility for all matters pertaining to our highways system. The traffic on our roads has grown considerably, particularly in the years since the war, and the intensity of traffic will increase and develop in the future. Many problems arise from this growing development of road transport.

Not the least is the problem of parking by both day and night. The right hon. Gentleman has made an attempt to control it in some areas of central London, by the use of parking meters, but, with the ever-growing increase in the number of vehicles, the parking problem will inevitably become more intense. More often than not, the increase in the number of vehicles is greatest in highly congested districts where there is either very limited garage accomodation or none at all, the highways being used more and more as parking places where vehicles are sometimes abandoned and left unlicensed and dangerous situations are created.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the Finance Bill, is to take powers to establish the principle that all vehicles parked on the roads must be licensed. What a tragic situation it is that anybody can bring a vehicle along and dump it on the highway, even when it is not licensed, and leave it there. The police have certain powers in the matter, but they are very often reluctant to use them, and, in some cases, there is not much which they can do about it. I recently heard of a local authority which had a parking problem on one of its housing estates. Not only is the housing estate overcrowded with parked cars to such an extent that, if there were a fire, it would be very difficult for the fire brigade to have free access to the seat of the fire, but commercial vehicles which are regularly parked there seriously contribute to the danger. Despite the effort of the local authority to secure the removal of the commercial vehicles, no notice is taken of the representations the authority makes but the vehicles continue to remain where they are, causing obstruction and danger.

This aspect of the problem must now be considered by the right hon. Gentleman. I confess at once that I have not had time to go through all the 313 Clauses of the Bill. I should like an assurance from him that he is taking, or hopes to take, powers in the Bill effectively to control this serious and growing problem of day and night parking upon the highways in congested areas by the provision of adequate off-street and garage parking. In this respect, of course, local authorities have a certain amount of responsibility. I dare say that the Minister may say, " It is not my responsibility how many vehicles are parked on the highways or for how long they may remain there." I suggest, however, that it has a great deal to do with his Department.

The only public authority that I can discover that is attempting to do anything in this respect is the local authority. If local authorities are to provide off-street parking they must spend money. In congested areas, land or sites for this purpose are very difficult to come by, and if they can be acquired the costs of acquisition are very high. I know of local authorities which have spent money on acquiring sites and have laid them out at fair expense for the parking of vehicles, mainly to take them off the streets. Many people who park their vehicles on the streets will not make use of the facilities which the local authority provides because of the charge which it is rightly entitled to make for the use of its lockup parking places to meet the costs involved in acquiring sites and constructing parking places.

In one case a local authority was making a charge of 32s. a month on a site that could accommodate about 15 vehicles, but only one vehicle was parked on this lock-up parking place, while within short distances a large number of vehicles were regularly parked for long periods at a time.

Sooner or later something must be done about this problem, because it is growing more and more acute. The number of vehicles using the roads and requiring parking places is growing considerably. This we all welcome and we want to see cars widely used by as many people as possible. But unless open parking or garage accommodation is provided the condition of our streets in a few years' time will be appalling, especially at times of poor visibility.

We get quite a lot of fog in London. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary should make a tour on a foggy night to see the state of some of our highways and the bunching of stationary vehicles. Some people have to travel. They have no alternative. They must get about in a vehicle, and when fog is absolutely dense and visibility is reduced to about 2 yds. nobody, of course, can go anywhere. Although the fog is not dense at all times, visibility is often bad and the congestion of parked vehicles is then a danger. I suggest to the Minister that unless the provision of adequate parking places by a responsible authority is adequately dealt with, the condition of our roads and streets will be appalling.

Therefore, while I welcome the Bill in so far as it consolidates existing legislation, I would go one step further and repeat what I said at the beginning and ask the Minister, now that he has, apparently, taken his courage in both hands, to do the job thoroughly and well. If he does the job thoroughly and well, there is great merit in the idea of establishing a single national highway authority to take complete responsibility for our highway system and also to be the financial authority to undertake the necessary work in connection with our highway system.

