HL Deb 10 April 1935 vol 96 cc685-715

THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN had given Notice that he would ask on what date His Majesty's Government will introduce the Bill dealing with the urgent problem of ribbon development, and move, That in the opinion of this House it is essential that the protection against ribbon development in rural areas given by the Bill should include within its scope the greatest possible number of roads.

The noble Marquess said: My Lords, many of your Lordships may remember that I had a Motion on this subject down on the Paper at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. That Motion was never actually brought before the House because of an announcement made by the Government, in response to very considerable agitation for placing a limitation on the ribbon development which is going on in all parts of the country—an agitation which was supported by very representative institutions—that they intended to bring forward a Bill. A good many people have been waiting, and waiting anxiously, for that Bill to appear. My Motion to-day is not so much to discuss the ways and means of dealing with this problem, because it is admittedly difficult to discuss these matters when we know that a, Bill is actually on the stocks, but to try to bring home to the Government that there is a very strong demand that legislation on this subject should be introduced at once and passed into law this Session.

I had a little hesitation in bringing this Motion forward in view of the fact that I knew the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Health were considering a Bill, but these doubts have been removed by the actual terms of an answer given by the Prime Minister in another place only two days ago. When he was asked a question on this point the Prime Minister gave the following reply: A Bill has already been prepared and is under consideration by His Majesty's Government. The Government, however, is not in a position to introduce the Bill until it can put before the House proposals which will effectively deal with the problem with due regard to the many interests concerned. That, I think, is a rather alarming reply, because it looks to me that, so far from this Bill being introduced in this Session, it may not appear at all, and it is because of that that I venture to bring before your Lordships the Motion which stands in my name to-day.

May I summarise very briefly the main case which, as I see it, we have in mind in demanding immediate legislation to deal with the evil which is compendiously described as ribbon development? The first point is its effect on human health and life. I think it is now admitted, in regard to fatal motoring accidents, that no fewer than three out of four take place in what are described as built-up areas. In the returns which were published the other day and which appeared in The Times last week, representing the number of persons killed and the number of persons injured on the roads in the years 1934 and 1933 we got the following comparison:—Deaths in 1934, 7,343; deaths in 1933, 7,202; injured in 1934, 231,000; injured in 1933, 216,000. If the proportion of three out of four applies to 1934, both as to deaths and injuries, it means that 6,000 deaths took place through accidents in built-up areas and over 160,000 persons were injured in built-up areas. These are very formidable figures, and it requires no lengthy argument to prove that a system which allows these built-up areas to extend without limit is adding very seriously to the risk of death and injury of a very large number of citizens in this country.

It may be asked whether the 30miles-an-hour limit is a remedy. It is admittedly too early to form a judgment, but I am free to confess that the results of the first two weeks seem to me to prove that it certainly is no remedy. In each of the last two weeks the number of killed has been 100, as against a minimum of ninety-four in any week in the preceding six months, a maximum of 167, and an average of between 130 and 140; so that the loss of life in built-up areas, even with the 30-miles-an-hour limit, is still very formidable. I hope the limit will have more effect in the future. Personally I think it is a good law, and from my own experience of driving about the country it seems to me that the principle of limiting speed to thirty miles an hour in built-up areas is a sound principle, though I think in many cases restrictions are unwisely put on. There are many villages which ought to be restricted though they have no lights. There are, on the other hand, many stretches of lamp-lit areas outside some of the big towns in which there is no risk at all, as there are no footpaths or byroads. Restriction in such cases is not necessary, and if it is maintained it may be that the law will fall into disrepute and be disregarded. I have no doubt the Ministry of Transport is weighing evidence on this point and that, with experience, it will arrive at a suitable compromise. All I wish to say to-day is that on the figures of the first two weeks the 30-miles-an-hour limit is no remedy for the evil of ribbon development.

The second main argument for calling a halt to ribbon development is that it defeats the very purpose for which immense expenditure has been made on the roads of this country. I shall read a short passage from an appeal to the Prime Minister, dated November last, and signed by a large number of distinguished and representative persons, including the Chairmen of the Motor Legislation Committee, the Royal Automobile Club, the Automobile Association, the Roads Improvement Association, the President of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Oxford Preservation Trust, and others, dealing, as I think, very accurately and succinctly with this phase of the evil: The construction of roads, at an average cost of £35,000 a mile, has enormously enhanced the value of sites fronting the roads. Except in the Counties of Surrey, Middlesex, and Sussex the county councils in charge of the main roads are powerless to control the buildings along them. The frontage owners are allowed to build in such manner that vehicles bringing the building materials, and serving the houses when built, must stand in the roadway itself and obstruct it. These standing vehicles are a constant danger to moving traffic and to pedestrians. The discussions have also revealed that the cost of supplying public services—water, drainage, gas, light, etc.—is heavily increased for people housed in this way and the cost of their living raised thereby. A population strung out over miles can never develop the faculty of local self-government which the same number of people grouped in properly planned townships acquire. A system of housing is thus being created in some ways more injurious to the people than the slums, -which the Government is now endeavouring to remove at the cost of millions. The slums are blots on the landscape. The rapid conversion of country roads into streets is fast destroying the landscape as a whole. The last phrase seems to me exactly to summarise the point. We have spent hundreds of millions of pounds in equipping this country with one of the best road systems in the world. The reason is that in these days of rapid locomotion there is a need for arterial and other roads, making possible rapid motor transit both for private and commercial vehicles. We are now allowing those roads to be turned into streets from one end of the country to the other, to the immense increase of danger to human life and safety and an immense lessening of the beauty of the countryside. Now that the restriction of thirty miles an hour is enforced, the result is, to a great extent, the defeat of the very purpose for which -the roads were made.

