§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport is no doubt perfectly well aware—I dare say that he is now painfully aware—of what are the Government's commitments and his own personal commitments in relation to the road programme. These commitments were not undertaken or expressed by him in the early days of the present Administration when in the first fine careless rapture so many things were done and said which right hon. Gentlemen opposite shortly afterwards regretted. These commitments were made by him solemnly and deliberately as recently as last March when the Government were in a position to be fully seized of the economic situation and when they had thoroughly considered their spending programme and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had drawn up his estimates for the coming year. They therefore rest fairly and squarely with the Government.
Perhaps I might remind the right hon. Gentleman of the terms in which he affirmed those commitments.… we are determined not to cut the road programme …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 3rd March, 1965; Vol. 707, c. 1311.]he said. This was referring to the road programme which he had inherited from the outgoing Administration. Again, in reply to me on 10th March in this House, he said:I have maintained all along that we will adhere to the programme which we inherited …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 391.]He confirmed on this occasion that the undertaking referred to the programme not merely in monetary but in real terms. It is therefore perfectly clear that the Government, deliberately, with their eyes 1327 open, and after due consideration, reaffirmed and undertook as their commitment the five-year road programme which was left by the outgoing Administration.
The purpose of this debate is to examine the effect upon that commitment of the statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made to this House a week ago. It was a statement which clearly took many of his colleagues, including the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport, by surprise, a statement which evidently they are still trying to interpret. Our object this afternoon is to try to carry this process a little further, since this is a matter not of private concern to the occupants of the Treasury Bench but something of interest and importance to every section in the country.
Might I remind the House of the relevant passage in the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? He was referring to home expenditure and to the Government's intention to slow down the rate of expenditure on capital projects. He said:Housing, schools and hospitals will be contained within their existing programmes.He explained yesterday that he means that the level of expenditure, in the next year at any rate, will not exceed the level of expenditure in the current year. Then he continued:For other non-industrial capital projects for which contracts have not yet been signed, the starting dates will be postponed for six months."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 228.]Subsequently he indicated exemptions which would apply to that last statement.
I do not think it has been denied in any quarter that the road programme falls within the definition of "non-industrial capital projects" in the context of that sentence. There also apply to the road-building programme the exemptions which the Chancellor mentioned in respect of development districts and areas of high unemployment and access to the docks. We have therefore to examine what will be the effect on the road programme of the Chancellor's statement.
Before we do that we have to understand the conflict which immediately arose between the understanding of the Minister of Transport of what his right hon. Friend's policy was and the plain 1328 and evident meaning of the Chancellor's words. It may well be that the Minister of Transport, when he was replying to me in the House on the following day, had in his mind not the statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had actually made but some earlier draft of it, some earlier stage in negotiations which might have taken place between him and his right hon. Friend. Indeed, it is difficult to account in any other way for the extraordinary statements which the Minister of Transport made last Wednesday.
He paraphrased for instance, his right hon. Friend's reference to ports in this way:My right hon. Friend in his statement yesterday picked up capital projects in the ports, … as being projects which would be given preferential treatment in the allocation of resources in the six months' period to which he said his statement applied."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 443.]You may search the Chancellor's statement from beginning to end, Mr. Speaker, but you will find in it no indication that his statement applied to a six months' period. A six months' period would make nonsense of most of the elements of the Chancellor's statement. Such a period was clearly not in his mind in the preceding sentence about housing, schools and hospitals, nor does any reference occur in the sentence in question to a six months' period to which his statement applied. Then again the right hon. Gentleman said that in view of the Chancellor's statement:. . it will be necessary for me to review those projects which would have started within the next six months.Again he said:We have undertaken … to do a holding operation on some projects which would have gone ahead in the next six months."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1965; Vol. 717, cols. 444 and 446.]Where the words "six months" occur in the Chancellor's statement, they occur in an entirely different context. In the statement it is the period for which the starting dates on projects, contracts for which have not yet been let, are to be postponed. All the Chancellor's statement says is that when one comes to a starting date that starting date is going to be pushed six months forward. He gives no indication how long this part of his new policy is going to remain in force any more than how long any other part of that policy is to remain in force.
1329 There was, therefore, a fundamental and important contradiction between the interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman was giving on the day after the Chancellor's statement and the statement of the Chancellor. At that time the right hon. Gentleman was under the impression that his right hon. Friend's statement related to a period of six months and that projects which were going to start in that period would be reviewed with a view to their postponement. The right hon. Gentleman has since had a few days to consider the matter, maybe to discuss it with his right hon. Friend, and for consultations to have taken place between the Departments.
What he said over the weekend, when he opened the Newcastle-under-Lyme bypass might perhaps be regarded as ambiguous, or as representing a shift back towards the natural interpretation of the Chancellor's statement. He said this:How does this affect the road programme? It means that the letting of road contracts will be postponed for six months along with other capital projects.Those words, in themselves, might perhaps be reconciled with the plain meaning of the Chancellor's statement. What are really remarkable are a pair of replies to Written Questions which I put down to the right hon. Gentleman for answer on Friday, and which the Minister answered yesterday. As these are the most recent attempts by the right hon. Gentleman at an interpretation of the Government's policy in relation to the road programme, I do not apologise for bringing them before the House in detail.
I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he could give me—the total value of road schemes to be commenced in the present and each of the next two years, the starting dates of which will be postponed by six months".This was his reply:I cannot indicate the value of road schemes which will be affected by the postponement until I have reviewed the schemes due to start over the next few months for which contracts have not yet been signed and decided which shall be postponed and for how long.The right hon. Gentleman is to review the schemes due to start over "the next few months"—the word "six" has dropped out altogether—and he is to decide which shall be postponed. Also, he 1330 is to decide for how long they will be postponed. There is nothing there about six months.
The Minister repeated this in his other Answer to me when he said that… the postponement of some schemes which would otherwise have started in the next few months is bound to have some effect on relative priorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1965; Vol. 717, cc. 251–2.]The first thing which the House needs to have made absolutely clear is which intention represents the Government's policy on the road programme. Is their policy that which was stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that until further notice, where contracts have not been entered into, all starting dates are pushed forward six months except in the types of case specifically mentioned in the statement? Alternatively, is it the policy implicit in the Minister's Answers to me, that they will take the schemes which would have started "in the next few months"—whatever that may mean—and that they will postpone some of those schemes for an unspecified period? There is so sharp a difference between these two statements and the matter is so important that the House is entitled to have it resolved clearly and definitely.
But that is only the beginning of the matter. When the Minister has at last told us the outcome of his discussions and those of his Department with the Treasury to find out what the Chancellor of the Exchequer meant and how they can persuade him to modify what he meant, we want to know, broadly, what the effect will be on the road programme "as settled for the next five years"—words which the right hon. Gentleman has used within the last week. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman saying, "But you must wait until I have reviewed the specific schemes one by one. Until then, I can give no indication of what this might mean". I appreciate that it may be too soon for the right hon. Gentleman in individual cases, especially where the starting date is not imminent, to intimate precisely whether they fall within the exemptions and how those exemptions will apply. But it is absurd for him to say that the general magnitude of the retrenchment of his programme which the Chancellor's statement implies cannot be indicated to the House and to the country.
1331 Let me put it to the Minister in this way. We know, broadly, that the capital value of the motorway and trunk road schemes which would be started during the next six months—I am generously taking the right hon. Gentleman's own basis for the purpose—would be approximately £50 million, and that the capital value to be met from the Exchequer on the classified road schemes would be £25 million—£75 million in all. To those falls to be added the local authority component of that expenditure on the classified roads and the expenditure on minor works and maintenance. Some or all of this, under the terms of the Chancellor's statement, is presumably also to be postponed.
Therefore, we arrive at a very broad figure of about £100 million worth of work, which is within the ambit of the Chancellor's policy even on the narrowest interpretation which has been given to it by the right hon. Gentleman. There was no need for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to be so surprised or so scoffing when last week I referred to a £100 million cut in the road programme.
I appreciate that the exemptions have to be removed from the global total which I have endeavoured broadly to estimate—the schemes in development districts and in areas of high unemployment, and those which can be brought within the description of access to the docks. We should like to know the estimate of the value of the exemptions so that we can ascertain, broadly speaking, what is the total value of the schemes which fall to be postponed even on the narrowest interpretation which the Minister has given. Until the right hon. Gentleman can give us some more detail, this I would assess at £75 million at least if not more.
However, whether that estimate be right or not, some estimate of this figure must be given to the House this evening; for if the Minister has no idea whether the figure is £25 million, £50 million or £75 million, then neither has the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and from that it would follow that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was deceiving the House, the country and, indeed, the world by purporting to bring forward measures of retrenchment without having the slightest notion of the magnitudes involved or the degree to which demand upon the resources of the 1332 economy would be reduced by them. This is the second thing which we want from the Minister. We want a definite statement—it need not be precise—of his and the Government's estimate of the block value of the elements in the road programme which are being postponed.
The third thing, based on that, which we wish to know, is the effect that this postponement will have on the road programme to which the Labour Party and, above all, the right hon. Gentleman personally are committed. There are two possibilities. The right hon. Gentleman can say, "It will not affect the road programme because it will all be put back again before the end of the period to which that programme related. This is simply a concertina. The concertina is closed at one point in the five years only to be opened at another point." Alternatively, the meaning may be that the postponed work remains postponed throughout the five years' programme and that an amount of construction valued at, say, at least £75 million, is pushed out at the far end of the five-year programme.
In common parlance, that would be a cut. If we delay doing work, then we have cut down the work in the period to which the proposed projects related. If schemes which would have been undertaken and completed during the five-year programme still remain uncompleted, to be done after the end of those five years, that is a cut in the five-year programme and is a breach of the commitment which the Government and the Minister undertook.
Therefore, I ask the Minister to say, first, whether this is what will happen. Are these deferments to be carried throughout the five-year programme? If so, and if this £75 million worth, or whatever it may be, of work is not to be added back in subsequent years of the programme, the programme has been cut by approximately half of one year of that programme.
If, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman says, "It will be added back. We shall catch up on it. The programme will be carried through. There will be deferment at this stage but acceleration subsequently", I ask him and I ask the House to contemplate what an absurd operation this is. Economically it is absolutely ludicrous.
1333 There may be some argument, although few people, I think, would readily assent to it, for deploying on other purposes part of the resources of manpower and capital which would otherwise be applied to the road programme. It may be wrongheaded but, at least, it would be intelligent. That is the first of the two alternatives, one of which the right hon. Gentleman must embrace. The other, however, implies that machinery and men are temporarily withdrawn from the road programme only to be drawn back into it again a short time afterwards and a demand created for more still to catch up with the deferred burden of work.
What possible sense can there be, from an economic viewpoint or from any other point of view, in rendering machinery and men temporarily idle, not so that they may be absorbed into other branches of the economy, but in order that they may be brought back after a while on to the very projects from which they have been laid off? It could, I suppose, be argued that such a measure was conceivably justified in the height of a crisis if it produced an immediate effect. If the Chancellor's difficulties in face of the current sterling crisis were to be dramatically eased by doing so absurd a thing as this, one might accept that as an argument. We all know, however, that that will not be the effect of these postponements upon Government expenditure.
Listen to what the right hon. Gentleman said at Stoke-on-Trent on Saturday:The road programme is not coming to a halt. Far from it. There is a great deal of work in hand. In fact, most of the programme this year and next is devoted towards financing current work and will not be affected.Therefore, most of the expenditure in the current year and the next financial year will be unaffected by these postponements. The effect of these postponements will be out beyond those two years, at a time when the economic circumstances may be quite different, when the relative level of demand in the economy and the position of sterling will, we hope, be totally different from what it is today. That is when these measures will have their impact. That is when we are to have a surplus of machinery and men, not to be diverted to other branches of the economy, but to be stood off for a time 1334 so that they can presently be brought back on to the very same road programme to do the very same projects.
We want to know tonight from the Minister whether that is what will happen, or whether this is a cut in the road programme, because projects which would otherwise have fallen within the five-year programme are to be pushed out beyond, deferred and, in effect, cut out of the programme.
In other circumstances, one might feel sorry for the right hon. Gentleman. He was advised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer not in the second half of October last but after six months of discussion, cogitation and negotiation "Go ahead. You can give a firm pledge. You can commit yourself now to maintaining and carrying out the road programme of the preceding Government the programme which is 'settled for the next five years'."
Now, because of something which his right hon. Friend the Chancellor did almost behind his back, the same right hon. Gentleman has to come before the House and admit either that the programme as a whole will be substantially cut or that he will handle it in a manner which is utterly unintelligible, either politically, socially or economically. In other circumstances, I say, one would feel sorry for the right hon. Gentleman, but these emotions are overlaid by one's sense of the irritation, the frustration and the very real loss which these measures will involve for the industry concerned as well as for the public at large.
The industry concerned, the productivity of which has been rapidly increasing on account of the large capital investment which has taken place in the road build-in industry under the influence of the programme in recent years, will be dislocated by what has been so thoughtlessly decided and announced. The lives of the people concerned with that industry from top to bottom will be dislocated. The expectations of the people for whom the road programme was devised, and the prospects of the economy which to no small extent depend upon it, will be seriously prejudiced. These are the things that matter. These are the answers that we require from the right hon. Gentleman and these are the charges that he has to answer.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Tom Fraser)
We have just listened to a most extraordinary speech by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). In the last few minutes, he nearly got round to telling us whether the Opposition at this time thought that public expenditure should be cut, but he did not quite get there. His right hon. Friend the former Leader of the Opposition has been stumping the country saying that the Conservatives would cut public expenditure and would reduce taxation; and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has made not a few speeches himself around the country in which he has given the clear impression that that is what he wishes to be done.
Today, however, he has contented himself with making a few quotations and asking a few questions without discharging the responsibility, which clearly rests upon him as the spokesman for transport for Her Majesty's Opposition, to say whether, notwithstanding the economic situation, his party would in any way interfere with the road programme that lies before us.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted me, as he did on Wednesday last, on what I said in March this year, when I said that we were determined not to cut the road programme. On Wednesday, the right hon. Gentleman thought that the statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the previous day was the signal for my resignation. Today, he has gone as far as to recognise the possibility that the postponement of a few starts from this year into the early months of next year would not necessarily make it impossible to complete the road programme for the next five years, but he has said that of course it would be totally absurd to hope to catch up.
At last the right hon. Gentleman has become a convert to planning. He wondered last Wednesday and he wondered in his speech today whether—he not only wondered but asserted that—I was taken completely by surprise by what the Chancellor said last Tuesday. I think that, with all the Press and radio reports about Ministers meeting and having met, most intelligent people would have had the impression that these 1336 were the matters we were discussing, and that we did not meet to play tiddlywinks; so I should have thought there was some reasonable assumption that I was aware of what the Chancellor was saying. The right hon. Gentleman became a little confused in his thinking as he went on with his speech today, since having started on the assumption that I was taken by surprise by my right hon. Friend, he proceeded to say that my answers on Wednesday were probably due to the fact that I had in mind an earlier draft of the statement—that same statement, the making of which he claimed took me completely unawares. He really must make up his mind on which leg he is standing.
Let me mention one other absurdity in the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon. He has made it quite clear that he thought it would be perfectly all right if this debate were to take place and if I were to make my speech at the end. None the less he was himself making a speech which put a clear obligation on me to get up at this Box to say where I stood immediately he sat down, and he had invited me not to do it but to sit here while other hon. Members repeated the questions and could ask when I was going to get up and make my position clear.
§ Mr. Fraser
If there is no truth in what I have just said I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have to choose between himself and his hon. Friend sitting beside him, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith).
§ Mr. Galbraith
Never in the 17 years I have been in this House have I heard mention in this Chamber of discussions which took place behind the Chair. The right hon. Gentleman should be utterly ashamed of himself.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman now is objecting to my telling the truth, because he himself has referred to the discussions which took place behind the Speaker's 1337 Chair. All I have said is that the right hon. Gentleman was making a speech which made it obligatory on me to get up and answer straight away and at the same time he had informed his hon. Friend that he did not wish me to make a speech just now but at the end of the debate. Well, the House will have to choose between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman as to who is telling the truth.
I would have thought it necessary for me today to tell the House how I am proceeding with the management of the road programme in the light of the statement made by my right hon. Friend last Tuesday, and I should like, too, that the House should get this matter into perspective. One almost got the impression when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking just now that we had stopped the contracts, that we had taken men off the job or were about to take men off the job of building the roads in this country.
Let us see what the position is. Last year, when the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friends were responsible for the Government, there was committed about £180 million worth of work, and in the course of last year, 1964–65, £142 million was spent—by the central Government and by local government combined—on new construction and major improvements. This year, 1965–66, we have planned commitments, quite apart from any postponements which may arise from what my right hon. Friend said last week, of well over £210 million.
§ Mr. Fraser
The financial year 1965–66, the Estimates period.
The estimated expenditure, apart from any savings there might be from postponements, is £162 million, a £20 million increase. Let me make clear to the House at once that the savings which I would make this year if I did not have any more starts at all for the remainder of this financial year would be infinitesimal. I doubt whether I would save very much more than £2 million if I did not start any roads at all between now and April of next year. I think this has got to be said because this happens to be the position; this happens to be the fact. That is why I said I want the 1338 House to get this matter into perspective. Next year, 1966–67, planned commitments are of some £250 million worth of work.
So one can see how this road programme is building up all the time, but the right hon. Gentleman towards the end of his speech gave the impression that we were going along on a steady level and would not get any more and would lose men and would not get them back to make up lost ground. I just mention those figures to show the way in which this programme is rising all the time.
At this moment of time the total value of work in hand is about £300 million. That is not being stopped. That is going on. For goodness' sake, hon. Members in the House and others outside who are interested in this matter really ought to get this thing into perspective. It was made clear in my right hon. Friend's statement last Tuesday and I made it clear on Wednesday of last week that we were not postponing everything.
