HC Deb 29 April 1965 vol 711 cc765-76

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mrs. Harriet Slater.]

10.10 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

I am glad to have this opportunity to raise a matter which is becoming more and more well known throughout the county, a problem which has arisen mainly in recent years, particularly in the last two or three years. It is the lack of toilet facilities on main and trunk roads.

This is becoming a more pressing problem the whole time, particularly in holiday areas and on and near roads which are traversed by holidaymakers. The problem also applies to the daily traveller going to and from work. This must be so since many people commute by car to the main centres.

It is not necessary for rue, in view of the short time available for the debate and since several of my hon. Friends wish to speak, to go into all of the details involved in this problem. It is, after all, basically a very simple one. The amount of traffic on our roads has increased tremendously in recent years. The existing toilet facilities are badly signposted and inadequate. There is no dispute about this and one need only visit particularly the country areas to realise how severe the problem is.

A look at laybys, hedgerows and fields adjoining main and trunk roads, particularly at holiday times, reveals how badly fouled they become by human excreta. A recent survey carried out on the A.1, between London and Edinburgh showed that 40 per cent. of the laybys were fouled in this way, which is a shocking state of affairs. It must be realised that if laybys, hedgerows and fields are to continue to be soiled in this way, bad habits, like strewing litter, are bound to be encouraged.

The situation in my constituency, North Cornwall, is particularly bad. The laybys between Cornwall and Exeter during the Easter holidays were full of vehicles by 10.30 each night and the following mornings they were found to have been fouled by the people who had been staying in them. That is not to say that the travelling public want to foul these places. It is simply that toilet facilities are either not available nearby or are otherwise not easily found.

It should be remembered that the fouling of laybys, hedgerows, and fields can lead to great danger. The National Farmers' Union is extremely perturbed by the hazards which can arise among animals and, through them, back to humans. For example, there is the threat of T.B. and dysentery, to name but two. Such diseases can be passed back through the meat of sheep and bullocks and through the milk of cows. It is obvious, therefore, that the existing toilet facilities are not adequate and must be improved and increased in number.

The necessity for improving them has already been accepted. It was accepted by the previous Administration and I am sure that the present Government will accept it. The acceptance of it by the Government is obvious, since in the construction of the motorways grants are made available for the provision of these facilities. Along the 345 miles of motorways there are toilet facilities. Along the 8,347 miles of trunk and main roads there are very few such facilities indeed.

It is all to easy to subdivide the problem between the town and the country, although it exists in both. Generally speaking, there is a reasonable number of toilet facilities available in the towns, although it is extremely difficult to find them. Of great importance here, therefore, is proper signposting. Signposts should be illuminated and there should be easy access to toilets, as well as parking facilities nearby, so that the public who use the trunk and main roads are always able to find toilets when they are travelling in urban or built up areas. It will be seen that this is mainly a question of illumination and direction, although in some places there can be no doubt that additional toilet facilities will have to be built.

In the countryside the problem is an altogether different one. A great deal must be done to provide more toilet facilities and, when that work has been done, those facilities must be properly sign-posted and illuminated. What would be the cost? There are two types of toilet facility that can be built. The first is the continuous chemical type—with which, I think the Parliamentary Secretary is familiar, as an experiment has been carried out in Oxfordshire by the county council, the maintenance being done by the Bullindon Rural District Council. This type costs about £1,700, and needs a very small tank to drain away the fluid. That is not a very great sum of money.

The second type is a much more elaborate construction. It calls for mains water and septic tanks, and is, as a result, much more expensive. The cost of that type would be about £2,500 or £2,600. The difficulty arises in the fact that it has been found that over a 10-year period the cost of maintenance and repair of damage caused by hooliganism is exactly the same as the initial cost. Therefore, during that period, with the first type, there is the initial £1,700 for construction and an additional sum of £1,700 for maintenance and repair. One therefore has to double the cost over the 10–year period.

As I say, an experiment has been carried out in Oxfordshire on the A.40. The Oxfordshire County Council built the continuous chemical type of facility, which has since been maintained by the Bullingdon R.D.C. I understand that in the season over 200 people per hour use this facility. It is proving a great success, and there has been very little hooliganism.