I happened to see the other day some figures—I do not know how far they are accurate—published in one newspaper giving the proportion of the roads leading from London to the great southern cities which are now restricted. In one ease—I am not sure it was not the road to Brighton—nearly fifty per cent. of the road is now restricted. In a considerable number of other cases, over thirty per cent. of the road is restricted. Roads far from. London have now become streets. Suppose we had allowed the equivalent in the case of railways; suppose we had allowed houses to be built in such a way that the railways of this country had over considerable distances to reduce their speed to a minimum of thirty miles OM hour; we should have thought that we were maniacs thus to defeat the whole purpose of rapid locomotion. Yet that is what is happening now in the case of the roads, and if you allow ribbon development to continue there will follow a progressive restriction of speed on the roads.

There is one other aspect of this matter. I think any noble Lord who lives in the country—and many of us do—must be appalled at the number of houses now going up on the small by-roads. They are extremely dangerous there to all concerned, and extremely ugly, spoiling the landscape. The main remedy for this process is what is broadly called planning. The difficulties of planning are very formidable. I do not want to go into them in any detail to-day. Many proposals have been brought forward in the past and have remained proposals, but there are the Surrey County Council powers and the Hertfordshire County Council powers under which no building at all shall be allowed without the licence of the appropriate authority. I do not propose to discuss those methods now, because I think it is more appropriate to do so when the proposals of the Government are before us. I should only like on this point to make one or two observations. In my view the root of the problem arises from the cost of making by-roads for residential purposes—building sewers, making footpaths, supplying gas, water and electricity. That is the root of the problem and you will never be able to get housing based on groups until you deal with the question of providing for the cost of those services without which group house building cannot take place. It seems to me that the root of the problem lies in finding some means by which the community—the county councils or the nation—can appropriate some part of that immense increment in land values which arises when roads are built at the public expense through areas which are already built up or are likely to be built up.

Your Lordships are familiar with many instances of the immense sums which have been made in that way. In the neighbourhood of Highgate a farm of 250 acres fetched, I am told on sound authority, no less than three-quarters of a million pounds. Everybody is familiar with numbers of instances of that kind. In many cases, of course, the landowners incur burdens and there is a lag between the time at which they incur expenditure and the time at which development takes place. It is by no means true that wherever a road is built vast profits always fall into the pockets of the landowner. I happen to be a bit of a landlord myself, and, therefore, I know that there are two sides to this question. Nevertheless there can be no question that immense values have been created, not through any enterprise on the part of the landlord but through public enterprise, from one end of this country to the other. It seems to me that some way should be found by which some proportion of that increment should be appropriated by the community and used in the first instance for building those secondary roads, and for the purpose of making sewers and so on, without which you will not get private enterprise to undertake the building of houses in groups. That is the first point I would like to make.

The second is this. You have to deal specially with the problem of road trans port. The Government have to undertake a much more ambitious programme of road building than has yet been contemplated. We have paralysed, or at any rate rendered useless for rapid transit, a large proportion of the roads of this country. It is not going to be many years before almost everybody in this country has some form of motor vehicle. You only have to go to the United States to find what happens when, after a long period of time, the cheap, second-hand motor car falls to a price of £5 or £10, and to see the number of people who then own their own cars. The great increase in motor car ownership which has been so manifest in the last few years is, in my view, going to continue indefinitely until most families in this country will have some form of motor vehicle. If that is true—and I think it is true—the existing roads are quite inadequate.

If you are going to solve this problem it is not only necessary to curb and control ribbon development and to develop group housing off the roads, but in my view it is also necessary to have a system of national roads from one end of the country to the other which will be roads for rapid traffic. It is impossible to have the restricted areas through great distances, which are inevitable under present conditions, and which will increase rapidly unless ribbon development is curbed. Therefore I would ask your Lordships to support the Motion which stands in my name. I believe that the matter is one of real national urgency. I believe that unless it is tackled soon the evil will rapidly get very much worse, and I hope some pressure may be brought to bear upon the Government to resolve this difficulty and produce legislation to deal with it, if possible before Easter or at any rate soon after. I certainly trust that a Bill dealing with the matter will be put upon the Statute Book before the end of the present Session. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House it is essential that the protection against ribbon development in rural areas given by any Bill dealing with the problem should include within its scope the greatest possible number of roads.—(The Marquess of Lothian.)


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Marquess for having brought this question before the House at the present juncture, as it may do something to hurry the legislation, of which I think we all acknowledge the need. On behalf of the County Councils Association I want to say that we welcome this Motion most heartily and that we shall welcome legislation on the subject even more heartily. I think that this House will be nearly unanimous on the broad question. We are all agreed that we want our great trunk roads to be neither ugly nor dangerous, and ribbon development makes them both. From the æesthetic point of view I do not think it is necessary for me to argue about the ugliness of some—I might say most—of the houses with which our great trunk roads are adorned. The county councils are sometimes accused of being too purely utilitarian and of not having enough care over what I really think is their duty—that is, to preserve the amenities of the district entrusted to their charge. I think they do realise nowadays that that is their duty, and they recognise that they are not only trustees of the safety of the public, but trustees of the beauty of their county.

The noble Marquess has very justly drawn attention to the fact that ribbon development not only makes roads ugly but makes them dangerous. I have been given the same figures as to casualties that he has quoted to your Lordships. I think there are about four times as many casualties in built-up areas as in areas that are not built up, but I do not know how far it is fair to quote those figures, because from the very fact that an area is built up, there must be more chances of casualties since the population is much greater. There are the figures, however, and whatever deduction you make from them they are startling enough. Therefore it is our duty, simply for the sake of safety, to see that wherever possible traffic should avoid built-up areas. That is what local authorities to the best of their power have been attempting to do, but the difficulty they have to contend with is this. They make a new road, a by-pass as it is called, through what, up till then, has been a rural district. When the bypass is made the district ceases to be rural. As soon as you make a great trunk road for purposes of communication you get little villas and cottages built right up against the road, the district ceases to be rural, and what was meant to be a country road becomes a street. There is another point in which the rural authorities are interested. The noble Marquess has already referred to it, and I would like to bear out what he said. My information is the same as his, that it costs more to provide services for houses scattered along a great read than for the same number of houses in a compact developed area.

