§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
The Opposition have chosen to discuss the Supplementary Estimate for Class IX, Vote 2, dealing with roads in England and Wales, as it is some time since the House had the opportunity of discussing the roads programme. It seemed to us desirable to assess whether the programme is adequate to meet the traffic needs of today and whether the Government are proceeding on the right lines. It may well be that this is a subject which is a little less controversial than many which the House has been recently discussing, but that may not prove to be entirely so.
The Minister, understandably, takes a great deal of credit unto himself for the increase in authorisations of expenditure on the roads programme, and to the extent that the programme is expanding it is welcome. The Supplementary Estimate which we are now considering shows an additional expenditure of £l1 million during the current year over the original estimate. In addition, there is the welcome provision of £1 million for the British Transport Commission to contribute towards its expenditure on bridges and level crossings, which is an old inherited liability and to which the Government, at long last, have decided to make a contribution.
It is perfectly true that as one travels about the country today there is evidence 216 of an increase in new road construction and major road improvements. This is welcome to all of us, motorists and others alike. I think, however, that one is struck by the fact that it is still too much on an ad hoc basis. There are still too many bits and pieces of improvement being undertaken, and, so far, no overall long-term plan has emerged. That planning of the roads programme, which is so desirable if further needs are to be met, still seems to be lacking.
I would not put it past the Minister to spread as wide as possible the expenditure which is authorised to obtain the maximum amount of prestige and political gain. One sometimes suspects that a disproportionate amount is being spent in marginal constituencies. That could be suggested in Lancashire, although the fiasco of the grand opening of the Preston by-pass and the shamefaced closing of if has rather detracted from the credit which the Minister there obtained.
It is necessary to keep the roads programme in perspective. It must be viewed in relation to what resources are available, what can be afforded and, above all, its relationship to need. If it is measured by those yardsticks, I do not think that the picture of what is being done to meet the need is as rosy as the Minister and his colleagues are inclined to paint it. Also, we cannot be so complacent if the programme is looked at in relation to what is being done elsewhere, particularly on the Continent of Europe. It is true, as I stated, that expenditure has steadily increased in recent years, but it has not increased nearly as much as the country can afford or needs.
It took the Government some time to get the programme under way, and, 217 although they came into office in 1951, during the four years from 1954 to 1958 expenditure amounted to only £50 million, which is not a very great sum for the road needs of the country. Subsequently, it has risen to an estimated figure of £40 million this year. It is estimated that the figure will be £50 million next year and will level off in 1960–61 to £60 million a year. This would appear to be a considerable increase, but the current rise is only the fulfilment of the programme announced in recent years. As the authorisations which were made three or four years ago are fulfilled, as they reach the constructional stage and the work nears completion, the expenditure was bound to rise and to reach this figure.
I am trying to point out that there has not been any real increase in the amount of authorisations and expenditure on the roads programme over what was announced a few years ago. Although today there is the opportunity of increasing substantially further the roads programme, that opportunity has not been seized. What the Minister claims as an increase is merely, in my view, the fulfilment of the current programme. A real increase would mean an annual rise in authorisations and expenditure. Then there would be an increase year by year and not a levelling out at this figure of £60 million at which the Minister tells us the programme is to be stabilised in 1960.
In assessing the real increase in expenditure, if there be an increase, I think that it would be helpful to the House if the Government told us what are the planned authorisations for the next four years. That is necessary for us to get the picture into its true perspective. Whether or not there is a real increase, a greater opportunity exists today for expanding the roads programme further than has existed at any time since the end of the war.
Because of the economic recession, which has resulted from Government policy, for the first time since the war ended, manpower, materials and equipment are available to add substantially to the roads programme without unduly calling upon national resources. Increased expenditure today would serve a dual purpose. It would provide an urgently needed national asset in a road system more suited to current traffic needs and, 218 at the same time, it would create employment both directly and indirectly.
It would create it directly by using greater manpower on road construction, though admittedly today, with modern techniques and mechanisation, there is not as great a direct use of manpower as there was before the war. Indirectly, it would result in a considerably greater use of manpower by utilising the idle capacity of certain industries, particularly of the steel industry, which is now running at only 75 per cent. of capacity. Furthermore, the schemes selected could be such as to bring work to those areas of high unemployment which are particularly in need of it.
Therefore, some of the major schemes which are now in the pigeon-holes and are urgently needed should be proceeded with, and the procedure for getting them under way should be speeded up as far as possible. It still takes far too long to get schemes from the drawing board to the point of actual construction. It is time that something was done to streamline that process. I am sure that the House will agree that it is a waste, let alone poor economics, to allow this potential capacity to go unused when the need is so great. More could be afforded, and more should be done.
Equally important to the adequacy of the programme is the obtaining of optimum results from what is spent. Sometimes one suspects false economies have been forced upon highway authorities and that today we are not always looking far enough ahead in the plans made for building new roads. For example, some of these roads, including the Preston bypass, have dual carriageways, but each carriageway carries only two instead of three lines of traffic. A three-line carriageway, such as exists on the Birmingham motorway, is accepted today as the modern standard and requirement.
In many other ways false economy is being exercised. Although the incident of the Preston by-pass is now a matter of history its closing would not have caused such a stir if this mere eight miles of motorway had not been hailed, as it was on its opening by the Prime Minister, as a far greater achievement than it was. It was blown up out of all proportion to its merits and this ballyhoo boomeranged, and quite rightly so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I want to make only one 219 point with reference to the Preston bypass. I think that the Minister was less than fair to the county authorities in his handling of this matter.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Davies
The Minister dissents. I shall be interested to hear his point of view when he replies.
The right hon. Gentleman said on 28th January, and he has repeated it subsequently, that he imputed no blame to anybody. But if anybody was to blame for what occurred it was the Minister himself. He should have accepted full responsibility. I say that because trunk roads are paid for 100 per cent. by the Ministry, or the Exchequer, and the highway authorities act merely as agents in carrying out the schemes. That means that plans must be approved by the Ministry before they are carried out. The highway authority, in this case the Lancashire County Council, acting for the Ministry, clearly had to carry out what the Ministry desires.
When the original plans for the Preston by-pass were put to the Ministry in 1954, they included provision for drainage, which was subsequently dropped after consultations had taken place between Ministry officials and county council officials. If it was suggested to the county authorities that their plans should be kept down for reasons of economy and that the drainage was not necessary, the blame rests 100 per cent. upon the shoulders of the Ministry and, therefore, upon the Minister himself. It is impossible to get away from the fact that ultimate responsibility rests with the Ministry for trunk roads and special roads. The main question which it is useful to ask in the debate is whether the roads programme now being undertaken is adequate to need.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the Preston by-pass, with which he has dealt in a very reasonable manner, I should like to say that I know the county surveyor as one of the most conscientious officials in the country. This matter has had a very serious effect upon him and upon a number of others who are closely 220 associated with him. My hon. Friend has rendered a great service today, provided that the Minister gives us an adequate reply which will remove all the suspicions which have prevailed for far too long.
§ Mr. Davies
I appreciate what my hon. Friend has just said, but I do not wish to dwell on this subject. I am also acquainted with Mr. Drake. He has a national and international reputation. Nothing said in the House has detracted from that, nor should it do so.
As I was saying, the question that we must consider is whether the roads programme is adequate to the need. About three weeks ago we had an unseasonably fine weekend, which brought out a large volume of traffic. Already, before spring has begun, there have been long queues on the main roads in and out of London. If there should be a miracle this year and we should have a fine summer, I dread to think what the conditions on the roads will be like. To reach the coast in hours of daylight, if that proves possible, will be a terrifying ordeal, and to return during the hours of darkness will be a nightmare.
While it is the weekend travel that highlights the congestion from the point of view of the motorist, this is of far less concern than the increasing congestion in the cities and towns and its wasteful effect on the country's economy. New vehicles are coming on the road at the rate of half a million a year. I saw it estimated that if they were placed bumper to bumper they would stretch for 1,000 miles. The prospect of half a million vehicles adding to this congestion on the roads is terrifying.
New vehicles are adding to the congestion faster than that congestion is being relieved by the building of new roads and the improvement of others. If, during the next decade, the road building programme does not bring relief at a far faster rate and on a more imaginative scale than anything yet contemplated, we shall see traffic going through the towns at less than walking pace. The tortoise and the snail of Aesop's fable will be able to overtake it at speed. It seems paradoxical that when man has been able to attain a speed even faster than sound he can only travel through the cities in which he lives slower than ever, and that the speed at which he can 221 travel is reduced as the speed which he can achieve increases.
It is the urban areas which constitute the real roads problem. It is comparatively simple to build regional motorways, but it is far more difficult to build urban motorways to bring relief to the cities. I think sometimes that by thinking more in terms of a national network of motorways, essential as it is to speed traffic between cities, we are inclined to overlook that all the traffic that flows along them has a final destination and that for most of it that final destination lies within an urban area.
In fact, the figures of traffic density, origin and destination show that of all traffic approaching towns of 5,000 population or more no less than 50 per cent. is destined for points within them, but for cities of over 500,000 up to 1 million population only 8 per cent. is through-traffic, 15 per cent. is for the central business zone and 77 per cent. for other points within the cities. That means, in effect that more than 90 out of 100 vehicles travelling in the open country end up within an urban area and must, therefore, travel along the city streets. This is adding to the congestion as the number of vehicles increases together with the great increase in private transport within the cities themselves which is, of course, growing substantially at the expense of public transport. This is aggravating the problem still further.
It is, for the urban areas, a grim outlook and the congestion will become worse. If we fail to find a solution to the deterioration in traffic conditions in the cities, which has been progressive during recent years and which is certain to become worse, the problem will become almost insoluble because the cost of solving it will be prohibitive.
I should, therefore, like to ask the Minister today to tell the House of the plans which he has, if any, for the relief of this problem. The expenditure on the current programme, he informed me in reply to a Question, includes urban schemes, but, apart from the odd ones of which we learn, we have been given no general information as to the major schemes which are under contemplation for bringing about relief in the major cities.
It is not like the Minister to hold back from telling the country what he is doing 222 in the matter of the roads programme. He has not proved heretofore to be one of those introverts who hides his light under a bushel, or shirks the use of a personal pronoun in the first person singular. I ask him whether he can tell us more information about what he believes to be the final solution, if there is one, of the increasing problem of traffic congestion in the urban areas. Has he plans for urban motorways? They are probably the only answer to the problem. Major improvements to existing roads in the cities, necessary and inevitable as many of them will be, are not the full answer and may well prove more expensive than the building of the motorways which are, of course, roads with limited access, express-ways, or through-ways, elevated highways, or whatever one likes to call them.
It may even prove cheaper to build these than to pull down expensive buildings and widen narrow streets. It may cause less disturbance because they can take, as it were, the backyard route. They do not have to go through the most expensive areas and can go over the railway tracks and through the poorer areas. It may well be that the answer lies in the provision of urban motorways in all our large towns. If so, they must be planned in full co-operation with the town planners, the architects and engineers so that they avoid destruction of amenities or interference with the community life, as they would do if they cut through and divided the neighbourhood and its community life.
Unfortunately, this debate must end at 7 o'clock for Private Business, so all of us are proposing to cut our speeches short this afternoon to enable as many hon. Members as possible to participate. I will, therefore, conclude with two more points.
The Minister is fond of saying that more road building is being done today than at any time since the days of the Romans. I have no doubt that the officials in his Ministry engaged in a little research to ascertain exactly what the Romans were spending before he made such a rash statement as that. In fact, I tried to table a Question, but it was refused because it appears that comparisons with historical events, if they go back too far, are not in order.
I should like to ask the Minister two simple questions. First, can he tell us 223 what was the basis of his calculations that more money is being spent on the roads now than at any time since the Romans were in Britain? It would be interesting to know how he works that out. Secondly, can he tell us how much per head of the population is to be spent on roads this year and the comparable figure at present-day values during the Roman occupation.
§ Mr. Davies
Longer than the Preston by-pass. I think that the House would agree that it is entitled to that information. I regret that I did not give the right hon. Gentleman notice of this, so it may be that he cannot give the information now; but perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give the necessary facts and figures at the end of the debate.
Finally, if the roads programme is to be effective in providing relief for traffic congestion and preventing further deterioration and is to meet future traffic needs, then a long-term plan is required based on a re-assessment of future requirements with full regard to the wider aspects of town and country planning, industrial location and land use. It is not enough merely to increase expenditure; it is essential to plan to obtain the maximum benefits from what can be afforded.
It is because the Government's roads programme is, in our view, quite inadequate to cater for current and future traffic requirements, and because they have failed to take sufficient advantage of the opportunity of the higher level of unemployment and greater availability of materials and are not working to a long-term plan, that we consider that on this, as on so much else, they are proving to be too complacent and have failed to fulfil their responsibilities.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) will not think me discourteous when I say that I am not too deeply moved by his strictures on the roads programme. Building roads is one of the operations where results, fortunately, speak a lot louder than criticism. Indeed, I might 224 accuse the hon. Gentleman of being a little ungenerous. I have just written a letter to him, which I think he has received, saying that the Government are committing a scheme in his own constituency, costing well over £800,000, which will make a notable contribution to improving traffic conditions. Perhaps that is one of the areas where the hon. Gentleman thought that we should not be spending the money. If he will kindly tell me so, I shall be happy to shift the scheme somewhere else.
