HC Deb 17 February 1964 vol 689 cc983-94

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

10.11 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

The enormous growth of road traffic poses constant and urgent problems, and, as my right hon. Friend said during a debate on traffic in towns on 10th February, the problem was best put long-term by the Architects' Journal, which asked: Is Motropolis, the motorised city, to be dominated and destroyed by the motor, or is it to be the city on which civilised man lives a civilised life, using the motor vehicle sensibly and economically as a tool for mobility? Throughout the length and breadth of Britain, there are examples of the imaginative and costly efforts made by various Conservative Governments to keep pace with the inevitable ruthless march of the motor age. These new motorways are designed to provide fast safe passage for commercial and private vehicles alike and to enable them to travel to their destinations without making the life of people living in our cities and towns and villages a nightmare.

Only by providing a vast new network of roads and diverting, preferably by persuasion but ultimately, perhaps, by coercion, other than purely local traffic on to the motorway can we hope to maintain the movement of traffic through the roads and streets of the areas of population in the future. Above all, the commercial vehicles so essential to our economic and industrial life must make the greatest use of the new traffic arteries if we are to gain any real advantage from their construction.

At present, many of the drivers of these commercial vehicles deliberately avoid the use of motorways. The debate is designed to emphasise and point out what I believe to be one of the main reasons for this and to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to ask the Minister to take one absolutely necessary step to encourage commercial vehicles on to the motorways. I refer, of course, to the provision of separate catering facilities, facilities comparable with those which grew up on the old routes which these men travelled and which were known as "transport caffs", stopping places, usually with a reasonably good pull-in, where they could be sure of meeting friends, or at least men doing the same job as they, places which were cosy without being plush, where they could get the sort of food they wanted at prices which they could afford and were willing to pay, places where they did not resent the presence of others and where others did not feel embarrassed because of their presence.

My interest arose because of a series of letters which appeared in the Medway Press after the opening of the M.2. All the catering on that motorway is concentrated into what is known as the Farthing Corner Service Area and is operated by Top Rank. Because of what I read in those letters I wrote to my right hon. Friend and asked whether he would consider providing separate catering facilities on that motorway. My right hon. Friend replied that he would get in touch with Top Rank and would write to me. He subsequently advised me that he had been in communication with Top Rank, and that that organisation had said that it would extend the range of its menus to include more items which might be expected to commend themselves to the crews of commercial vehicles, but that those men must expect to pay more for the sort of facilities they would receive at Top Rank than they had been paying for what they had got at their old style "caffs".

About three weeks later, when I concluded that sufficient time had elapsed for Top Rank to implement its promises, I visited Farthing Corner. As a result of my observations and conversations I came away more than ever convinced that something much more imaginative and drastic than just extending the menu was needed to provide for these men if we were to get them on to the motorways, or to use this motorway anyhow.

I have no complaint about the facilities that are offered by Top Rank at Farthing Corner for the ordinary motoring public. It is very bright, modern, and as one might expect there is a reasonable range of food on the menu, and I suppose for the ordinary members of the motoring public at about prices which they would expect to pay. But this is the place for the casual visitor and not the lorry driver habitué of motorways. It does not have what he needs, and what in my view he will insist on having. Indeed, it is hardly the place to which the casual lorry driver would wish to go, for he probably would feel some embarrassment.

When I went to Farthing Corner there were two lorry drivers in the cafeteria. The other patrons consisted of ordinary members of the motoring public, dressed as one might expect them to appear. When I spoke to one of the two lorry drivers I noticed that he was sitting on a newspaper which he subsequently told me he had brought into the ca[...]eteria to avoid soiling the seat and causing inconvenience to anyone who followed him. I thought that that was a very commendable gesture on his part but I think it made clear his views that lorry drivers will not use these service, stations on the motorways because they feel embarrassed at having to go in time in their working clothes. Often they are dirty, and sometimes they carry the marks of their trade in a way which is even more offensive, particularly if they have been driving fertiliser lorries.