We should not leave as it is this patchwork quilt with a multiplicity of authorities, some responsible for certain roads and some responsible for others, one authority financing maintenance and new development on certain roads and another authority responsible for other kinds of roads. It is a state of chaos.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity now presented to him to try to straighten out this tangle. We do not often get opportunities of dealing with the problem in the comprehensive way that is now possible. The House is about to get down to the study of the problem and it is being called upon to contribute a satisfactory solution that will last for some years ahead. If we are to do that, we ought as far as we can to embody in a new Bill of this kind solutions of the traffic problems that are likely to arise in the next generation or two. Now is the time to do it.

I hope that the Minister will take his courage in both hands and effect a substantial reorganisation of the existing chaotic structure and in its place put a readily definable authority equipped with the necessary power and finance to undertake the responsibility of our highways and also the problem of traffic movement throughout the length and breadth of the country. If he takes this opportunity now, I feel sure that he will be doing a great job of work for the country.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Reading Committee on the splendid work that it has done in bringing out its Report and in producing the Bill. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary referred to one modernisation phrase which has come out in the Bill. We now have not highways which are repairable by the inhabitants at large". but highways maintainable at the public expense". In the past, I always conjured up a strange picture of the inhabitants at large going out to maintain the highways.

The Bill goes even further in modernisation in that the inhabitants at large can no longer he indicted for not going out to repair and maintain their highways. To that extent, the Bill has come up to modern conditions. I would have hoped, however, that opportunity could have been taken to modernise yet further.

My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that the Bill will probably form the basis for future reforms. It is extremely useful to have this codification in front of us in order to use it as a basis for reforms. I think, however, that, with some very minor Amendments, the opportunity might have been taken of starting on a change in the conception of a highway.

Reading this Bill, one still has the old idea of the highway—that the citizen has the right to pass and repass along it, and that that is all the highway is. The modern highway is a lot more than that. It is somewhere where many people are killed and injured every day. I think that we have to change our conception of a local authority being permitted to lay down a road or a footpath merely with the idea of persons and vehicles " passing and repassing ", to use the old phrase of the law.

We have the most admirable reports which come from the Road Research Laboratory upon, for example, surfacing, construction and lighting of roads and construction of corners and crossroads, not only from the point of view of the best material to be used for the fasting condition of the road, but from the point of view of safety. I would commend these reports and bulletins which come from the Road Research Laboratory to hon. and right hon. Members because there one can see that lives can be saved by the application of certain methods of construction of roads and by the use of certain surfaces. It is a scientific matter…it is not a matter of guesswork or opinion.

The Road Research Laboratory can produce statistics proving the saving of life by the adoption of certain methods of construction of roads. That being so, I think that in a Highways Bill of this kind we might have imposed an obligation on the highway authorities to use the forms of construction which will save life.

As an example of what I am saying. may I turn to Clause 67 of the Bill. That Clause is the first of the Clauses headed " Safety provisions ". It deals with footways and guard-rails, and begins by stating that it shall be the duty of a highway authority to provide footpaths, and so on, where the local authority deems it necessary or desirable for the safety or accommodation of pedestrians. I am most grateful to the Reading Committee for listening to representations of the Pedestrians' Association for Road Safety in connection with that Clause and making certain minor amendments in the existing law to modernise that duty of local authorities. But Clause 68, which deals with refuges, says that a highway authority " may ", in relation to a highway maintained at public expense, provide a refuge. There is no obligation for it to provide a refuge, similar to the obligation to provide a footpath, when it thinks it necessary for the safety of pedestrians to get across a road.

Clause 69, which deals with subways, states: …the highway authority …may construct …subways … I should have liked to have seen the obligation placed upon the highway authority to provide installations to enable pedestrians to get across the road in the same way as there is an obligation on the authority to provide footpaths for pedestrians to get along the road. It is much more dangerous to try to get across roads than to walk along them. Therefore, I should have thought an obligation on local authorities in that respect would have been in place in modern conditions. My contention is highlighted in Clause 70, which places an obligation upon highway authorities to provide grass margins for driven horses and livestock. As far as 1 can see, taking the Clause as a whole, it is deemed to be more important that a local authority should get a horse along a road than that it should get a pedestrian across it.