If this experiment proves successful, one then has to determine how many of these facilities we should have in the country. I should have thought that in open country, outside the built-up areas, a frequency of one every 20 miles is needed. If that is right, the cost on trunk roads only would be about £½ million. If one were built every 12 miles the cost would be just over £1 million, the same as the cost of one mile of motorway. At intervals of 25 miles the cost would be half a million pounds. In addition, one has to remember that a further half a million pounds would be needed for maintenance and repair of damage over the 10–year period.

This is a very urgent problem. We are coming up to the holiday season, and in the West Country, in particular, we have encountered this problem already over the Easter weekend. It was an extremely unhappy experience as it always is, and as it has been year after year, building up to a crescendo now. I shudder to think what will happen this summer in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, unless such facilities as these are made available.

The main problem, as always, is where the money is to come from, and how it should be apportioned. I notice that there was a meeting at the beginning of the week between the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport and the various organisations that are interested in the subject. The Minister, therefore, has understanding of the problem, and realises its urgency. Quite obviously, the cost—and I hope that this was made clear to the Minister at the meeting, as I want to make it clear now—cannot be borne entirely by the rural district councils or the county councils. There must be a Government grant, and the question revolves around how much the Government grant should be.

The easiest thing would be to say that the Government, the county councils and the rural district councils should each pay one-third of the cost, but that would be quite unacceptable. That would be to put far too great a burden on the county councils, and, in my view, on the rural district councils as well. This is part of the services which the Government should provide and councils administer. I believe that a Government grant of 75 per cent. is absolutely vital if we are to have enough of these facilities. The total cost, including maintenance, would not be more than £1 million over 10 years. That is not a great sum, particularly when one thinks of the sums of money the Government are spending on other services. In any case, it is vital that the decision should be taken, and taken quickly, that these facilities should be built and that the Government should give grants for that purpose.

The Government grant must certainly be more than one-third. It must be at least 50 per cent., and I would ask for a grant of 75 per cent., which I consider to be the right Government proportion. The cost over 10 years would be doubled because of repairs and maintenance, and the Government should also undertake to pay part of the maintenance and repair costs, as they do, after all, in regard to road maintenance. When trunk roads or main roads are torn up, or are broken by hooliganism, the Government make a grant of 90 per cent. for classified roads and 100 per cent. for trunk roads. The county council acts as agents. The same principle should be extended to repair and maintenance of these toilet facilities when they have been constructed. I hope that the Government will look at this matter seriously, because otherwise the burden could be too much for county councils and rural district councils.

In places where toilet facilities have been provided in laybys hooliganism has caused damage. An additional safeguard against that would be some form of camping facilities at some laybys which would help in the guarding of these facilities. This is necessary because, with modern methods of holiday travel, many people camp and sleep out at laybys. If, every 50 miles, camping sites were based near these toilet facilities, it would be a great advantage. Perhaps it would help to defray some of the costs.

I hope that there will be trial areas where the experiment can be carried out this summer in a way similar to what has been done in Oxfordshire. I hope that such areas would be in the Eastern Counties—many people travel to Margate and places in that area—in the North, and certainly in the West Country. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to use Cornwall as a pilot area and to see whether such a system could be extended over the whole country. I wish to impress on him how vital it is to have such a scheme, not only for my constituency, but for the whole country, and that these facilities should be made available at the earliest possible moment.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that he accepts the necessity, that a grant of at least 75 per cent. can be made, and, in addition, a portion for maintenance paid over a 10–year period. If this is not done there will be danger to health and the whole system will be liable to breakdown, to the great detriment to the travelling public and the rural areas. This is something that we cannot leave unattended. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will help us in this problem.

10.23 p.m.

Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)

My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) has covered the case almost as completely as possible, but there are one or two points I should like to make.

The private motor vehicle is at the root of this problem. The long-distance lorry driver uses transport cafes and regular users of motor coach tours use the hotel and other provisions made on those routes. The private motor car is the category of vehicle which will be increasing in relation to the total number of road users more than any other category in the next decade. The problem is serious now, but it will thus get a great deal worse. Something will have to be done. The question is who should do it. In the West Riding, and particularly in my constituency where we have a long chunk of A.1 between Ferrybridge and Borough-bridge, the intensity of traffic on trunk roads is a result of policies taken at Ministry level. The Government have provided trunk roads and Treasury Ministers have provided encouragement to the motor industry. The general prosperity of the country is producing a huge increase in private motoring and this is a national problem for which the provision of a solution is a national responsibility. The impact is local but the responsibility is national.