This lorry driver told me that unless something was done to provide separate catering facilities lorry drivers would not use the cafe[...]erias on the motorways, and most of them would not use the motorways. They require the sort of place where they can get together and meet their mates in surroundings to which they have become accustomed, where, if one likes, they are segregated from the private motorist, but where that segregation meets a desire to associate with others of their calling, where their appearance is no embarrassment to themselves, and certainly not to others who may be there, and where, of course, they can find the sort of food they want at prices which they are prepared to pay.

I have noticed the prices at the Top Rank Cafeteria. Tea costs 6d.; coffee; orangeade 1s.; a cheese sandwich 1s. 6d.; a park pie, 2s.; and according to a lorry driver who was questioned by Mr. Peter Dunn, who was collecting information for an article which appeared in yesterday's Observer, a meal consisting of egg, bacon, chips, beans, bread and butter costs 6s. 3d. This would compare with a breakfast he had had at Tony's Cafe on the Grantham By-pass that morning consisting of egg, bacon, tomato, fried bread and a big mug of tea, all for 2s. 3d. This man reckoned that the same meal would cost about [...]s. 6d. at Farthing Corner. Tony's is no shabby broken down "joint" without decent facilities or comfort.

In addition to my letter, the Medway Chamber of Commerce has also written to the Minister expressing concern at the caravan of heavy lorries which continues to come through the Medway towns even since the motorway has been in operation. This also has been confirmed by the local police. There is no doubt that the lorry driver will by-pass M.2 and continue to travel on A.2 and other traditional routes where he can find café facilities provided in conventional transport cafés until the motorway provides their counterpart. On 15th January I put a Question to the Minister of Transport. I asked the Minister: if he will ensure that separate catering facilities are provided for transport workers in service areas on motorways. My right hon. Friend replied: Separate cafés catering primarily for commercial drivers are provided at all but two of the service areas now open and similar facilities will be provided at all future ones. Those without separate facilities cater for commercial drivers in the ordinary cafeterias."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 29.] My right hon. Friend obviously accepted the fact that these facilities were not only desirable but even more than desirable. It is clear from what he said that if the right sort of facilities were provided on the others there were only two motorways where this matter is an acute problem, and M.2 is one of them. I presume that the Grantham By-pass is included among those which are adequately catered for.

Thereby hangs a very interesting story. Before the by-pass was constructed, Tony's Café was known by all the long-distance lorry drivers from Land's End to John o' Groats. After the Grantham motorway was built the drivers continued to trundle through Grantham to Tony's Café, to the discomfiture of other road users and general traffic conditions of the town. Then suddenly someone had the bright idea of giving Tony's a licence to open on the Grantham motorway. There was a dramatic change. Almost overnight the traffic which had gone trundling through to Tony's in Grantham was channelled to the motorway where the drivers were happy to go to the new Tony's. They knew the man, knew that he provided what they want and he had an opportunity to provide it for them on that motorway.

This surely provides a lesson which I hope my right hon. Friend will learn. It not only illustrates the reluctance of commercial vehicle drivers to use a motorway where these facilities are not provided, but illustrates remarkably clearly how they will use them as soon as they are provided. I hope that the Minister will ensure that all the new motorways will not only have transport cafés but, if possible, that each will be provided by the proprietor of a café it is hoped to replace. Where the bunkering of the lorries is one of the services offered it will help to provide for the amenities and keep down the prices in the café giving the commercial vehicle driver the facilities he requires.

I turn again to the problem as it affects the Medway towns—the problem of traffic congestion which at times is an absolute nightmare. Bad as it is now, I think that my hon. Friend will agree that it is likely to increase still more in future. M.2 was designed to carry traffic around which otherwise had to pass through the Medway towns. It certainly is not doing the job unless commercial vehicles use it instead of toiling up Chatham Hill on A.2. with consequent traffic congestion which is costly and irritating and which can be dangerous.

The Channel Tunnel is no longer a dream. Before long it will be a reality and an enormous amount of traffic to and from the Kent coast will create its own problems. My right hon. Friend should now start to make plans to ensure that the people of the Medway towns are insulated against the possibility of an intolerable strain resulting from a tremendous increase of traffic on the roads in the area.

I hope that the Minister will, in the short term, give an undertaking that, either in the area of Farthing Corner or somewhere else on the M.2, a separate café will be opened which will not only encourage the present users of the M.2 to go there but will channel on to that motorway vast numbers of lorry drivers who at present prefer to use the old road so that they can eat and relax in the sort of café to which they have been accustomed for so long.