The right hon. Gentleman was near enough to being right in his calculation of the total value of contracts which would have been let in the next six months if there were no postponements—that is to say, about £50 million worth on motorways and trunk roads. The classified road programme would have been about £35 million in total, of which the central Government would have met about £25 million and local government £10 million. That is £85 million altogether. The right hon. Gentleman said £100 million. I am not going to quarrel about the difference in the figures in this respect.
As I made clear, there will not be a six months' deferment of all the road schemes, and, of course, I am reviewing, and reviewing urgently, all the schemes which are about to start in the next six months, to decide which will have to be postponed and which will go on. The right hon. Gentleman asked me if this would carry over the whole of the next five years. It seems to me that it would be totally absurd for any Minister or any Government to say they would go on postponing starts for six months over a period of four or five years. The House will realise that one must have a starting date before one can postpone it. I do 1339 not believe that even a Conservative Minister would suggest giving starting dates only to postpone them for six months. So the starting dates we are to postpone for six months are starting dates we had in mind; and we of course had starting dates in mind for the next six months. So that in the review which I am undertaking at the present time I start off with the assumption, which is shared by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that about half the total will require to go on as planned.
§ Mr. Fraser
I shall not give way. I am trying to explain to the House what is taking place. Contracts for about £50 million worth of motorways and trunk roads were planned, and I am saying that it was made clear last week that this was not a total ban; that there were exceptions. About half the total will go on as planned. If any hon. Member has not understood that and wants to interrupt me, it means that I have not made the position clear, even though I thought that I could not be any clearer than I was in saying that about half the total would go on as planned, and about half would be deferred for six months.
Perhaps I might tell the House the kind of projects that will continue. Schemes in development districts and areas of high unemployment will be continued. This will allow schemes like the Durham Motorway to proceed without any delay. Schemes which affect access to the docks or which directly help industry and the export drive will also continue. This will allow a scheme like the A.13 Beckton diversion to go ahead whenever we are ready, and that will be within the next six months. Contracts which extend or complete projects already started, where some work has already been carried out, or is in progress and which would be frustrated by postponement will go on. This will allow quite extensive work to proceed on two contracts for the extension of the M.1 and M.18 right up to the Doncaster Bypass and enable us to get full value out of the M.1 and the improvement to the A.1, carrying traffic into industrial Yorkshire and thus to the North-East.
1340 Those are some examples of works which will be continued. They can only be examples, and there will be others. The review has not been completed. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to acknowledge that one has to consider these schemes with the greatest care, because we want to ensure that those schemes which are given priority by not being postponed are those of the greatest economic value to the country. We have to ensure that the schemes which go on are those which will make the greatest contribution to the economic well-being of our nation, and we shall be asking local authorities as a matter of urgency to carry out a comparable review so that we can decide which classified schemes should be deferred and which should go on.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Is not the right hon. Gentleman making a virtue out of a necessity? The list of work which he has said will go on includes work which he could not stop without having to pay considerable compensation. The whole point of the virtuous carrying on is really something that he cannot avoid.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. Contracts for these schemes are not let at all. One does not pay compensation until one has entered into a contract with somebody. There are no contracts for these schemes, and I am not making a virtue out of necessity. I am saying that we have not signed contracts for these schemes, but that we shall do so and go ahead with them during the next six months notwithstanding the statement made last week. Indeed, what we propose is in line with my right hon. Friend's statement, because his was a statement of policy calculated to aid the economic well-being of the country, and this programme will do just that.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
My right hon. Friend is no doubt aware—indeed he has said so—that we must have some degree of planning in respect of contracts for civil engineering and public works. He will know that in many areas of high unemployment, such as Stirlingshire and Dunbartonshire, it is impossible to get road works completed in housing scheme areas and in new towns, not because of a lack of contractors, but because of a lack of civil engineers to plan the roads, sewers, and so on. 1341 This must be a question of priorities, and I think that the Government have taken the proper steps to give priority to those projects which are most necessary.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am obliged to my hon. Friend, because people sometimes assume that we have an abundance of labour of all kinds, including professional skilled staff to get on with the job. That is not so, and we have to mobilise and organise to the best effect the resources that are available to us.
I still believe that the five-year programme can be carried out, and I am proceeding on that assumption. In the course of the past week many hon. Members have approached me, and some have written to me, to ask about their individual schemes, and I have no doubt that during this debate hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to know whether the schemes in which they are particularly interested will be postponed or be given the go-ahead. I do not want to add to the list. I gave only one example in each category of schemes that would go ahead without delay. I shall not be able to publish a list or to satisfy immediately the understandable and reasonable curiosity of hon. Members who want further information about various schemes in which they are interested. I beg them to exercise a little patience, and I assure the House that as and when I reach my decision—and I shall be guided only by a consideration of the national well-being—I shall authorise the go-ahead at once, within the period for which I am holding things up, of those schemes which are of the greatest importance to the nation as a whole.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman wants me to say what is going to happen to those schemes which would have gone on in the next six months had there not been this postponement, and whether it will affect the schemes which would have been started in the ensuing six months. It is obvious that I am not going to determine starting dates in the ensuing six months just to postpone them further. In planning the future I am going to have regard to the fact that there are certain schemes—about £25 million worth of trunk roads and motorways—which I am not going to start within the next six months but which will start in 1342 the ensuing six months, and I shall have this in mind when I determine starting dates for the other schemes.
I hope that in due course I shall be able to increase the volume of work that will be done. After all, my right hon. Friend made his statement because of the balance of payments difficulties, and because we were not getting the up-thrust in the economy on which the whole of the road programme is based. If we do not do better in the coming years than we have done in the immediately preceding ones, we shall not complete the programme. If we do not get a far better growth in the economy in the next four or five years than we had in the last four or five years, we shall not complete the programme, but I am optimistic that we shall do better than the previous Administration did.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that there are no schemes at present in contemplation, or which were in contemplation before the Chancellor's statement, with starting dates next January? If there are such schemes, what will happen to them? Will those which would have started in September, October or November, start in January, and will those that were due to start in January start later, or what will happen? Is there to be a postponement of the later ones?
§ Mr. Fraser
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was a little confused a short time ago, but I did not think that he was quite so confused as not to understand that next January comes within the six-months' period. It is—and February as well.
I have just explained that beyond that period I am obviously going to phase in the £25 millon worth of postponed jobs for which I have responsibility, together with other delayed work, but I will not give a starting date for further work merely in order to postpone it for six months. I am hoping that beyond that period the economy will so improve that we shall be able gradually to increase the programme once again, so that by 1969–70 we shall be able to complete the five-year road programme which is ahead of us.
I should also make clear that the proposition was made many times by my predecessor that we would have 1,000 1343 miles of motorway completed by the early 1970s. On many occasions in the past nine months I have been asked whether this was possible, and on many occasions the assumption has been made that I could not possibly adhere to the programme of completions laid down by my predecessor. But I have always expressed the hope that I would be able to maintain it and complete 1,000 miles of motorway by the early 1970s. The statement made by my right hon. Friend last week does not shake my belief that this can be done.
I also believe that the Midland links, about which much has been said recently, need not be delayed beyond the period 1970–71, which was the forecast for the completion of the Midland links before my right hon. Friend made his speech last week. The right hon. Gentleman said that this would have a disastrous effect upon the civil engineering industry. I do not think that this is so. He went on to talk about the productivity of this industry rapidly increasing. As in other parts of the economy, it is important that the nation should get the best possible value for the money it spends or invests in roads—money which is invested in and spent by the civil engineering industry.
In this connection I would mention the fact that the Government have set up an economic development committee—a "little Neddy" as it is sometimes called—for civil engineering in general, under the Chairmanship of Sir Jock Campbell. That economic development committee decided at its first meeting to form a working party on roads, to examine costs, efficiency, and productivity. This was because there was some disquiet that productivity is not rising as it might in this industry.
When road construction prices rise by 9 per cent. in two years, as they did between 1962 and 1964, it is obviously necessary for all those concerned to take a hard look at the situation, to see what difficulties face the industry and to formulate proposals for any changes which will enable the industry to make its full contribution to the nation's economic objectives. The House may reflect on the fact that a few minutes ago I stated that we have £300 million worth of work going on at present. The House will see 1344 how important it is for the nation that we should be sure that we are getting value for the money that we put into this part of the economy.
The members of the little Neddy's road contstruction working party are now being appointed. The chairman is an independent member of the economic development committee itself. He is Mr. J. A. Lofthouse, a director of the Nobel Division of I.C.I. The working party's terms of reference will ensure a close and wide-ranging scrutiny of trends in costs, prices, and productivity, and of what could and should be done to ensure full efficiency. The terms of reference are:1. To examine the economic performance of the road construction sector of the civil engineering industry, especially in relation to costs and productivity; to consider ways of improving its efficiency and performance.2. In particular:—
- (a) to examine trends of road construction costs and prices and the reasons for them,
- (b) to consider methods of measuring productivity in road construction, to select the most appropriate and to examine the trends in productivity,
- (c) to consider action to increase productivity and reduce costs.3. To submit reports and recommendations on these matters to the Economic Development Committee for the Civil Engineering Industry as appropriate and to draw the attention of the Economic Development Committee to the possible relevance of their work to other sectors.This economic development committee having been set up for the civil engineering industry so recently, and it having so quickly got down to the appointment of a working party to look into road construction costs, it is evident that there are many people who know what it is about, who are in this industry, and who are not happy with the situation. That deals with the proposition that this is one of the most efficient industries, with a high and rising productivity, which will suffer a severe setback because of the proposals which have just been made.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
The Minister has mentioned the economic development committee for the construction industry. When the national plan is published, will the section of that national plan which refers to the construction industries take into account the changes in the pace of the road construction programme which will follow from the Chancellor's statement of last Tuesday?
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes—the national plan when published will certainly take account of the Chancellor's statement of last Tuesday. But the national plan will none the less be a plan for four-five years ahead, and will not be a panic document drawn up, in the circumstances of economic stress, on the assumption that we shall continue with a balance of payments deficit of between £400 million and £800 million a year; it will be drawn up on the assumption that we shall be able to get out of these difficulties and begin building up some balance of payments credits in place of the deficits that we have been accumulating over the years.
The House listened with great interest to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West initiating the debate. He was very careful not to make it clear whether or not he thought that the measures introduced last week by my right hon. Friend were justified. We all know what the right hon. Gentleman did, back in 1957. He resigned from another Administration because public expenditure was being maintained at too high a level. But in the book—and one understands that he has authorised every word of it—"A Nation not Afraid"—
§ Mr. Fraser
No—I got it from the Library. I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman is a little disappointed about that, but I am sure that he will not have to go hungry because I have not dipped into my pocket to buy a copy. On page 117, quoting his remarks made in February of this year he says:The projection of public spending for the next four years which was undertaken by the late Government at the end of 1963 showed that on policies then in force it was expected to continue to rise at the rate of just over 4 per cent. a year at constant prices.He then goes on to say:But no prudent person commits himself to future expenditure on the mere unsupported assumption that his income is going to rise faster than it has ever done before; nor does any prudent nation. The only sane course is to wait and see how our income rises and plan our public expenditure in the light of realised possibilities, not wish-fulfilment prophecies.That may be very sound, but it is hardly consistent with what the right hon. Gentleman said today—if he said anything at all, which is not certain. This chapter ends with these words: 1346So let us make this our resolve: we will not be tempted, or frightened, or cajoled into turning aside from our plain duty and common sense necessity: so to control and limit and guide our public expenditure that it no longer entails upon this country the recurrent menace of inflationary crises.…Where do the Opposition stand now?
They bequeathed to me a road programme which is increasing at the rate of between 14 and 15 per cent. each year. They kidded themselves that they could get a 4 per cent. growth rate in the economy each year, out of which this was to be financed. They never got the 4 per cent. growth rate in the economy and they were roundly condemned by the right hon. Gentleman for launching this programme at all. He very nearly got round to telling us this afternoon that, despite the fact that we have not achieved the growth rate in the economy, we should continue with the programme, but he did not go quite as far as that. His hon. Friends behind him will know that he came right to the brink but he did not cross. He did not quite say that. The right hon. Gentleman asked a few questions and told us absolutely nothing about where Her Majesty's Opposition stand on the difficult troubles which afflict the nation.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
Many millions of people outside the House and many hon. Members, certainly on this side, were extremely concerned about the Chancellor's statement about cutting back and I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) that we are entitled to ask and to be told by the Minister what, if any, delays are proposed in major road construction. I want to confine myself to what is so aptly named by the Automobile Association the "missing link". This is a conglomeration of roads joining the M.1 with the M.6 and the M.5. Here, far from a cutting back, there should be an acceleration because of the appalling delays caused in this area.
There is no point in building first-class motorways if we then have this missing link with these great delays. I know these roads well and I realise the frustration which they cause to motorists. If anybody asked me "Which is the best way to get from the M.1 to the M.6?", I am afraid that I should have to say, "I do 1347 not know. There is no best way: there are only bad ways." That is perfectly true. To be fair to the Minister and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), whom he succeeded, there are some very good stretches on this length of road, which stretches 57 miles, from the M.1 to the M.6. About half of this is made up of good roads, dual carriageways, and one can get a move on. But the real critical part is 24 miles long. It is interesting to note that 10 of these miles are two-lane, yet this is the main junction. Fourteen miles are three-lane, which we know can be extremely dangerous, and there are two very short stretches of dual carriageway.
The danger of these roads must be apparent when one considers that, at both ends, there are magnificent motorways. This ghastly, congested stretch in the middle, with the resultant frustration to motorists is, I am certain, the cause of many accidents. It can take as long to travel these 24 miles as the whole of the rest of the two motorways combined. Already the volume of traffic on these roads is 50 per cent. higher than the planned capacity for a three-lane road. If we assume that the increase in traffic in this part of the world will be about 12 per cent. per annum, the increase in volume by 1970 will be twice the maximum laid down by the Ministry of Transport for a three-lane road.
Let us not forget that 10 miles are two-lane and carry four times as much traffic as that laid down for a two-lane road. By 1970, when, we are told, we shall get these improvements, the volume of traffic will be 24,000 vehicles per 16-hour day and these will have to be crammed into the two-lane stretches which were designed to carry only 6,000 vehicles in the 16-hour day. Hon. Members can see what the congestion will be like by then. It is bad enough now: it is appalling. The critical area is from Coleshill to the Gailey roundabout, and any of us who have to use that road realise how appallingly bad it is.
I have some photographs which show how serious this congestion is. If the Minister has no copies, I shall be delighted to lend them to him. I should like to quote from some of the captions on the back of these photographs, because I feel that they are extremely 1348 relevant to the congestion and the danger caused by these bad stretches of road. One reads:A traffic build-up as far as the eye can see on the A.446 just north of Coleshill. Hold-ups such as this have a serious economic effect because of the incalculable loss of man hours and delays in the delivery of goods, much of it for export.Another reads:The potentially dangerous situation on the A.5 at Fazeley where the road is so narrow that a parked vehicle, even though it is partly on the pavement, causes other traffic to pull out on to the 'wrong' side of the road. Drivers' vision in both directions is obscured.A third reads:An accident on the A.5 near its junction with the A.38 which, because of the narrowness of the road, closed both carriageways for half an hour. Statistics show that motorways are three times as safe as 'old roads'.So we have photographic proof of how bad these roads are.
I know that there is a plan ahead for a new motorway, but I want to stress to the Minister that that will come in the early 1970s. That is not good enough. Something must be done now, immediately, to ease this appalling congestion. Not only does this cause frustrations for motorists and make it difficult to achieve road safety and eliminate the hazards but results in appalling delay to commercial vehicles serving this highly industrialised area, thus slowing down delivery from the manufacturer to the consumer. We must not forget that these roads are the lifeline between the North-West and the South, serving many ports at both ends.
I know that, in the past, land acquisition has been one of the hold-ups in building these motorways. I do not believe that land acquisition is going on speedily enough. I should like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to tell us clearly what is the situation over land acquisition. I am a director of Birmingham Race-course and, until recently, racing was going on there. The course is now being compulsorily purchased by Birmingham City Corporation and we knew that part of the M.1 was destined to go over our land. I know of no negotiations at all with the Birmingham Race-course. A friend of mine has some land in that part of the world. Although he has been told that the motorway will go over his land, no negotiations at all have taken place on the subject. That is not good enough.
1349 Moreover, it would greatly speed up the compulsory acquisition of this land if realistic compensation were offered. I am certain that some of the valuers are going round offering a cockshy sort of price which is completely unfair, and I am certain that many delays are caused by people rightly saying, "No, I shall fight this because I should have fair compensation." If fair compensation were offered in the first place the acquisition could be speeded up.
I turn to the question of the proper signposting of roads to these motorways. It is very easy to get completely lost. Because of this I tabled a Question to the Minister on 26th July. I asked the Minister of Transportwhether he will take steps to improve the signposting of roads leading to motorways to ensure that repeater directions are erected at all junctions or roundabouts on the approaches to motorways".The Minister gave me a good reply:The first section of the Traffic Signs Manual, published last December, dealt comprehensively with the use of all directional signs. It stressed the need for local highway authorities to ensure that all routes leading to motorways are well signed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1965; Vol. 716, c. 31.]This Manual came out in December. I have been along these roads since then, and I can assure the Minister that they are not adequately signposted. I know these roads fairly well, but I have been misled by these signs. For example, I find a very good motorway sign telling me which way to go, and then I suddenly come to a very complicated junction with no indication of the way to the motorway. Not long ago when on my way to Cheshire I found myself chasing my own tail round Cannock Chase. The present situation is not good enough, and I hope that the Minister will emphasise to local authorities the great need to improve these signs.