The Government have a great advantage over the Opposition in this matter, because, whatever arguments there may be about the Romans, the Government are engaged on the largest roads programme that this country has ever had in modern times. If the hon. Gentleman complains about the length of time it took to get these road schemes going, I make no comment on the ability of Mr. Alfred Barnes, then Minister of Transport, to carry out the large plan for motor roads which the then Socialist Government announced.
What has always astonished me—and I should say this today, because it explains the time taken to get the programme going —is that no preparatory work was done in those years. This work need not have cost a great sum of money, but no attempts were made to secure lines or start the long and necessary negotiations that have had to be undertaken. That is why my predecessors in this office—the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance—had to put in such an immense amount of painstaking preparatory work of which, quite frankly, I expect I am reaping the benefit. We had to start this enormous task of trying to close a twenty years' gap literally from scatch and it is right that this should be on the record.
If one wants to compare expenditure, the average expenditure in the years of our predecessors in the Socialist Government was £3 million a year on new works. I am not complaining about that, but it does not lie with the Opposition to say that we have moved very slowly in this matter. The fact is that we have moved very quickly indeed, bearing in mind that we found that no preparations had been made.
225 Now a passing word about Preston, since the hon. Gentleman raised the point. I can best answer what he said—I agree, in light and reasoned tones—by quoting from the technical journal Highways and Bridges and Engineering Works, as follows:At Preston, unfortunately, politics has raised its head and the defect has stupidly been magnified into a national disaster. It is nothing of the sort. It is nothing more serious than a slip in a cutting on one of our railways which may cause a temporary blocking of at least one rail track. Neither at Preston, nor on the railway, does it cast any slur on the capabilities of the designers or contractors.Certainly, it does not cast any slur on the county surveyor of the Lancashire County Council, Mr. Drake, to answer the point raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). It is, perhaps, one of the strange whirligigs of politics that I found myself at this Box, fairly and, I think, completely defending the Socialist-controlled Lancashire County Council while the Opposition were doing their best to denigrate it.
It was very bad luck on the Lancashire County Council and on Mr. Drake. They had my full support at the time, they have it now, in any arguments as to who was right or wrong. Perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite will refer to the agreed statement that I made in the House—agreed with the Lancashire County Council and Mr. Drake—which was that the question of drainage was never an issue, either before or during the construction of the road.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman? It is important that we should know who is really responsible for this scheme. Will he confirm or deny, first, that the Ministry of Transport was responsible for that road, that it proposed and insisted on amendments to the original scheme put up to it? Secondly, could the Minister also tell the House whether or not it is true that a new bridge which was constructed in connection with this work has been in danger of falling down?
§ Mr. Watkinson
That is absolute nonsense. As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's interjection, if he will be kind enough to read my statement in HANSARD, he will see that it is a complete answer. I do not propose to waste the 226 time of the House any further on that point.
I will be brief, because many other hon. Members wish to speak. As to the question of unemployment, the Opposition have always considerably underestimated the attention which the Government have been paying for many months past to the relief of difficulties over unemployment, where these occur. A proof of this was that I was discussing with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the end of last summer, the part that road works could play in meeting any special difficulties.
As the hon. Member for Enfield, East has already made plain, road works are no longer pick and shovel jobs, and, therefore, they do not make a very big direct contribution. For example, the whole 72 miles of motor road in the London to Birmingham project employs, at the peak of construction, only just over 5,000 men. None the less, we went into this question and my Department was authorised by the Chancellor to start a small special programme, outside the rest of the programme, of road works in areas where there were unemployment difficulties. So far, schemes to the value of over £2½ million have been authorised to be started, the Government contribution being just over £2 million. About £½ million of this Government money will be spent on trunk roads and about £1½ million on classified roads.
The House may be interested to know the kind of useful scheme that is being worked and which will, I am sure, bring a direct dividend by improving communications, quite apart from any additional employment that may be provided by the road work. For example, in Cornwall there is an improvement of A38 costing £90,000. In Caernarvon, there is a widening at Pen y clip costing £76,000. In Norfolk, there is the Larlingford by-pass scheme costing £50,000. In Cornwall, for classified roads, there is a grant to A387, at Looe Bridge, of £70,000. In the North Riding there is the Scarborough-Whitby road scheme costing £59,000, of which £44,000 is ranking for grant. In Devon, there is the Barnstaple-Braunton Road scheme, with a grant of £37,000.
I could give many more examples of the useful work that is going on all over the country where there may be unemployment difficulties. As I have said, it 227 was all arranged a long time ago, it is now being carried out, and I think that it will make a considerable contribution. it is fair to say that the more rapid buildup in the programme, with which I will deal in a moment, was also considered against this background. The motor road from Birmingham to the South Wales ports, for example, was expedited because that link from the industrial Midlands to the South Wales ports is vital to their future.
The Tyne Tunnel, to which I shall refer shortly, will make a considerable contribution to increased traffic efficiency on the North-East Coast. Again, the Forth crossing, for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible, will bring some very big orders to the steel industry, and so will the Severn Bridge, which will follow it. I hope that I have given enough examples to show that we have taken the problem of unemployment carefully into account in considering the road programme.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I welcome very much the decision which has pushed forward the building of the road to link the South Wales ports, which have suffered terribly because of the pattern of the coal trade with Birmingham. Will the Minister consider another matter? Recently, the major factor in deciding where a certain big works should be sited was that of communications. The right hon. Gentleman knows that in South-West Wales, where the tinplate industry has been housed for over a century, communications are of very great importance. Plans are ready. Can we be sure that they will be given the green light quickly?
§ Mr. Watkinson
I have been having some discussions with the Minister of State for Welsh Affairs about the future roads programme in Wales. It is only fair to say, however, that Wales, as nearly always in these matters, has had its fair share, and probably rather more. However, there are some very interesting schemes, like the Heads of the Valleys Road, and the Newport urban scheme, which I hope we shall be able to authorise if we can overcome some of the local difficulties.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East said that the roads programme was neither planned nor adequate. I can best answer 228 him in two ways. The plan is perfectly clear to the majority of the country, if not to him. It is that we are concentrating on five major projects which, I am sure, I need not elaborate to the House, since they are well known.
Perhaps the scale of the build-up will be shown if I say that over the past four years the average of new construction and major improvements was roughly £12 million. Expenditure this year will be nearly £47 million; expenditure next year will be £55 million; expenditure the year after will be £65 million, and thereafter—and these are very important words and I am very grateful to the Chancellor for authorising them—this expenditure will be planned on the basis of not less than £60 million per annum.
Therefore, the Ministry has a firm base on which to plan for the future. If it can expand that base, good luck to it, but at least we have a firm base and the Ministry has never had that before. It will allow an immense amount of future planning to take place. Thus, I do not accept the hon. Member's strictures on either of those points.
Let us take one other figure and see what share of national investment is being put into roads. To the £60 million must be added £33 million of Government money for maintenance and minor improvements, many of which are vitally important. There must then be added £50 million for local government contributions. In other words, we are now spending at a rate of not less than £140 million a year on our road system. In my view, that is a very fair share of the capital investment programme, and again I say how deeply grateful I am to the Chancellor for allowing us to go so far.
A further example of how we propose to go ahead can be shown by just a few schemes which we hope to authorise very shortly. I want, first, to mention three which will make a direct contribution to easing holiday traffic. I know that there will be plenty of traffic jams this year, but at least they will be against the background of many new road works. Some of the work may make the traffic worse temporarily, but the motorists, I think, will be willing to put up with that.
Construction of the Staines by-pass and the new Thames bridge at a cost of £2.3 million, has been authorised and, provided 229 that there are no last-minute difficulties about land acquisition, work should start during the summer. Construction of the second half of the Maidstone by-pass has already been authorised, too. The contract has been placed at a cost of more than £800,000 and work will start in April. We have also authorised construction of the Maidenhead by-pass, with another new Thames bridge, at a cost of between £2½ million and £3 million. Work will start in May.
In addition, we are starting work on two new motor roads. In May or June, we start on the viaducts which are the first portion of the link from Birmingham to Preston, one of the most elaborate roads in this country and perhaps in the world. There will be 80 miles of motor road which will cost no less than £34 million, because it is nearly all a matter of bridges, viaducts, cuttings, and so on. It is an enormous job and a great challenge to those who are to build the road.
In the early summer, we hope to start work on the Doncaster by-pass, again a motor road, at a cost of about £6 million. We also hope to start work at the same time on the Stamford by-pass and the Stevenage by-pass. This is part of the work of bringing the Great North Road up to modern standards, and the total cost will he more than £40 million.
Those are only some examples of new schemes which will be started this year. [HON. MEMBERS: "For the election."] Hon. Members say that it is for the election. I am not arguing about that. I am saying that motorists should be very grateful to the Government for the work which they are doing on the roads. The schemes I have announced are all firmly under way, schemes for which the contracts are being, or, I hope, will soon be, placed, and where the work is about to be started. We do not make a lot of promises, as my Socialist predecessors did, unless the Ministry is able to fulfil them.
§ Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
My right hon. Friend has not mentioned Scotland. I presume that he will leave that to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Unfortunately, this is not a Scottish Vote and my writ does not run in Scotland. It would be out of order if I referred to Scottish projects, but I should be very glad to talk to my hon. Friend about a matter in which I know he 230 has great interest; but we had better do so outside the Chamber.
I want now to refer to urban schemes, because I agree that the next task is to deal with the urban problem. It has always been made clear by my predecessors and myself that there was no sense in building a network of cross-country roads each one of which ended in a sort of urban bottleneck. The House might like to know the first phase of our attack on the urban problem. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will say a little about the broader strategy of the urban motor road when he winds up the debate.
The Tyne Tunnel is an urgent contribution of great importance to the North-East Coast. It will cost nearly £13 million and I hope shortly to authorise it. I hope, also, shortly to authorise the duplication of the Blackwail Tunnel at a cost of more than £7 million. That will deal with this bad bottleneck in London. As hon. Members know, the northern approach roads are already in hand.
The New Park Lane scheme will start in October. This is the largest urban scheme in London for many years. It is an interesting comment on the complexity of the task which those who build roads have to face—in this case, the London County Council—that the L.C.C. will have to spend £¾ million on diverting sewers and services before the work on the actual road scheme can be carried out. In other words, months of preliminary work will have been done and much money already spent before the passer-by will seem to see anything happening.
The Hammersmith flyover and the Talgarth Road widening, to complete the Cromwell Road extension—both of which schemes the Ministry has pressed on the L.C.C., which was very willing to be pressed on this issue—will be considered shortly. I could continue to give examples of work in London, but I will now turn to examples outside London.
We hope soon to authorise part II of the Birmingham Inner Ring Road scheme, costing more than £1 million. This will bring the ring road into operation. It is an ingenious scheme and great credit is due to Sir Herbert Manzoni and the Birmingham Corporation. It is a scheme which we are glad to back. The 231 northern approaches to the new Runcorn —Widnes bridge will cost more than £1 million, and will shortly be authorised. The bridge itself is progressing well and the actual erection of the steel span is about to start. The bridge itself will cost nearly £3 million.
In the West Country, I commend the enterprise of those who have taken on the construction of the Tamar crossing as a piece of private enterprise. I was delighted that the Chancellor enabled us to allow work on that to go forward. I hope that others will come forward with this fascinating idea of forming their own companies and associations to build bridges and tunnels. I should be very happy to assist them to impose tolls in order to make an attractive investment from such a scheme. We shall soon be adding to the work in Plymouth with the Laira bridge at a cost of more than £600,000.
Again, I hope that those examples will show that the first phase of the attack on the urban problem to deal with urgent bottlenecks, tunnels and bridges, is well advanced. We are now considering how we can best meet the next phase, the full-scale urban motor road which many of us have seen in the United States and elsewhere. I am not sure that such a scheme in all its severity is the right answer in our historic towns and cities.
I should welcome the co-operation of the architectural profession, engineers and the British Road Federation, and all those interested in seeing whether we cannot design our own solution to this urgent problem. There may be what one might call a British solution to this problem and that that solution might make a contribution here and elsewhere. In looking ahead to the urban road programme, we will welcome new ideas on how to shape it to fit in with the old and historic buildings and history of our towns and cities and our own special problems. We intend to press on with that.
I have one last comment to make, in general, on the roads programme. Although the hon. Member has accused me of being unduly fond of publicising my own efforts, they are, in fact, Government efforts, and a Minister of Transport cannot do anything unless his colleagues support him and provide him with the 232 necessary funds. It is, therefore, the Government which can take the credit.
There is, however, one important principle which I should like to enunciate, and this, I think, is a more personal matter. I take it that I carry the whole House with me—indeed, the hon. Member said this very fairly—in saying that it is everybody's desire to press forward with the roads programme as quickly as is physically possible. Certainly, it is in the interests of every motorist, and the Government's great success in creating a car-owning democracy cannot be fully exploited unless our road system is rapidly brought up to date. The hon. Member himself referred to half a million new motor vehicles.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Cars are property. What is more healthy or more pleasant for a city dweller than to be able to step into a modern motor car and to go out into the countryside for a pleasant week-end, thus gaining health and recreation? What is wrong with that?
§ Mr. Watkinson
If it were not for the booming motor car industry, which is one of the great supports of our export industry as well as of our home prosperity, there would be many fewer jobs in the Midlands.