The Rural District Councils Association wants a 100 per cent. grant for construction and maintenance but if that cannot be provided it would be pleased to get a 75 per cent. grant. It is beyond the capacity of rural district councils to finance this matter themselves. It would be necessary to provide facilities on each side of the road for otherwise there will be a traffic hazard. Construction and maintenance costs for that would be entirely beyond the capacity of rural districts. So I ask the hon. Gentleman to give favourable consideration to provision of a maximum grant.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) for raising this important matter. I strongly support what he said. In my area, East Anglia, a number of surveys have recently been carried out by private individuals and by members of the National Farmers' Union, the details of which I would like to send to the Minister. I want to quote some examples along one road where a certain representative of the National Farmers' Union reported in the first layby paper, cellophane wrappers, beer cans, bottles, cardboard containers and drums. In the second layby he reported two old coppers and a cardboard box of rubbish. In the third layby he reported rubber, cardboard boxes and broken milk bottles. In the fourth he reported cans, paper, contraceptives and bottles. In the fifth he reported paper, boxes, bottles, car parts, bedsteads, metal drums and old sinks.

It is clear that the desecration of our countryside is becoming a very real problem, and as our population increases we must tackle this problem. In the first instance, it must require Government leadership. I am not one who believes that these problems can be solved by Government action. It is a matter of the individual himself tackling the problem. It is in this field, as well as in the provision of money, that I would feel that a Government policy is best directed. I believe that we are moving to a period where many of our people are demanding higher standards in our national life. I hope that in tackling the problem the Government will not simply look at it just as a matter of providing more money. It is also a matter of individuals accepting the responsibility of not messing this country up. We are not a dirty people. I believe that if this matter is spotlighted, in the House and elsewhere, the British public in the end will have to clean up their laybys themselves.

10.27 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

We have heard a very powerful plea tonight from the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins). I know that many hon. Members are concerned about this serious problem. Several of them are here tonight. Some, like my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds), who has pressed this matter for many years, are not.

As the hon. Member for Cornwall, North said, this is a problem which has been serious for some time. It has been building up year after year. We definitely intend to do something about it. In my speech I shall announce that we shall be sponsoring a pilot scheme for the provision of sanitary facilities along certain stretches of trunk roads and that it will be launched as soon as possible.

Before coming to the details of that, may I say that I know that hon. Members have been frustrated for some time by a long period of relatively fruitless discussions. No one, least of all those of us at the Ministry of Transport, disputes that this problem has been getting worse over the years as a result of the tremendous increase in the traffic on trunk roads. It is most noticeable along these roads, which are my right hon. Friend's responsibility, but it also arises on other roads.

As the hon. Member for Cornwall, North said, motorways are an exception. Toilet facilities are provided at the services areas on motorways. But they are not provided by us. In fact, service areas are provided on the motorways by the Ministry of Transport and on those areas there are toilet facilities.

The provision of more laybys, which, apparently, invite and concentrate abuse, and the greater number of by-pass schemes avoiding towns, which causes motorists to miss places where sanitary conveniences are available, have undoubtedly aggravated this problem.

The difficulty has been, frankly, the question, who should be responsible for dealing with this problem? And especially, of course, the inevitable question, where does the money come from? The trouble—let us be perfectly candid about it—is that although local health authorities have powers to provide conveniences the authorities, especially in rural areas, have great financial difficulties in finding the resources. Not unnaturally, they have been reluctant to spend ratepayers' money for travellers who are merely passing through their localities.

It has been suggested that my right hon. Friend ought to provide sanitary facilities upon trunk roads. The argument, as put by many hon. Members, runs that my right hon. Friend is the highway authority for these roads, therefore he ought to provide the sanitary facilities for the users of the roads. However, my right hon. Friend simply cannot be expected to meet all the needs of travellers on the roads. Many other things could be suggested—for example, the provision of bus shelters, and other things of that kind. My right hon. Friend has no power to provide lavatories on trunk roads under the law as it is, and that is the position we have inherited.