I hope that the Minister is taking note of these points. It is vitally important to this great industrial part of England that he should not just carry on with the road programme as planned but should immediately accelerate it in order that this congestion should be ended and in order that traffic may be speeded at this peat junction between the North-West and the South. He must see that we get the full value which we ought to get from our first-class motorways. There is no doubt about it; the M.1, the M.5 1350 and the M.6 are first-class roads. But there is an appalling congestion in the area which I have mentioned which is causing all the delay. I hope that we shall have a positive assurance from the Minister that the importance of an immediate improvement here is understood and that action will be taken with no further delay.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
I welcome the debate on roads today because the subject has received far too little attention over the years. First, we should realise that the roads carry far more people today than do any other means of transport. Even if we eliminate private cars and consider only public transport, we find that three people travel on public transport on the roads for every one on the railways. We should clearly understand that this is the major form of transport for the people of this country, and therefore it deserves much more attention than it has been given.
We have a great deal of congestion on certain roads, and this congestion in my opinion is due to two factors. The first factor never seems to receive any publicity, and it is the planning Acts. The planning Acts divided our cities into residential areas and industrial and commercial areas. In other words, they separated people from their jobs by considerable distances and compelled them to travel these considerable distances, which most of them had not done before, in order to get to their places of employment. This is a factor which could be remedied, because there is no reason why we should not provide for the planning Acts to take care of it. When we designate a new area we should provide a number of adult workers in the area equal to the accommodation to house them within the area.
If we do this it will have two effects. First, many people will live and work in the same area and therefore will not need to clutter up the roads at peak hours. This is at the root of the traffic congestion, for 75 per cent. of the traffic at peak hours consists of car commuters travelling to and from their places of employment.
Secondly, if we accept this policy we shall find that even if they do not live in the area of work, public transport will 1351 be helped. If there are 12,000 jobs in an area and accommodation for 12,000 people in that area, then even if none of the 12,000 work there and all of the 12,000 travel out to work, there will be 12,000 others travelling into the area at the same time, and public transport will be carrying full loads both ways. At present buses and trains travel full on their way to the places of employment in the morning and are empty when they go back to the outskirts and the reverse happens at night. In other words, they are running one way empty all the time, which is a waste of public transport and leads to an increase in the cost for people using public transport to travel to and from their work. This problem merits more attention than it has received so far.
The second cause of congestion, which gets all the publicity, is the increase in the number of vehicles. In 1964—one year alone—there were 923,000 new vehicles. We have 12 million vehicles on the roads. When we consider the congestion which results and the efforts being made to combat it, we realise that it merits far more attention than it has received.
What are the solutions tried so far? One is traffic engineering—tinkering with the problem, because that is all it is. We have one-way streets, which are an absolute nightmare to anyone travelling in the large cities. These one-way streets enable vehicles to travel faster, but they make people travel greater distances to get from A to B because they have to follow the one-way street system, so that although they travel faster it often takes them longer to get to their destination. This is certainly the case in Glasgow, where a one-way street system was instituted. After it had been in operation for some time, who complained about it? The people who were running the Glasgow Corporation transport service complained about it. They admitted that the vehicles were travelling faster, but pointed out that because they were travelling more miles they could not carry the same number of passengers, so that the system defeated its purpose.
The former Minister of Transport introduced what he called the "tidal flow" method of regulating traffic. Under that system streets were made one-way 1352 only in the mornings and one-way only, but in the other direction, later in the day or at night. This system proved a nightmare to strangers visiting cities, so much so that the idea appears to have been dropped. I certainly hope it has.
Then we had the introduction of parking meters, tolls on bridges and other forms of rationing. I say "rationing" because that is what parking meters represent. They do not provide more parking places. They merely stop people from parking—that is, unless they can afford the charges. Parking meters merely ration parking space by the purse or by the size of one's bank account. I have always understood that rationing by the purse was condemned in this country.
§ Mr. Doig
I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman will, I hope, have an opportunity to speak later. Parking meters serve no useful purpose. A working man who can save enough money to buy a family car is limited in its use while the wealthy man who can afford to feed parking meters can park his car more or less wherever he likes.
The latest suggestion is that people should be charged for driving their cars into city centres. With suggestions like that coming forward there is no telling where we will end up. I could not possibly support such a charging system, particularly when I realise that there is only one solution to the congestion problem. The answer is to spend far more money on building new roads.
In the span of my lifetime the mileage of roads in this country has increased from 175,000 to 199,000, a comparatively small increase in 50 years. Meanwhile, the number of vehicles during that time has increased from 192,000 to 12,369,000. This shows that the rate of road building has not kept pace with the increased number of vehicles. Has a lack of money prevented sufficient new roads from being built? I will seek to show that there has been no lack of money. The Royal Commission on Transport stated in its Final Report in 1930:We recommend that … in future one-third of the cost of the highways should fall on the ratepayer and that two-thirds should be borne by the motorists.That Report recommended that the motorist should pay two-thirds of the 1353 cost of road construction. In 1932 the Salter Report stated:We consider that the total contribution payable by all classes of mechanically propelled vehicles, whether in the form of licence duty of petrol duty, should be equal to the current expenditure on the roads".The 1930 Report suggested that the motorist should pay two-thirds of the cost while the Salter Report recommended that the motorist should pay the whole cost. What, in fact, is the position? Last year we spent £316 million on the roads, and I admit that that was a £5 million increase from Scotland's point of view. The figure of £316 million should be considered in the light of the revenue collected from the fuel tax and vehicle licence duty. Those taxes were instituted for the sole purpose of providing adequate roads. I have excluded Purchase Tax on vehicles.
The Exchequer raised £747 million on the fuel tax and vehicle licence duty, which proves that the motorist is not only paying for the total cost of all road work—but the Government and local authority share—but, in addition, is paying more than the same amount again to relieve the general taxpayer. This is sheer barefaced robbery. Not only that, it is financial stupidity because the cost of congestion has been reliably estimated at more than £500 million a year. In other words, buses must travel through cities at between 9 m.p.h. and 10 m.p.h. when they could easily travel at twice that speed. We can see why higher fares are constantly being sought.
Companies running fleets of vans find that they need twice the number of vans to do their deliveries because their vehicles can travel at only about 10 m.p.h. through cities. I have some experience of this. I was concerned with a fleet of bread vans. Simply because of the lack of adequate roads firms must run twice the number of vehicles they would otherwise need if we had proper roads—and this congestion is costing the nation £500 million a year.
What about the cost of accidents? It has been estimated that last year accidents cost the nation about £257 million. By cheeseparing on expenditure on roads—apart from not using the money the Government collect from motorists—it is costing us more in terms of accidents and congestion than we are saving by not 1354 spending this money on new roads. I hope that my right bon. Friend the Minister of Transport will examine these facts.
Even more important than the cost of accidents is the number of people who are killed and seriously injured on our roads. Hon. Members of all parties get worked up, and rightly so, because a war is going on in Vietnam. They should realise that a war is going on right outside our own front door. Every day 1,000 people are either injured or killed on Britain's roads. Last year 7,820 people were killed and 377,679 were injured. War is taking place every day on our roads, yet we do not agitate sufficiently to bring it to an end. Every so often—at Easter and Christmas, for example—special appeals are made to prevent accidents. Unfortunately, these have little or no effect and something much more drastic needs to be done.
How are we to make our roads safe? I suggest that the first thing to be done is to separate pedestrians from vehicles. The Buchanan Report suggested a way to do this, but the cost would be so great that no Government would dare to go in for such a scheme. We must, therefore, find another way. Strangely enough, there is another way. Certain cities already erect wire netting barriers at the edge of pavements to prevent pedestrians from getting in the way of traffic.
Outside the House of Commons we have an ideal subway for pedestrians. Despite this, we also have a fleet of policemen standing on the pedestrian crossing regularly stopping all the traffic to allow people to walk across the road. The answer is to prevent people from walking across this road and a barrier should be erected to prevent them from doing so. This could be done on a large scale in many cities and the cost to local authorities would not be great. I hope that my right hon. Friend will encourage local authorities to go in for this type of pavement barrier on a large scale.
The next answer is to separate the two different flows of traffic—that is, north bound from south bound and west bound from east bound. We already do this to a certain extent on motorways and dual carriageways. Considering the number of vehicles which use these major roads, the accident rate is quite small, comparing 1355 dual carriageways with single carriageways and motorways with dual carriageways.
I have sought to show that these problems are capable of being solved if we are prepared to go to the trouble of solving them. The solution is available if we are prepared to use it. I do not say that one can eliminate every accident but one can reduce them very substantially, and it is something that merits definite attention.
I will make one further point while on the subject of motorways. When the previous Government decided to start the motorway programme they were given advice by the Institute of Surveyors and Engineers that they ought to illuminate motorways all the way along. It was going to increase the capital cost by exactly 1 per cent.; that was the cost of illuminating our motorways. How often do we read of accidents on motorways where 20 vehicles in succession run into each other? It is quite understandable. The braking power of the average car travelling at 50 m.p.h. is such that a driver can only just see far enough by his headlights to pull up in time. If he goes at more than 50 m.p.h. it is utterly impossible for him to pull up and avoid hitting a stationary object. In other words, when the previous Government cheesepared that 1 per cent. to avoid the illumination of our motorways, they committed one of the worst acts of folly that they could have done.
Let me come now to actual routes. One of the complaints that we have in the east of Scotland is that there is one city on the west coast and there are three cities on the east coast. Because of two natural barriers, namely, the River Forth and the River Tay, the bulk of the traffic went up by the west coast road, and still does. Then they built a road bridge over the Forth, and they are now building one over the Tay which will soon be finished. We find that there is no longer any natural barrier to traffic flowing the shortest way up to the east coast. Not only would that be cheaper for traffic going up to the cities on the east coast but it would also relieve the terrific congestion on the stretch round Carlisle and Penrith, because in the meantime the traffic goes up the east coast as far as Scotch Corner, cuts across to join the already congested west coast traffic, goes 1356 up north to Cumbernauld and then comes back to the east coast.
What stops that? It is the fact that we have not a decent road between Scotch Corner and Edinburgh. That is the whole cause of the trouble. Where should we plan the motorway? Obviously the right place is that which provides the shortest route. People talk about spending money on the A1 by Berwick, but I suggest that would be a sheer waste of money, because there is a much shorter route by the A68 which only requires improving in two short stretches and is a road which would be used extensively. When we go further up, we find that in the County of Fife there is no decent connecting road between the two road bridges, and, what is worse, no plans for one. That is not the fault of this Government, because they did not make the plans. The motorway programme and all the road programmes were laid down by the last Government and, in spite of having it drawn to their attention time and time again, they refused to make provision for a decent road to connect up the two road bridges. It has to come at some time. The point is that if they do not do it now they are liable to squander money by putting the road in the wrong place, because, in addition to spending money to increase our roads, they have also to put them in places where they will be used.
In order to provide a decent network of roads, what we require is not the haphazard way in which we have wasted money in the past. We have a number of firms which are capable of building good roads, and from time to time we give contracts to them. Between contracts we leave them with nothing, so that their equipment and staff are being under-utilised. What we ought to do is have a Government Roads Department, give it the best equipment we can and a permanent staff, and let it start building new roads. Then, as we can afford it, and as revenue increases—it is increasing all the time because of the extra vehicles on our roads—we can increase the staff and equipment of the Department and step up the road programme, at the same time getting full value for our money.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
As an emigré east coast Scot, 1357 I very much sympathise with what the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) had to say about a link across the Kingdom of Fife. I am sorry that he called it a county. It would be very appropriate if there were a direct route from the Forth Bridge to the Tay Bridge, and I wish him great success in trying to persuade his right hon. Friend to build a road across the Kingdom of Fife between the two bridges.
May I come to a slightly more central theme than the Kingdom of Fife? I refer to the anxiety of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side about the starting date of the cuts in the road programme announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last Tuesday, though not specifically as road programme cuts. Will it be postponed during the next six months only, or is there going to be a continuous slowing down of the whole programme every six months, or possibly a slight telescoping of the process? If that is to happen and we have a continuous cutting back by six months, it will mean an average reduction at the present time of £75 million on each year's programme.
We have heard from the Minister about the £75 million that is in the pipeline at present or in the "about to be let" pipeline. Let us say that the whole pipeline of motorways and trunk roads is £208 million projected at the present time, that the Ministry grant for classified roads is £71 million, and that Ministry loans for classified roads is £5.7 million. According to my mathematics, that is about £285 million. Of that, £75 million is in the category of "about to be let", for which tenders have been or are about to be submitted but for which no contracts have been signed. Of that, £50 million is for motorways and trunk roads, and £25 million is for the other categories which I have described.
As I understand it from the Minister, in the projected six months, half of that is going to be cut. In the other half, as one of the priorities, there is the access to the docks. We often hear from the Government about the priorities that they propose to bring forward. Can the Minister say that there will be any acceleration? I was very interested to hear him talking about the Beckton project, because I travelled down the M.1 1358 recently along the lorry route, though not quite as far as Beckton gasworks, and there are difficulties as one passes through Barnet and Friern Barnet through to the East End of London. In view of that, I hope that there is something which can be done to accelerate the programme.
Before I get on to details and suggestions, some of which may not be too costly, may I say that it rams home again that, whenever there is a balance of payments problem, the curtailing of capital projects does not assist us. In my opinion, it is not relevant to it, because it is a revenue problem. What we want to do is deal with the revenue aspect and cream off the spending capacity, so preventing inflation. The Minister, of his own volition, said that in the first six months tranche, if I may be forgiven the use of that word, there will be only a £2 million saving, and that will not make any difference in the immediate strains that we see ahead of us in the next few months on the balance of payments problem.
I know that the Minister is a "bonnie fechter", as they say in Scotland, so I hope that he will have another shot at his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer so that the situation may be changed in accordance with the original pledges the Minister gave to the House on 3rd and 10th March. He did not answer me when I asked then whether he would resign his position, but made some categorical statements—a rather over-used expression in this Government—that the programme would not only not be cut in financial terms but in real terms as well.
As I understand it, the programme is now to be cut by £37½ million during the next six months, but, of the immediate saving, only £2 million is relevant to the balance of payments problem. I therefore ask him to have another go at the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and let us all hope that when the House meets again he will be able to tell us that he has succeeded in making reason prevail, because I think that this is one part of the capital projects programme that should have priority over others.
I have had the privilege of studying access to the London docks and to the Europort in Rotterdam. We also have our own problems at the port of Bristol, where we have a link down to the end of 1359 the Ross Spur. I do not blame the present Minister here, but I hope that if he can give a priority to the docks he will provide a quick link-up of the A.38 to Bristol, down to Portbury, and then to what is horribly called the "Filton bypass substitute"—the most terrible abortion of a name that I know of in the whole motorway scheme. I hope that he will be able to say that this will have priority, in view of the fact that the Ports Council has this week stated that, having help up the Portbury project, it will allow Bristol to spend its own £27 million to modernise and improve Port-bury, which is one of the finest docks in the country.
Our whole docks system was built in the railway age, practically before the invention of the internal combustion engine. I have been round many of our docks—in my business capacity I have had to survey the whole of the London docks in connection with a gas pipe-line project round them—and, without trying to be anti-railway minded, I suggest that it would not be very expensive to use a certain amount of the railway siding capacity to provide road marshalling sheds within the docks.
One of the things that impressed me was the number of dock workers' cars there were about. We are delighted to know that in the last 13 "wasted" years more and more dock workers can use their own cars to go to work, but it would be good if some of the surplus rail track capacity could be used to provide parking space for the dockers' cars. These would not be particularly expensive projects. They would, indeed, represent a very considerable saving of existing road space, and today, when the export drive is practically sacrosanct—but not very successful—we should remember that 80 per cent. of export goods and 83 per cent. of all goods go by road. I realise that only a week has passed since the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his statement, but can the Minister of Transport tell us what priorities he will give to our exports by pressing on with the road link and give us some encouragement in this respect?
These are revealing figures, but one gains the impression that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not only in this context but in many other contexts, is working on a capital-project basis which, on 1360 the admission of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, will save only about £2 million in a short time, and as it is the short time with which we are mainly worried—this is relevant to the whole problem.
This aspect of public expenditure is being cut by, say, £37 million this year, and by, say, £80 million next year—because that was a bigger programme, and as each part of the programme will continue to be cut I shall stick to this figure until the Minister gives us a firm one. What will be the programme in 1966 and 1967? The House wants to know the answer, and the construction industry wants to know the answer.
These matters are very relevant, particularly when one remembers that in the last two Budgets the motorist has had to pay an increased hydrocarbon oil duty estimated for 1964–65 at £32 million and in the full year at £93 million, and an increased Excise Duty of £48½ million estimated for 1965–66, and £54½ million for the full year. That is an increase of revenue of about £150 million from the motor user—and every one of us is a motor user now, because 80 per cent. of our goods travel by road by the free choice of industry, whether it is nationalised or free enterprise industry. In return for this considerable increase in revenue we have a cut in capital expenditure.
At the same time, public authority lending has already gone beyond half of its annual tranche. In this connection, I shall keep away from the railways, but we know that the gas industry has had its borrowing powers increased, without further reference to the House being required, from £650 million to £900 million over the next five years, and to £1,200 million by 1970, if the Minister thinks fit, by affirmative Order. We have this tremendous extension of expenditure in the nationalised industries, but where there is private choice we have a reduction in capital investment.
What saving will there be in these six months? We are told that it will be £2 million, but the lack of continuity—
§ Mr. Tom Fraser
I said that if I did not start any of these projects at all I would save only about £2 million in the current financial year; but if we had about 50 per cent. of them going ahead the saving 1361 would be only about £1 million. But the hon. Member will appreciate that it is not just a matter of saving finance in the present financial year but of saving resources. If we had put all this additional load on to the civil and construction engineering industries we would have needed to employ a good many more people than there are about. They are not available for this work. As I made clear, we require a quite considerable redeployment of labour in favour of the industries that manufacture for the export trade.
§ Mr. Webster
I am very interested in the Minister's statement, and should like to study it at greater length. He has said, in effect, that the relevant saving is only half of what I assumed him to say it was at the beginning. He has also said that there will be a releasing of capital equipment—and I should like to know what it was to have been used for—and also a releasing of personnel. These starts are contracts that have not yet been signed but, as I see it, if the Minister were to sign one today, the first payment would not be for six weeks and the first actual work would commence in about a fortnight's time, and would not be very labour intensive.