We must provide the roads on which this growing industry can work and breathe. It is against this background that I wish to make my next comment. If we are to press forward fast enough to keep pace with this motoring age, those who build the roads must take some carefully calculated risks. If they are to over-insure or to become over-cautious —and the House has done its best in recent weeks to see that they are overcautious—or if they are to become unduly worried about bad weather difficulties or subsoil problems or some other problem of planning, we shall be beaten in this task before we start, and that would be a great disservice to almost everyone in the country.
That is why I take my stand firmly in support of all those who are willing to press forward the roads programme against the inevitable difficulties which 233 must arise. The Ministry does not build roads. The Government provide a large share of the money. In respect of trunk and motor roads they provide 100 per cent. of the money. The Ministry's road engineers, the Road Research Laboratory and other expert Government sources try to see that this money is properly laid out in the public interest, as advised by consulting engineers and by local authorities.
The roads are then constructed largely, as they should be, under the direct control of the local authorities whose areas they serve. In some cases, a consulting engineer does the job, as Sir Owen Williams is doing in the case of the London-Birmingham motorway. It is the Government's view, and certainly mine, that we should encourage local authorities to take their full responsibility and to build these roads as well as they can, as the agents of my Ministry. It is a partnership, and, therefore, it is absolutely right that they should have my full support when things sometimes do not go entirely right.
It does not worry me at all when I myself am knocked about in the House. That is part of the process of getting things done, and on the whole I rather enjoy it. There are those outside the House, however, who do not always welcome being made the centre of political sensation. I therefore hope that the House and the critics outside it will bear in mind the enormous difficulties which these men face. They are trying to close a twenty-year gap. In some cases they are having to learn by experience. They are having to contend with summers and winters which, over the past twelve months, seem to have the same adverse climate.
I hope that the House will say that they deserve our support and the nation's full support. They are doing a good job. It is in the national interest, because if we do not build these roads we shall deal a great blow at the efficiency of our industries. We shall increase their transport costs and stifle new industries. This country cannot be expansive and prosperous without a new road system. Let us therefore support those who are trying to provide it, against difficulty, in the shortest possible time, and let us wish them well.
234 As for the scope and the scale of what they have to do, I believe that it is as much as they can manage for the moment. As the programme gathers further momentum and it seems that more work can be done, we shall try, as far as we can, to keep the industry reasonably fully extended, because this job is essential to our national well-being. The Government intend to press it forward as fast as they possibly can.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I feel sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House were pleased to hear the Minister talk about our having a car-owning democracy. The more wage-earners who have motor cars the better it will be, because it will be a sign of our having an expanding economy.
I am, therefore, grateful that the Minister is to give his support to the trade unions to press for higher pay all round, thus enabling the workers to have the motor cars which the Minister wants them to have. I hope that he will also bear in mind that certain Tory local authorities in this country are aiming to evict tenants from council houses if they become the owners of motor cars. I hope that those reactionary measures by Tory local authorities will be opposed by the Minister and by all those hon. Members opposite who believe, with him, in a car-owning democracy.
The right hon. Gentleman announced that over the next few years the Government will work up to an annual expenditure on roads, including local authority expenditure, of about £140 million. That includes major roads, minor schemes and local authority contributions. He apparently thinks that that is satisfactory. We are, of course, grateful for any progress which is to be made. The Minister said that the gap to be filled by what he believes is a spurt in road building is a twenty-year gap. If one looks at road-making in this country one realises that the gap is much wider than twenty years. When one thinks of the enormous number of unemployed in the 'twenties and 'thirties who could profitably have been put to work on road making, one realises that we could have had a much better road system today.
The Minister mentioned a number of schemes, which, he said, were examples and not a complete list of the schemes 235 which are now in progress and contemplated. When one looks at the road needs of the country one sees that even with the schemes which he announced, some of which are quite big and the number of which is impressive compared with what has gone before, the whole programme is utterly inadequate. He made no mention of the hundreds of local authorities, regional and town planning authorities, who have put forward schemes of all kinds all over the country and who apparently will have to wait years and years before these schemes can be implemented. For example, there is the great need for a network of urban motorways, of the type which both the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) mentioned, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. This is a very urgent need, and apparently no consideration is to be given to the schemes for this area for some time.
I have always been puzzled about how road schemes are selected and about the working of the financial restrictions on road building. Although the Minister said that £140 million was quite a satisfactory figure, or he suggested that it was, it is a small part of our national income, less than 1 per cent.; and it is only about 3½ per cent. of the total capital investment of the country. If the Government make so low an assessment as to say that less than 1 per cent. of the national income should be spent on the roads—less than 4 per cent. of the total capital investment programme—I think that they are taking an inadequate view of our need.
It is necessary to look at the national need to decide what ought to be done about road building. From 1948 to 1957 the number of road vehicles doubled, from 3¾ million to 7½ million. We started off with an inadequate road system in 1948. Then there were few dual roads and far too many dangerous three-line highways. The main roads through congested areas were quite inadequate. But despite that low starting level, in those ten years we have added only 82 miles of trunk roads to the road system and only 200 miles of Class 1 roads. The new schemes and improvements now being announced will not take us very far. We must face the problem of how 236 much of the national resources should properly be spent on providing an adequate network of roads.
In my view, the Government have given the whole project of road building a disgracefully low rating in their estimate of capital needs. Were any objective view taken of the investment needs for all industrial, commercial or social purpose—for factories, offices, shops, harbours, railways, power stations, schools, hospitals, houses and so on—I am confident that a properly planned investment scheme would not put the roads part at such a low figure as is placed upon it by the Government—less than 4 per cent. of the whole of the capital investment of the country.
One of the troubles is that the Government, and, perhaps the previous Government—I do not know because I was not a Member of the House in the period from 1945 to 1950—have been too complacent about the need for road building. Despite the announcements of the Minister, I think that the Government are still too complacent about road building programmes. The right hon. Gentleman repeated today, in slightly different words, the views he expressed at Question Time on 28th January when he was asked about the Preston by-pass. He said then, as he has said today, that the Lancashire County Council pushed forward with the work and took some risks, and that it was justified in doing so and had his support.
But who pushed what forward? This was a scheme for building a very short stretch of trunk road. Of course, it was needed, but it is a lamentably short stretch of trunk road. It took five years to plan and build about 8 miles of road—or whatever is the distance. To call that pushing things forward is, in my view, to misuse the English language. I consider it a halting, faltering, snail-like progress. So long as we have Ministers who can be proud of that kind of progress, this atmosphere of complacency will remain.
We need to plan our national investment programme in such a way as to provide a much higher priority for roads. I suggest that there are certain criteria which we should bear in mind. No one mentions in the House as frequently as it should be mentioned the appalling toll exacted by road accidents. There were 300,000 people killed or injured last year and we cannot calculate the cost to the—
§ Mr. Darling
There is some confusion about the figures. I have taken my figure from the Abstract of Statistics and I think that I shall work to that official figure, although I shall not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to correct me. Whatever the figure, it is too high.
The official figure is about 300,000. We cannot calculate the cost of that, and the suffering and everything which is entailed by this appalling toll. The figure is equivalent to the number of people in a fairly large city. It means that equivalent to all the inhabitants of a city have been killed or injured in one year as a result of road accidents. Unless that factor is taken into account in assessing the money which should be spent on road improvements, we have not a sound criterion for calculating what should be spent. Quite a number of road accidents result from congestion, particularly in crowded urban areas. That is one reason why so far, as possible, roads in the urban areas should be designed to take traffic away from the neighbourhood of schools and houses and places where children play, and where old people might be knocked down.
Another factor which must be taken into account is the frustration, delay and expense caused by time wasted in bottlenecks in the road system. I do not know whether it is possible to calculate the amount of petrol wasted through engines idling because of traffic delays, or the pollution of the air by exhaust gases from vehicles being congested in one spot. Certainly, the waste of time and expense caused by delays in the delivery of goods, and the bad temper, with its resulting psychological effect on drivers, are matters which should be taken into consideration.
There is another important factor which the Minister should remember. He mentioned it this afternoon. He said, rightly, that we have a good motor car industry, and to a large extent the measure of our national prosperity depends on the success of that industry, particularly in the export markets. We must bear in mind that if we do not provide the roads for the cars to travel along, the motor car industry will have to stop producing cars. A saturation point will be reached, because people will 238 no longer buy cars. There will be no point in their doing so if they are not able to put the cars on the road. Because of the importance of the motor car industry to our export trade I am confident that far more than 3½ per cent. of our national investment should be devoted to road building.
The ordinary private motorist buys a car to indulge in what is now somewhat euphemistically called pleasure motoring. But there is not much pleasure to be derived from driving along congested roads. One may be able to get from one place to another for a picnic, but to try to travel to the coast on a summer day means that one is involved in such a large amount of traffic that any idea of pleasure is defeated. If the Government are to give the motorist a square deal, they must provide adequate roads. Through their licence fees and through the petrol tax, the motorists have paid enough money to provide the finest road service in the world. It is about time that they received some recompense for the money which they have contributed in this way. The needs of the pleasure motorist should be taken into account.
These are the criteria upon which the Government should work to in assessing the size of the road programme which, in my view, is about one-third too small. The expanded programme that the Minister has produced, working up, as he said, to £140 million in a few years' time, is about one-third too small. It is woefully inadequate. It will not give the motorist the road system that he ought to have; it will not give the people engaged in commercial and passenger transport a road system that they have helped to pay for and ought to have; it will not reduce the toll of accidents sufficiently to make us feel that we have a road system that is satisfactory.
Therefore, instead of our being complacent, as the Minister wishes us to be this afternoon, we should criticise all the plans he has put forward as being completely inadequate to the national needs.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I vigorously oppose a number of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), and particularly the 239 innuendo, which I agree was not pressed too hard, that there has been some sort of delay on the part of my right hon. Friend in producing plans for the development of the road programme. If there has been delay, and if we have not progressed as far as we could have done, the blame must lie partly with the party opposite.
We appreciate that during the war there must have been a complete cessation of road building and even delays in road maintenance, and that it was inevitable at the end of the war that the Ministry of Transport would be faced with very big arrears and would be in competition with other planning departments in getting funds for post-war reconstruction. Our complaint is that at that time the Ministry of Transport was much more interested in nationalisation of transport than in its modernisation. Not only did the paper plans of motor roads that Mr. Barnes produced turn out to be much more of a pipe dream than a plan, but in six years only £17 million was spent on major road improvement, and when my right hon. Friend and his predecessors came into office they found they had to begin the preliminary work of further improvements to our roads and had to start from scratch.
§ Mr. Darling
Is the hon. Member suggesting that there were no pre-war plans in the pigeon-holes and that the London-Birmingham motorway was produced after 1951?
§ Mr. Wilson
Motoring had developed since pre-war days and much more had been learned in the interim. I have never been at the Ministry of Transport, so I cannot say from my own knowledge, but it has been repeatedly stated that the plans were not far advanced when our Ministers took office. My right hon. Friend repeated that today. The hon. Member for Enfield, East knows very well, and so does the hon. Member for Hillsborough who interrupted me, that we cannot build roads overnight. They have had considerable experience of this matter.
240 A number of hon. Members on the Opposition benches have had experience of seeing the motorways under construction, not only in this country but abroad. I know they have, because I have been with them when they were seeing them in places like Belgium, Holland, West Germany, West Berlin and Austria. These roads take a considerable time to plan, and it is said that they take longer here than anywhere else. The reason for that is well-known. Not only do we pay greater attention to the rights of the individual, allowing time for reflection and public inquiry and procedures of that sort, which are not considered necessary in other countries, but there is a psychological difference in approach on the part of the public here from what there is elsewhere.
I have mentioned before a conversation which I had with some German officials on one occasion on this subject. I asked them whether when they had planned a road on a route from A to B their local landowners did not say that the route should go in a different direction, namely, from X to Y. The German officials looked very puzzled and went into a huddle about it. Then one of them turned to me and asked, "But who would question the route of a road once it was official?" I suggested that they should go to Oxford. That shows a different attitude of mind from ours and has nothing to do with delays caused by disputes about compensation or with inquiries and so on. We have to face the fact that it does happen.
We have made very substantial progress in the last year or two, as the hon. Member for Enfield, East admitted. There has been a considerable speed-up in the building of roads in that time. I am told that the total sum authorised for the next four years, from 1958 to 1962, will be about £240 million, which is quite a substantial amount. It includes the five major projects which have been referred to, two of which have made considerable progress. They are the Great North Road and the London—Birmingham—Preston motorway. In respect of the Preston motorway, I would remind hon. Members that the whole history of civil engineering is one of overcoming the unexpected difficulties, ever since the days when the Severn Railway Tunnel suddenly flooded to the more recent mishaps at the Kariba Dam. It 241 is nothing new for an engineer to meet unexpected difficulties. If we attempt to anticipate all the difficulties, road construction will be very slow. We hope that the authorities will not take that sort of attitude.
We understand that about 66 miles out of 116 miles of the projected new Great North Road has already got, or is getting, a dual carriageway and that about 70 miles out of 110 miles of the London-Birmingham motorway are nearing completion. I am not so sure of the state of progress of the other three projects, the road to the Channel ports, the Midlands-South Wales road and the London-South Wales road. I understand that they are all in the earlier stages of development but are making good progress. I hope that in the winding-up speech to this debate we may have information about how far these projects have gone.