On another point, I think we shall have general agreement, and that is, that when legislation is brought in, that legislation ought to be prohibitive. By that I mean that it ought to enact that at a certain distance from certain roads houses should not be built until the consent of the highway authority has been obtained. The onus should be on the builder to get leave to build, not on the highway authority to object. It is enormously important that this should be a positive and not a negative piece of legislation. Then, too, I think we shall all he agreed that time is of the essence of the matter. This is a measure that is long overdue. The harm that has been done already I dare say cannot be put right., but what we want is protection for future roads, protection of existing unspoiled by-roads, if and where such exist, and a certain number even of by-passes are not yet built up. We want protection of all existing important lines of communication that pass through our country districts.

On all those points I think we are agreed, but in my opinon we ought to go a little further than that. We ought to be so far in agreement that when a Bill is introduced it may go through both your Lordships' House, and another place in the minimum of time, because this matter is really pressing. The evil we want to prevent is going on from week to week, from day to city, and almost from hour to hour. If the Fill is to go through quickly we must be quite clear in our minds what we want. For that reason I was rather sorry that the noble Marquess indulged. in a short discussion of the subject of betterment. Betterment. may be right, or it may be wrong, but it is not a subject on which there is universal agreement, and if you introduce it into a Bill of this sort, vat are going to hang up the Bill for a much longer time than we want to see occupied in passing it.

As I have said, I agree with the substance of the Motion, but I hope the noble Marquess will forgive me if I say that I do not think it is altogether happily worded. The last line of the Motion reads—"should include within its scope the greatest possible number of roads," That, to my mind, is too sweeping. That would include in rural areas roads that are specially made and intended for housing development. The noble Marquess, I am sure, does not want to improve such roads, so why say so? I should be very glad if he would make it clear that it is not his intention to include such roads. For myself I should prefer that after the word "should" in the last line the Motion should read "be as wide as practicable." I really think we mean the same thing, and if that is so, and if the noble Marquess will make that clear, I should give the Motion my most hearty support.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Marquess for introducing this Motion, and I should like to use this occasion for directing an appeal to His Majesty's Government, as briefly as possible but with the utmost emphasis at my command. The simplest means of directing your Lordships' attention to the almost desperate character of the present position would be to remind you of the ironic sequence of events which has led up to it. For present purposes I think they may be said to have begun in last October, when the Minister of Health and the Minister of Transport jointly directed to the Council for the Preservation of Rural England—then in conference, I think, at Southampton—what amounted to an express denunciation of ribbon building. They denounced it as ugly, as dangerous, and as uneconomic. Accordingly we start from the position that it is eminently unnecessary to convert His Majesty's Government to the crying nature of the scandal which still, six months after His Majesty's Ministers denounced it, is in our midst unabated, and indeed very seriously increased.

It is to be presumed that His Majesty's Government are aware, since His Majesty's Ministers have stated, that ribbon development is uneconomic; because the frontager can only have public services brought to his door at a greatly increased cost; and un economic also, of course, because the frontage development inevitably impairs the rateable value of the back area. We must also presume that His Majesty's Government are aware, because His Majesty's Ministers have stated, that ribbon development is dangerous; dangerous for reasons which both the noble Marquess and Lord Bayford have so adequately put before your Lordships. We must also presume that His Majesty's Government are aware, because His Majesty's Ministers have stated, that ribbon development is ugly—although I cannot help there pausing and inserting a question-mark, for I sometimes suspect that Government Departments, admirably equipped as they are to handle any problem which can be instantly reduced to statistics, are not perhaps equally qualified to appreciate so intangible a quality as beauty.

I hope I shall not be misunderstood if I say that for my part I regard the ugliness of ribbon development as in the last resort more sinister even than the threat to human life and the economic waste of which it is admittedly the occasion. There is the immense moral ugliness of these thinly-strung dwellings in which no proper social community life will ever be possible. Is it not a savage commentary upon our modern civilisation that the two most characteristic building products of our day are the diminutive luxury fiat in which family life is impossible, and ribbon development in which community life is impossible? There is further, of course, the sheer naked physical ugliness of ribbon development; the progressive desecration of the lovely and homely serenity of the English landscape without even the compensating equivalent of creating the comparative urbanity of the town. If we permit that continued violation of what is perhaps our most precious national heritage, I think we shall have to admit what Plato would have called "the lie in the soul."

So much for the point of departure of this ironical sequence of events. It was followed a few days later by that letter which the noble Marquess has already quoted, with its powerful signatories, addressed to the Prime Minister and appealing against ribbon development. It. powerfully recited the admitted evils, and it concluded, in effect, by pointing out that His Majesty's Government, side by side with their unprecedented drive against slums, were in fact promoting the creation of new slums which, equally inevitably and at an equally formidable cost, some future generation will have to destroy. That letter may be accounted largely responsible for the fact that some twelve days later, in its programme for the legislation for this Session, His Majesty's Government included the somewhat equivocal phrase: Measures will be introduced, if time permits, for the control of building development … There fell to me the very great honour on that occasion of seconding the Address in your Lordships' House to the gracious Speech from the Throne. I ventured even then to point out that if those somewhat unfortunate words were not immediately followed by drastic legislation, then His Majesty's Government would in effect have been extending to the speculative builder an invitation to do his worst as rapidly as possible.

In the comparative liberty of your Lordships' present proceedings, and four and a-half months later, I cannot refrain from adding that when His Majesty's Government used those unfortunate words it was as if a man about to depart for a week-end were to say: "My mother is in a burning house, and when I come back, if time permits, I propose to rescue her." There have been so many distinguished Cassandras in this matter of ribbon development that I hope it will not be thought unduly presumptuous if, on the strength of that occasion last November, I, too, claim to have added myself to their unenviable number. There could be no snore cogent justification for that modest claim, which so many of us on your Lordships' Benches could make, than a letter which appeared as recently as yesterday in The Times, in which the Chairman of the Gloucestershire branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, Sir Fabian Ware, referring precisely to that warning which seemed so gratuitously to be given in the gracious Speech from the Throne, writes: The threat of legislation to suppress ribbon development has frightened the bad speculative builder into desperate activity. He continues a little further on: The situation is desperate. It is not a matter of years but of months and even weeks. In view of these facts is it not manifest that a. precisely analogous warning should now be given to the Government if the Bill we are promised groves to be merely permissive?