10.26 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

I listened with interest to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), and there was little with which I disagreed, at least in his main theme. To that extent this is, perhaps, an unnecessary Adjournment, because he is pushing at an open door—if, indeed a door is in existence to push at, because looking at the communications we have had from my hon. Friend on this subject, which have been friendly, co-operative and factual, I am surprised to be facing him in a debate tonight.

The first indication we had of my hon. Friend's interest in this matter was a letter from him on 4th October last enclosing a copy of a letter which we had already received from the Medway Towns' Trades Council, to which he has referred, about the prices charged at the service area. Undoubtedly it is no good having eating facilities available if the cost is too high, so in his reply of 7th November my right hon. Friend was able to assure my hon. Friend that the prices charged on the M.2 were, in general, no higher than those charged at service areas on other motorways. My right hon. Friend also pointed out that prices are inevitably a little higher on motorways because the provision of services on them is costly. However, on balance, the facilities are usually better than those that exist on ordinary roads.

Mr. Burden

They are not the facilities they want.

Mr. Galbraith

I did not interrupt my hon. Friend when he was speaking. I hope he will allow me to complete my remarks and, if there is time, he will no doubt make some further points. I would like to make it clear that the lessee cannot charge just what he wants and milk the motorist or commercial driver because he happens to have a monopoly. Under the terms of his licence, he must provide meals at reasonable charges and my right hon. Friend told my hon. Friend on 7th November that he considered, after inquiry, that the prices were reasonable. My right hon. Friend added that a wider selection of hot meals at the cheaper end of the price range had been made available on the M.2.

Although my hon. Friend's interest in this matter started as a constituency one, he recognised in his speech tonight that the problem, if there is one, covers all motorways—that there is at the various sites a wide selection of food to choose from ranging from first-class dinners to something that is served at Newport Pagnell under the mystifying title of "Hokey Pokey icecream, price 9d.". I realise that it is not only a question of price nor the scale of the services available that worries my hon. Friend. He is concerned, as he told us very movingly this evening, about the feelings of the transport drivers who, because they are wearing their working clothes, apparently feel out of place in a cafeteria or snack bar which they may have to share with other motorists. I think that this is an understandable attitude, though I cannot help feeling a little sceptical about it when I compare what my hon. Friend said this evening with what he is reported as having said to the Observer yesterday about the lorry drivers wishing to have somewhere they could drop a swear word and it would not matter.

However, we do recognise—and I want to emphasise this—that it is important to cater for particular needs such as the desire of commercial drivers to have facilities as good as the best of the transport cafes, and so in specifying the conditions at service sites we have in nearly every case required the developers to provide such facilities. As my hon. Friend knows, these cafes are specially designed to cater for transport workers with, for example, simple interior fittings, and chairs which can easily be cleaned, and where meals are served at reasonable prices from menus of a sort which transport workers seem to prefer.

Like my hon. Friend I also have made some inquiries, and I have looked at some of these menus, and it is clear that the transport worker can get a good meal at about 4s. at any service area transport cafe. I think, however, my hon. Friend must have been very unfortunate in the menu which he chose, because I have with me a menu from Farthing Corner of steak and kidney pie, chips, tea, roll and butter for 4s. 4d. A similar menu at Watford Gap is only 2d. cheaper, and that is an ordinary transport cafe.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and so out of seven sites which exist on the motorways two, as my hon. Friend pointed out, do not possess transport cafes. My hon. Friend will feel—he told us this—that that is two too many. The reason why there are these two is that one has got to begin somewhere and one benefits from one's experience. Before the first two service areas in this country were developed on M.1 we consulted many interested bodies about the facilities which should be provided, the motoring organisations, the catering industry, and representatives of the road users, and acting on their advice we thought that to have provided full facilities at these two service areas would have been excessive, and so on on M.1 we decided, at Newport Pagnell service area, that the emphasis should be on the private motorist while at Watford Gap it should be on the commercial driver.