I agree that all this is not enough to solve the road-congestion problem or the urban motorway problem, which is very big. Quite a lot is going on in London on a very large scale, such as at the Elephant and Castle, at Notting Hill Gate and on Route 11, but there are very big problems to deal with. There are several things to be remembered. It is not enough to have motorways between one town and another, because they create bottle necks. There is a limited amount of skilled labour and machinery for these very big jobs, and on certain of them, tunnelling for instance, there is definitely a shortage.
In addition to that, the cost of motorways is very large indeed. It is about £⅓ million per mile for motorways outside the towns and between £3 and £4 million per mile for motorways in urban areas. I am told that the double-decker roads will cost anything from £11 to £12 million per mile. That is a very big sum. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways; it is not good enough for them to come here and demand more motor roads and to come in three weeks' time and put down every conceivable Amendment to the Finance Bill to ask for every possible reduction in the taxation that has not been proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
It is obvious, as I think the hon. Member for Enfield, East said, that a balance must be struck between public need for 242 more roads and the proportion of the revenue which can be spent on them without restricting other services; but if hon. Members think that balance is wrong, I should be much more impressed by their arguments if I also heard them opposing the pleas of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) for a reduction of Purchase Tax, opposing repayment of post-war credits, opposing any increase in the Health Services, education or pensions, in order that the money might be diverted to roads. In fact, they do none of those things.
The British Road Federation and certain other bodies particularly interested in roads do say that the proportion of the national income spent on roads is inadequate and that we have not got the balance right. If we agree with them we should alter the balance either by increasing taxation or restricting expenditure somewhere else, but it is no good demanding more expenditure on roads and not increasing taxation or restricting expenditure anywhere else. I suggest that hon. Members with their more varied experience of national needs appreciate that it is not easy to increase taxation nor to decrease expenditure without doing damage to the national economy, and for that reason we should accept the fact that the balance is right.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
It so happened that in my last election address I put better roads among the high priorities but I also put them in as a contribution to an expanding economy which would pay for the other things, including Purchase Tax. The hon. Member ought to attack his own Government for a contracting economy.
§ Mr. Wilson
It is a question of balance. Unless we are prepared to make very large changes in taxation or expenditure, I think hon. Members opposite will have to agree that my right hon. Friend has struck the balance about right in all the circumstances and that he is spending a reasonable amount on the roads and is to be congratulated rather than criticised.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)
I should not like to denigrate the efforts made by the Minister, but I take exception to the statement on what has been done between 1951 and 1959 compared with the period between 1945 and 1951. The Minister should bear in mind that between 1945 and 1951 we were concerned with very urgent matters in the housing of the people, building factories and returning to normal industrial life. It was a question of first things first.
We must also bear in mind that during that time there was the difficulty of obtaining technicians, earth-moving machinery, and so on. To be fair, the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member far Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) were quite right. Advantage has been taken only to a small degree of what has been presented, and the comparison between the years this Government have been in power and the period 1945 to 1951 could be said to be odious. Nevertheless, some advance has been made in the last two years.
This is not altogether a political problem; it is a national problem. It has been rightly said that this country and industry are in need of far better roads than we have at present. Therefore, whatever has been done in the past few years, I hope it is to be considerably accelerated. That is why we offer our observations and wish to assist. There is nothing wrong in any hon. Member criticising the Government for not doing enough, provided the criticism is constructive.
Coming to the basic facts of the problem, the Minister gave a list of what the Government are doing and intend to do, but he should bear in mind that the programme for new roads in the next four years will cost about £280 million. Is £280 million sufficient? I think it is a long way from being sufficient. As mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling), the amount of money coming from motorists is about £500 million a year. The Minister said that he was very grateful to the Prime Minister for supporting him in the expenditure of about £140 million a year on road construction and reconstruction.
I am interested in the new motor roads. If they are to serve a useful purpose, we have to contribute to the Minister ideas 244 on what could be done to bring about acceleration which is so necessary. These motor roads run far out into the country. If they are not to meet the needs of industry their construction will defeat their own object. They must not peter out miles from industrial areas. I can give many examples of where that will be the case. If we are to relieve the heavy traffic we now endure in cities and urban areas the motor roads must, to some extent, be properly fed to canalise traffic away from some of the inadequate roads.
When the Minister was outlining his programme he made reference to the Birmingham and Preston motorways and to the great engineering feats they represent. I look forward to seeing those completed. I am rather dismayed, however, that no reference has been made to the motor road in Yorkshire. We have the London-Birmingham road of 53 miles, which is to be completed within a schedule of 19 months. That is some achievement. The engineers dealing with that work have said quite openly that what happened to Preston by-pass will not happen to that motorway. I wonder what was in the mind of the engineers when they said that, because I believe this will be a first-class job.
I am rather sorry that the Minister has not given careful thought to this matter. Every motorist coming from London and going northwards will be tempted to use the new road, but when he gets to the end of it, how is he to get on to the Great North Road? There will be the chaos which already exists in Leicester. In the last few months, I have asked Questions of the Minister who has said in reply that the scheme is being impeded because a line cannot be defined through Leicestershire. But cannot that be overcome? In the West Riding of Yorkshire there is a very populous area in which sand and gravel is carried every day and coal from opencast workings is transported every day, but nothing is to be done in the next few years to ease the burden of that traffic. Much has been said about improvements to the Great North Road, and I accept that. But the Great North Road does not serve the West Riding. It runs through rural parts of Yorkshire. It will by-pass Doncaster and keep to the east of the West Riding. That is why local authorities in the county have got 245 together and put a plan to the Ministry. They are most anxious that something should be done about this problem within the next two or three years.
What I am trying to point out is that the London-Yorkshire motorway will serve no purpose unless it goes into the heart of the West Riding. I am a realist, and am not being parochial, but for the life of me I cannot understand why all these other schemes radiating from Birmingham should come before the continuing of the Yorkshire motorway into the heart of the West Riding. I hope that when he gives consideration to this matter the Minister will provide some feeders from places like Huddersfield and Halifax to join up with this motorway. After reference has been made to this matter this afternoon, I hope the Minister will not lose sight of it when dealing with the problem of the Yorkshire motorway.
As to the future, like most hon. Members, I feel that a lot can be done to relieve congestion in our cities. Only last week I boarded a bus in Parliament Street, having an appointment somewhere in London. The journey from Parliament Street to the middle of Regent Street took more than half an hour, and in the end I had to disembark and get a taxi to go down some back streets in order to reach my destination. This situation is getting worse day by day and month by month, and it has become a very serious problem not only in London but in Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
I wish to put a new point to the Minister. Some of our provincial towns are now taking the buses off the streets in the shopping centres. If we go along Regent Street we see people shopping whose cars are impeding the buses. It would be far better if people who wanted to go shopping left their cars off the main streets and if we reduced the number of buses using those streets. It is a great problem, but some cities in the Provinces are dealing with this serious problem. I hope that my few words will convince the Minister that we in Yorkshire are anxious that our problem shall receive due recognition.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
Some hon. Members opposite—not the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) 246 but previous speakers from that side—have criticised the Government about the road programme, and have even accused my right hon. Friend the Minister of complacency. I would remind them, and I think it is fair to do so, that twelve years ago the then Socialist Minister of Transport announced a ten-year plan for building new roads. The first two years were to be devoted to the large arrears of maintenance work; the next three years were to see the start of major road works of new construction, and the last five years of this ambitious programme were to see a comprehensive reconstruction of the principal national routes, including motorways.
The Minister, Mr. Alfred Barnes, at that time said that the first year's work alone might run to anything up to £80 million. That is the way hon. Gentlemen opposite and, indeed, even right hon. Gentleman talked, but what really happened? In the four years between 1947 and 1951 an average of between £3 million and £3½ million a year was what the Labour Government actually spent—a total of £14 million in four years. In the whole of their six years in office, the Labour Government spent only £17 million on new construction and major improvements.
When that pathetic record of broken promises and inadequate achievement is contrasted with what my right hon. Friend is actually doing. I do not think it lies in the mouths of hon. Members opposite to criticise this Government on this issue. Of course, there were plenty of excuses, and many of them were perfectly valid excuses. There was indeed a shortage of labour, and certainly there were shortages of plant, machinery and materials. There was also a shortage of cash, owing to Socialist economic policies, but surely in the days of the Labour Government there was no shortage of planners and thinkers? Surely there was no shortage of staff in the Ministry of Transport? So why did they not at least plan the roads, even though they could not find the money and resources actually to build them?
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
May I interrupt the hon. Member? He will, I am sure, remember that the Act under which the present Government is building motorways was passed by the Labour Government in 1948.
§ Mr. Fisher
Yes, but I am not talking about the Act. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct. I am talking about implementing the Act by actual planning. In fact, as my right hon. Friend has said, very little preparatory work was done. Just as the national till and the national larder were very nearly empty when we took over at the end of 1951—and when I went to the Ministry of Food as Parliamentary Private Secretary I remember how empty it was—so also were even the planning pigeon-holes of the Ministry of Transport. As my right hon. Friend has said, it meant that he had to start almost from the beginning, and road construction involves a great deal of preliminary planning work before actual physical work can start. I know that from a small case concerning my own constituency, which my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may remember, of an under-pass on the Kingston by-pass.
§ Mr. Fisher
What an immense amount of time and trouble has to be taken before any building work can commence. Local interests have to be considered before a plan can be prepared. Then there is the preparation of the plan, which later has to be advertised, and time has to be allowed for objections to be made—and there are always plenty of objections —and they have to be looked at. Very likely, a public inquiry has to be held and, as a result, there may be changes in the plan. Even if there are no changes in the plan, there will almost certainly be voluminous correspondence for the local Member and the Minister, culminating, no doubt, as in my own case, in Parliamentary Questions and in time-taking deputations to see the Minister or his Parliamenatry Secretary. Finally, after all that we have to negotiate the purchase of the land, which also takes time, and the whole process in the case of a large trunk road scheme would, I should imagine, take three or four years. It is very important that we should take that amount of time, otherwise individual rights are certain to be sacrificed.
§ Mr. G. Wilson
I asked a Question about how long it took in different countries. The Germans said it took a maximum of twelve months, the Dutch said an average of twelve months, and our officials said that they were lucky to get it through in two years.
§ Mr. Fisher
That bears out what my hon. Friend has already said about the different approach here. I am saying that I think it is right that we should go into these things properly and not steam-roller individual interests, but we cannot get a substantial reduction in the time if we do that.
That is why it was very disappointing to find that the party opposite, when it left office, had not only been unable to build roads but had not even been through these time-taking preliminaries in the whole of its six years in office. By contrast, trunk road schemes for over 850 miles of new or improved highways are now being prepared by my right hon. Friend, and we are already embarked on the four-year £240 million road programme, averaging £60 million a year, and we are already spending over £40 million a year in contrast with the £14 million in four years of hon. Members opposite. I therefore feel very surprised at the sort of attack which some hon. Members have made on this matter today.
One need not go into the details of the five important arteries that are covered by the five principal projects, but we welcome very much the news of the Staines by-pass and new bridge, for which we have waited patiently for years, and the Maidenhead by-pass and new bridge. I do not know about the argument which we heard earlier about the Romans; I suppose that it may be difficult to work out comparable road programmes, in terms of cash spent, when they are separated in time by hundreds of years, but one cannot, as a matter of historical fact, recall a period when there was so much road building going on in this country as there is at this time, probably since the time of the Romans.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Perhaps I may tell my hon. Friend that I have made that calculation and worked out that the Romans built about 4,000 miles of road over a period of about 400 years, whereas we are building about 250 miles every 10 years.
§ Mr. Fisher
That shows my right hon. Friend in a very favourable light, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his information.
Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) and other hon. Members—and, indeed, the 249 British Road Federation—consider that our expenditure is inadequate because, they allege, it still falls short of the need. One does not dispute that, of course. Expenditure on worth-while projects of any kind almost always falls short of the need. It is bound to do so because, as was indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), we need to spend so much on so many objectives and for so many purposes.
We are spending enormous sums of money every year on education, atomic energy, housing and slum clearance, National Health and many other extremely important and worth-while objectives. Yet the keen and knowledgeable protagonist of each one of these will claim that his own particular interest is being neglected. But one cannot do everything at once without over-straining the economy and over-taxing the individual.
In that context, the assessment made by the "Highway Needs of Great Britain" Conference sponsored by the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1957 seems to me to be quite unrealistic. That assessment advocated the expenditure of £3,500 million on roads in the next twenty years. That is about £175 million a year, or about three times the present programme. I do not believe that any Minister of Transport, not even my right hon. Friend, could possibly hope to get anything like that sum out of any Chancellor of the Exchequer of any Government—Labour or Conservative.
I would certainly agree with the British Road Federation that probably the greatest need lies in the urban areas. Nothing is more irritating than to motor along fast routes only to be held up interminably as one approaches large urban areas—and still more so when one actually enters them. The acute congestion in our large cities is a very real problem, and there is no doubt that a high proportion of the available money should be spent on relieving urban traffic congestion.
I do not know whether enough emphasis is being put on this. The British Road Federation considers that about one-third of the total expenditure should be devoted to urban requirements. I do not quite know what proportion my right hon. Friend, has in mind, or whether he 250 gives the urban problem quite so high a priority. Something, of course, is being done. In London, the western exit, the Cromwell Road extension—a pre-war project—has at last come to fruition, and we shall soon be using the Chiswick flyover. There is the underpass at Hyde Park Corner—I did not quite hear whether my right hon. Friend gave a date for the starting of this scheme—
§ Mr. Fisher
Perhaps my hon. Friend will be able to tell us later when that is expected to be completed.