If it is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, asked that it should be, drastically prohibitive, then we are merely renewing that same invitation to the speculative builder. Admittedly there is on the Statute Book the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, and admittedly it is conceivably possible that ribbon development could be ended by the powers granted in that Act; but equally admittedly ribbon development is not being ended; equally admittedly the local authorities are not, in any great number, using those powers; and equally admittedly the Act was not intended to be rapidly put into operation. Now unless we have, in the Bill to come, a measure which can be rapidly put into operation and which is not merely permissive, then we shall once more be saying to the speculative builder: "Make your hay"—or possibly a more appropriate agricultural metaphor would be "Sow your tares"—"while there is still sunshine." I would most heartily endorse the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, for a strictly prohibitive measure in which the onus shall rest upon the man who wishes to build to obtain permission either from the authority under the Town Planning Act or from the highway authority.

I would also, if I might, add this as a further danger in purely permissive legislation: that despite what Lord Bayford has rightly said as to the sense of responsibility now felt by county councils, I think that in certain urban districts local authorities are still apt to be dominated by those trading interests which stir suffer from the chronic illusion that an increase in the population of their towns, which necessarily means an increase in potential customers of its traders, is the overriding interest of the entire population of the city, to which all other considerations must necessarily give place. Those are survivals the Victorian commercial bourgeoisie which defaced England for the bettor half of the last century.

I do not want to labour the point, which the noble Marqaess has already made and with which Lord Bayford, I think, is in substantial, if not verbal, agreement, with regard to the necessity of applying this coming measure not only to the main roads. The result of that would be merely to divert traffic to the minor roads and that, to quote the same letter of Sir Fabian Ware, would be "even more disastrous." There are many objections and difficulties which one could discuss if there were time. All I would do now, however, is to ask His Majesty's Government if it is not true that whatever difficulties there may be there is no civilised country in the world except this which has not found a means of solving them. I believe it is possible now to drive through the suburbs of New York, the capital of the great State which until only the other day was the borne par excellence of individualist laissez faire—it is possible to drive out through the outskirts of New York through a succession of park ways, which constitute a permanent and inalienable countryside. But if you drive out through the London suburbs you will drive through the Kingston by-pass of which, it was said by the Chairman of the Surrey County Council: "We projected a by-pass and we have produced a byword."

Is there not in this matter a special obligation on the National Government? This, after all, is no mere Party administration desperately angling for votes. Many of us have supported it—not only, but very largely—because we believe that one of its sovereign merits is that it has protected us from Dictatorship by giving us the liberties of democracy without its inefficiency. This matter is a very formidable test of that claim. Ribbon development is seen by millions every week-end. I cannot think that Signor Mussolini would have allowed that to happen to his road from Rome to Ostia, which we allow to happen to the Kingston by-pass. Are we really going to allow it to be possible for an advocate of Dictatorship to take a stranger to one of these shack-lined ribbons and say: "This is what democracy has allowed to happen to the loveliest countryside in the world and all because the Parliamentary system itself had not time to abolish what its own Government had admitted to be a national scandal," and because when the time at last came it could not find stomach for more than that half-measure which is worse, in my opinion, than no measure at all? I do most earnestly ask the Government to save us from that indignity.


My Lords, I only wish to add a few words to the presentment of the case made by the noble Marquess. I do not suppose there is anybody in this House, or for that matter outside this House, who is not against ribbon development. The trouble is the actual framing of a measure against ribbon development, and from the answer made in another place it is quite clear that the Government are finding it extremely difficult to draft their measure. Nevertheless I would like to impress upon them how fatal this delay is being; as the last speaker has said, the delay is aggravating the situation. The fact that the speculative builders know that the Government are contemplating bringing in this measure is making them hurry up to build more and more houses along the roads of this country. I hope the Government will consider whether it is not possible in some way, by administrative Order or otherwise to anticipate their own measure and stop the building which is going on, simply because people know that their measure is going to be brought in.

There is not only the fact that the Government cannot make up their mind how to draft their Bill, but also the fact that when they have drafted it the measure will probably get entangled in their swollen programme, and they will find it very difficult to bring it in, even after they have drafted it. The Joint Amenities Group of the two Houses of Parliament met and discussed this question, and went before the Prime Minister to put the case for this measure. They were very strongly of opinion that it should be brought into this House and not into the House of Commons. The House of Commons is always overloaded with work, and not only overloaded with work but takes much more time doing its work, and is much less efficient about doing its work than the unreformed House of Lords. Therefore I think it would be of enormous advantage if this measure, when framed, were brought into this House, where the very difficult Committee stage could be dealt with and practically all the work connected with it done. Thereby the amount of work ultimately devolving upon the House of Commons would be very small. I hope that the noble Earl who is going to reply for the Government will take this point into consideration when he comes to deal with the question.


My Lords, I will not detain you for more than a moment or two. I really only want to enforce a point which has been made by every speaker, and that is the urgency of this question. I am amazed that during the last five or six years successive Governments have been so impervious to the growing urgency of this problem—the double urgency: firstly, with regard to the great arterial roads, and secondly in respect of the smaller side or back roads. What I want to impress upon the Government is this. They and their predecessors, year by year, have been spending tens of millions of money upon our roads, and now, owing to inadequate planning and control, they are discounting all that expenditure. They are wasting all the roads they have built, and are in fact reducing the breadth of their roads, because every house strung along one of these great arterial roads is entitled to have access to the main thoroughfare—access to the footpath to the front door, and access to the little garage. The result is that there are great arterial roads throughout the country which, for mile after mile, are hedged in by these small dwellings, each one of which has direct access to the roads, and the occupier of which possesses and exercises the right of leaving a little car outside his own little house. On each side of the road therefore, three, four or five feet may be discounted. It adds to the danger, it adds to the inconvenience, and it greatly reduces of course the beauty of these roads, which run in nine cases out of ten through beautiful, open, clean English country.