The pinch will come later in the year. This will not necessarily bring the Minister and the Chancellor a spring double, but the winter double of rising prices and increasing unemployment. These things are the consequences not of this Minister's act but of the Chancellor's act. I foresee this as this summer turns to winter, and as the winter itself progresses. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in making this point; it is very helpful and interesting to me.
I wonder how much increased efficiency there will be in any industry when a road suddenly stops short in the middle of a field or in an industry affected by a six month deferment. One of the major problems of the construction industry is non-continuity of work—and that is something of which I was critical in the days of the Conservative Government as well.
I do not blame the Minister for the decision announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I am sure that he fought 1362 against it—but it has aggravated the problem. No doubt it was a Cabinet decision. I noticed that, on the day after the Chancellor's statement, two Questions stood on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs), who I know was unwell but who was in the House that day. For some odd reason those Questions were not asked. The questions asked the Minister, in effect, whether he would refuse to authorise the building of roads when there was a rail link along a parallel or similar line.
I wonder whether I do not see the sinister hand of the N.U.R. in that. I recall also the statement made on 8th July, 1964, by the present Minister of Labour. He said:Any sensible transport man who will relieve himself of doctrine must in these circumstances ask this question. If we are to pour £100 million, to start with, into the creation of fast-moving liner trains,"—we have not yet got agreement from the unions on them—the modernisation of track and the dieselisation of the engines, is it really necessary that at the same time road haulage interests should require vast capital expenditure to be laid out for great new motorways to carry freight traffic which I thought we had assumed was best handled, in the national interest, by the railways."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July. 1964; Vol. 698, c. 430]I have looked carefully at the election address of the Minister of Transport and I have seen no reference to increased expenditure on the roads. I also looked carefully at the election address of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and I saw no reference there to great expenditure for a general expansion of our transport system. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) was fairly vigorous in his statement that we should have an increase in our roads programme but he is not the Minister of Transport. All these things are, to me, indicative factors and I regret and deplore the holding back of this one part of our public expenditure which would have so obviously improved our competitiveness and our chance at exporting in the world.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), and one thing that struck me forcibly was 1363 the question of how, not being a constituent either of the Ministry of Transport or of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, he was able to get their election addresses.
§ Mr. Baxter
I wonder whether it will be worth reading. However, the hon. Gentleman must have thought that the election addresses of the Minister and of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary were worth reading and must have gone to a great deal of trouble to get them. That apart, he, like most hon. Members, is most anxious in his feelings about the need to improve our roads. It has been rightly said that our roads are the lifelines of industry. There can be no dubiety about that.
Everyone agrees that it is desirable that we should produce a bigger and better road programme, for many reasons. But the fact is that we are faced with great financial difficulties and, we must connect these up with the road programme and in view of my right hon. Friend's statement about the savings he intends to make of its curtailment, we must have regard to the position that presents itself to the Minister.
If he persists with an augmented road programme, and puts out more contracts and if, perchance, it is within the ability of the civil engineering industry or even within the capacity of the public works contractors to go on with more work, what would he be doing? If he could get the labour he would be able to get on with more roads—but he would take labour away from other industries and that is what we want to obviate since we wish to put labour into the exporting industries and not use it so much for our internal economy.
Importation of materials is necessary for the road programme and these must be paid for if we are to be looked upon as reasonable and decent customers. The last Government spent more than they earned. We propose to earn more than we spend. That is the object of our exercise. I think that the speakers on the Opposition Front Bench would agree that it is a reasonable method in carrying out the affairs of the nation not to spend more than we earn.
1364 We have also to import many pieces of machinery and equipment for our mechanical engineering industry to be used on our road schemes. This again goes against our balance of payments. Such things as bulldozers and other road-making equipment constitute a fair proportion of our trading deficit with America.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
But the hon. Gentleman will also agree that once machines have been imported, it is in the interests of everyone that they should be used to the maximum.
§ Mr. Baxter
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He has said it better than I could. I was coming to that point. I shall do my best later in my speech to elaborate on the question of the use of machines in this country which are lying idle from time to time because there is no work for them to do.
Now my right hon. Friend has a glorious opportunity to balance out our programme for the future, to plan ahead. He has to have regard to many factors in doing so and roads are only one. This is because civil engineers are used in more types of contracting than for roads—for instance, in sewage purification schemes. We all agree that our rivers should be as pure as possible and have subscribed to the river purification Measures passed through this House. Such schemes necessitate the use of a number of civil engineers, however. We also talk about the need for bridges—and civil engineers are required for them. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) rightly drew attention to the great need for improving port facilities. But this requires not only contractors but civil engineers.
To illustrate my point, less than two years ago I had occasion to ask some large civil engineering contractors to give me a quotation for certain roads, sewers, etc., in a new town where we were building 700 houses. I found that this contract would be about £350,000, but I had great difficulty getting civil engineering contractors to quote for the work. The reason is that one cannot do more than one is able. This factor is reflected in the nation's internal economy, for it means that tenders to local authorities 1365 are often boosted above normal costs because there is plenty of work available, and it also means that the scarcity of labour results in even the contractor being held to ransom and forced to entice labour from other contract work nearby.
It behoves my right hon. Friend to take this opportunity to do what the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West seems to frown upon—to plan for the future in such matters as the work of civil engineers and public works contractor. If he does that, he will do a good job for the nation. While we might express impatience at the moment, in the long run we would get as much if not more from public works contracting, such as the building of roads, bridges and port improvements, than we would by offering more work than could be done.
The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) stressed the need for public works contractors or local authorities to use the machinery which had already been bought. It is a crime against the nation that these large and important pieces of machinery should be left lying idle if the contractor cannot use them. The question is how to make the best use of them. They can be used only if the contractor has work to do. It is as simple as that.
However, we have now reached a stage when it is desirable to have a new method of scheduling contracts so that the machinery of any contractor can be used to the full on a properly worked out schedule of rates for all kinds of public works contracting. If we did that, we could rope in every contractor who had machinery available so that he could work in the best interests of himself and his company, but also of the nation as a whole. If we directed some of the undoubted ability of Members on both sides of the House to producing new methods of contracting and scheduling, we would be moving in the right direction.
There is another matter which requires some consideration and which my right hon. Friend would be well advised to look into as quickly as possible. While there is a pause in certain contracts, there should be no pause in the negotiations for the purchase of land necessary for future work. One of the stumbling 1366 blocks in planning a good road programme is the undoubtedly difficulty of getting the land early. I do not argue about whether the valuers, who are generally reasonable and decent people, give too small—or to high—a value to land; that is a matter for another debate. However, by Act of Parliament or some other means greater power and more flexibility should be given to local authorities and Government Departments so that they can purchase the land necessary for the well-being of the community.
Because it is so necessary, my right hon. Friend ought to try to get extraordinary powers, if need be, for the purchase of land so that the great schemes can be planned with more continuity than has been the case hitherto. The crux of my argument is that there will never be that continuity which the interests of the nation require unless there is a better and more up-to-date contractual system than has ever been devised in this country.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
The debate becomes more and more curious. Following on the statement of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport has made it clear that this £75 million six-months' stop is necessary because the economy is becoming overheated. What we could not get from him was whether it had any bearing on our export position. Then I listened to the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) with great care. He made it appear that we did not have the wherewithal, land, machinery and labour to cope with this kind of road programme and that the stop would have occurred irrespective of the export-import position. That is one alibi and no doubt we shall hear others before the debate concludes.
I should like to return to the interesting remark of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) about the timing and the effect of this £75 million six-months' stop. The Minister made it clear that the effect of any cuts he made this financial year would be infinitesimal. He went on to elaborate that and said that they would be about £2 million. For these 1367 purposes of timing, therefore, we can ignore them.
That takes us to 6th April, 1966, when, presumably, the six-months' stop will begin to have effect. In other words, some contracts will not be signed. I would be willing to bet a lot of money that those contracts which will be signed and for which starting dates will have been fixed will be the exceptions mentioned by the Chancellor and that they will be put into effect for work in the first six months of the fiscal year 1966–67. Therefore, taking it all together, it seems a fairly safe estimate that this £75 million stop will not have any effect until the fall of next year, so that when my right hon. Friend said that these cuts would not be effective until about two years from now he was not far from the detailed truth. My guess is that, allowing for the usual exigencies and finishing off what is in the pipeline, perhaps £300 million worth of work, the cuts will not have any effect at all until January, 1967, if then.
I am fully aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that these cuts were to deal with the export-import deficit of 1966. The Government are showing a dismal lack of faith in the country's future prosperity if they are contemplating that we shall still be in this position at the end of next year. It may be that they are being safe and sure economists, but the people will not like contemplating this dismal prospect. If in August, 1965, the Government are already making these cuts, heaven knows what we shall be having this time next year if the position has not improved—and under the present Government it will not have improved.
What is the cut of £75 million about? It has a sort of psychological impact on the country as a whole. Financially, it will have no measurable effect on our export position. That brings me to my next point. What we cannot afford to stop, cut or delay at the moment is anything to do with our export position. In this both sides of the House are of the same opinion, and it is the view of every sane person in this Kingdom. What are the exceptions to this £75 million stop? One of the exceptions, in which all of us are particularly interested, is anything to do with access to docks. Any- 1368 thing in this connection will be allowed to go on. Where does access to docks start? Is it the little streets around the docks of the Port of London? Is it those in the corresponding places in Birmingham, Liverpool and Southampton?
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport that the view of industry is that access to docks starts when the goods leave the factory. In other words, it is not enough to have a fast motorway for three-quarters of the way and then to have goods held up at the other end. Similarly it is not enough for access to be very quick and facile at the other end if the goods take all the time in the world to get there. It is a continuous movement, from the factory gates to the dock and then on to the ship which is needed. This is what everything should be aimed at.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, who I assume is to reply to this debate, will ask his right hon. Friend to direct his attention, when authorising starts under this aspect of access to docks, to looking backwards to the origin of manufacture, to the factories. If I may add, in parenthesis, this is something to which I do not think we in this country have paid enough attention in the past. We have had very fine origins and destination surveys, but it seems that if one wants to deal with this export position, which has plagued all Governments to my personal knowledge for years, then we ought to have an origin and destination survey which starts right back from the source of manufacture, following the goods through to their points of outlet. Then we shall begin to get somewhere so far as our delivery dates, access and costs are concerned.
One firm alone has calculated that with the motorways we have they can save something like 5 per cent. of their transport costs. That is one firm out of several hundred big organisations. Heaven knows how much we could save in relation to our competitive export figures if only we could have the proper motorways. We need this thousand miles of motorway by 1970, or before, to give quick access to our manufacturing areas, to the heavy engineering industries, to get our motor cars from the point of manufacture to the docks and from there speedily out of the country. This would create a metamorphosis in the prosperity 1369 of our country. It would mean that our goods would be more competitive, because I am certain that our people can produce them as cheaply as any other country. What bogs us down is that we are still in the horse and carriage age as far as roads in this country are concerned.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) has said, 83 per cent. of the material which passes through the docks is taken there by road. If anything is to be a priority surely it ought to be that which comes from the factory, to the docks and then to the export customer. This seems to be axiomatic and I am surprised that we have taken so long to get round to it. In some respects we have probably got the best roads in the world. The trouble is that our roads do not always go from the right place to the right place. They do not necessarily go from the factory to the docks, and they do not always go very quickly to the centres of consumption. It has been calculated that by not having such roads something like £700 million a year is lost.
I hope, all politics apart, that this £75 million stoppage on roads will not damage the export position. I do not think it will affect us for the next few months, for the next 12 months. I hope that it will not affect us at all. Let us have our roads leading straight from the place of manufacture to the place where they can have a speedy egress from this country and then we shall cut our costs and improve our exports.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
I think that everyone on both sides of the House welcomes an opportunity to debate something which we all regard as a vital subject. I am particularly gratified that time has been found at the end of this Session to discuss the whole problem of roads, and road construction, and the effect upon the economy of any cuts in the present programme. I am glad of this because my party has, over the last few months, tabled some five or six early day Motions, calling for a debate on this subject. We have tabled a number of Questions to the Minister in which we have expressed, not only our concern, but I believe, the concern of a majority of people over a matter which, as I have said, is vital to the health of 1370 the economy and to the growth of the nation's prosperity.
In the present year there are something like 12½ million vehicles on Britain's roads. It is computed that by 1975 this will have increased to 20 million. The roads carrying these vehicles are totally inadequate. It is not remarkable in my view, that throughout the whole of this debate there has been no mention, from the Government benches, of 13 wasted years by the previous Administrations in respect of road construction. If they had referred to 13 wasted years they would, in honesty, have had to refer to 20 wasted years, because the years before the Conservative Party took office were equally wasted so far as road improvements were concerned.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson
I must object to the use of the words "equally wasted." When the Conservative Government came into office £6 million a year was being spent on roads. Now the expenditure is over £180 million. There is no doubt at all that we spent much more on roads than the previous Administration.
§ Mr. Bessell
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) has anticipated me. I accept what he says, but I think that he would be the first to accept that in the conditions of the post-war years, between 1945 and 1951, it was extremely difficult for the then Government to find any money for capital expenditure of this kind. Whilst I do not consider that they did anything like enough, and whilst I am prepared to admit that there was an improvement in subsequent years, I do not believe that this subject has been tackled seriously by any political party, including my own, at any time in the last 50 years.
It is true to say that the last time the problems of road construction were seriously tackled in this country was in the days of the Caesars, and that the Romans had a far better idea of the economic effect of good roads than any Governments of this country has had at any time since. I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport is in very real difficulties. However much he might wish to expand his present programme, he is faced with the problem that this country is in greater financial difficulty than it has been for many years.
1371 This is a problem which will not be overcome quickly. It is not a problem which can be cast aside. It is useless for us to demand further expenditure, or increased expenditure, in a situation which is, in itself, impossible to overcome until we have put right the problems of the balance of payments, and our sterling and dollar reserves. I recognise this, but I also think it is true that the only way in which we can hope to overcome this problem is by, as we all agree, increasing the amount of our exports.
In the last nine months, however much heat may have been generated by hon. Members on both sides of the House on other matters, there has been one subject on which hon. and right hon. Members have been in complete agreement, namely, that the priority confronting the nation today is to find the means of increasing our exports, earning more money and spending less. If this is true, one of the keys to our export drive is to ensure that we produce goods at prices which are competitive with those of goods produced by other nations. If we cannot sell in a competitive world goods of at least equal quality, preferably at lower prices, our chances of long terms success are remote.
One of the things keeping the cost of British goods high and preventing us from competing favourably with our overseas competitors is the fact that our prices are all too often higher than they should be because of the cost of transporting the completed goods from the place of manufacture to the place from which they are exported. It was said a few moments ago, rightly, that the place of exit for the export of British goods is the factory gate. I welcome the fact that the Government have recognised the priority which must be attached to the improvement of our docks. But the improvement of our docks by itself will achieve nothing unless the access to the docks is at least of an equal standard. It is this which is causing so much concern in relation to the statement made last week by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
We have heard that 80 per cent. of our export goods are transported by road from the place of manufacture to the place of exit. I think that that point was made by the hon. Member for Weston- 1372 super-Mare. He also made the point that 83 per cent. of the goods which we consume at home are transported by road. As long as our roads are antiquated, and as long as the road system is totally inadequate, not only will the cost of our export goods be at an unrealistic level, but the cost of living at home will be kept at an unnecessarily high level. The goods which we consume are also governed in price, to a large extent, by the cost of transporting them.
It has been computed that throughout industry no less than 8 per cent. of the total final cost of manufactured goods is absorbed in transport costs. This is a matter which must not only be taken seriously but overcome. Therefore, it is essential that we should regard this as a matter demanding the prior attention of the Government. Certainly it is impossible to accept that we can have a cut in the proposed expenditure this year, next year, or the year after, or indeed at any other time, in order to resolve the financial difficulties of the country.
If we cut down now on the cost of our road programme in order to save money and to assist in maintaining our precarious financial position, instead of assisting our export drive, we shall hinder it and, consequently, we shall not achieve the objective on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said he has set his sights. If we believe that exports are the key, it follows that we must spend money on providing the means of conveying those exports to the place of exit. There can be no begging this question or compromise on it. It must be faced and it must have priority.
It has been said this afternoon that by putting a six months stop on certain parts of the road programme the saving could be £45 million, £75 million, £85 million, or £100 million. All these figures have been quoted. The hon. Member for Truro asked the Minister to give way at a point when I must confess, like the hon. Gentleman, I was completely confused. I am still confused. I still do not know whether there will be a saving of £45 million or a temporary saving of £100 million. However, whatever the figure, I am certain that the saving will be completely false, because the delay involved will result in a much greater loss to the economy than if the money is spent.
1373 The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) made a valid point, namely, that by holding up the programme now we will create a situation in which the people who are employed on road construction will simply be asked to stand off for a time so that a temporary savings may be made and will then have to resume work at a later date and, presumably, have to do a great deal more in a very much shorter time if we are to have 1,000 miles of motorway within the next ten years or by the early 1970s. I believe, with the right hon. Gentleman, that this cannot be done. I do not think that it is possible to say to the construction industry, "You can pause for six months and then start again." No business can be run on these lines. The inevitable effect will be not a delay of six months but a very much longer delay because people in that industry must take jobs in other industries if they are to maintain their employment or the Government have to go on spending in accordance with their original programme.
Whether contracts are let or not, certain definite programming must have taken place within these industries. They must have certain plans. They must have an idea of the kind of programmes which they will be required to carry out. Are they to be asked to postpone them for six months and then start again? I do not think that this is either practical or sensible in the present circumstances. If the country cannot afford the money necessary to maintain and even increase our present programme of road construction, whether it be motorways or classified roads, it is far less able to afford any delays or stoppages in the present programme. It is out of the question for us to contemplate this happening and it is something which must be reconsidered by the Government.