This is only a minor amendment involving changing the " mays " into " must ". I will not threaten my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that I shall table Amendments before Tuesday, but this is an important matter because it would change the conception of highways and bring them into conformity with the modern idea that we must make them safe. They are not just passageways for traffic. They are places where people are killed and maimed every day and we must take every step to make them safe.

To turn to another matter which has nothing to do with safety, Clause 159 gives the local authority power to declare an existing highway to be a new street and it deals in particular with a widening of the street. As I read the Clause, it enables a local authority to say, " This street, which is now of a certain width, shall in future, as it develops, be of much greater width ", and to lay down that prescribed width. The frontagers on that street are then forbidden to develop within any of that area which is called the " prescribed area ". Clause 159 (5) provides that: Where an order under this section has effect, no person shall erect a new building on the land situated between the outer lines prescribed by the order (hereafter in this section referred to as 'the prescribed land '). A local authority decides that the street shall be widened and on the part which is to form the widening the frontager must not build.

The subsection following states that: If, where an order under this section has effect, work for the erection of a new building is commenced on land adjoining the prescribed land, then, on the commencement of that work—

  1. (a) the appropriate portion of the prescribed land shall become part of the existing highway, and
  2. (b) the owner of that portion shall remove any boundary fence or other obstruction situated thereon and bring the level thereof into conformity with that of the existing highway…"
Having been deprived of his land, the owner, at his own expense, must bring it up to the level of the highway, but by reason of the proviso to subsection (6) it does not then necessarily become part of the highway. He is not only to be deprived of the land without compensation and forced to bring it up to the level, at his own expense, but he is to be charged road charges for making it up before it is taken over by the local authority. Surely that cannot have been the intention in drafting the subsection. It is a most terrible imposition on frontagers on a road which a local authority may decide needs widening. I hope that my hon. Friend will look into that point.

I have one other point to make. Under the existing law, when a highway authority reconstructs a street or diverts it, and has to change the pipes and wires under the street, and in doing so puts down better pipes and wires, it can get compensation from the undertakers, that is to say from the gas or electricity boards, for those better pipes and wires. The highway authority can get that, but if any other person who has obtained permission to divert or reconstruct the street does the same, he has no right, merely because of a particular Section in the New Streets Act, 1951, to claim betterment from the undertakers.

This is not just a small technical point. It is a situation which has occurred across the river, at St. Thomas's Hospital. As hon. Members may know, that hospital is to be rebuilt on the site of the existing road there and the road is to be pushed farther back in an arc. In the course of negotiations it has been found that the hospital, which has obtained the right to divert the road, has no right to claim from the undertakers for betterment of the pipes and wires which will be laid under the new road. This position may arise with many other public authorities who are at present developing, whether they are hospital authorities or others. I have not been able to find where this is repeated in the Bill, although the Act under which it arises is repealed. Would my right hon. Friend have that point examined? It arises purely on the construction of a Section of the current Act.

Since I have raised these minor points on the Second Reading of the Bill, I hope I may be relieved of any more research work in trying to put down Amendments. 1 hope my right hon. Friend will think them good points and will put down his own Amendments for next Tuesday.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

I had not intended to intervene in this debate and I do so only because I have been impressed by the extent to which the discussion has ranged and the extent to which hon. Members who have spoken have indicated their opinion that more might have been done by way of amendment in this Bill than has been done. In that connection, it is desirable to point out the disadvantages that might follow if too much scope were given for that kind of action. This may not be technically an entirely consolidation Bill but it is in a large measure consolidation and it is expected to have, and in all likelihood will have, a Parliamentary course and history expeditious in character, limited in point of time. These things are made possible only because everybody knows that for all practical purposes it is a consolidation Measure.