I come to the present position, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that we are now on the way, in spite of these difficulties, to adopting a pilot scheme which we hope to get going this summer for the provision of sanitary facilities along selected stretches of trunk roads. The County Surveyors' Society, through the County Councils' Association, has most helpfully investigated three representative sections of roads in detail, and we shall be glad to authorise the schemes which they suggest. Moreover, the Rural District Councils' Association has sent us a very helpful report urging that the physical provision and maintenance of conveniences on trunk roads should be a public health function, and accepting that public health authorities ought to contribute to the costs. To us, these are very encouraging signs from the local authorities' associations, bodies which have the "know-how" and expert staff to deal with sanitary provisions.

My right hon. Friend also recognises that local authorities might have difficulty in meeting the full costs of the pilot schemes which we suggest. Therefore, I am able to say that we have obtained authority for an Exchequer contribution of one-third of the cost of providing sanitary facilities for these schemes in this financial year—and I may say that this is, of course, an extra-statutory contribution, since Parliament has given no powers for an advance for this purpose. I hope that I shall not be pressed to explain the position on that point.

At any rate, as the hon. Gentleman said, earlier this week there was a meeting of all those who have been concerned in this matter, the local authority associations, my Department, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. It is our hope that, as a result of that, we shall now have very speedy action, and it can happen this summer if we can get very quick agreement on the details. From these schemes we hope to get experience of the problems of the siting of sanitary facilities, their maintenance, and so on, and also to test that vandalism, a disease which, unfortunately, seems to be spreading all over the place, will not make these toilet facilities unusable and a waste of money.

Let me come to some of the detailed points. The lengths of road suggested for these experiments by the County Councils Association are the A.40 in Oxfordshire, the A.38 in Somerset and the A.1 in Hertfordshire. In addition, we have suggested the A.2 in Kent, which we know suffers badly. We know that we shall be pressed to extend this further. I might add, in addition to what the hon. Gentleman has said, that we applaud the initiative of the Oxfordshire County Council and the Bulling-don Rural District Council which have had experimental sanitary facilities on the A.40 at Wheatley for about two years.

We are hoping now that the county councils concerned and the public health authorities in collaboration with our divisional road engineers will get going to work out the necessary plans for submission by those county councils to my Department and to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. We are suggesting that toilets, one on either side of the road, would be provided at 15 mile intervals. The exact spacing and siting would depend on local conditions in the places that I have mentioned.

As I have said, the Exchequer would contribute one-third of the cost and we have suggested that the public health authority and the county council concerned should share the remainder equally. I emphasise that this is an experiment. We are proposing pilot schemes and we hope to get going this year. The Government are prepared to contribute the sum of £50,000, which means that with the local authorities contributions there should be £150,000 for the installation of sanitary facilities in the places that I have mentioned.

Of course, we realise that these are experimental schemes and after, say, 12 months' experience all of those concerned will want to consider what are the next steps that should be taken. The Government will have to see how far financial assistance should be given—and maybe increased—as a regular thing. The local authorities, of course, will have to review their responsibilities in the matter. We are not at the moment saying that anybody should be com- mitted to any proportion of responsibility in these arrangements—particularly financial responsibility. These will be matters for future discussion because this is the first time that action of this kind is actually being taken.

The important thing as far as we are concerned is that these pilot experiments should be mounted here and now in 1965 on this basis. I feel confident that the local authorities—and I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House will support this—will do whatever they can to deal speedily with the plans and arrangements proposed for these places and get these projects pushed ahead.

As well as motorists who need to stop at a toilet during the course of a long journey, there are holiday motorists who, more and more often, pull up and sleep overnight where no toilets are available. This was a point which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. We are very glad to see that one or two county councils have taken powers to provide trunk road service areas for such travellers and we have suggested to the local authority associations that it might be useful to give such powers generally to the county councils.

We are also prepared to consider further the possibility of giving wider powers to the public health authorities to contribute to the provision of sanitary facilities for the general public at refreshment places and petrol stations on main roads.

Finally, I would say—

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

Adjourned at twenty minutes to Eleven o'clock.