It is rather a significant thing that nowadays in many directions if you want to see the scenery of England you must travel by railway rather than by road. I call it significant: it is also a very sinister fact. The noble Lord below me, Lord Elton, mentioned one big arterial road. I should like to mention another, the Western Avenue, the road leading out from the best exit from our Metropolis along an easy countryside up to the very palace of the Sovereign. We are making that great road into the meanest road in the Empire. My noble friend below me mentioned what Signor Mussolini is doing. He is planting communities all over Italy, but they are communities. They are not odds and ends of little mean shacks dotted along the thoroughfares: they are little townships growing up with a civic and communal sense, with a social responsibility and a social centre, which ribbon development completely destroys. My noble friend below me was right in saying that ribbon development is not only grossly uneconomic, but it is an offence against the social system of our country. Our social system is based upon the English village, and that is the very negation of the English village.

Since the main road is destroyed by these little insignificant houses strung along it, the builder is pushed back to the side roads. There the danger in many ways, from the point of view of human life, is greater than on the big roads. At least on the big road there is a certain amount of traffic control by the authorities. And subordinate roads are themselves very beautiful things. They are intended to serve the countryside, and as they get hedged in, these irregular roads, you are again discounting the value of the big roads and of the little roads alike. I therefore press upon the Government to realise that they are throwing away millions of money by this senseless and unjustifiable delay. They have been doing it year after year, and apparently now, judging from the quotation of the noble Marquess opposite, they have not yet made up their minds what they mean to do. I think it is ten thousand pities.

One further point. I entirely agree with what Lord Esher said about the necessity of dealing with this in a very strong manner. But I do not myself wish any critics to say that we are against building. We are not against building. I do not want to reduce the number of cottages or bungalows up and down the country by one per cent. All I ask is that they shall be properly planned, and that there shall not be the wastefulness and the scandal which arise from ribbon development. There must not be any suspension of building through the Bill of the Government. What is wanted is that the building shall be properly controlled, and that is all that I, for one, propose to ask. But, on the other hand, the procedure certainly must be rapid, and the whole machinery of planning ought to be hastened if possible, because the Bill has to be framed in such a manner as to operate with speed. We have to try and catch up some of the lost ground. A letter in The Times a day or two ago from Sir Fabian Ware showed how the delay of the Government is stimulating the very evil which they announce that they wish to stop. We have really got to have a Bill. I do not suppose that an interim Order by the Government would do quite so much as Lord Esher expects, but if we can get the Bill and pass it quickly through our own House, and get the House of Commons, immediately it has finished the India Bill, to tackle it, then really there is a chance of getting legislation through by the end of Judy. Otherwise, the position is simply going from bad to worse.

So I hope this Bill will be promptly introduced, and will be strong in the sanctions it gives for all building to be submitted to the local planning authorities. I do not want in any way to limit their discretion. What I want them to do is to exercise it, to have the discretion and to exercise it, and to keep these buildings under proper control. I was delighted with what Lord Bayford said about the sense of responsibility felt by our county councils. He is the accredited representative of them in your Lordships' House in this respect, and he spoke with their authority when he said how deeply they feel that responsibility upon their shoulders. I rejoice that that should be so, but there are many other authorities besides the county councils in whom we should like that spirit developed, because, as has been well said, the new England is being transferred from the squire class to new ownership, and the new England is very vulnerable indeed, and it requires every measure of protection that we can afford. I therefore conclude by again pressing the Government, with all the earnestness I can bring to bear, to hasten forward this legislation, in order that this grave state of affairs may be mitigated as soon as possible.


My Lords, unfortunately I was not able to hear the whole of the speech of the noble Marquess, but I did hear the concluding passages of it, and since then I have listened with attention to all the powerful appeals that have been made to the Government. But there is one appeal which has not yet been made to the Government, and which I desire to make, and that is the appeal from the point of view of the motor world which uses the roads of the country. The view of the motor world is that we pay in taxation some £172,000,000 per annum. A very large portion of this, some £25,000,000, is taken by the Government and spent upon road development. A lot of these big arterial roads—a lot of the main roads in the country at any rate—have been very largely constructed by grants from the Road Fund; in other words, by the money of the motorist. The position of the motorist really is that he has provided a very large proportion of the money to build the new roads, and it seems very hard that now many of these roads are being scheduled as restricted roads; that is to say, a special limit of speed has been applied to them. Not only so, but the motorist is being very largely blamed for the accidents which happen upon the roads simply and solely because ribbon development has been allowed to go on.

What is the use of spending £35,000 to construct a mile of new arterial road and then doing nothing to preserve the edges of that road from building development? The only justification, I think, for spending such an enormous sum of money on new roads must be the provision of better and safer and quicker arteries for the traffic which has to move upon them. If you allow these roads to be restricted, the speed to be cut down, and life and limb to be sacrificed merely because nothing is done, it seems to me and to the whole motor world to be a most extraordinary state of affairs. Take the new by-pass roads. Very many of them, such as the Watford by-pass, the Western Avenue—though I think the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, meant the Great West Road: the Western Avenue is another road—most of them were thirty-foot roads. They were adequate roads, having regard to the traffic which passed along them when they were made, but the moment you have ribbon development the width of the road becomes altogether inadequate. If anybody doubts that, there must be many of your Lordships who know the Watford by-pass, the Southend by-pass, and the Western Avenue. Of course if you go further afield, up and down the country you find the same state of affairs.