In May, 1963, as is well known, 93 miles of motorway were completed in this country. In 1964, 16½ miles were completed. It is expected that this year about 75½ miles will be constructed. But only a few minutes ago the Minister assured the House that he had every hope that 1,000 miles of motorway would be completed by the early 1970s. This means, in effect, that the present programme must be doubled over the next five or six years and that we have to 1374 build at the rate of about 200 miles per year. If there is a stoppage or any delay in the present programme, it is impossible to contemplate the programme being completed within the time which the Minister has said again today he anticipates will prove to be realistic.
I have always maintained that in the present economic situation the Government should not turn their backs on the possibility, however distasteful it may be, of building at least some motorways in the same way as they are already building bridges—by means of public loans. If this were done, if a small toll were charged and if an undertaking were given that the roads would be free of all charges the moment the capital cost and the interest had been amortised, this would be acceptable to the vast majority of people if it meant increasing the present motorway programme and that we had a network of roads which would enable people to move between various areas quickly and efficiently. We know that this is distasteful. I do not like the idea any more than, I imagine, the majority of people would like it. The fact remains, however, that in the present financial position we cannot afford not to have the roads, and yet the Government are in the position that they cannot afford to build as many motorways as they would wish.
We have, therefore, to come back to this alternative. If it were tried, we have at least the certainty that nobody would be compelled to pay a toll to use a motorway. People could always use the alternative route. I am, however, sure that the experience of countries which have built roads by this means, which have been prepared to float public loans and to charge a small toll for the use of motorways, would be repeated here and that the cost would quickly be amortised. The vast majority of road users would be happy to pay the toll because of the speed with which they could get from one place to another, the saving in time and fuel and the saving of wear and tear on vehicles.
As soon as the country's financial position has been stabilised, the motorist has a right to expect that a greater share of his contribution to the Exchequer should be spent upon road construction. In 1964, the motorist contributed almost £780 million to the Exchequer. In return, there was an expenditure on the 1375 roads of £316 million, of which only £181 million was direct Government spending on major road improvements and new roads. This is not sufficient, and the motorist has legitimate cause for complaint.
There is one other point which should be mentioned. The First Secretary has put before the House and before the country plans for regional development which have been welcomed in many quarters. We may have doubts about the efficacy of the methods by which the regional development should be carried out, but at least we are grateful that the Government have recognised the urgent necessity of ensuring that the underdeveloped regions of the country shall be given the opportunity to share some of the prosperity which is being enjoyed in the over-populated areas of the South-East, the Midlands and the North.
Those plans for regional development, however, are no more than pipe dreams until we have road communications between the main centres of population and the areas which have been neglected for so many years. It is no use talking about taking light industry into the County of Cornwall, developing the resources of the Highlands of Scotland or doing something about the problems of unemployment in Mid-Wales unless we have the road communications to those areas that will attract the industrialist, the tourist and the people who could bring money to those areas and improve the economy, provide employment and give a decent standard of living to the people who have suffered too long and who have been neglected for too many years.
I should like next to say a word about road safety. It was well said by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) from the Government benches that one of the keys to the problem of road accidents is the construction of better roads. There is no doubt that this has been proved by the fact that wherever we have dual carriageways or motorways, the accident rate falls. This, however, is something which should be considered, not only by the Minister of Transport, but also by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when contemplating a delay in expenditure on the road-building programme.
1376 In 1963, 6,922 people were killed on our roads and, as another hon. Member has said, the figure in 1964 became 7,820. What the figure will be for this year we do not know, but the indications are that it will be higher. The number of people injured each year on our roads has reacher a fantastic height. Each year, over one-third of a million people are either killed or injured on the roads. We cannot afford to say that we can reduce or delay expenditure upon roads when this means not only harming the economy in the long term, but failing to provide the kind of conditions that would help to reduce this appalling and tragic accident rate.
One point to which, I hope, the Minister will pay special attention is the question of expenditure upon roads to replace railway lines which are closed under the Beeching Plan. In connection with a number of closures, assurances were given that the railway lines would not be closed unless there was an improvement in the alternative road communications. I do not lay the blame for this at the door of the present Minister of Transport, but I have an example in my constituency of the closure, under an Order made by the Minister's predecessor, of a line connecting the seaside town of Fowey with the main line. A matter of £68,000 is desperately needed to effect essential road improvements on the only connecting road, which is a Ministry of Transport Class B road. In parts, the maximum width of 12 ft. and the maximum visibility 20 yds. It is incredible that an authorisation should have been made to close a passenger service, and thereby put 80,000 more people on to that stretch of road, before the road improvement had been carried out.
I beg the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies to the debate, to assure the House that he will not authorise any further closures of passenger services unless he is satisfied beyond all doubt that money is available to improve the connecting roads, so that the risk of congestion, delay and, above all, serious accident is eliminated as far as it is within his power to eliminate it. I hope that this is a matter on which we can tonight expect a reasonable assurance.
To summarise quickly, I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to answer these specific points—
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
I am listening with great interest to what my hon. Friend is saying about railway closures. Is he aware that in one case where a railway line is to be closed the Minister has taken the view that a bus service can be provided as a suitable alternative, but that it is only because local people have got out their foot rule and measured the size of the bus that it has been learnt that the village in question cannot, after all, be served by this alternative service because the bus cannot get under the existing bridges? Therefore, the so-called alternative services in many cases are not services at all.
§ Mr. Bessell
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend. I do not know of the case which he has mentioned, but it is an illustration, in my view, of the fact that the Minster is all too often ill-informed about the roads upon which these alternative bus services are expected to travel, and I do not believe for one moment that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who shakes his head, would have authorised the closure of, for example, the Fowey-Lostwithiel passenger service if he had travelled the road on which the buses are expected to travel, a road, which, as I have said, at one point is 12 ft. wide with 20 yards visibility—at certain corners—on which double-decker buses are travelling. It is in fact a two-way road. In those circumstances I do not believe the Minister should authorise a closure. I hope that far greater care will be taken in future to see that a proper survey is made of roads before the alternative bus services are authorised to take the place of rail services.
So, in conclusion, I would ask him to direct his attention to a few specific points which I believe are of paramount interest. First, I would ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to ask his right hon. Friend the Minister to make representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reconsider any question of a stop on the road construction programme. It is a totally inadequate programme as it stands, and it cannot possibly be allowed to be delayed for six months without the gravest effect upon our economy in the long-term. Secondly, I would ask him if he would at least undertake to examine in the light of the experience of many other countries, including Italy and the United States and certain parts of the 1378 Commonwealth, the question of motorways built by means of public loans to increase the present building programme without any direct expense to the Exchequer. I would ask him also to look again at the question of rail closures and to assure the House that no further passenger service closures will be authorised unless he is satisfied that the money is available to carry out any necessary and essential improvements to the roads which will be required to carry the bus services which will replace the rail services.
These are, I believe, minimum requirements, which can be reasonably put to the Minister in the present state of the nation's economy. If we had the money to spend, if we had the labour force available, if we were able to undertake the kind of road construction programme which is necessary in the long-term not only for the safety of the motorists or the safety of the pedestrians but for the improvement of the national economy nobody would be more thankful than I to have the opportunity to put many more suggestions to the Minister tonight.
I know the problem with which he is confronted, and I recognise, too, that his predecessors were also faced with a serious economic problem throughout the 13 years of their administration. Whatever may be said on either side of this House in order to score party political points, the plain truth of the matter is that ours is a country which has faced many difficulties over the last 20 years, most of them not of our making, but arising from circumstances beyond our control. It is true that many things could have been done to improve the economy of the nation. One of the things which could have been done, I am sure, was to have given far greater attention to providing this country with a vast network of roads not only for the sake of our exports, not only for the sake of convenience of the travelling public, but also for the sake of our regions, which have been so long neglected and which could have been developed so that the high standard of living could have been enjoyed by the people generally throughout the length and breadth of the land, instead of merely by those in certain fortunate areas which have had advantages far greater than those enjoyed elsewhere.
1379 But it is not too late. This matter can still be given priority. It may be that now the money cannot come from Exchequer funds, but there are other methods available to the Government, and the Government will be doing less than their duty if they do not consider and examine these proposals, even if, at the end, they conclude that they are not able to accept them in toto.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) has given us a most interesting speech and a very mixed one. He has patted the Government of the past 13 years and also the present one, and at the same time he has kicked them in the pants. He has told us we must not increase the charges upon our exports, and yet he advocates a toll on the roads which the lorries carrying export goods will have to use. How he is to put further charges upon exports and sell them cheaper, he just has not explained.
§ Mr. Bessell
It is most kind of the hon. Gentleman to give way, particularly so early in his speech, but I think he will agree that if we can go from point A to point B in half the time the amount of the small toll will be more than compensated for by the saving of the delay in travelling on the existing roads, and the effect will be the same as that in other countries: it will be found to reduce the costs of export goods, and not to increase them as the hon. Gentleman suggests.
§ Mr. Kenyon
It would be effective if the motorway ran from the place where the goods are made by the manufacturer right through to the docks, but that is not the case in this country. Where the delays take place in the traffic in this country is in the towns; it is when we reach the town. We do not drive motorways through towns.
§ Mr. Kenyon
I am afraid that our Liberals are once again in the realm of fantasy. They are putting these things forward but they are absolutely impracticable.
I travel on the M.1 twice a week. Having come down from Crick to the end of the motorway, I then have to travel through London, and it takes me longer to get through London than it does to do the first part of the journey. What we need are wider roads in the towns, to take us straight through to the docks. It is not possible to impose tolls on roads in towns.
§ Mr. Kenyon
The hon. Gentleman agrees with me now. Hon. Gentlemen on the Liberal bench have come to follow our way of thinking.
The arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Bodmin are in many ways so contradictory and hypothetical as to be utterly impracticable, as is so much of the Liberal programme. I cannot agree with this idea of a toll and charging the motorist more. Let us consider what he has to pay now. First, he has to pay Purchase Tax. Secondly, there is a heavy tax on his fuel.
§ Mr. Kenyon
I think that it was the late Sir Winston Churchill who started that, but it has been increased by every Government since. It is now proposed that the motorist should pay a toll for using the roads. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)
It is not in order, and I was about to ask the hon. Members to remain silent.
§ Mr. Kenyon
It merely goes to show that it takes three Liberals to keep down one Labour Member.
If we are to get the full benefit of the motorways, it is necessary first to deal 1381 with the narrow roads in the towns leading to the docks. This is one of the most important road construction programmes to be undertaken today, and it will prove more costly than building motorways, because of the cost of land in the towns. Nevertheless, this problem must be dealt with, and I think that this section of road construction should be dealt with in preference to building motorways. At the moment, once a motorway carrying three lanes of traffic reaches a town, those three lanes have to be channelled into one, and it is here that we lose the benefit of these fast roads. This is where the fault lies, and it must be remedied.
I do not want to deal with transport and with roads in the way that others have done. I want to deal with them from the point of view of the construction of the motorways, and especially the M.1. This motorway has been open for six years—since 1959. I do not know how much the repairs to it have cost, but it must be a terrific sum, and it must be out of all reason. It may be that this was our first long motorway, but there was something wrong with its construction.
The situation on this motorway is pathetic. I have travelled on it since it was opened, and even now—I think that the Minister and his advisers should travel on it; I do not know whether they do or not—traffic is held up for unbelievably long periods. At the moment repairs are being carried out to two lanes of many miles of this motorway, with the result that all traffic has to be diverted into one lane. On a Friday about a month ago I was delayed for an hour and a half. There must have been about 1,000 vehicles waiting to enter one lane, and when there was an accident in that lane the situation became chaotic. When repairs are necessary, some means should be found of diverting traffic so that it does not get held up in this way.
I came over it on Sunday afternoon last. Repairs are being carried out, but the new construction is faulty. It is possible to tell this when one's motor car runs over it. The darned thing is waving now. Some Ministry engineers ought to go there to look at it. Especially are the hard shoulders faulty. New hard shoulders have been laid down, but pools of water collect along their whole length. 1382 That shows that they are faulty. I used to be a member of a highways committee which dealt with main roads. If one of our contractors had left roads in that state we would have sacked him on the spot. It is disgraceful. There are gratings, and between one grating and another there are half a dozen pools of water. That shows, first, that the water is not running away and, secondly, that the surface is uneven.
The main roadway is the same. The joints are bad. Where one section of tarmac poins another there is a bump which can be felt as a motor car goes over them. Nothing spoils a road more than the jolting of heavy lorries over these tarmac joints. The whole situation should be investigated.
It is pathetic to think that the construction was not good in the first place, but it is even more pathetic to realise that the present repairs are not good. Something should be done about it. Unless something is done this road will prove to be more costly in the future than it has been in the past. It has never been finished. Now—six years after the road was declared finished—drains are being put in on the hard shoulders which should have been put in in the first construction. It is an absolute disgrace, and whoever is responsible should be brought to boot. Someone should be there watching to see that the repairs are being done properly. I have wanted to get that off my chest for a long time, because I have to use that road twice a week and I am just fed up.
As everybody is now doing in connection with the economic situation, I have been thinking to myself of the many things which could be done. Whenever a Chancellor puts on the brake every Ministry thinks that the programmes of other Ministries ought to be cut, but the Chancellor must be fair and cut the lot. We know that he has only postponed it, but we have to suffer for the time being. But, at a time like this, it is more than ever essential that we should see that the money which is spent is properly spent—not wasted—on good construction. We are paying for good construction: let us have it. I am certain that, if the Ministry will take action and be on the spot to see what these contractors are doing, they will see that this road is put into a proper state of repair when it is 1383 finished. At present, things on the M.1, on both sections, are absolutely chaotic.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I shall be very brief. I will not follow the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) into his strictures on the M1, except to say that it was the first of the British motorways and it suffers from having been the first. It is certainly a better motorway than many of the German autobahns and most of the other motorways in Europe. There is no doubt about that. It is a double three-line highway, with "cat's eyes" marking each lane. The hard shoulders are of a different colour from the motorway itself. There is a very clear distinctive line between the hard shoulder and the motorway and the verges of the centre reservation are well marked.
Many motorways in Europe are not like that. We might consider the Austrian motorways, the Belgian ones or the Dutch—though some of the new Dutch ones are good—or some of the older German autobahns. It is a great deal better than many others—
§ Mr. Kenyon
The fact that roads in Germany or Austria are bad is no reason that we should have a bad one too.
§ Mr. Wilson
The M.1 is not a bad one, but we will not continue that argument.
I wanted to speak because, when I interjected in the Minister's speech earlier on, he accused me of being confused. I still am confused as to exactly what is the point of this policy, what its objective is. He said that I was confused because I referred to January next year as the sixth month from now. Perhaps I misunderstood, but if this delay means until not the end of January but the end of February or some way into March, it makes the policy even more difficult to follow. We all know that the road programme, to begin with, is a rolling programme, but apparently the finishing date of the five-year period of the programme is intended to be the same, although there is a six months delay.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) asked whether this would be a "concertina" effect and if more work would be crowded into a shorter period. I am not clear whether that is happening. It seems that it must be so, because the 1384 work which is not started during the six months must start some time if we are to finish it within the five years. Apparently, it is not a deferment of the whole programme for six months, but a deferment of the starting date of those within the six months, which will have to be crowded in some other time.
As an hon. Gentleman opposite pointed out, one of the difficulties in road building is not lack of money but a lack of skilled operatives to carry out the construction. That has always been so. Engineers were mentioned, but one of the limiting factors is carpenters. If much concreting is being done—this has been found in the past—there is a shortage of carpenters to do the shuttering for the concreting in the bridges and culverts. This has caused delay on some road construction.
If we are suddenly, at some time, to have a great increase in the number of works to be carried out—the programme which was devised by the last Government in any case contemplated an increase in the actual number of works being carried out—and that is still to be done within the five years, I do not see how it will work.
What is the object? The Minister talked about a saving of £1 million, which seemed to be quite a small saving for the trouble which is to be caused. As the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) pointed out, the need for more roads is caused by the vast increase in the number of private cars. That is continuing. Apparently we are still encouraging the further production of motor cars, the curve of production will continue to rise and there will be a vast increase in the number of private cars on the road. That is the principal reason for the congestion.
At the same time, the main means of carriage of goods has shifted from railways to lorries although the number of lorries has not increased as much as one would think; their size and weight have increased, but there has been a comparatively small increase in numbers in recent years.
I am puzzled by the fact that the railways, I gather, are to have no cuts on the ground that they are industrial, whereas the roads are to suffer cuts because, apparently they are not industrial; yet the roads are carrying more 1385 goods than are the railways and are the principal form of industrial carriage. Why should there be a cut in the road programme when there is no cut in the railway programme, despite the fact that the roads are carrying a bigger quantity of goods traffic than are the railways? I do not advocate a cut in the railway programme; as an ex-railwayman I should be sorry to see that happen. But I do not understand the distinction.
The Minister chided my right hon. Friend by saying that he had given no indication of the Opposition's policy. How could he indicate what we think about the Government's policy when we are not sure what it is or what it is trying to do? We are justified in asking many questions, and certainly I am still somewhat mystified about the answers to those questions.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Sir John Fletcher-Cooke (Southampton, Test)
I make no apology for not following those hon. Members who have dealt with the wider aspects of this problem and, in particular, with the implications of the Chancellor's statement, because the situation to which I wish to refer was unsatisfactory long before the Chancellor's recent statement and, indeed, long before the present Minister took over his responsibilities, although that will not prevent me from pressing him for some indication of what he proposes to do about remedying the situation.