I wish that something could be done soon about the London bridges over the Thames and their approaches. I know that if my hon. Friend ever drives to his constituency at Guildford on a Friday evening between 5.30 and 7.30 p.m. he will appreciate how frustrating Putney Bridge and the roads leading to and from it can become. I hope that he will give some attention to that.
With nearly five million cars on the roads and over seven million vehicles altogether —in itself, a great tribute to the prosperity of Britain under this Government—I am sure that my right hon. Friend is right to accept the challenge of our road problem.
Perhaps most significant of all is the fact that, at the time of drastic retrenchment 18 months ago, the road programme did not suffer at all. Of course, in any previous period of financial stringency the road programme has always been the very first to suffer. That is the measure of the importance that the Government attach to road development. It is, too, the measure of the strength and resolution of my right hon. Friend as Minister of Transport. I am sure that if hon. Members opposite were honest with themselves they would, when comparing the present programme with their own record, join with us in thanking my right hon. Friend for his attention to this problem, for the saving in human life, the relief of traffic congestion, and the improvement of the roads that he has undertaken, and is carrying through with such vigour.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
As I wish to call the Minister's attention to just one or two short points, I do not propose 251 to follow the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher). When I see what is being done on some of these new road works, I ask myself whether anybody on the engineering side of the Ministry of Transport has any responsibility at all for considering the interests of the pedestrians. We hear so often in this Chamber the demands of the motorists, the demands of the British Road Federation, the demands of the many vested interests—and, goodness knows, there are enough of those in the transport industry—that one begins to wonder whether we pay half enough attention either to road safety or, not less important, to the interests of the pedestrians. It may be said that all motorists are pedestrians—I only wish that they were pedestrians more frequently.
As I say, it seems that, when constructing some of the new roads, nobody in the Ministry of Transport is paying any attention at all to the interests of the pedestrians. I take as a case in point —and here I at once declare an interest, and say that I live in the neighbourhood —what is happening at the London end of the London-Birmingham road. Everybody knows that a considerable extension is being made there, and that instead of having, as was to have been the case, a road capable of carrying three lines of traffic we are now to have in effect two roads—technically perhaps one road —one carrying the up traffic and the other carrying the down traffic.
From the look of things at the moment, it appears that there will be about six lines of traffic when the road is completed. Whatever the motorists may say about that road, it is clear to me that very few have asked themselves how the pedestrians are coming along, and I want to direct the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to one or two things, and to ask him to make some inquiries.
I do not quite know where the responsibility lies. When I approached the engineer of the Middlesex County Council I was told that the county council is the agent of the Ministry of Transport. That seems to be very similar to the Preston by-pass business. Nobody seems to know just where the responsibility lies. In the case of the Preston by-pass the problem was whether the responsibility lay with the local authority, 252 the agents acting for the Minister, or the Minister of Transport.
If the right hon. Gentleman goes to Hendon Way he will find, first, that a good number of the residents have to suffer the inconvenience of not having level pavements. Even the Romans knew how to make level pavements, but we cannot have them. We have sloping pavements. One can understand the reason for an elevation on a road but not for one on pavements. Residents in Hendon Way are not yet so built as to have one leg longer than the other, but that is probably what they will need when walking on along some of those pavements.
When one raises the matter, one is given excuses. I do not accept them as explanations. As the hon. Member for Surbiton said, they are excuses. Some of the things he called excuses were reasons. The excuse is that they have had to raise the road so high that the pavement falls below the level of the road and the drainage arrangements demand that the pavement be elevated. Not content with creating an elevated pavement, they have now created a situation where the open water channel for the pavement is immediately outside the front gates of the houses.
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) spoke about the problem of modern engineering. I cannot understand any problem of modern engineering which makes it necessary to have an open water channel immediately outside the front of these houses. If the Parliamentary Secretary goes down there, he will see exactly what is happening.
Have we completely accepted the point of view that the only people who are interested and the only people to be considered are motorists? What about bus passengers? The Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong. One never knows much about it until it is an accomplished fact. When the new road is finished in all its grandeur, I understand there is to be a fence. I do not suppose that it will be the Prime Minister again. He has had enough of the Preston by-pass. He will not want to open the London-Birmingham end. Someone else will do that. Am I right in understanding that there will be a fence erected down the centre of the road, the purpose of which 253 presumably will to prevent anyone crossing? I am asking for information. I am not saying that that is a fact.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
I can help the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) and tell him that the motorways are single-purpose roads. They will be fenced on either side to prevent pedestrians, cyclists and anyone else, except motor cars, lorries, etc., travelling on them.
§ Mr. Collick
I am obliged to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. That seems to confirm that there will be a fence, apparently to prevent persons crossing the road. It will prevent them getting on the road. Can the Joint Parliamentary Secretary proceed from that to tell me this? When there is a bus stop, as there is in this part of Hendon Way, and passengers alight from a bus on to the pavement—I think that they have been privileged to have about three feet of pavement—
§ Mr. Collick
I do not know. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary can answer that. I am only posing questions. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has facilities for finding the answers. I assume that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows what he is talking about, and he confirms that there will be a fence.
§ Mr. Nugent
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but he wants the information. There will be a fence on either side of the motorway proper, to prevent pedestrians crossing or going on to the motorway. There will be footpaths or roads going under or over. The part about which the hon. Member is now speaking is a road in the urban area connected on to the end of the motorway. It is not a motorway. There will be normal facilities for pedestrians.
§ Mr. Collick
I am relieved to hear that this is not technically a motorway until it gets further out. Therefore, there will be no fence. It is quite contrary to what I was told by the engineer. He told me on the phone that there would be a fence. I am very glad to have the assurance of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that there will not, because 254 what was puzzling me was how, if there was a fence, people who alighted from a bus were to cross the road. The engineer told me—but apparently he is wrong, if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is right—that bus passengers will have to proceed to the adjoining road and get across the road in that way.
When a road is so far advanced as this road is at the London end, is it impossible for something to be done to speed up the arrangements by which pedestrians can be allowed to cross the road safely? When the road is finished, at the junction of The Vale and Hendon Way there will presumably be some facility—a pedestrian crossing or some such means—to enable pedestrians to cross.
I know that there has been no work taking place on that part of the road for months past. Why has it not been possible to make some provision for pedestrians to cross the road at that point? There is a regular traffic of womenfolk in the area who take their babies to the clinic and who have to cross this busy road. There will be six lines of traffic. It is true that one-half is not yet open. I am pleading that there should be some consideration for the pedestrian and that there should be a pedestrian crossing or something of the kind to enable people to cross the road safely.
Thousands of people will be very grateful if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give some attention to the problem. If there is nobody in his Ministry responsible for considering the interests of pedestrians, which seems to be the case at the moment, will he appoint someone in the new roads department with that obligation?
§ Captain Richard Pilkington (Poole)
Does the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) realise that under Conservative prosperity the only pedestrians who will exist soon will be those who have parked their cars and are walking to their destination?
§ Mr. Collick
If that is the ideal of Conservative prosperity, it is a very different prosperity from that which I have in mind. Is that the great E1 Dorado we are to live to see, in which people are unwilling to use the legs which nature has given them when they have the facility and opportunity of using them? However, I do not wish to digress.
255 This is one of London's problems. If any hon. Member stands on this road in the morning, he will see private cars pouring into London each with one occupant. Hon. Members should ask themselves how much cubic space that one person occupies on the roads of this country whilst reaching the centre of London and then ask themselves whether it is any wonder that we have traffic problems in London.
When shall we reach saturation point? When will something be done? Or shall we reach the stage, which the hon. and gallant Member for Poole (Captain Pilkington) seemed to think was the ideal, when everybody will be doing that, and that will be the ideal of Conservative prosperity? What an ideal. Take it back to Poole. We do not want it in London. That is half of our problem now. Let somebody in the Ministry pay some attention to the interests of pedestrians. If they do so, they will have the thanks and the blessing of pedestrians, who seem to be far more long-suffering than motorists.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I should like to dissociate myself at once from the conception of the Tory El Dorado in which everyone in the country possesses a motor car. I feel that that should be stated straight away in answer to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick).
Hon. Members opposite have not been as generous as they might in generally acknowledging the programme which my right hon. Friend has unfolded today. It is, as they concede, visible and tangible, and, all political expediency apart, I think that a little more might have been found to say in favour of it. One cannot motor anywhere without finding traces of it. Indeed, one can be slightly held up by it. The further one goes the more impressive the evidence becomes—and, perhaps, the later one is as a result.
The Minister himself said that much is owed to his predecessors; he has had the resources which they were denied. That is always said of every achievement. I think that it was said of Lord Montgomery of Alamein that he merely had what others had not had. I do not think that this is really so here. I suspect that my right hon. Friend carries a little more 256 weight in the Cabinet than many of his predecessors did, and moreover, the disposal of the resources has been his responsibility. He has not lacked advice. Some of it, if he had taken it, would have failed to produce the results we have today.
There is no need for a speech stressing the needs of the problem. This is a subpect on which many people are willing to exercise their imagination and urge that the public purse should be given free rein. There are few subjects in which one can juggle more splendidly with statistics—there were X cars yesterday, there will be Y cars tomorrow, which positively means that we must spend Z thousands of millions of pounds more on the roads.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) pointed out, the outside figure is £3,500 million in twenty years, according to the British Road Federation, the activities of which as a pressure group, I must say, in parenthesis, really form a separate subject for study on their own. "Faster and faster" is the cry. The Minister is surrounded by Lewis Carroll duchesses. I do not propose to make a "duchess" speech. I feel, really, that the rôle of dustman is indicated. While acknowledging the needs and the achievements, I feel that there are still some important lids which must be lifted.
I hope that we shall not lose perspective. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not do so. If I may put it in this way, I hope that we shall not consider him wrong if he allows perspective to prevail. This is one matter in which public taste, needs and requirements have outstripped our basic capital resources. It is not the only one, but it is probably the largest of all today. The vital factor is the ratio of vehicles to road resources. This ratio, of course, is higher now than it was before the war, and it is probably the highest ever known.
I am inclined to think that the ratio will go higher yet. The crucial question is, "At what ratio do we aim?" I have never seen this question scientifically anticipated, but it seems to me to be a most important matter. Given more or less unrestricted development in the motor industry, to maintain even the present ratio of vehicles to roads will lead to an enormous consumption not only of money and manpower but of land, which very few people, I think, fully appreciate.
257 The Ministry's traffic count gave an increase of 19 per cent. in two years, between 1954 and 1956, and an increase of over one-quarter—28 per cent.—in private cars. Every hon. Member can produce statistics to the same effect. I note with approval that my right hon. Friend has now a planning section in the Ministry of Transport which is, as I understand, to anticipate what the country's road system ultimately will need to be. I do not think that it is any too soon to have such a section; indeed, in some ways, I feel that it is a little late.
It is appropriate here to utter a warning about what the limits may be. Our thinking in this matter, as in many others, is infected by the American example. But, in the American example, and, indeed, the example of many countries in the land mass of Europe, there are no real comparisons to be made with conditions in this country. Vision is difficult because the main pressure groups, the British Road Federation and the Society of Motor Manufacturers, are on the side of grand expansion. They tend to produce plans which take no cognisance at all of the colossal competitive pressure on land which has prevailed in this country since the war. I am thinking not only of agricultural land, of which we have lost 50,000 acres since the war. I am thinking also of the fiercely competitive claims made by other national institutions and bodies. In an island of 50 million people living on 50 million acres no field of development can he altogether unrestricted.
We have had to impose a restraint on many important features of our development, particularly since the war, and I believe that it is not impossible that something not yet envisaged by the House will have to be imposed on the motor vehicle in the long distant future. The sooner we recognise this the better. If restraint and a measure of discipline more than the country now believes possible will be needed, it is very important to anticipate it. If it is imposed retrospectively, those concerned will find themselves in very serious trouble all round.
I am told that industry and commerce depend upon fast, unimpeded road communication to the tune of thousands of millions of pounds of expenditure. If that is really so, then I must conclude that the assessment of our road and rail 258 potential has somewhere gone awry. I do not want to go into that now, but, at least, road plans which appear to assume the steady decline to the point of disappearance of the railways from the point of carrying freight and passengers must surely be false. I do not accept the dazzling prospect of roads on the American pattern. The practical policy, which I suggest my right hon. Friend is trying to follow, is to make the best use of the roads in existence, with a good deal of expensive improvisation. The A.1, the Great North Road, and the road which now brings one into London Airport, are two very good examples of that.
There have been, until now, two main parties in the race, the road engineer and the motor engineer. It is a very unequal race, because the first, the road engineer, is subject to many limitations imposed by public policy, finance, rival claims, and so on. The second is largely unrestricted. Now a third influence, perhaps the most important of all, is arising. I refer to the traffic engineer. He will prove an indispensable adjunct, and he has been neglected for far too long.
As one hon. Member opposite said, it is quite fruitless to lay down fast express ways which simply link up a series of bottlenecks. The Americans learnt that the hard way; they produced roads along which one could travel at 60 miles in the hour, yet conditions in their cities squander the money which they spent on those express routes. We must, therefore, apply ourselves to the science of moving large loads of traffic through less space than it needs in the large cities and towns of our island. Ideally, all cities, large towns and counties should have a traffic engineer—not a "back room boy" but a man with real status and authority and the training to achieve results. I have no doubt that this may be a most important development.