The arterial road, as originally planned, is quite inadequate now to take the arterial traffic and the distributive traffic as well. It seems to me—and this is where I so cordially support the noble Marquess in his plea—that a far greater vision must be exercised by the Government in the provision of roads in the future than we see any evidence of at the present time. Our Minister of Transport, to whom I should like to pay tribute for his courage and initiative in the great work he has done while in charge of his Department, recently made a speech in the Midlands wherein he foreshadowed a new programme of road development all over the country. A great many people were delighted and were ready to do everything to support that programme, but very little has been done and nothing has been heard of it since then.

What, it seems to me, we really want in this country is an entirely new road system. Many of our roads are now approaching saturation point. Your Lordships must be well aware of the extraordinary congestion that arises supposing traffic is held up for only a brief time, say a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes, on any of our great arterial roads to-day. It is astonishing the miles of traffic which will collect in those circumstances, and that congestion, of course, goes back and causes further congestion in the approach roads leading to the main arterial roads. If we could go in for a programme of road development conceived on entirely new lines, and safeguarded by a Bill, as I hope, which would be passed by both Houses of Parliament, to protect those roads from the evils of ribbon development, then I believe we should get a system of roads adequate to this country. The noble Marquess who raised this question or some subsequent speaker referred to what is going on in America and other countries. I am perfectly certain that in no other country but this would such a position be allowed to continue for a moment.

What we want is action. Never was a Government so well fitted to take action as the present Government. As has already been pointed out, they are in a very strong position. The country is perpetually crying out for action in more than one way, and here is a way in which the National Government could meet the popular will and proceed to take their own line and act upon it. Unless action is taken soon, it seems to me there will be a most desperate state of affairs. Many thousands more lives will be lost on the roads, and the roads will prove to be even more inadequate than they are at present. I do plead with the Government with all the earnestness at my command. So far as London is concerned it is perfectly true they have appointed a very distinguished civil servant as a sort of traffic dictator. I understand his job is to go into the question of the exits from London and all London traffic problems, and replan our London traffic and improve it. But that does not go far enough. He does not go outside London, as far as I know, to any great extent, and it seems to me that this gentleman needs to go further afield than he has actually gone yet.

The question is one of urgency. The Government know perfectly well what the position is. Statistics have been produced to show, and all traffic experts have told them, that human life is at stake. Lives are being lost and people are being injured on our roads every day as long as this question remains untouched. Admittedly it cannot be tackled in a moment, but if the Government mean action they can easily introduce a Bill in your Lordships' House, and by the use of their position and power I am perfectly certain that that Bill would be passed with the minimum of delay. I beg the Government to consider this from every point of view that has been urged this afternoon and, above all things, not to allow the evil to continue one minute longer than is necessary.


My Lords, I only want to make what I may call one practical suggestion. The difficulty is to find an inducement for people who want to have access to the arterial roads, to prevent their building or obtaining houses on these roads. The cost of erection of these houses in many ways is considerable, but it ought to be much greater if you are going to deter people from erecting houses and living along these arterial roads. What the Government have to do, in a nutshell, it seems to me, is to introduce legislation which is going to secure that people are induced to live away from these arterial roads and fine them by some method in the event of their wilfully going on to sites near these roads. I know there are enormous difficulties, but the real problem is to devise an inducement which will encourage people to live in communities away from the arterial roads, and fine them in the event of their building or living near these roads.


My Lords, I only rise to express my agreement on behalf of, I believe, the majority of the county councils of Scotland with what Lord Bayford has said, speaking on behalf of the county councils of England. The point I wished to bring forward has been anticipated by Lord Crawford and Lord Howe—namely, the narrowing effect which this building has on the. width of our main roads. Every house which is allowed to have its frontage reduces the effective width of the road by about eight feet, allowing for the vehicles that often stand outside. The county with which I have the honour to be connected has spent a large sum of its own money, and a very much larger sum of the Government's money, in building by-pass roads. One of these is being rapidly built upon and in consequence narrowed. The other two, I am thankful to say, have so far escaped, because in the case of one of them at least the necessary services of water and so on are not available. Something should be done, and I do not think it would be impossible to insist that where people build adjacent to a main road they should at least provide standing room for a car off and beyond the actual metalled margin of the road. The actual cost of so doing would not be great, and it would have a great effect in freeing the main road for traffic. But that, of course, is only nibbling at the question.

We have heard to-night of the great roads round London. The noble Marquess must be well aware of the great ribbon development round Edinburgh at the present time, which is spoiling all the main roads of access to that City. We need legislation for Scotland probably quite as much as for England. Yet do not suppose we wish to check the building. I am entirely in agreement with Lord Crawford there. We in the county councils desire to encourage building, naturally, because it increases our valuation and enables us to do more things which we wish to do, but we do wish to have power to regulate these matters. Only the other day I asked about a road which had been widened at great expense and which is being rapidly built along on both sides. I asked if we could do anything under the Town Planning Act, and the reply I got was: "You may do it, but you must compensate the owners," and the amount of that compensation would doubtless be something which we very well cannot afford to pay.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships. I only wish to express my earnest hope that we may have legislation applicable to the whole United Kingdom, because at present, however anxious we in the county councils may be to preserve the amenities of our counties and secure the full advantage of the roads we have made, we are powerless to do so. With reference to by-roads I would point out that they are in danger of becoming more and more important, because the more they are built along the greater the traffic which they will attract. We wish to have power to widen those roads as required in the future. I earnestly hope that His Majesty's Government will take this matter up at an early date and save the situation before it is too late.


My Lords, the Motion that has been moved by the noble Marquess has received very strong support from many members of your Lordships' House, and I would venture to suggest that this debate again shows the genuine usefulness which members of your Lordships' House can display on a subject of such importance as this. Many of you are connected in some way or other with county councils throughout the country, and the expressions of opinion that have been made in the House this afternoon will be of the utmost assistance and of great value to His Majesty's Government in dealing with what has come to be called ribbon development.