Experience has shown, however, that both we and the developers underestimated the demand for these facilities, and my hon. Friend will be glad to know that, because of the demand, a third service area on this section of M.1 is to be opened in stages this year at Toddington. This will have separate transport café facilities as well as cafeterias and restaurants and will add materially to the facilities on this stretch of the motorway, particularly for commercial drivers, in whose welfare we all are naturally most interested.

My hon. Friend will also be glad to know that in the light of our experience with these two early sites my right hon. Friend has stipulated, as he told my hon. Friend in his Answer, that since the latter part of 1961 future developments should be comprehensive and that service areas should have as a minimum both the cafeteria and the transport café type of facilities.

Earlier, I said that out of seven sites on the motorways two did not have transport café facilities. This brings me to my hon. Friend's own motorway, M.2, and the service area at Farthing Corner. Why are there no transport cafés there? The answer is twofold. In the first place, the site was put out to tender before we had much experience of catering on M.1, and, secondly, because on a short road such as M.2, which is only 25 miles long, we thought it highly unlikely that lorry drivers would, as a rule, wish refreshment at a point relatively close to their old haunts on the A.2 at either end, nine miles on the one side and 16 miles on the other side. Unless there was the likelihood of adequate custom, the cost of providing a special transport café would not have been justified.

My hon. Friend seems to think that the absence of this café is responsible for keeping lorry drivers off M.2; he spoke of these drivers deliberately avoiding the road. I do not think that he is right. It is difficult to be dogmatic about this, but such figures as we have been able to obtain do not lead to this conclusion. At present, about 2,500 lorries per day use the M.2 passing Farthing Corner and this, as far as we can make out, is a little more than half of the commercial traffic which would have used A.2 if there had not been a motorway.

We suspect that the reason why there is not more traffic on the motorway is not because there is no transport café at Farthing Corner, but because of the nature of their trade, which takes a considerable proportion of the lorries into the Medway towns in the course of their business. There may be a quite different picture when the link road between the motorway and Gillingham is provided.

However, as my hon. Friend will recognise, there is nothing static about my right hon. Friend the Minister. My right hon. Friend and Rank's, who hold the lease, have had this matter under review for some time. As a result of recent discussion with Rank's, my right hon. Friend has learnt that they have decided to convert part of the service area buildings so as to provide a separate transport-café type of refreshment room, and my hon. Friend will be glad to hear that it is hoped to provide this facility this summer.

I should like to say a word about Tony's Café, on A.1, to which my hon. Friend has referred as being the kind of facility which transport drivers like. He suggested that small developments of this sort should he allowed along the motorways so that those who are replaced by the new road can have something on it instead of merely losing all their custom. I am sure, however, that my hon. Friend would be the first to appreciate that in the interests of road safety and traffic flow, the number of access points for service area development must be kept to the minimum. This means that each area must, therefore, cater for the needs of all motor users rather than that there should be some types of service areas for some users and other types for other users. It is not practical to allow independent proprietors to set up transport cafés within the service areas, because it is essential that the responsibility for, and the general operation of, any transport area should be under one control.

While I am on this subject, I should like also to reply to the point made by my hon. Friend that it was not until heavy traffic continued to use the A.1 through Grantham instead of using the by-pass that planning permission was given to Tony to move his cafe from its old site to a new one on the by-pass. That was my hon. Friend's allegation, but it is not true. Outline planning permission was given shortly before the bypass opened. The reason why it was not given even earlier was due to difficulties in agreeing suitable safe access for traffic from A.1 and not to any lack of appreciation on our part of the need to provide facilities for commercial drivers. As my hon. Friend will now realise, we are well aware of all this.

I hope that in the light of my remarks, my hon. Friend now thinks that the position is satisfactory. That is to say, as to Farthing Corner, in addition to the restaurant and snack bars, a transport type of cafe will also be provided, and as to the general picture, ever since 1961, as a matter of policy, my right hon. Friend has required all new site development to include comprehensive facilities, which means that the needs of the commercial driver will be fully catered for.

Thus, as I said at the beginning, I do not think that there is anything very much between us, but it may have been that the airing of our harmonious duet has been of some value to the House and some encouragement to the commercial drivers whose case my hon. Friend has put so persuasively.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes to Eleven o'clock.