I warn my right hon. Friend that the traffic engineer is the alternative to the bulldozer. One cannot bulldoze one's way through the problem when one reaches our towns and cities. The cost of razing blocks alone is prohibitive, and one always finds, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton reminded us, that one strikes buildings of historic merit and the like which will be tenaciously defended to the last ditch, with delay to one's whole programme as a result. I 259 can only hope that the traffic engineer, if, or when, he comes, will enjoy a higher status and more authority than that rather neglected individual, the highway architect.
Due, perhaps, to lack of experience, we have fallen a long way behind in our mid-twentieth century roads and bridges on what I might term architectural distinction. Architects are used but, certainly in some authorities, they are far too subordinate and they are often employed or consulted too late. In contemplating a road programme even of the scale we have now, which I regard as adequate, we must not leave out of account the fact that we are a small and reputedly beautiful country, and we must not ignore the effects upon it of some of the things we are trying to do. It is really idle to talk about doubling our standard of living in twenty-five years if, at the end of it all, we are simply to find ourselves enjoying it in a desert of concrete and mechanical clutter. That is something which the more grandiose plans art apt to overlook. In saying that these things call for a fresh appraisal, I do not say that this is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend alone. There is much here for the civic conscience. Until that is stirred, we shall not get very far. Given architectural imagination, I see no reason why the giant express ways or motorways which we are to have should not have some sort of majesty and the small projects some sort of harmony which many of them now lack. The scope in this sphere has been neglected.
Let me take trees as an example. The way to break a great ribbon of road is not with trees at exact intervals along the centre, but with clumps of trees on one side or the other. That may be disputed by some hon. Members, but that, broadly, is the sort of approach which we need. It will be said that this is quite irrelevant to the practical, physical and urgent industrial needs of this country. That sort of argument has gone a long way towards destroying quite unnecessarily much of this country, particularly since the war.
That is the argument of the Bourbons. We cannot discuss this problem intelligently wholly in time of cost, width and length. Those are not the only factors in highway construction. There is far more to it than that. We must apply in this 260 sphere, with upwards of 7 million vehicles now charging down upon us, not merely constructional considerations but civilised considerations. There is need to apply here, which we have not done, the oldest political argument in the world about liberty and licence.
I ask hon. Members most earnestly not to be beguiled by the persuasive schools who want to criss-cross the countryside with gigantic motorways which we cannot afford in many instances and to convert Hyde Park into a great car park. I do not think that these schools will prevail. I hope that they do not. But it is against these technological fantasies that the current programme is sometimes made to appear ridiculously inadequate. In fact, it is not inadequate. It is far more realistic than some of its critics would make out. We must measure the needs. We must try to match them by intelligent use of our existing resources. We must bear in mind that this island is for the man, not for the motor, and that at the end of it all we still have to live on it.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
I am pleased to have the opportunity of taking part in this debate. I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in great detail, except to say that I think he is wrong about Hyde Park. I do not want to defend the Minister, because he can do that himself, but I do not think that he is attempting to turn Hyde Park into a race track or a car park. The Minister intends to take the cars underneath Hyde Park and to leave the park the beautiful place that it is for the people to enjoy. Schemes like the one envisaged for the Hyde Park underpass are needed in this modern age. We need more of them.
Hon. Members on both sides agree that something must be done about roads. I do not think that it is any good harking back to what was done from 1945 to 1950. After all, there was the war from 1939 to 1945, which resulted in a big hold up in road plans. I also remind hon. Members opposite that very little was done between 1930 and 1939, when 2 million people were unemployed and when there was scope for great road schemes which could have been carried out much more cheaply than they can now and which should have been undertaken. The public recognises the urgent 261 need of more modern roads with safeguards for the pedestrian.
Gallup polls are a fairly reliable guide to public opinion. In a recent Gallup poll, the News Chronicle asked members of the public what they would like to spend money on if they were Chancellor of the Exchequer and had £50 million to spend. Forty-five per cent. of the people said that they would like the money to be spent on assistance for old-age pensioners. It is interesting to note that roads came next with 20 per cent., which means that people recognise the road problems which face the nation today.
Modern life and industry depends to an increasing extent on the roads. Roads which were built centuries ago to take the horse and cart are not suitable. They are entirely out of date for the motor car, the motor coach and the industrial lorry. Day after day, in many towns and urban centres, we see heavy lorries carrying important loads mixed up in traffic with shoppers' cars, tradesmen's vans and bicycles. We all know that as soon as we have a fine weekend people use their cars to go to the coast or the countryside. We all agree that that is very desirable and that it does the people an enormous amount of good. It is estimated that today one family in four has a car. I am pleased that that has come about, because it shows that since 1939 there has been a rise in the standard of living. The experts estimate that in ten years' time the number of cars will have doubled and that probably 50 per cent. of the families in this country will own a car. Therefore, one can see the great problem which faces us in going ahead with our plans for the roads.
Another point which we should consider is the need to go forward with plans for road safety. I have often mentioned the necessity of road safety being considered in any road scheme. To some extent the Minister recognises that problem. I have been with a deputation to the Minister on this point and he recognised the need of taking pedestrians from motorways and roads by building pedestrian subways. I urge the Minister to pay a great deal of attention to road safety. Last week, in reply to a Question of mine, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that a big campaign would commence in April, which will be started 262 by the Lord Mayor of London, with a conference of local authorities and other national organisations. I hope that local authorities and road safety campaign committees will make a great effort this year to ensure that the roads are made safe for the pedestrian and the motorist.
Road casualty figures have been mentioned. In 1958, 5,970 people were killed, 69,166 seriously injured and 224,631 slightly injured, which makes a total of 299,767, an increase of 9½ per cent. This shows that as more oars come on to the road the casualties are increasing. I am sad to say that there has been a steady increase in road casualties over the last few years. Since my time in the House, three hon. Members on this side—all motorists—have died as a result of road accidents. Therefore, this problem affects not only the pedestrian but the motorist as well. I appeal to the Minister to do all he can in the interests of road safety.
In reply to a Question, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that in 1958 110 people were killed and 800 were seriously injured on uncontrolled pedestrian crossings. This shows an increase on the figures for 1957. These figures apply to zebra crossings on which pedestrians expect to walk with safety. It is true that the Parliamentary Secretary said that the figure for accidents 50 yards from pedestrian crossings had dropped, but the figures show that even on uncontrolled pedestrian crossings there is great danger to people crossing the roads. I would therefore like to see the Minister include in his Estimates provision for more pedestrian subways. These subways should be built with the new ramps, so that mothers may easily take their prams across the roads.
I should also like to see traffic lights installed on pedestrian crossings. It seems to me, from the figures that I have quoted, that there is a danger on these uncontrolled pedestrian crossings. The provision of traffic lights would help road safety, and save human lives.
All hon. Members and the nation must be alarmed, concerned and distressed at the great slaughter that is taking place on the roads. We want the new roads, and we want them for safety. I hope that that will be the Minister's watchword. In this modern age the number of motor cars, motor lorries and motor 263 coaches is likely to increase. This is a national problem and it should be solved in a national way. We should not just push only local road programmes. We want national roads to the great centres of population and to the coasts. At the same time, wanting the roads, I appeal to the Minister, in the interest of human life, to use the words "road safety" on every possible occasion and to make the future roads of Britain safe for the pedestrian and the motorist.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), in his characteristic style, suggested that we should put a brake on the road programme. At least, he said that what was being done was adequate. He mentioned the terrific amount of land that is used in road building and the amount of damage that might be done to our cities if we build a great many urban motorways. I sympathise with him in that view, but I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister whether everything possible is being done to use the space over the railways.
I know that it is probably very difficult to build a road which would clear the tops of railway bridges on the two-track lines. I understand that part of the South Wales—Midlands road near Smethwick is being built over a viaduct and is costing £1 million a mile, but I imagine that that saves a good deal of land. I hope that every attention is being given to the possibility of similar plans elsewhere. The main line to Paddington, over which there are not many bridges, is a good example, though the existence of the Great West Road may mean that a new road of that type is unnecessary in that case.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
We are all concerned about the use of land, but to put into perspective what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), may I ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware that since the war we have brought into use about 2 million extra acres of land for agriculture, whereas my right hon. Friend will use only about 5,000 to 10,000 acres in his present roads programme?
§ Mr. Russell
I am glad that my hon. Friend has made that point, but we ought 264 to make every possible use of space over the railways. Mention has already been made of the number of cars containing only one person which are driven into London every day. I know that my right hon. Friend favours the idea that cars should not be brought into London, but should be parked in car parks at railway stations on the outskirts of the city. Could not more use be made of the great amount of space above the railway in West Hampstead, particularly the space above the Metropolitan Line and the old Great Central Line in one direction and the old Midland Line to St. Pancras in the other? An enormous amount of space is available in places like that for the erection of car parks. Use might be made of West Hampstead station or Finchley Road station on the Bakerloo Line by people who wished to complete their journey into London.
My right hon. Friend has said that it is uneconomic to build car parks over railways unless other use is also made of the space. The West London Air Terminal is a case in point. Could not encouragement be given to the building of offices on these sites, with car parks either above or underneath the offices but both built over the railways? Great use could be made of waste space of that kind. Not only would that be useful, but it would remove many of the present eyesores.
The problem of building modern motorways will be very thorny indeed. Is tunnelling entirely out of the question, because of cost? I saw somewhere the other day that the idea of an A-ring road has been revived, though not necessarily by my right hon. Friend. I believe that the L.C.C. has been thinking again of providing an A-ring road, not along the line of the Marylebone Road, as originally planned, but slightly to the south of that line.
It fills one with appalling thoughts of the amount of property which would have to be pulled down. Would not tunnelling, expensive though that is, be cheaper? I hope that that idea will be investigated and will not be completely ruled out. A tunnel is to be bored for the new underground line from Victoria northwards by Green Park to King's Cross. That will be expensive, but would it be very much more expensive to tunnel a road? It might be cheaper than acquiring huge and expensive property 265 and paying compensation to the displaced owners.
I reinforce what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G Wilson) about the inevitability of a certain amount of delay in road building. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in giving full weight to the rights of individuals and insisting upon local inquiries being held where there are objections. It would be a sorry day for this country if we started to steamroller measures like that without giving thought to those disturbed by them.
What is known as "arcading" as a means of widening streets at possibly lower cost has been mentioned. About ten years ago, the London Counties Traffic Advisory Committee issued a report in which one of its recommendations for relieving congestion in London was the construction of arcades in some of the streets. I should have thought that that was a less expensive method of widening a street than pulling down the whole of one side of it. It means taking 6 ft. or so out of the ground floor of buildings and putting the pavement back a corresponding distance to widen the road, with the rest of the building remaining intact. In that way, a great deal of money could be saved, compared with the cost of pulling down the whole side of a street and rebuilding it again at a distance further back. I hope that we shall have some information about that in due course.
Finally, there is the question of the width of pavements. There are a number of examples in the West End of London, and no doubt in other cities, of enormously wide pavements on which very few people walk even during the most congested periods of the day. I know that my right hon. Friend recognises that that is so in many places and that he has given examples of areas where it will be put right, but many local authorities do not seem to be alive to this question yet.
Only recently, at Seymour Place, in St. Marylebone, running roughly parallel with the Edgware Road, the pavement on one side of the road has been relaid, either to exactly the same width or even to a greater width than it was before, while the road in between is no wider although a number of houses have been built on the side of the road opposite to 266 the wide pavement with a resultant increase in the number of cars parked on that side. It seems senseless to relay a pavement of considerable width where few pedestrians use it and to leave the road in a congested condition.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will try to persuade local authorities who do not seem to appreciate the waste involved in having unnecessarily wide pavements to put that matter right, and to make sure that they are not wasting space which is not used by pedestrians but could he used by motor vehicles.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
In the few remaining minutes, before the principals get at each other's throats, I should like to make one or two observations about street lighting. I should have thought that the Minister would have had his eye on the next General Election, but I must say that he did not come into harbour this afternoon with the bouyancy and cherubic look of a Cornish seaman. He came in looking very much like a "sourpuss" and he took in very bad grace one or two interjections from this side of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman must forgive us if we are a little sceptical, because we recollect only too vividly the queue of Ministers who turned up at the Dispatch Box in January and February, 1955, and made an announcement similar to that which he made this afternoon. The Minister's roads programme that he announced this afternoon was qualified either by his saying that he had been authorised to say this about it by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or that he hoped that it would be put into operation. Neither authorisation nor hope is any basis for execution. We want to know what road schemes have been put into operation. That is the difference between our attitude and the hopes of the Minister. If I may say so, the Minister's hopefulness, based upon the Government's programme, is not a very good augury for the immediate future.
On the question of street lighting, I should have thought that if the Minister had wanted to make history during his term of office, here was the opportunity. The Ministry's Road Research Laboratory has told him of the importance of this. Did the House ever know of 267 such chaos in this country where we have virtually 8,000 lighting authorities, if we include the parish councils? A county council is not a lighting authority, but a parish council is. The Minister himself has no authority over lighting, but the parish councils have. If we are to have anything like uniformity and continuity of street lighting upon the trunk roads, it can only be done by the Minister of Transport taking his courage into his hands and getting on with the job.
It is fantastic that out of a total of £12 million spent on street lighting in 1956–57, the total spent by the Minister's Department was only £133,000. There is not a single expert authority which does not argue that the direct effect of improving street lighting by way of uniformity and continuity would mean a substantial reduction in road accidents during night time.