I should like, however, to say at the beginning of my remarks that the Government are fully alive to the urgent need for legislation to enable authorities to deal effectively with this growing evil. They are quite as sympathetic as those who have spoken this afternoon, and are extremely anxious to prevent further destruction and spoliation of the countryside by the gradual and continual conversion of rural roads of some beauty into new streets of ribbon development. Equally, they are in sympathy with other noble Lords whose opinions have also been heard to-day, and who see in ribbon development not only a serious menace to public safety but also a wasteful use of roads which have been provided, at enormous expenditure of public money, to facilitate the easy movement of the ever-growing volume of traffic.

In replying to this Motion may I briefly remind the House of some Acts of Parliament already on the Statute Book that could be employed, and indeed are being employed at the present time, to deal with this matter? I need not go back beyond 1925. In that year two Acts were introduced. One was the Road Improvement Act and the other the Public Health Act which laid down a building line and an improvement line to which the roads were ultimately to be extended. I refer to a question which was asked in another place at the beginning of this month in order to remind your Lordships that out of 177,000 miles of roads in this country to-day, only approximately 2,500 miles have so far been prescribed under these Acts. Later we had the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932. I think we all had hopes that this Act might relieve the monotony of ribbon development and do something to prevent the continual destruction of the countryside. I think the underlying question in dealing with a matter of this character is that of compensation. That must be the underlying principle of any Bill which could be introduced, and it does appear in all previous Acts to have to some extent frightened local authorities in the execution of the duties which have been entrusted to them by Parliament.

However, there have been cases of co-operation between the planning authority on the one hand and far-sighted public spirited landowners on the other. They have from time to time met together and reached useful conclusions. Although progress has been slow, the parties have certainly realised that careful group planning is far more beneficial to everyone concerned than any haphazard system of ribbon development with all the evils that must of necessity follow in its course. There are also one or two Private Bills which have received the assent of Parliament in recent years. The object of these has been to stop this objectionable development. I refer to the powers that have been obtained by the Surrey, Essex and Middlesex County Councils, which were mentioned by the noble Marquess. The Hertfordshire County Council also has a Bill on its journey through Parliament. There is no doubt that genuinely good work has been done as a result of what is known as the Surrey Clause. I do not think your Lordships would desire me to enter into that matter at the present time, but I may say that owners of property have been endeavouring, with success, to get together to develop districts on a sound and proper basis, and it is to be hoped that the success which they have achieved will be continued.

I have very briefly referred to the Acts which are on the Statute Book and which are being employed at the present time to deal with this matter, but the Government are well aware that a further Bill is necessary if the whole country is to act in uniformity. May I, in dealing with this matter, remind your Lordships of some of the difficulties with which the Government have to contend in drawing up a Bill of this character? Firstly, before any Bill is presented either to your Lordships' House or another place, the final effect of it must be seriously taken into consideration. Great care must be taken to ensure that any measure which finally passes through Parliament will not seriously hamper the private development of any land bordering on main roads or on roads in rural areas. I do not think anybody in your Lordships' House or elsewhere has any sympathy for what I might describe as get-rich-quick development people, but we must take into consideration the owners of property who are prepared to provide better housing; facilities and accommodation in a proper public-spirited fashion.

I think the interest of the Government is greatest in the classified roads, but they are fully alive to the danger that if restrictions are enacted to deal with classified roads speculative development may be pushed on to other roads in rural areas which are uncontrolled. I should like to refer in passing to the Report published last week of the Departmental Committee on Garden Cities and Satellite Towns over which the noble Lord, Lord Marley, presided. There is in that document information showing the very grave evils that do follow when any area is ruined by ribbon development. I do not propose to quote from that document this afternoon, but I would ask those of your Lordships who are interested in this matter to study that particular portion of the Report with close attention.

It must be recognised that if any measure which the Government introduce is to be effective, it must deal equitably with the many interests involved. I think that regardless of politics it is universally agreed that it is a wasteful use of the countryside to have this haphazard ribbon development, but the machinery which will be brought in by the introduction of a Bill must be carefully understood, not only by those authorities who may be called upon to work such a measure, but equally by those whose activities are brought under review. Moreover, any such measure of control must not be unjust to the landowner, nor must it involve any unnecessary or heavy expense on the part of the authority. All these considerations have to be taken into account by His Majesty's Government before the introduction of a Bill. Although it is hoped very shortly to introduce a measure dealing with ribbon development, I am, unhappily, not in a position yet to give the noble Marquess a date when it will be introduced. When it does come along, it will have to deal with this question simply, effectively and speedily, and with due regard and concern for the numerous interests involved. I hope that when that Bill is introduced your Lordships will be as unanimous in support of the action which His Majesty's Government propose to take, as you appear to be in support of the Motion of the noble Marquess. On behalf of His Majesty's Government I am happy to accept the Motion which the noble Marquess has put down, and I hope that I may, with great respect, suggest to the noble Marquess that as I have accepted his Motion, he might be in future a more ardent supporter of His Majesty's Government than he appears to be to-day.


Will the noble Earl tell us the real thing which we all want to know? Will His Majesty's Government, in view of the urgency of the matter, give an undertaking that they will introduce the Bill to which the noble Earl refers this Session?


It is the hope of the Government, as I have said, to introduce a Bill at a very early date.


This Session?


I think this Session; but I do not think I can go beyond the statement made by the Prime Minister in another place the day before yesterday.


My Lords, I had not intended to inflict a speech on your Lordships this afternoon, and I waited to hear the reply made on behalf of the Government before I intervened. After speeches so unanimous and arguments so convincing by all the noble Lords who have spoken, I felt sure that the Government would listen to the appeal made from your Lordships' House, and that we should have something more than the expression of sympathy which the noble Earl has given us. I think the impression that has been left by the speech of the noble Earl is a most unfortunate one. I see no prospect of legislation after what he said. My noble friend Lord Mottistone asked if legislation would be introduced this Session. I very much doubt whether it will come in this Parliament. No date at all is foreshadowed. The noble Earl said the matter must be simply, effectively and speedily dealt with. That is just what your Lordships have been asking. All that he said about the provisions of the Bill might be said about the provisions of any Bill. You always have to see what the final effect will be, and to balance the various interests involved.