I want to talk, in particular, about the unsatisfactory road improvement position in the County of Hampshire and to base my argument on the fact that, despite the increase of population in Hampshire, the county has for many years received a smaller annual increase than the percentage national increase in the expenditure on roads. Perhaps I could give a few facts in support of this contention. In the first place, Hampshire's claim for a larger allocation of Ministry of Transport funds is based on these facts: first, for several years, despite a rapidly increasing population, the percentage increase in the grant for trunk and county roads in Hampshire has been substantially less than the percentage increase in the national expenditure on roads. For example, between 1958 and 1962 the increase in expendi 1386 ture on roads in England and Wales was 89 per cent. and the increase in Hampshire was only 31 per cent. The result has been that there is a large backlog of improvement schemes which must be carried out, at the same time as a number of new schemes which have been piling up since 1958. In other words, Hampshire has not had its fair share of that part of the national cake which has been devoted to road improvements.
My second argument carries this thought a stage further. While I contend that Hampshire has fallen behind, I suggest that if road improvements are to keep pace with population and traffic growth Hampshire should now be receiving Ministry of Transport funds at a rate not just equal to but substantially in excess of the national percentage increase of expenditure on roads.
There are many reasons which I could adduce in support of this contention. For example, since 1958 the population of Hampshire has increased by nearly 17 per cent. as against an increase in England and Wales of just over 5 per cent. Indeed, many of the proposals which were made in 1958 were based on estimates of population to be achieved by 1971, but in many areas these 1971 figures have already been achieved now, in 1965.
In addition to the growth of population, there has been a considerable increase in the number of people in industrial employment. For example, between 1959 and 1964 the increase in the number of persons in industrial employment in Hampshire was 14 per cent., compared with an average increase in Great Britain of about 4 per cent. The Hampshire County rate is about three and a half times greater than the national average.
In terms of housebuilding, between 1957–58 and 1963–64 the number of houses completed in Hampshire rose by 45 per cent., compared with an average rise for England and Wales of about 6 per cent. In other words, the rate of housebuilding in Hampshire has increased by about seven and a half times the national rate. The combined effect of all these increases and developments means, of course, increased traffic and, therefore, grossly overloaded highways.
1387 On this aspect, I again draw the Minister's attention to the situation in Hampshire. While the proportion of trunk roads over the whole country carrying more than the Ministry of Transport's designed capacity has fallen from 48 per cent. in 1954 to 46 per cent. in 1960—and these are the latest figures I have been able to obtain—64 per cent. of Hampshire's trunk roads were overloaded in 1954 and it is estimated that this figure will have increased to no less than 91 per cent. by 1968 unless something radical is done.
So far I have spoken generally about the county's problems as a whole. I now come to my third point, which is a matter of particular concern to Southampton, because it relates to the proposed developments in the docks there. Reference has been made to the Interim Report of the National Ports Council in which it is proposed that new berths shall be built in Southampton Docks.
I would like to quote one passage in the Report in which it is quite clearly assumed by the National Ports Council that there will be a requirement for improved road communications with the Midlands and that the Government will meet that requirement. Talking generally about the desirability of using Southampton, which has many natural advantages, the Report goes on to point out that at the moment the immediate surroundings provide no "base load" for cargo exports. On page 46 it says:This must limit the attractiveness of Southampton compared with other ports. Moreover, there are also some geographical drawbacks. Southampton is rather distant from the areas which are generally regarded as producing important quantities of export goods.It goes on later to say:On the other hand the effect of the additional mileage is difficult to express in cost terms, and in general greater distances are likely to have a somewhat diminishing importance as roads and railways are improved.It is obvious that, if money is to be spent on the improvement of the docks in Southampton, it must, as I think the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) pointed out, be accompanied by a proper expenditure on the communications which will bring the cargo to the new docks for export. There is the further point that if the traffic which is at the moment generated in the Midlands can be brought 1388 into Southampton—and even the existing docks are fully capable of carrying a great deal more than they do—it will relieve the traffic congestion in and around the London conurbation and the congestion which we are led to believe exists in the London docks.
It is a measure of the possible increase in cargo traffic through Southampton that, leaving aside the question of all petroleum traffic, the freight, both imports and exports, passing through Southampton at the present time amounts to about 1¼ million tons per annum; but the full plans of the British Docks Board contemplate an expansion of dock facilities which will lead ultimately to the handling of nearly four times that amount—some 4½ million tons. It would obviously be imprudent to spend the amounts of money which are contemplated on these docks expansions unless this is accompanied by a considerable improvement in road communications.
There is one other point that I would mention to complete the picture in terms of the problems facing the county of Hampshire, but I do not propose to go into this in any detail because there are others of my hon. Friends on this side who can deal with these particular difficulties. However, I would stress that not only have we now the additional problem of communications raised by the improved docks but we also have the town development schemes at Andover and Basingstoke where, as the House will be aware, the Hampshire County Council is responsible for the provision of major road improvements needed to serve those towns. I will leave it to my hon. Friends who represent those areas to explain some of the difficulties with which the county council is faced at the present time.
May I end by making one or two general observations on the position as I have outlined it and, in particular, ask the Minister if he would consider the one or two points that I shall put to him. In the first place, from the picture as I have outlined it, this highly unsatisfactory situation goes back, as I have said, to a time preceding the responsibility of the present Minister for these matters—there are many people in Hampshire who believe that this imbalance in that area should have been remedied under the previous Administration—but the fact 1389 remains that the present Government are now in a position to provide the remedy. They are the Government, and they have power to do something. I urge the Minister to consider the points I shall put to him.
I am by no means clear, and many hon. Members on both sides—and certainly on this side—are not wholly clear as to the implications of the Chancellor's statement on the development of the road programme. Irrespective of that, I am pressing, not so much for expenditure on particular roads but rather that the county of Hampshire should receive an appropriate share of whatever money can be devoted to major road improvements. Hitherto—and I suggest that the facts and figures I have quoted support me in saying this—that has not been the case.
In particular, I hope that the Minister will now be able to reconsider the position he took up not very long ago on the provision of improved communications with, and access to, the docks. On 4th December last, more than six months before the Report of the National Ports Council, I asked the Minister a Question about access roads to Southampton Docks. His reply, which did not appear to indicate any realisation of the seriousness of the existing position, was not well received in Hampshire.
More recently, in a Ministry letter dated 14th July to the Clerk to the Hampshire County Council—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Sir J. Fletcher-Cooke
I was saying that the Minister's reply to my Question did not show any great awareness of the need for improving communications to the docks; and, more recently, from a letter dated 14th July to the Clerk of the Hampshire County Council, it would seem that the Minister still has no plans for the urgent improvement of these road communications to the docks—soon, one hopes, to be expanded if the recommendations in the National Ports Council's Report are accepted. It is true that in that letter the Ministry referred to the Havant By-pass and the Kingsworthy link on the A.34, but neither of those improvements makes a substantial con- 1390 tribution to this problem of rapid, safe and easy communication with the industrial areas in the Midlands.
The second point on which I would be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would give me information relates to the South Coast trunk road. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to amplify the reply given to a Question I put to the Minister on 23rd February about the South Coast trunk road. The Minister said that he hoped to publish a draft Order for the line of this road later this year. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give an indication of when the Order will be published and, in particular, I hope that the implications of the Chancellor's statement will not result in any delay as regards this road. There is considerable pressure both in Southampton and in surrounding areas that we should get this matter settled, since, as a result of uncertainty, many decisions by both public and private authorities cannot be taken until it is known what line the road is to take and when it is to be started.
The Minister indicated today that he could not answer, even if I pressed him, about particular roads in terms of whether or not the Chancellor's statement means that they will be omitted from the road programme, and I therefore do not wish to press him. I merely want to make the point that Hampshire has had a raw deal hitherto having regard to the facts and figures I have given. I trust that, when the present "stop" becomes "go" again, the Ministry will be able to redress the balance and, indeed, bring the grants more into relationship with the growth of population and of industry. If the Joint Parliamentary Secretary could indicate the present position as regards improved communications to the docks and the South Coast road I would be most grateful.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I would not have taken part had not the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) mentioned the European programme. That reminded me of the Scottish programme over the last 14 years. We have always understood that road work employment is 1391 the sort of employment where men undertake a job on a certain section of road, stay there two or three months and then move to another part of the country.
I went to live in Glasgow in 1951. I had not been there long when they started on the A.74. They have not finished yet. That is 14 years of the Conservative Government's road programme. It is perpetual employment. I am certain that young children aged 14 believe that some of the men never did anything else except work on the A.74. No one has the faintest idea of when it will be finished.
This spectacular 14 years of double-track road gets one to Carlisle half an hour earlier than it used to take. But it now takes three-quarters of an hour longer to get out. Outside Carlisle, Westmorland has built a double track road to Penrith. One gets there 15 minutes earlier than one used to but three-quarters of an hour more to get out.
This is the great Marples road programme—the spectacular road programme with more and more traffic on double-track roads and more and more traffic bundled into bottlenecks in our towns. Then hon. Members quote the European programme to us.
In fact, France has only built two motorways, neither of them from one industrial town to another and neither to a port. One motorway goes from the N7 north of Fréjus to Nice—a holiday resort where people from this country have been spending luxurious holidays on expenses and which, following my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's measures, will do less business than before.
The French have bypassed their industrial towns while we have built spectacular motorways and piled the motorists into the towns. We have done nothing about bypassing the towns for 14 years. I know that bypassing towns is less spectacular than wonderful motorways, but all over France it is possible to travel thousands of miles without going through industrial towns because they can be bypassed and consequently there are no traffic jams.
§ Mr. Bence
Yes, I have been to Preston many times. The bypassing of Preston and the Lancashire Industrial belt has been the one case of bypassing in the last few years. But in the country generally we have paid less attention to bypassing industrial towns and to getting traffic moving round them, through them and out of them than has been the case in Italy, France and Germany.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of what happened on the A.1, the Great North Road, under the previous Government? Is he aware that Stevenage, Alconbury, Stamford, Grantham, Newark, Retford, Doncaster, Wetherby, Boroughbridge, Leeming, Catterick and Darlington were all bypassed by the Tory Government?
§ Mr. Bence
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has mentioned the one exception. We are spending money on cutting a six track road of motorway standard from Scotch Corner to outside Darlington which bypasses the little towns, but apart from that the Doncaster bypass is the only bit of motorway on that road. The Stevenage bypass is not classified as a motorway. Generally speaking, the road is double-tracked to bypass towns.
But there has been no attempt to bypass Birmingham which has been left to the last. A motorway is being cut from north of Wolverhampton and it is now possible to get to Wolverhampton to Penrith much quicker than from Gailey, just north of Wolverhampton, to Bromsgrove. There is still all the traffic from Stourbridge and all the old Midlands industrial towns. If the previous Government had built bypasses first, we would have been quite content with the A.34 and there would not have been jams on the A.34, but between Gailey and Bromsgrove there is now one long traffic jam. This is because of the failure to do first things first as in France, Germany and Belgium.
§ Sir Rolf Dudley Williams (Exeter)
To build a bypass without a motorway does not always work. No doubt the hon. Gentleman has heard of the Exeter bypass.
§ Mr. Bence
The Exeter bypass was built years ago and was quite inefficient when it was built. By the standards of that time it was not satisfactory. It is 1393 a link for the surburban areas of Exeter, for the conurbation, and not a bypass in any sense. It helps the traffic on the A.38 a little, but not much. I have been jammed on that road many times, as most of us have.
There has been much criticism of my right hon. Friend for the cuts in the road programme, but anyone who has served on the Estimates Committee, as I have, knows how costs of road programmes has risen. I remember one case which came before the Estimates Committee a couple of years ago when the original figure was £1¼ million and within less than two years it had reached £4¼ million, not because more roads had been built, but because costs had risen, and one of the principal reasons was the price of land.
We had a case on A.18, between Glasgow and Stirling, where a man who owned a plot of land which stuck out into the road held up negotiations for months. After two years the land was acquired from him. I believe that many taxpayers would be prepared to hang on a little bit to see if the racket in land prices can be stopped and so prevent this continual exploitation by those who own land in what they think may be the direction of a road. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, would agree with this. I do not say he would do it if he were Minister of Transport—but I am sure that his advice to every holder of land would be "if there is any prospect of a road coming this way and your land is standing at £150 an acre, you hang on for six months and it will be £10,000 an acre".
This may be a wind that might blow an awful lot of good, because we hope to have some control of the price of land within the next two years. Perhaps then my right hon. Friend will be able to get on with his roads at less cost than his predecessors, because he will not have to pay the high prices which his predecessors had to pay. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport took over the job at the end of a general election fought in the way the Conservative Party have always fought them—expansionist before the election and contractionist after. They have done this in every field.
Order. The Question is, That the Bill be now read the Third time. I think that the hon. Gentleman departs from it.
§ Mr. Bence
I was just making a point. We are discussing road construction in this country. This is the subject down for debate under the Consolidated Bill, and I thought I was quite in order in making a comparison—
Let me explain. The hon. Gentleman will be in order in discussing the conduct of any person who was the recipient of one of the grants under this appropriation. The gentlemen then being referred to were not. That is the point.
§ Mr. Bence
Of course, it is debatable whether some of those people receive funds as a result of road construction. I would make my own interpretation and suggest that some of the greatest beneficiaries of road construction are the people who own land where the roads might go. I do not say they are the only beneficiaries, but I seriously suggest they are, in great measure, substantial beneficiaries, especially in relation to the land over Beattock. I do not know what they got for it, but it was pretty poor land.
One of the things which I would like to mention in connection with our road programmes are the lay-bys on our trunk roads. I am not being facetious. I think that this is very serious. The situation in many of our lay-bys in the summertime has become almost intolerable. We have to face the fact that the motor industry is here to stay, at least we hope it is. It is a prosperous and successful industry. The method of transport in future, as far as we can see, will be by the internal combustion engine, whether we like it or not. Anyone who tries to frustrate or inhibit the use of the internal combustion engine, in my view, is frustrating progress. This is the mode of transport for as far ahead as we can see and our roads are going to have to take more and more cars. Lay-bys are essential. It is very dangerous, with the speed of modern cars, to pull a car up on a roadside in the flow of traffic. Lay-bys are being provided, but I serious suggest that we must, in providing these lay-bys, provide toilet facilities. It is absolutely essential that we do this. One can have families pulling into lay-bys where there 1395 are perhaps half a dozen lorries and four or five motor cars. Some of them are there for hours, and I hope that my right hon. Friend can start, some time in the near future when we have cleared up a little of the mess left behind by the Administration, to do something about this situation and make it one of his priorities.
The other matter I want to raise, and I have raised it several times in the House over the last six years, is the provision of red triangles on our roads when cars are forced to stop as a result of an accident. I have motored a good deal in Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany over the last ten years, and this red triangle is very successful. People laugh. They believe that some Europeans cannot think of anything good, but the red triangle used by the Italians which people can hire at the frontier and put down behind their car if they have a puncture is a very useful innovation. It can be lit by batteries so that at nighttime and during fog it can be seen. I am absolutely certain that if these triangles were introduced here the motorist would buy them. I think it is possible to buy them already at 26s. or 30s. It is possible to hire them in Italy for 29s. and to get one's money back when one leaves Italy. Some of the pile-ups which occur involving stationary cars would not happen if this triangle were in use. I urge that its introduction be considered. I have tabled Questions about this matter.
Finally, I deal with the five-year programme. I should be shocked if any Minister or any Government gave a firm assurance to the people of this country that over a period of five years public money would be committed firmly in one direction or another. We have failed for five years to earn our way in the world. We have not been earning our living since 1958. This was brought out in a report last October to the Minister of Power. We have been in a serious situation for a long time. Governments and perhaps a lot of our people have failed to realise that we are not living in the world of the 19th century. Earning our living is a very difficult proposition in a highly competitive world, but this we must do. Those who organise business, who work in industry and those of us who work here have to devote all our efforts to earning a living. Unless 1396 we earn our living, we cannot have first-class roads, schools or hospitals.
My right hon. Friend the Minister has probably inherited the stickiest stick of all. The stick has been clobbered up with glamour and publicity by his predecessor. He has gone into a house the previous owner of which believed in gaudy decorations and he does not. He is a utilitarian—at least I hope so. I trust that he will pay more attention to the basic needs of our country rather than indulge in the spectacular behaviour of his predecessor.
I should have thought that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West would agree that for a long time we have been too fond of committing money and internal resources in this, that or the other direction. For six months this year the Conservative Party in opposition has been demanding expenditure in all directions. It has demanded reliefs in the tax bill and proposed Amendments galore to give taxation reliefs totalling £640 million. It wants the road programme to be expanded and the country's defences to be expanded. It wants more money to be spent in every respect. This cannot be done. It does a disservice to the people of this country to "kid" them that it can be done because I do not believe that it can be done.
§ Mr. Bence
I have never said that it could be done in my life. I have worked in industry all my life, and I know how difficult it is to manufacture for export. One right hon. Gentleman opposite has said that exporting is fun. He has never had a go at it. Anybody who has had anything to do with it knows darned well that it is not fun. It is hard and competitive work. My right hon. Friend and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are quite right not to fall for this request to commit themselves to a specific expenditure over five years. If we can delay the acquisition of land and the placing of contracts for 12 months, there may be some legislation controlling land prices which may save the taxpayer hundreds of millions of £s over the next five years.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) was hardly fair concerning 1397 the bypassing of towns. Whilst I certainly accept that a great deal still needs to be done, had the hon. Member decided to come down by the West Coast rather than the line to the east by which my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) took him, he would find if he came off the M.6 at Newcastle rather than going to the end of the M.6 that in recent years Newcastle, Lichfield and Rugeley have all been bypassed, as have numerous other places in the Midlands. I agree, however, that a great deal still needs to be done.
I wish to speak particularly about a road which is in desperate need of replacement. First, however, I should like to make a general remark upon the Minister's speech. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East was in the Chamber when his right hon. Friend spoke.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I am surprised to have that indication from the hon. Member. Had he been here, he would have heard that although his right hon. Friend referred in one breath to having taken over a highly swollen programme, in the next breath he said that he hoped to carry it out within the five years.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I did not mean any discourtesy to the hon. Member when I said that I was not sure whether he was present. I merely wondered whether he had missed part of the Minister's speech.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell), I am considerably confused by one or two of the things that the Minister said. He told us how he would carry out his part of the Chancellor's plan, and yet in the same breath he announced with pride that even with no further starts for new roads this year, his expenditure would be only £2 million less than was intended and that in the coming year his expenditure would be considerably greater than it is now. I wonder with what pleasure those words 1398 will be read by the Chancellor in the morning.