May I say to the Minister, in conclusion, that if there is one aspect of this problem of traffic efficiency which is more important than any other it is the problem of street lighting. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, knowing the facts, would have been the type of Minister to get on with this job and get the Government to support him in bringing order and efficiency out of the present deplorable field of confusion, inefficiency and chaos.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
In reply to the questions and criticisms advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), the Minister has told us today about his roads programme and the great extension in road building which is taking place and will take place. No one in this House will want to deny for a moment that roads are now being built on a larger scale than probably ever before, that many of them are being built with speed and efficiency. The Minister and the Government can take such credit as they care to for what they have done to bring about a resumption of road building on a large scale.
What worries us is whether this road building programme, much bigger than it was a few years ago, is big enough. Is it adequate? Will it, in ten years' time, be sufficient to meet the needs of the country? That is what is puzzling 268 us today. The Government presumably believe that their roads programme is wholly adequate to the needs likely to come upon it. We do not believe that. We believe that unless it is greatly enlarged it will lead to conditions of constant congestion, traffic delays far beyond anything we are experiencing today which will be a grave burden on industry and bring intolerable hardship to all private users of the roads whether they travel in buses or in private cars.
The Minister talks of the Government desiring to see a car owning democracy. That is very fine. But it is also necessary to have conditions that will make the cars mobile. It is no use having a large number of cars for a large number of people if, most of the time, they are stationary either in their garages or on the roads. What is happening today is that the number of cars is increasing to such an extent—whether due to the Government or to world conditions—that it will bring about, unless there is a change in the Government's roads programme, a grave situation in a few years' time.
What is the test of the adequacy of the Government's programme? Of course, there can be no final test. There is no arithmetical calculation by which we can say that so much should be spent, that that will be enough and that anything less than that will be insufficient. We are here in a realm of argument and doubt, but I think that we can come to some effective conclusions on the facts as we know them.
I suggest that it is not the slightest good comparing the present roads programme with that of the Labour Government during the years 1945 to 1951, when it was hardly existent. For reasons that we all know, the resources of the country would not permit it at that time. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that the Conservative Party in the House was then attacking the Labour Government for doing too much, for over spending the capital resources of the country, and I do not think that there was any suggestion on their part that we should spend more on roads.
On the contrary, they were constantly demanding that we should cut down our capital investment, that we were doing too much. I would point out to some of those 269 who criticised the Labour Government today for not having done anything, that this is not true. The Labour Government laid the ground plan for the future big roads programme. They passed the Trunk Roads Ad in 1946 and the Special Roads Act in 1949—I wrongly called it the Motorways Act previously—and it is under those two Acts that most of the big roads are now being built by the present Government. So we did everything possible in the circumstances of the time.
It is now said that detailed road schemes had not been worked out by the Labour Government subsequently, my reply is that the broad lines of development were laid down and the duty of preparing the details rests primarily with the local authorities, as we have been told when discussing the Preston By-pass. If we are now told that the local authorities did not consider the details of their road schemes, I am surprised to hear it.
I know that the Labour Government at the time—I was for a short time at the Ministry—were most anxious that this should proceed as rapidly as possible. If they did not do so, it was not the fault of the Government of the time. It was the responsibility of the local authorities. My point is that it is silly, in trying to judge the adequacy of the Government's present road policy, to compare it with what happened in the early post-war years. We have to consider what the needs of the roads are likely to be in ten years' time.
Here we have some facts on which to base our views. We know that the numbers of cars coming on to the roads are increasing by about 8 per cent. a year. We know that in 1966 the number of cars on the roads is likely to be doubled. If this trend continues, and I see no reason why it should not, instead of having 7 million vehicles on the roads as in 1957, in 1966 there are likely to be 14 million. We also have it on the authority of the Road Research Laboratory that doubling the number of cars on the roads is likely to quadruple the delays. I imagine that was worked out scientifically and, in any case, it is common sense.
This means that unless something drastic is done, every half-hour delay owing to bad roads, crossings, and so on, which occurs today on any journey, will be two hours in ten years' time. This will be an appalling burden on industry and 270 will make our roads almost impassable. There will be no pleasure for those who want to use them for that purpose and the burden on industry will be excessive. So it seems to me that the programme now being put forward, admirable as it is in many ways, is hopelessly inadequate to deal with the situation which will arise in 1966.
The other test which we are entitled to apply in judging the adequacy of the Government's roads programme is the proportion of the national resources which will be spent on roads for some time ahead. From the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman today, it appears that the amount of money to be spent by the Government and the local authorities together on new construction—I am not dealing with maintenance—will be about £100 million a year.
Now, £100 million a year spent on the roads is a large sum, but is it anything like enough when we remember that the amount of money to be spent over the next ten years on our power industries is £500 million a year for new capital investment? It seems to me that since the number of road users will double during that period, and because the roads today are already seriously congested, the proportion of our capital expenditure on new roads is, on any comparative grounds, unlikely to be sufficient.
Therefore, we believe that the present roads programme is not good enough. We do not accept the Minister's view that it is the most the industry can do. We believe that it should be substantially increased during the coming year and we are not satisfied, from what the Minister has told us today, that the increase will take place. And it is primarily because of our fear for the future that we asked for this Supplementary Estimate to be discussed in the House today.
I turn to another subject which I consider important and which is directly connected with the building of roads. It is the failure of the Minister to synchronise with this building programme the necessary measures to keep down the accidents that are likely to occur upon the roads. I refer particularly to the sloth which has characterised his action in implementing the provisions of the 1956 Act for the testing of road vehicles.
In the few minutes I have in which to develop this argument, I will condense the facts, but I suggest to the House that this 271 matter is exceedingly important because the lives of hundreds of people a year are at stake. When the 1956 Act was discussed in Committee, the present Minister, all honour to him, threw over the policy of his predecessor and accepted the principle of the need for the compulsory testing of road vehicles. The right hon. Gentleman did so on the following grounds. He said that as a result of the voluntary tests which had taken place at Hendon it had been found that the number of defective cars on the roads was substantial.
The Minister said that 6,500 cars were submitted for voluntary testing. Out of those 72 per cent. were proved to have one major defect or more, that 28 per cent. of the pre-1945 cars had defective brakes, that 47 per cent. had steering not up to standard. And none of the standards were excessively high. The Minister also said, and we all agreed with him, that if the state of motor cars using the road could be improved there would be, in his words, a sensible effect on the number of accidents.
We have plenty of evidence of the extent of that "sensible effect". It shows that where compulsory testing of vehicles takes place, as it has done in many parts of the United States, there follows an average reduction of 10 per cent. in the number of accidents. We have also the evidence of our own Road Research Laboratory, which stated, after a study of the matter, that in 20 per cent. of the accidents in this country some defective mechanism is a relevant factor. It did not state that the accidents were caused by defective mechanism but, in its own words, this was a contributory factor. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to say, in view of all this evidence, that 10 per cent. of road accidents are attributable to a mechanical defect, such as steering out of line, or inefficient brakes.
We go on from that to the fact that 6,000 people are killed on the roads every year. This means that if defective mechanisms were eliminated, 10 per cent. of those 6,000 people would be saved. Now, 600 people saved are equivalent to 12 a week, of whom two or three will be children. Not only would 12 lives be saved, but 120 serious injuries would be avoided. Those are facts which are generally accepted, and in view of the appalling 272 slaughter which is taking place on the roads, some inevitable but some avoidable, one would have thought that the Minister would have proceeded immediately to implement the vehicle-testing provisions of the Act with a sense of urgency.
Admittedly, it could not be put into operation in a few months. No one thinks that this could be done. It would take a little time to get the organisation operating. How much time? I suppose that everyone here would say that the Minister could have put it into operation, if he had desired to do so with a sense of urgency, within eighteen months of the passing of the Act.
The Act was passed in the spring of 1956. Ever since then, I and many others who are interested in this matter have been pressing the Minister about the timing of the implementation of the Act. I will give the House the answers given to me by the right hon. Gentleman. I first asked in November, 1956, when the Act was likely to be implemented. The Minister replied:Much work has gone into the preparation of detailed proposals for the testing of vehicles …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1736.]I am quoting only the really relevant parts of his Answers.
Then, a year after the Act had come into force, I asked in April, 1957, when the Minister was likely to implement this Act. I must remind the House that it was agreed that to start with it would only be possible to put the Act into partial operation, testing those cars which had been on the roads for more than ten years, then gradually bringing in all cars.
In April, 1957, I asked the same question and the right hon. Gentleman told me that by then discussions with representatives of the industry and of local authorities on the detailed proposals for the organisation of compulsory tests were proceeding satisfactorily. That seemed all well and good. It was a little slow, since a year had passed, but I was very patient. On 5th June, 1957, I had an optimistic reply. Everything was to be plain sailing. The right hon. Gentleman said:I cannot yet say exactly when I shall be able to make a start on compulsory testing, but it will be as early next year as I can manage".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th June, 1957; Vol. 571, c. 1233.]273 That meant early in 1958, which was rather longer than I had hoped, but which was at least definite.
In October, 1957, I asked again and he said that lie hoped that the scheme would come into operation in the following year, having first said that it would come into operation early in 1958. I awaited 1958, and in January of that year I asked the question again. The right hon. Gentleman now began to talk about delays, discussions, and so on. He said:Further discussions have taken place with the motoring organisations and with bodies representing motor traders who will he eligible for appointment as authorised examiners".—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 22nd January, 1958; Vol. 580, c. 1048.]A White Paper was published in 1958 and again I asked what the delay was and when the scheme would come into operation. The Minister then said that it would come into operation at the end of 1958. In July, 1958, he said:Legal difficulties have arisen over the free retest referred to in the White Paper …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1958; Vol. 592, c. 417.]I asked whether the legal difficulties meant that the Act would not come into operation by the end of the year. The right hon. Gentleman replied that he hoped that that would not be the case, in spite of the legal difficulties. When he explained those to us, they seemed highly technical and easy to overcome. There was no question of having to have another Act of Parliament, or anything of that sort.
Finally, in November of last year, I again asked why the scheme was not in operation and I was given this delaying reply:… I expect to be ready to invite applications for appointment as authorised examiners and designated councils later this month.That was November of last year, and he was only then about to start making appointments of various examiners. He went on to say:Inspection of the premises and equipment of the large number of applicants expected to respond to this invitation is likely to take about four months.That brings us to the middle of this year.During this period Regulations will he made.Now comes the most extraordinary sentence:I propose to allow reasonable time thereafter before making it an offence for any 274 vehicle to be on the roads without a test certificate. I hope, therefore, to start progressively, from about the middle of next year"—that is this year—to make it obligatory for vehicles over ten years old to have a test certificate".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1958; Vol. 594. c. 939–40.]I do not know why this period is needed, since it is not the case that people are to be punished if their cars are found to have defective steering, defective brakes, or some other defect. It is simply that those whose cars are found to have a defect will be told that they are endangering lives, including their own. I should have thought that a delay of three and a half years was sufficient and that no further warning period was necessary and that the Act should be brought into operation as early as possible.
I have described this extraordinary story of delay in detail. As I have already said, the implementation of this legislation would save 600 lives a year. That is more than double the total number of casualties in Cyprus since the beginning of the trouble—including Greeks, Turks and British.
It is difficult to introduce a personal note, but I must remind the Minister that had the Act been in operation a year or a year and a half ago, our late esteemed colleague, Sidney Dye, might have been alive today, as it appeared at the inquest that there was some defect in his car. He was only one and there are hundreds of others. I put it to the House that the delay is unreasonable and that the Government have been guilty of consistent neglect in this matter and that the blame rests fairly on the Minister of Transport.
I do not for a moment suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is indifferent to the deaths on the road and not anxious to do everything possible to prevent them. It may be that he is too occupied with other matters, but the responsibility rests with him. It is perfectly clear that the delay has been unconscionably unreasonable and that if he had tackled the matter with urgency he could have overcome the difficulties long ago. I have the strongest complaint about his inaction in this matter.
The damage has been done, and, in that deaths have unnecessarily occurred, that damage is, unfortunately, irreparable. We must now be concerned to 275 see that there are not further unnecessary fatal accidents. I therefore urge the right hon. Gentleman, with all the force I can, to take action now and during the next few weeks to take the requisite steps to bring the Act into operation, if possible before the August Bank Holiday when there will be so many people on the roads and when there will be so many old crocks on the roads, which, as we all know, are particularly dangerous. If he is not able to do that, then I ask for a positive undertaking that there will be no further postponement of his last promise to make the relative part of the 1956 Act operative by the middle of this year.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
The debate has covered many topics in this half day, and if I am not able to deal with them all in my reply now, I hope that the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen concerned will forgive me, for I shall certainly do so in correspondence afterwards.
I begin by answering the very important points raised by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) about vehicle testing. I say straight away that my right hon. Friend and I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for this scheme, but I do not accept his strictures. The scheme will make a valuable contribution to road safety and I believe that there will be a valuable saving of lives. That is why we framed it.
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in what he said about unnecessary delay and I want to comment on the course of the preparations. This is a most complicated scheme both in its design and in the negotiations with the trade and in overcoming all kinds of surprising legal difficulties which we have encountered. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in all the two-and-a-quarter years I have been at the Ministry I have been struggling with it and I have not wasted any time. We have met one difficulty after another, but the work is now proceeding satisfactorily.