His Majesty's Government have had time to consider the question. This is not a Party matter. It is a question that could be dealt with, and the Bill could be passed through your Lordships' House and another place, in the course of a fortnight. The Government have had time already to go into all the questions involved. Everybody fully admits that there are points requiring very serious investigation, but there has been time for that. The noble Earl who replied for the Government referred us to Acts of Parliament that already exist. But we know the way in which people can get round those Acts of Parliament. For instance, there is the Town Planning Act—I think of 1925—which says that there must be only eight houses to the acre, and the way they get round that is by putting houses in a row with immensely long gardens behind them. The idea behind the Act is defeated by the jerry-builders who are able to get access to the roads.

I was glad the noble Earl referred to the Report of the Departmental Committee on Garden City and Satellite Towns. The Report was published last week, and I have been examining it. It is not a Command Paper, but it is available in the Printed Paper Office. I would like to read two of the paragraphs in that Report, because they summarise what has been said so eloquently here this afternoon. In the Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations, paragraphs 4 and 5 read: That the dangers and evils, economic and social, which follow from haphazard, scattered and ribbon development can hardly be exaggerated. That the finding of the necessary area of land for open development outside the town presents no serious difficulty, even in the case of large towns. The evils spring from the much vaster areas spoiled and wasted by haphazard and scattered building. When the Government have gone to the trouble of setting up a Departmental Committee who, after consideration of the available information, are able to summarise it and make recommendations, it does seem a waste of time that they should then come here and, in very dilatory fashion, tell us that at some uncertain future date the matter is going to be dealt with.


My Lords, in view of what the noble Earl has said—I know, of course, that he has done his best to enlighten us and that he cannot compel the Cabinet to act—I beg to move as an Amendment to add at the end of the Motion "and that the necessary legislation be introduced this Session." My reason for moving that Amendment is that in the course of my Parliamentary experience, extending now over about thirty years, I have never heard such unanimous testimony from every side of both Houses of Parliament. Yet, when everything that has been said is accepted by the spokesman of the Government, when it is admitted in addition that delay means all sorts of evil consequences which have been referred to by almost every speaker in the debate, evil consequences in the way of ribbon development and other social evils which, being done, cannot afterwards be stopped; when it is admitted, in addition, as pointed out to the noble Earl opposite, that there is a certain definite amount of loss of human life—when all that has been agreed, all we are told is that there are several other Acts on the Statute Book.

When the noble Earl is pressed to say whether legislation will be introduced this Session he tells us that he cannot say that. I think that this House wants the Government to say that very thing. It is no good for the noble Earl to say to us that the matter is so complicated and difficult that it cannot be done, because he himself admitted—as has happened in the place where I live—that landowners can come together and can agree together with the local authority on such suggestions that, instead of ribbon development, there shall in fact be development by groups, which has every social and other advantage. I have always supported this Government as well as I can, but upon my soul they are trying my patience fairly high. This creeping paralysis which prevents them from ever doing anything is completely intolerable. All the rural areas are drying up for want of water, and they do nothing about it; all the rural areas of England are crying out for preservation; they admit the evil and they do nothing about it. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— At the end of the Motion, insert ("and that the necessary legislation be introduced this Session").—(Lord Mottistone.)


My Lords, I am sure that there is no difficulty in accepting the Amendment which the noble Lord has moved. It has given the noble Lord the opportunity of making a speech which he has wanted to make for some considerable time, and I am sure your Lordships have been very gratified to hear that speech. The noble Lord referred to his Parliamentary experience. He knows quite well the difficulties which surround the programme which the Government have to bring forward at the beginning of a Session, and he knows, perhaps more than most of your Lordships in this House, exactly what Parliamentary time is. I think your Lordships know quite well that Parliamentary time in this Session is very closely allotted now.

I need, however, hardly say that I find myself in full agreement with nearly everything that has been said in this debate. One would imagine from some of the speeches which we have heard that this is a very simply measure, to which there is not likely to be any opposition. There may be none on the principle, but in formulating a measure of this kind many difficulties have to be overcome, and when powers have to be taken we might have the noble Earl, Lord Howe, finding a source of great complaint in the method by which these powers were to be carried out, while noble Lords opposite might take an entirely different view as to the methods by which the powers should be carried out. There might be great controversy between noble Lords on that side and noble Lords on this side, on the single question of how it ought to be done. I can assure your Lordships that I will use whatever influence I have in this matter to hurry on this Bill as fast as it can possibly be hurried on. I am very desirous that a measure which, as your Lordships know, has been very carefully considered should be brought into force as soon as possible.


My Lords, in view of what has fallen from the noble Marquess on the opposite Bench, let us congratulate ourselves on the form of the debate. There has been a unanimous view that this is a matter of great public urgency, and that view, accepted without any qualification by His Majesty's Government, will, I can only hope, show itself in the introduction of a Bill immediately after Easter. If I might make a suggestion, it is conceivable that if His Majesty's Government, burdened as they are by immense public responsibilities, feel that they have not time to solve that difficult question, then it might be possible to introduce the measure into this House, not in its final form, and allow your Lordships to make up their mind.

Lord Bayford asked me whether I attached a very exact meaning to the last words of this Motion: … should include within its scope the greatest possible number of roads. Those words were only used in a very general sense and should, I certainly agree, be interpreted in the sense in which they have been interpreted, as meaning as widely as practicable. I therefore beg to move the Motion which stands in my name, as amended by the Motion made by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone.

On Question, Amendment agreed to, and the Original Motion, as amended, agreed to.


My Lords, may I just ask the noble Marquess a question which he perhaps might be able to answer? Can this Departmental Report on Garden Cities and Satellite Towns be put on to the Pink Paper that is circulated to members of your Lordships' House? Not being a Command Paper, I do not think it goes on automatically.


In answer to the noble Lord, I will make inquiries as to whether what he desires should be done can be done, and I might be able to tell him to-morrow.