I hope that the Minister is right and that he will be able to carry out his five-year programme. I hope that, as he says, he will be enabled to have still further growth in the road programme, because, like the hon. Member for Bodmin and others who have spoken from this side, modern fast means of communication between the towns and the ports are vital if we are to remain industrially efficient.
The road to which I particularly wish to refer is, I believe, well known to the Minister and to his Joint Parliamentary Secretary and it has been known to the Ministry for many years. There is an urgent need for an East-West Cheshire motorway linking North Wales with Manchester and taking the place of the existing A.56 from Chester to Manchester. The particular part of that road with which I am concerned is the part which goes through the constituency which I represent and particularly through the villages of Helsby and Frodsham. It is the most overcrowded road in the whole of the north-west of England. For many years, pressure has been put upon the Ministry by the county council and by others to start building the motorway or, at the very least, a bypass for Helsby and Frodsham. At last, in August last year, the then Minister announced this project as one of the new trunk road projects to be added to the programme for which plans would be prepared.
That was on 11th August last year, and one is, with respect, driven to the conclusion—certainly this is the impression which is given to the residents in that area, and one which I am sure the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to deal with this evening—that nothing appears to have been done from that time. No definite, firm decision has been taken as to the year in which the building of this bypass is likely to start. No publication of the provisional line of this proposed bypass has yet been made, although on 17th March this year, in answer to myself, the Minister said that he had received in February a report from Cheshire County Council on the alignment of this road, and he has repeated again by means of a Written Answer today, the fact that he is still not in a position to announce the publication of 1399 this provisional line and he still hopes to do it before the end of the year.
With great respect to the Minister, I do not believe, and many people in the North do not believe, that over the years, the Ministry has recognised the need and importance of this road. There is obviously grave danger, because of the Chancellor's statement, that, no firm decision about this road having been taken, it will be delayed still further. I hope it will not. I sincerely hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may be able to give that assurance tonight, although the Minister has said that he is not able to say what will be the effect on this road of the Chancellor's statement.
I appreciate that the hour is getting late but I would briefly give the Minister the details of the present position about the road. Traffic conditions on a stretch of road can only be described as appalling. If by chance the Minister thinks that that may be an exaggeration I would tell him that those words which I used—it can only be described as appalling—are not my words; they are the words recently used by an inspector of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in a report on a planning application concerning that road. It is merely a two-lane road which, in that part, through Helsby, is going through a narrow village, with a cliff—a cutting, really—on one side, through a shopping area.
It is the type of road which, I understand, according to the Ministry, is recommended as having a capacity of 6,000 passenger car units per 16-hour day. The last count the Ministry did on that road in 1962 showed that in fact it was carrying 13,590 vehicles in a 16-hour day and some 27,000 passenger car units. That is something like four times the Ministry's recommended capacity for that road, but that is still three years out of date.
As I think the Minister is aware—I believe the facts are in the files of his Ministry—since that occasion two voluntary censuses on a direct, similar basis to that of the Ministry of Transport census have been carried out on the identical day of two immediately following years. The Minister's latest figures are for a Friday in July, 1962.
A similar census was done on a Friday in 1964; a similar one was done a fort- 1400 night ago, on 16th July this year. It discloses that whereas, as I say, in 1962 there were 13,590 vehicles going through Helsby and Frodsham, on an equivalent day in 1964 the figure has grown to 16,917 for Helsby, and, slightly farther up the road, in Frodsham, to 20,854, with an equivalent capacity of 31,105 passenger car units, and, as I said, on Friday a fortnight ago the number of passenger car units—I cannot give the figure in vehicles—going through Frodsham was 36,214 during a 16-hour day. That means that over the period of one year alone the rate of growth of vehicles has been about 7.5 per cent., and in passenger-carrying units it has risen by 9.4 per cent. This road is now carrying, not as it was at the time of the last Ministry census about four times the recommended maximum capacity, but six times as much.
It is not merely commuter traffic, although one accepts that there are many commuters living near that road and using it to drive to work, with all the frustration that that involves—sitting in a motor car in queues, going to work in the morning and coming back in the evening, and so on. It is not only holiday traffic, although a good deal of holiday traffic going to North Wales uses that road, as many hon. Members know. It is used to a tremendous extent by industrial vehicles. It is an important vital link in the Merseyside area. It carries a great deal of the traffic going to I.C.I. in Runcorn, and in particular to the Stanlow refinery nearby. At the moment nearly 40 per cent. of the vehicles using that road are heavy vehicles, and more than 11 per cent. are oil tankers. It carries an appreciably greater volume of traffic than roads which the Ministry has put higher in the order of those to be bypassed.
In recent years the congestion on this road has been made far worse by various factors, such as the industrial growth that is occurring on Merseyside, the opening of the Runcorn-Widnes bridge, the closing of the Mersey Tunnel to tankers, and so on. The Ministry must realise that the position is going to get worse, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider this when he replies to the debate. Runcorn has been designated as a new town. It was said that one of the advantages of Runcorn as a new town 1401 was its easy means of communication for industry. Those easy means of communication will not exist until the East Cheshire motorway is built.
I have specifically limited my comments to this road rather than taking up time by repeating the general remarks that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I conclude by telling the hon. Gentleman that when a road is as congested, as overburdened, and as overcrowded as is the A.56 through Cheshire, it not only causes tremendous frustration, annoyance, and anger to the people who use it regularly, but it puts a great many people in danger of life and limb. As the Minister knows, this stretch of road is bounded by a large grammar school for girls and a grammar school for boys. The children have to cross the road each day and the accident figures which the Minister gave a few months ago are far higher than the national average. Such conditions also waste endless hours of important time spent driving heavy lorries carrying petroleum and other goods for the chemical industry. This road is also used to a considerable extent to transport goods to Liverpool and to Birkenhead for export.
It is absolute folly. It is cutting off one's nose to spite one's face if, faced with the desire to increase exports, as a kind of retrenchment at home we cut down all our capital expenditure on roads such as this motorway and other roads in the Merseyside area. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say that because of the representations that he has received from many sources in the area, not only in my division but in surrounding divisions, the priority to be given to this road will be reconsidered.
I accept the argument that has been put to me in letters that I have received from the Ministry, that much preparatory work needs to be done in respect of the acquisition of land, and that there must be a realignment of Runcorn New Town and a public inquiry, but the Ministry could, at the earliest possible moment, announce a centre line for the road so that the necessary preparatory work could be started and an undertaking could be given that the moment the preparatory work had been completed the building of the road would be commenced 1402 immediately, as I know is the anxious desire of the Cheshire County Council and many other people.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
This evening we are discussing a nation-wide problem, but I want to mention briefly certain aspects which affect Hampshire. It is no coincidence that two hon. Members this evening have wished to speak particularly of the problems of Hampshire. This fact reinforces a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Sir J. Fletcher-Cooke) has said, and which I wish to emphasise.
Many roads in the Hampshire County Council area are in constituencies other than mine; my excuse for referring to them this evening is that, perhaps thanks to the Romans, all roads in Hampshire lead to Winchester.
§ Read-Admiral Morgan Giles
It is a pity. Hampshire's road problems are particularly pressing for a number of reasons which have been outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test and which I need not repeat. In consequence, my remarks will be very much shorter. He pointed out the vast increase in population which is in train, the vast industrial expansion and the severe backlog which has prevailed in road building in Hampshire in recent years.
We must not be myopic about this and imagine that our own little street is full of puddles and potholes while people in the rest of the country are zooming about on six-lane highways, but Hampshire's percentage increase in grants for road construction has been appreciably lower than the national average since 1958. Disregarding the past and looking to the future, it is fair to say that Hampshire is blessed with a particularly efficient and forward-looking county council, in respect both of its elected members and its officials. The council is particularly concerned with two developments in the near future which will call for a really drastic increase in road construction.
The first is the South-East Study, with its masisve forecast of transfers of population and industry, the building of new 1403 towns, and so on, and the second is the recently published proposals for the development of Southampton Docks. The subject of these docks has been well covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, but there are two small points which I want to add to those which he has raised.
The first concerns the importance of exports, which has been referred to by every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate. The essential point about the ports on the South Coast is the importance of our exports to Europe. A vast percentage of our potential export market lies in Europe, within not more than a couple of hundred miles from the British coast.
The second point affecting Southampton, as well as the big increase in cargo handling which is visualised—a really massive factor, which should be emphasised—is the passenger traffic. There is, year by year, an enormous increase in holiday traffic to the Continent, from all over England, seeking the Englishman's great deprivation, namely, the sun. There are already three Thoresen ferries running to France and their services will, I understand, soon be increased to go direct to Spain. One can ask, what is the purpose of the greater prosperity, the higher earnings, the increased leisure and all the social advantages gained during the last 13 years if we cannot easily travel to the sun?
Despite his somewhat provocative speech this evening, I have some sympathy with the Minister in his predicament. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was correct in saying that everyone who spoke tonight would be asking for more roads, and everyone would have some little axe to grind, as we must all admit. However, on the other side, the Chancellor is saying, in effect, "No more roads".
To help him in his predicament, I should like to urge one or two concrete proposals on the Minister in his review of this situation. First, would he concentrate on the really large motorway schemes, the radial highways leading out of London to regional areas, including areas with ports? The London to Southampton M.3 motorway is an example. This is of particular importance because, if we fall behind in these vast 1404 schemes, it will be increasingly difficult to catch up when better times come again.
Next, would the Minister consider a completely separate allocation of funds for town road schemes? Thirdly, would he pick out certain small, cheap link schemes such as have been mentioned by many hon. Members this evening, some of which will pay a dividend out of all proportion to the capital involved? In this extraordinarily complicated pattern, there are certain little "log jams" which, if cleared, would lead to an altogether disproportionate increase in the efficiency of the road system.
One axe I want to grind on this subject is the matter of the Kingsworthy link. My hon. Friend the Member for Test referred to this link and this was the only point of disagreement which I had with him. I think that he is quite wrong to discount the importance of the Kingsworthy link, which happens to be in my constituency. I can assure him and the Minister that two and a half miles of road would fill what is, in effect, the only gap in a major road running from Southampton right back to the industrial heart of the Midlands.
If the Minister can succeed in these limited objectives which I have outlined to him, at least Englishmen will no longer need to travel as G. K. Chesterton did:That night we went to Bannockburn by way of Beachy Head.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
The outstanding feature of the debate has been the general concern which has been shown about the future prospects of the road programme. The Government's decision to cut the road programme, coming as it did from a party which is supposed to stand for expansion, has been a great shock to many people in the country.
I cannot, however, say that I personally am altogether surprised, because I can remember this time last year when we were debating transport and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), speaking with all the authority of a shadow Minister, excused his own party's miserable performance when they were previously in office on the ground that "our resources were overstrained" as if an over-strained economy were an act of 1405 God like bad weather and not the direct result of Government incompetence and bad management. That is what happened last time. It was the roads which suffered.
When the present Minister spoke in Question Time last week he said,We are in a period of great economic stress."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 446.]No blame for this apparently attaches to the Government; it is just one of those things which happen. And what do they do in these circumstances? The same as they did last time—they take it out of the roads and cut down on the great modernising programme under which a Conservative Government had raised the amount of money spent on the roads from 3 per cent. of the total public service investment to a rate in excess of 14 per cent.—a rate which the Minister and his Government had accepted for themselves.
It is quite incredible that the Government are imposing this cut in the light of the criticisms of inadequacy which they always directed against the level of Conservative investment.Building new roads on a wholly inadequate scale."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1964; Vol. 698. c. 520.]That was how the right hon. Member for Vauxhall described the achievement of the Conservative Government this time last year. We know that the Labour Party always say one thing and afterwards act entirely differently.
Apparently they also act secretly, for when the Minister was asked at Question Time last week, not for details but to explain the general basis of the cuts, he was clearly at a loss how to answer. This was not only the impression of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) who pointed it out at the time; it was referred to in the Press. "He was largely caught unawares", was how the Financial Times described it. Perhaps we should not be altogether surprised about this. After all, if Cabinet responsibility as interpreted by the Labour Party can be stretched sufficiently wide to include the views of the Minister of Technology, I suppose that we cannot expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take the Minister of Transport into his confidence, even if he is proposing cuts in a road programme 1406 which affect the right hon. Gentleman's own Departmental responsibility.
But the fact that these cuts have been imposed in this way without proper detailed investigation as to all the consequences shows that the Labour Party, far from being a party of planning, is a party dithering from one inappropriate expedient to another like a drunken man searching for the next lamp-post against which he might prop himself up.
What is the justification for this cut in the road programme? Houses are exempt, schools are exempt, hospitals are exempt. Why not roads? They are the life-blood of the nation, every bit as necessary for our economic recovery as the favoured three which are exempt. Perhaps they are even more necessary if the cuts are looked at ruthlessly as a once-for-all operation to save the national economy. Yet roads are classified as candy floss and are put in the same "unnecessary non-industrial category" as the reading rooms and the swimming baths over which the Chancellor spilled his usual crocodile tears the other night on television. He is getting quite good at it now. He is certainly giving himself plenty of practice at it.
The object of the cuts in the road programme is, we are told, twofold. It is designed, first, to reduce internal pressure. But these road contracts are all long-term contracts. Indeed, the Minister said this afternoon that it is unlikely that the cuts will have any effect for two years, and that possibly £1 million would be cut. But that is all in the next two years. If that is so, what on earth is the purpose of these cuts? Does it mean that the Government anticipate that the critical state of our economy will continue for another two years and that it is not now but in two years' time that the pressure will require to be taken off the economy? That is the logic of what the Minister said this afternoon.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Yes, and they will not be in power by that time. However, if what I have described is the case, then it seems that we are more likely to suffer further cuts in future than to have anything added back to the programme, as the right hon. Gentleman 1407 suggested we might, to make up for the cuts which are now being imposed but which will not take effect for another two years.
The second object of the cuts, so we understand, is to divert more of our resources to exports. This sounds an excellent idea, but the horny handed men who do the construction work on the roads will not suddenly turn to the manufacture of machine tools, the build-of computers or whatever else the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. They will merely go slow and, in the meantime, their expensive equipment will not be used to the full extent. It is, in fact, a sheer waste of resources—that is, unless the intention is that there shall be a permanent cut or postponement of a proportion of the programme for the rest of the five-year period.
This is the 64,000 dollar question which the right hon. Gentleman did not answer and which my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) so rightly pointed out. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, when he speaks, will not mince words but will tell us fairly and squarely whether this is a once-and-for-all cut which is to take place in two years' time or whether the six-monthly postponement will be carried forward from one year to the next for the whole of the five-year programme.
§ Mr. Galbraith
That may be so, but we want the answer to this question.
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer applied the chopper to the roads programme the implications were not fully thought out. Indeed, the whole operation involves a contradiction. At one moment the roads are regarded as candy floss and investment on them can be safely cut while, at the next moment—
§ Mr. Galbraith
Surely this follows from the Chancellor's statement. The Chancellor lumped in roads with non-industrial investments such as swimming baths and new libraries. I saw the right hon. Gentleman do it for the umpteenth time 1408 on television the other night. Indeed, I am getting sick and tired, as are people generally, of this sort of thing.
As I was saying, at one moment the roads are regarded as candy floss and investment on them can be safely cut while, at the next moment, we are told that they have a valuable part to play in aiding our exports, and for that reason access to the docks is to be improved. This is excellent news, but where does access to the docks begin? It does not begin just a few miles from the docks. It starts at the gates of the factory where the goods are made and from where they are exported. This was made clear by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Sir J. Fletcher-Cooke). It is no good diverting money from a bottleneck on an important trunk road to a bottleneck just outside the docks and hope that by removing the one just outside the docks and leaving the one on the trunk road this will speed our exports. All that it will do is transfer the bottleneck from one point to the other. The reference to improving access to the docks in the context of a general cut in the road programme is simply a gimmick. It is a face-saver to reduce criticism, but it will not do any good. The trouble with the Party opposite is that they always try to govern by gimmicks instead of by worth while action.
Another example of the attempt to stave off criticisms—because that is what it is—is that we are told that road building in the development districts will not be subject to the cut. But has this decision been taken for transport reasons, or is it a hedge against the unemployment that the Government's deflationary policies will almost certainly bring in a couple of years time?
The right hon. Gentleman, I know, is not responsible for roads in Scotland. But he is a Scotsman, and there have been contributions from three Scottish Members. Presumably he or some of his hon. Friends read the Glasgow Herald from time to time. In one of its leading articles on Saturday last it stated:Trunk routes … are of little use if they are incomplete through gaps left in areas not deemed worthy of special attention for development.So it is no good the right hon. Gentleman patting himself on the back because he 1409 is going on building roads in development districts and not cutting them, unless the roads lead somewhere and lead somewhere at the same standard. The right hon. Gentleman should realise that the only hope for a development district is not to have first-class communications within the area of the development district, but to have first-class access from it to the main industrial centres in the rest of the country. That will often mean improvements on roads outside the development districts, on roads which I would expect from the right hon. Gentleman's statement would be subject to his cut.
About motorways, is is true that the hon. Gentleman said at Newcastle-under-Lyme at the weekend and again in the House tonight—and I quote what he said at Newcastle, referring to the cuts—I do not anticipate that our prospects of having 1,000 miles of motorway by the early 1970's will be affected.That is a pretty feeble sort of assurance. It is not very encouraging when, in spite of the robust assertion which he gave in the House on 3rd March that,We are determined not to cut the programme",—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1965; Vol. 707, c. 1311.]four months later we find that the programme is cut and we find the right hon. Gentleman still a Member of the Government acquiescing in and indeed justifying a cut which he said previously that he was determined not to have.