The garages are now in process of inspection for authorisation. Invitations were issued last December and more than 12,000 applicants have been received, including 50 from local authorities. By the 276 end of last month, 8,800 garages had been inspected and 3,900 found suitable for appointment. Only 240 have been rejected, but, unfortunately, many garage proprietors seem not to read the application forms, and so it will be necessary to inspect about 5,000 again after various defects of equipment and so on have been put right.
Before we can start the testing scheme officially we have to see that we have enough garages authorised to get a comprehensive spread over the country so that all car drivers whose vehicles are liable to test can get one carried out without undue travel or inconvenience.
The official testing of cars which are ten years old or more is expected to involve over 2 million cars. We still hope to stick to the schedule which we have announced. We hope that it will be possible to start testing by the middle of the summer and if we can possibly start it a week or two earlier we certainly shall. We hope to circularise for comment the draft regulations for the first part of the scheme soon after Easter. The right hon. Gentleman and the remainder of the House, which I know is very interested in this matter, can be assured that my right hon. Friend and I will do everything we can to accelerate this scheme and to bring it into operation.
As soon as the testing stations are open we shall proceed with the regulations covering what the motorist has to do and we shall announce what is the interval before all these tests must be completed, after which it will be an offence for an untested vehicle over ten years old to be on the roads. After that we shall link it with the licensing. We want to bring the Scheme into operation as fast as we can. My right hon. Friend and I are certain that it will make a most valuable contribution to road safety. Apart from the fact that I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there has been unreasonable delay, I thank him for this enthusiasm.
I turn now to some of the points which have been raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) spoke on street lighting with his customary enthusiasm. He made a very good point. It struck me that, with his shining character, as he advocated his case he shone like a good deed in a naughty world, although some of the things he said to my right hon. Friend 277 and myself struck me as a little of the naughty kind. We will, however, let them pass. My right hon. Friend and I are very much aware of the problem which he raised, and we have been doing what we can to encourage lighting authorities to get together. I hope that good work will result from that, especially in the London area.
I should particularly like to thank the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) for a very helpful speech on road safety. I know well his strong feelings about it and the support which he gives to road safety work. We certainly want all the support we can get from right hon. and hon. Members as well as from everyone else. It is a great help to local authorities if they have the support of their Members of Parliament in their road safety campaigns, which present difficult problems.
My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) asked me about the progress of the other three major projects. Dealing with the scheme for the Channel Ports, the line of the 25-mile Medway motor road was fixed last September and preparatory work by the consulting engineers is going on. We hope that work on the bridge over the Medway will be started in about a year's time, and the road will follow after that. My hon. Friend also asked about the Midland-South Wales road. The Ross Spur motor road is now being built and it should be finished by the end of next year. This will be linked with the Birmingham area by 27 miles of motorway. A draft order for this has been published and objections are under consideration. That is a very important link which will by-pass some very bad spots in the area.
Other improvements on that route to South Wales on which work is in train or will be started soon include the rebuilding of the Heads of the Valleys Road and the by-pass of Ross itself. As for the South Wales radial road, the House heard the statement which I made last week about the Severn Bridge.
The Chiswick fly-over is due to be completed this August, and from the end of the Chiswick fly-over the radial will start with the elevated highway over the Great West Road, running out to Langley in Buckinghamshire. The draft order has been published. We hope to 278 start this year on the construction of the Maidenhead by-pass to motorway standards, and the Slough-Maidenhead by-pass will follow after that. This gives my hon. Friend the Member for Truro the account which he wanted.
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) spoke about pedestrians. I can assure him that the pedestrians are just as much in our minds, especially in towns, as the motorists. In all the major improvement schemes, and indeed in the minor improvement schemes, on which we are engaged, the movement of pedestrians is just as carefully catered for as that of the motorists. Usually we are able to achieve what is called segregation, a curious word which simply means that pedestrians can pass in safety on a different level from motorists. This is the only safe way of handling the problem.
Unfortunately, there are all too many crossings in our towns throughout the country where motorists and pedestrians must cross on the same level. There, of course, we meet the majority of our dangers, but my right hon. Friend and I are most anxious to see pedestrian subways put in wherever possible. The hon. Member may have seen that as the Cromwell Road extension has proceeded these subways have been put in every quarter of a mile. That is the only safe way of enabling pedestrians to cross these important arterial roads in the cities. I will, however, look into the point which the hon. Member made, but I will write to him about it because it is obviously somewhat detailed and we might get at cross-purposes.
The question of urban motorways is of very great interest, and I particularly welcome the treatment which was given to it by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). I feel that his sentiments about road-building generally and urban motorways in particular were most valuable and constructive. The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) also asked whether we had any plans in this respect. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro took a balanced view of the subject in his speech.
The urban motorway is the latest thought—although it is not now very new—on how to move vehicles about quickly in urban areas. There are a number in America and a few in Europe. It is 279 essentially a high-speed city road with two carriageways, few accesses, no intersections, no frontagers, no stopping and no pedestrians. The advantage is that it gives fast, safe, city travel, which is a very big advantage. The disadvantages are the high cost and the damage to amenity.
I should like briefly to give an illustration from the A-ring road, which has had the most attention of any ring road in this country, to show how this works. The A-ring road is a ring road around inner London on a radius of about 1½ to 2 miles from Charing Cross. Its total length is about 11 or 12 miles. The advantage, of course, would be that it would allow all cross-London traffic to be deflected from the centre, which would avoid congestion there and would give safe, fast travel for the traffic concerned. It would also help movement within the centre, because many vehicles would travel out to the ring, fast round the ring, and then in again. It would bring considerable benefit to London traffic.
The main disadvantage is that the cost is very heavy. The cost would probably be about £150 million, which is about £13 million per mile. That is the cost of the acquisition of land and the building of the road. On top of this would be the cost of the redevelopment of all the properties which adjoined the motorway and which would be affected by the road suddenly cutting right through this densely developed area. Nobody has been able to work out how much that would cost, but it would be very heavy. However it were dealt with financially, it would be a considerable burden on the nation's resources or it would be a big deduction from the total funds available for the road programme.
The question of amenity also arises. Starting at Hyde Park, this urban motorway would run in a tunnel north and south through Hyde Park. Where it reached the Bayswater Road it would swing across north of Oxford Street, run south of the Euston Road across to the Angel, Islington, south through to Gardiner's Corner and then across the Thames by a new tunnel east of London Bridge. It would then run south of the Thames through Southwark, Bermondsey and Lambeth on a viaduct, back across the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge, up 280 through Eaton Square and Belgravia, in a cutting, and then down under Hyde Park again.
I think I have said enough to give right hon. and hon. Members a rough picture of what this road would be like; a huge viaduct south of the river and a great cutting north of the river and a length of tunnel under Hyde Park. That great cutting would run north of Oxford Street, through Belgravia and Pimlico and through residential estates and squares containing cherished amenities and building of architectural value. It would make a very big difference to the face of London.
I do not say that we shall never have such motorways—it may be that we shall have to have them—but, although many people welcome the idea of such a motorway, when they realise what is involved, they decide it is something which they would not be keen to have near their homes. There is no getting away from the fact that the cost, in terms of amenity and in sociological terms, of splitting up whole communities is very heavy. My right hon. Friend and I feel that the right approach is to regard this idea as something to be used in certain special cases. There is a case for it in Newport and we have therefore proposed it, but the weighing up of the pros and cons set a frightful problem for Newport. We think it has a place in the extension from the Great West Road at the beginning of the South Wales radial.
It is sufficient merely to refer to the Hammersmith fly-over to indicate the sort of thing which happens in the case of a motorway. There has been opposition from Hammersmith for four years. Hon. Members may think that there is no great architectural beauty there, but the local view is, "You may have your motorways, but not in Hammersmith". That illustrates the attitude regarding these roads. They would be a wonderful means of enabling traffic to move quickly and safely, but they would impose a heavy cost on the community.
At present, therefore, our general approach to the urban problem is to improve existing all-purpose roads—and here I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford—and to make extensive improvements at the intersections. Particularly we wish to 281 see a development of traffic engineering, and I was glad to hear that commended by my hon. Friend. At present a good deal is done on an ad hoc basis, but we want to see comprehensive systems of traffic engineering applied in our cities. We can derive immense value from a more scientific use of our streets and from a full control of parked vehicles which make the most extravagant use of the available street space.
The anxiety expressed by architects about the building of urban motorways is quite unfounded. The city committees which have been set up—including the London Roads Committee, of which I am Chairman, and the committees in the Midlands and in the West Riding which are considering the big conurbations there—are considering road development in these big urban areas over the next 20 years. The members of these committees include the town planning authorities, with their architects and other experts. There is no doubt that amenity and architectural considerations are fully expressed and are taken into consideration together with engineering views on traffic considerations.
The whole idea of the exercise is to obtain a balanced approach to this very difficult problem. I am certain that from the reports of the London committee and the other committees we shall obtain a helpful picture of what must be done during the next 20 years, and of the best way to tackle the extremely difficult and complex problems of road development in these vast urban areas.
We are asking the House to approve these Supplementary Estimates for an extra £11 million because of the acceleration in our road construction programme. It is clear from the comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House that this progress is welcomed. I am sure that everyone approves the statement of my hon. Friend about the future road programme which will involve a rise in the expenditure on roads to £65 million in 1960–61, and thereafter the figure will run at not less than £60 million.
These are very big figures. It is the biggest road programme that this country has ever undertaken. The brilliant intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) made clear that we intend to achieve more than the Romans managed to 282 achieve because, apparently, they built only 10 miles of road each year. I was never very good at Latin translation and so I will not go further and discuss the cost of the road building programmes carried out by the Romans. It is enough to say that the road programme today is by far the biggest that has ever been undertaken in this country.
That applies particularly to the forward commitments which will cost not less than £60 million, and it is something which makes it possible for us, in consultation with the local authorities, to plan ahead with confidence far enough to ensure that the lengthy preparatory work is completed in time to keep the pipeline full. We also benefit from the fact that contractors can gather teams and equipment for large-scale works with a reasonable prospect of continuity. That is the only possible basis on which competitive tendering may be undertaken for high quality work and I am sure that we are beginning to see the fruits of it.
Hon. Members opposite have criticised our programme on the grounds that it is inadequate and that there are unused resources of labour and materials which could be utilised to enable the programme to be extended. That point was made particularly by the hon. Member for Enfield, East and by his right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall and his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling).
There are two answers to that criticism. The first is that, for a programme to succeed, it must be set within the physical and professional resources of the nation. Secondly, it must be within the financial resources of the nation. From the point of view of physical and professional resources the rate of expansion of the road programme has been very rapid. When the Conservative Government started at the end of 1951 the rate of expenditure was £3.2 million for Great Britain. Eighteen months later, when the then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, announced the road programme, it was about the same figure. From then, in about five years, the figure has risen from £3.3 million per annum for Great Britain to about £53 million for the current year. That represents the enormous increase of nearly sixteen times in five years.
The statutory and professional work necessary in preparing a major road 283 scheme is very heavy and lengthy. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro was correct in saying that this work had not been started by right hon. and hon. Members opposite. They may have outlined an odd scheme or two on the map, and I give them credit for the legislation which they passed. But the lengthy preparatory work, consisting of establishing the line and the statutory work involved, acquiring property and, possibly, dealing with objections at public inquiries, and the work of surveying, takes three to four years, or even longer in the case of the towns.
To shorten that procedure would be to risk injustice being done to property owners and local authorities, and I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Wembly, South (Mr. Russell) warmly support our view that on no account should that procedure be shortened. The actual authorisation of new work, at the stage when the preparatory work is finished, has risen from £3.6 million in 1952–53 to £96 million in 1958–59—which is a dramatic expansion. No one could say that the expansion could be faster, and a number of county councils which, in most cases, are the agents in this matter are finding difficulty in meeting the programme which we have put before them. I should like to congratulate the county councils on the work they have done, and not only the local authorities, but all who have been concerned in this tremendous expansion of road work over the last five years. I am certain that the programme could not have gone any faster.
We have set our programme within what we believe to be the financial resources of the nation. Of course, all the considerations mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members opposite have been carefully balanced by my right hon. Friend and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when deciding on the size of the programme, and I am quite sure that it has been set at the right level to ensure success. Now the roads are being built, which is different from what happened in the case of the road programme under the Labour Government when the roads existed only on paper.
I hope, therefore, that the House will be content to approve the Supplementary Estimates.
§ It being Seven o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Orders, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Resolution under consideration.
§ Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution, put and agreed to.
§ Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith, with respect to each of the remaining Resolutions reported from the Committee of Supply but not yet agreed to by the House, the Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in that Resolution:—
That this House doth agree with the Committee in their Second Resolution,
§ put and agreed to.
That this House doth agree with the Committee in their Third Resolution,
§ put and agreed to.
That this House doth agree with the Committee in their Fourth Resolution,
§ put and agreed to.
That this House doth agree with the Committee in their Fifth Resolution,
§ put and agreed to.
That this House doth agree with the Committee in their Sixth Resolution,
§ put and agreed to.
That this House doth agree with the Committee in their Seventh Resolution,
§ put and agreed to.
That this House doth agree with the Committee in their Eighth Resolution,
§ put and agreed to.
That this House doth agree with the Committee in their Ninth Resolution,
§ put and agreed to.
§ Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith, with respect to each Resolution come to by the Committee of Supply and not yet agreed to by the House, the 285 Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in that Resolution:—