Therefore, the moment one contemplated bringing in to the Bill even slightly more controversial issues and slightly more important amendments of the law, we would be confronted by what was inherently a hybrid creature. No one would know whether it was desirable or in the public interest for the matter to be treated with the expedition which is an admirable feature of a consolidation Measure, or with the careful and detailed attention, item by item, that would be appropriate to one of wider scope.

Mr. Page

In the case which I have mentioned, Clause 159 has been altered and. I was endeavouring to point out, altered for the worse. I should have thought that that was one case in which Amendments would be allowable.

Mr. Irvine

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says and any criticism I make of his approach is not an opportunity to criticise everything he said. I merely make the observation in outline that it seems desirable that we should be vigilant in dealing with a Measure of this kind that its consolidation character shall be kept in mind so that no harm may come to it. I venture to point out the peril which might arise if anything other than an extremely cautious and careful view of that aspect of the matter is taken.

I hope that the House will appreciate that, taken as being what it is, primarily a consolidation Measure, the Bill is likely to be of considerable value. I have no doubt that it will be of very great value to lawyers to have this material in a consolidated and concise form. I have no doubt that it will be useful to local authorities, Departments, and so on.

It is with great sincerity that I observe that the thing is made possible only on the basis of the most prodigious work by public servants. I have especially in mind those who work in the office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Treasury. I had the great privilege of serving on the Reading Committee. I think that other members of that Committee will echo what I have to say in this respect when I observe that what we did and the research we carried out was possible only because of the enormous preliminary work in the Departments, one of which I have mentioned. A tremendous amount of research and meticulous study is required.

I trust that the House will regard this Measure with some caution as being what it is, a consolidation Measure which may be expected to have its peculiar Parliamentary history because it has that character, and will understand that that is the reason why there will be no pressure from the Opposition, at any rate, for anything in the nature of amendments in the law more substantial than the admittedly small amendments now in the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) referred to penalties. Perhaps we could have some indication of the Government's view in this regard. It is fairly widely felt among my hon. Friends that it is undesirable to have comprised in an up-to-date Bill of this character a large number of penalties which, in terms of quantum, are hopelessly old-fashioned and out of date. One can see the strength of that point of view.

That is one view of the matter, but there is another and contrary view which weighed with members of the Reading Committee. It is that great disadvantages may attend the alteration of levels of penalty in what is primarily a consolidation Measure, because if the level of penalties is amended in a Measure of this kind, to take account of modern conditions, the consequence is that highway offences are taken as a class of offences for which there is a level of penalty quite distinctive from that for offences of other classes and which arise out of Statutes which have not equivalently been the subject of the consolidation procedure. That might have consequences not desirable in the public interest. If the Parliamentary Secretary or the right hon. Gentleman himself could say a word about this and give an indication of the Government's view, it would be much appreciated.

9.10 p.m.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

I wanted to be here only to say a word of very sincere thanks, in addition to what has been said already by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, to the Reading Committee, of which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) and the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) distinguished members. The Committee did a vast amount of work. I know, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, that it had a great deal of help, but none the less, the House should he deeply grateful to all the members of the Committee for the very valuable work which they did.

As regards the last point the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, he will remember what was said by the noble Chairman of the Joint Committee of both Houses, which is, I think, recorded in the Minutes of Evidence: …we reluctantly came to the conclusion that it would be unwise to act in this particular case "— that is, of course, the case of increased penalties as a separate matter in the Bill. On the whole, I agree with him. This is a consolidation Measure, and to open the floodgates by one major addition, would, I feel, lay open the whole Bill to a quite different method of procedure. For myself, I feel that it would not be right to do so.

I return now to my real reason for being on my feet, which is to express my own thanks, in addition to those of my hon. Friend, for the very great work done by the Reading Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House. [Mr. Bryan.]

Committee upon Monday next.

  1. HIGHWAYS [MONEY] 138 words