He referred tonight to the link between the M.1 and the M.6, about which his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) pressed him last week during Questions. All he could say was:In the light of what my right hon. Friend (the Chancellor) said yesterday, I cannot repeat with any assurance that it will be completed by then, but I hope that it will not be long delayed beyond 1970–71."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 445.]"I hope"—that is all that the Minister can do. He can only hope. There is no sign of determination now to stand up for the programme. It is not very convincing. But let us give the right hon. Gentleman the benefit of the doubt. He says that the motorways are to be finished on time, in the early 1970's. But will he nail his reputation to the mast and say that they will be finished by 1973, as we 1410 have said in our election manifesto? The early 1970's might mean as late as 1975.
We are told that roads in the development districts are to proceed as planned, and we give the Government the benefit of the doubt there—there will be no cuts there—and that urgent action is to be taken to improve access to the docks. Does that mean increased expenditure on access to the docks or just that access to the docks is not to receive the cuts that are to be imposed on other roads in other parts of the country?
In spite of the fact that the motorways are, apparently, to go ahead, in spite of the fact that roads in development districts are to go ahead, in spite of the fact that improvement of access to the docks is to be increased, there is, overall, to be a cut amounting to approximately £75 million, so we are told. What the country wants to know is where this cut will be applied. Presumably, it will be applied to schemes such as the Newcastle-under-Lyme Bypass which, ironically enough, the right hon. Gentleman opened at the end of last week.
Again, I imagine that minor improvements by local authorities will suffer fairly substantially, yet these are the sort of schemes which, though they may not look very important from a transport point of view, are often, from a safety angle, very valuable indeed. It will not be much good the right hon. Gentleman starting a blitz on drink in relation to driving next Session as part of his safety campaign if he goes slow on improving dangerous black spots on the roads and on carrying out measures such as those suggested by his hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig).
The Parliamentary Secretary spoke very enthusiastically at Question Time last week about the provision of car parks. He even gave me the impression that it was his Government that had started the ball rolling in co-ordinating car parks though, as the annual report for 1963–64 shows, the credit for this should go to my right hon. Friend the former Minister. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary—whom, I hope, is listening to me—will tell us what is to happen about the provision of car parks. Presumably, this is not now to be a go-ahead, in spite of his bold words last week at Question Time.
1411 That leads me to the whole problem of urban traffic to which the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) referred. A vast amount of money needs to be spent in the towns, but it seems to me that it is precisely in the towns that the cuts will be felt most severely and most damagingly. The right hon. Gentleman, after all, is not an exponent of expansion. He always talks about restricting traffic. He even gives the impression that a lot of traffic can be taken off the road and put on the railways—which personally, I do not believe is possible. The recent increases in petrol duty and road fund tax to say nothing of the stiffening of hire-purchase terms, shows how basically anti-motorist the whole outlook of the present Government is. Instead of trying to improve the roads, their whole instinct is to try to restrict the traffic. It is the old licence-and-quota mentality which is part and parcel of the outlook of the party opposite.
In imagining that they can restrict the traffic like this they are behaving like King Canute. The increasing flood of motor cars is as irresistible as the incoming tide—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
Order. I think that the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) has about exhausted his right to intervene, except formally.
§ Sir D. Glover
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have not intervened in this debate for the last six hours.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sorry to correct the hon. Member, but I have watched him and heard him intervening from a sedentary position during the last half hour.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I thought that my hon. Friend was about to correct me on a matter of history. It was not King Canute who behaved so stupidly—it was his advisers. The Government, in thinking that they can restrict traffic, are behaving like King Canute's advisers because the increasing flood of motor cars is every bit as irresistible as the incoming tide. Whatever should be cut in order to enable the Government to get 1412 out of the serious economic situation which they have created, the roads certainly should not be cut. [Interruption.] It is the Government's job to decide what cuts are to be made. After all, they try to pretend that they are a Government even if they do not give much sign of being in command of events.
How much wiser the Conservative Party acted when in office. In 1957, when emergency economic measures had to be taken, we actually doubled the road programme because good roads help productivity and in 1961 my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, had this to say:For roads, the Government have decided upon a firm five-year programme, which will involve a considerable increase above the present rate of expenditure, but one which I judge to be within our capacity, and also one which, I think, is directly related to production and productivity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1961; Vol. 645, c. 437.]This is where the Government are making a terrible mistake. They are applying the chopper in the wrong place. By cutting down on roads they will diminish national efficiency and make it more difficult for exports to be competitive. They are also applying the chopper in the wrong way. It is bound to undermine the confidence of the construction industry and also to reduce its efficiency.
The right hon. Gentleman should think again and rearrange his priorities within the programme if he thinks that is the right thing to do but he should not cut the programme or delay it or postpone the total of the programme which, by no stretch of the imagination can be described as over lavish or beyond the economic requirements of the country if it is to be able to thrive again. Let the right hon. Gentleman remember the wise words of William of Orange:No country is rich enough to pay for bad roads.Before the right hon. Gentleman goes on holiday let him use his great persuasive powers—but do not let him get angry, as he does sometimes—to get the Chancellor to change his mind before it is too late and before irreparable harm is done to our industrial potential by cutting the road programme and thus squeezing the vital arteries of economic growth.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)
I will endeavour to be brief because it is only fair to remember that 14 other back benchers on both sides—there may be others—wish to raise subjects tonight which are no doubt of great concern to them and their constituents. We have had a fair run on this subject, which was raised by the Opposition, and I hope that I may be forgiven if I am fairly brief.
It is quite understandable that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) should speak rather loud and long. He of course, bears his share of responsibility for formulating a road programme on a production rate never achieved under the Conservative Government. His Government bequeathed to us the problem of achieving the 4 per cent. economic growth rate which was the basis for the calculations upon which their road programme was widely advertised.
The hon. Gentleman boasted that in an economic crisis under the Tories expenditure on roads was doubled. It was just that against which his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) resigned. The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend ought to have a little get-together after the debate to decide what happened and what ought to have happened during the 1950s. As my right hon. Friend reminded the House, in the book approved by the right hon. Gentleman for issue this year he made a strong point about not increasing public expenditure beyond the means at the nation's disposal and not formulating plans for public expenditure far ahead of the date when one could possibly calculate what national income would be.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) remembers the eleventh century more clearly than he remembers the 1950s.
§ Mr. Swingler
That may be, but I was suggesting that there might be a little more co-ordination between the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend about the past and about the present.
1414 We have had a wide-ranging debate on this subject since the time some time ago when my right hon. Friend demolished the arguments of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, starting with the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) who has had to disappear. We have covered repairs to the M.1, access to Southampton, priorities at the docks, sanitary facilities on lay-bys and a vast number of individual schemes, showing the many frustrated demands for Adjournment debates still lying dormant. I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that I cannot answer individually all the questions about their particular bypass schemes and other problems—[Interruption.]—but I can assure them that they will receive comments from the Ministry on the issues which they have raised—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Swingler
I do not mind, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am accustomed to the knights opposite—of both kinds.
§ Mr. Carlisle
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he does not propose to answer the various issues which I raised, for example?
§ Mr. Swingler
Hon. Members must learn to exercise a little patience. Let us take the instance of the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) who mentioned the A.56. I know that the improvements to this road were programmed only last year. Even so, if the hon. Gentleman's constituents and those for whom he is speaking are extremely keen to bring these schemes forward within the budget for that part of the country, no doubt they will suggest to the Ministry what alteration in priorities they believe should be made in that part of the world in relation to the facts and figures which I very much appreciate but which must be related to the whole cost of other very important schemes in that region. If there is a desire to alter the priorities or order of schemes, no doubt suggestions will be made to the Ministry. The scheme the hon. Gentleman has mentioned has been programmed only recently for some period ahead and there is therefore no question of these schemes on the A.56 coming under the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
1415 Likewise, the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) asked why there had been delays in capital projects on the roads and not on the railways. He has overlooked the fact that my right hon. Friend's statement also applies to the nationalised industries which have been asked to review their programmes of capital projects from the point of view of the call they make on the country's resources. Therefore, it is not true that there is any differentiation in the treatment of road capital projects and that of rail capital projects.
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) spoke a great deal about priorities for the docks and ports. We agree that this is extremely important. He perhaps overlooked the fact that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his statement that high priority would be given to access to the docks and ports. It is from this point of view that we are looking at the programme as a whole.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
Will that include the continued delay and putting off of schemes by the previous Government? We in the Royal Group of Docks have had road schemes promised for many years.
§ Mr. Swingler
I take the point. This is not the first time that there has been procrastination in the road programme. It has happened in some parts of the country many times. The hon. Member for Hillhead seemed to resent the fact that we have a bypass scheme in Newcastle-under-Lyme for which we have been waiting for 25 years. That is a considerable improvement in the fortunes of that part of Staffordshire.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I do not bother about the hon. Gentleman's quip about Newcastle-under-Lyme, but I am interested in the point about the problem in relation to the docks. Is more money to be spent on roads leading to the docks than was anticipated under the existing five-year programme, or is it merely that schemes in the existing five-year programme are not to be cut?
§ Mr. Swingler
Let us come to grips with the facts. Many hon. Members have spoken in this debate, partly encouraged by the hon. Member for Hillhead, in terms of cuts, and others as if 1416 it were a budgetary problem—a problem of money. One hon. Member spoke as if it were a question of raising money by some other means to promote a larger road programme, as if we could devise a new form of taxation or raise loans and so on, and suggested that that would solve the problem. To summarise the major point or theme passing through our discussions and made by my right hon. Friend in reply to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West at the beginning of the debate, first we have a larger road programme anyway. Also, work on the road programme is increasing anyway. Let no one talk of a cut. What we are talking about is contracts which have not yet been placed. We are not talking about the fact that at the moment there is £300 million worth of work in hand in the road programme—an enormous volume which it is projected to increase further.
The second point is that this is a programme which we in this Government inherited based upon rising production, a regular 4 per cent. growth rate in the economy and a projected rise in road expenditure of 14 per cent. in the five-year programme. If anyone asks wherein lies the difficulty in achieving this or any other programmes, it is in the fact that we inherited this programme and an enormous deficit on balance of payments, not a 4 per cent. growth rate in the national economy on which the Tories based the programme.
§ Mr. Powell
What has happened since March when the Government themselves, knowing all these things, accepted and affirmed the programme?
§ Mr. Swingler
It is extraordinary for the right hon. Member to raise this. We have not made the progress in exports and in increased production and productivity that we need to make. I should have thought that the right hon. Member would have seen that perfectly clearly. Therefore, it is clear that further measures are necessary. I should think that the right hon. Gentleman would have agreed that it was necessary, in order to increase production and raise productivity, to stimulate exports, if we are going to be able to carry out programmes of the kind which have been advanced. We must create a stronger export drive, and rescue the balance of payments from the 1417 shocking position which we inherited last October. To do this we have been asked to accept some delay in the development of these programmes and to exercise a stricter sense of priorities in carrying them out.
That is the position. It is not a question of raising money. It is a question of the call on our resources, relative to the resources available for other things, such as the hospital and school programmes, and above all, the export programme. Can hon. Gentlemen opposite deny the need for more exports to help the balance of payments position? We know that they have spent a very pleasant couple of weeks trying to conceal it and gloss over it. The hon. Member for Hillhead had the impudence to stand up—he who participated in formulating a road programme based on a 4 per cent. growth rate in the national economy, which his Government never achieved. They never even attempted to plan for it. Now we have inherited the difficulties and the contradictions.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Truro, above all, knows that this is the basic position and the bearing it has, not only upon matters connected with the roads, but with those matters connected with the railways. Whatever one may want to do, whatever one may desire to do, and conceive to be the most desirable of transport policies, one has to bear in mind the resources which are available.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Would the hon. Gentleman answer this one question? Could he explain how the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), speaking on behalf of the party opposite, as the shadow Minister, said that our programme was inadequate? He said so last year.
§ Mr. Swingler
The hon. Member for Hillhead does not need to refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall. Let him ask the serried ranks of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Gentlemen there are queuing up to come to see me to say just this—that the programme is not adequate. That is what they are constantly saying from Winchester—even the knights there are saying it—that the programme is inadequate. But the question is where are the available resources, not merely for enlarging 1418 the programme, but for sustaining the existing programme, based as I say it was, and no one can controvert it, upon the achievement of a 4 per cent. growth rate in the national economy?
§ Mr. Swingler
Under these circumstances what we have done, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, is to exercise a stricter sense of priorities—to give priorities to those schemes which are in development districts, areas of high unemployment, which have direct connections with the export drive because they provide access to the docks. We have the responsibility for interpreting what that means and deciding how we can best achieve such an aim.
May I repeat what I have already said in relation to other proposals? One cannot have postponements except where one has set dates for starting a scheme. It is no good hon. Gentleman talking about postponements in 1969 and so on, when no dates have been fixed. We are talking about those things over which one has the power of postponement and delay, because a date has been set. In view of the insufficiency of resources, where those dates have been set, we are making postponements, and the speculations by hon. Gentlemen opposite about the money involved are wildly exaggerated and wildly out. I ask them once again to pay attention to the figures given by my right hon. Friend at the beginning of this debate.
Nevertheless, as my right hon. Friend said, in spite of the difficulties and in spite of the inevitable delay that this will cause to some part of the programme, we have the intention, and we are confident in having the intention, as a Government that we are determined to complete this programme, to improve the efficiency of conducting it and to achieve the 4 per cent. growth rate, keeping to the scale of priorities set for the next few years, and I believe that we shall do it.
§ Mr. Bessell
Will the hon. Gentleman answer my question? Is he able to give the House an assurance that no further passenger rail closures will be authorised unless the money is provided for the execution of essential road improvements where buses will replace the rail service?
§ Mr. Swingler
It is clear that where my right hon. Friend has to give consent, or to consider giving consent, to a rail closure, and road improvements are required to provide adequate alternative services, he would be obliged in such a case to refuse to consent to depriving an area of its rail service if he could not guarantee that the alternative services would be available. The hon. Member can, therefore, take it that my right hon. Friend will give careful scrutiny to any such situation.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I shall not detain the House for more than two or three minutes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Do not encourage me. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary was not willing to give way to me, perhaps because he thought that I would be hostile to his argument; he referred to the knights of the shires or the like. His argument about the cuts was rather like Marie Antoinette who said, "We have no bread. Give them cakes." If it is not a cut, the guillotine is falling pretty hard.
I do not, however, want to go into that argument, because I want to be much more constructive. Whichever party is in power, a certain amount of money will be allocated to the road programme. Whichever party is in power, whatever amount is allocated, it will not be considered to be sufficient by the backbenchers in Parliament. No ideology is involved in this. It is not a Socialist, a Conservative or even a Liberal policy. It is a question of how much money is available for the construction of roads.
In Parliament, a great deal of behind-the-scenes talk is going on about forming committees to consider this or that problem—foreign affairs, defence, and so on. I suggest to the Minister that perhaps the road programme is the first object that such a Parliamentary committee could consider. It would not remove the Parliamentary battle between the parties as to whether £200 million, £150 million or £75 million should be allocated. We should still have across the Floor of the House a great battle about one party being efficient and the other inefficient. We should have all that.
1420 I am sure that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) was Minister of Transport—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] It is not my business where he is. I am making a serious argument. The Minister of Transport knows that whatever is done in this programme, he is under enormous pressure to allocate penny packets all over the country.
For instance, in my constituency we have a great new road programme going on from Liverpool on the way to Preston. Under any logical, non-party, sensible road scheme, it would go all the way to Preston, but because an hon. Member at, say, Bathgate or another distant place wants a bottleneck on a road removed, what will happen to this road? A great new treble carriageway is being built from Liverpool half way to Preston. A mile from where it finishes all the traffic has to go over a bridge which is only just wide enough for two lorries; they almost collide on the bridge, which is the narrowest bridge in Lancashire. Yet we are spending millions to produce the treble carriageway up to this point.
Problems such as that could be anticipated and discussed practically if we had a Parliamentary committee, consisting, of course, of Members from both sides of the House. People talk about modernising Parliament. Is not this just the sort of problem which we ought to be discussing in a committee? Is not this the practical work of Parliament? Leaving aside individual constituency problems we could in such a committee discuss a road problem from the point of the national interest, in a practical manner.
We have a limited amount of money to allocate to the road programme. It certainly cannot be sense in any road programme to produce half a road. I would far sooner not have an improvement in this road if some other road somewhere else could be completed—all the way, say, from an inland manufacturing town to the docks. As it is, all over the country there are road schemes which are carried just so far and then stopped—unfinished. This is so even with the M.1 and the M.6. The right hon. Gentleman is now talking about a five-year gap in joining the M.1 and M.6, in the middle, north of Birmingham. I should have thought it in the national interest to have finished both 1421 lengths of both roads and to have given that first priority. It would be well worth while, providing a link between Scotland and London, all through the North-West and the Midlands. But while that gap remains, the road is a nonsense, and the reason why the right hon. Gentleman does not get on with it is the enormous pressures put on him from hon. Members from the North-East and from Scotland and from the West Country, all wanting some other projects done.
At this time of night I am not going to pursue this any further, but we are talking nowadays in Parliament about having committees to consider a great many different matters, and aside from party politics, and I can think of no matter which could more profitably be discussed in the cold light of logic and aside from party politics than the matter of the roads programme. We could do in 1422 committee, after the money has been allocated, and after debate and argument here on the Floor of the House about the allocation of money, and after Divisions, and after complaining about this or that Minister's inefficiency or this and that party's inefficiency. This road programme business is just the sort of problem to consider behind the scenes in committee, aside from party politics. In such a committee the Minister could protect me from his back benchers, and I would protect him from my own back benchers. [Laughter.] This is not a joke. I am very serious. That is the sort of committee we want, to deal, from the point of view of the national interest, with the practical details of the road programme. If the right hon. Gentleman would start to set up such a committee as that, I assure him I would willingly be the first Member on it.