§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH)
My Lords, on the 10th April last a debate took place in this House on the subject of the prevention of ribbon development, and during the course of that debate my noble friend Lord Londonderry, on behalf of the Government, agreed to an Amendment of the Resolution before the House, asking for the 917 legislation which was to be brought forward to be introduced this Session. I need hardly say that it is a source of satisfaction to the Government, as I am sure it is to your Lordships as well, that within a month of that date it was possible to introduce this Bill, and to-day I am asking your Lordships to give it a Second Reading. I am glad to feel that there is no difference between us upon the principle embodied in this Bill, and I hope that agreement will be found here, and in another place, so that very shortly we shall have on the Statute Book this Bill, in the form of an Act, to deal with what admittedly is a very great evil.
Ribbon development, as it is now called, requires no explanation to your Lordships. It is no new growth. It might be said that it has existed from time immemorial, almost. By that I mean that those whose occupations centred in towns sought accommodation outside those towns, which, though distant, was necessarily limited by the means of locomotion and conveyance then available. Since them the motor car has revolutionised transport generally, and has led workers in towns to go further afield, with the result that many miles of country roads have been transformed into built-up areas. There is therefore no need for me to impress upon your Lordships the national importance of this problem. The main arguments in support of a measure of control of this kind are, as I see it, of a dual nature. There are the traffic and safety arguments, and there is the æsthetic argument. Both types of argument are of great importance, and together form, I venture to say, an overwhelming case for action.
These, arguments are briefly as follows: Firstly, that it is wrong that the benefits of a good road, as soon as it has been built or improved, should be reduced by the road being cumbered by vehicles standing outside the dwellings which have grown up in a long String fronting directly upon the road. In the next place the building of houses, strung out along our traffic arteries, produces serious danger, as well as congestion. The householders naturally and necessarily have to use the roads, and children are constantly on the roads, running into the roadway, constituting a state of affairs which presents very grave 918 danger. During the course of the discussion on this subject last month figures were quoted showing the number of fatal and other accidents which have occurred upon our roads during the last year or two. Those figures are undoubtedly very alarming. It was shown that in the last year over 7,000 people were killed upon, our roads, and that out of these 7,000 some three-quarters, I think I am right in saying, had been killed in what are now known as built-up areas. The noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, particularly dealt with this subject and asked whether the new thirty-miles-an-hour speed limit which has recently been imposed was likely to constitute a remedy for this state of affairs. I entirely agree with him that it is far too early to express any definite opinion upon that point at present. I do not think, as a matter of fact, that anybody suggested that, in itself, this or any other measure that the Government could take would alone solve the problem of casualties upon our roads; but whether that be so or not the fact remains that ribbon development does create conditions which are dangerous from the safety point of view, and should therefore be checked as quickly and as completely as possible.
Lastly, there is the æsthetic argument, which is by no means the least important. It is clearly undesirable, unpleasant and obnoxious that the appearance of our highways, and the beauty of the country which surrounds them, should be impaired and very often entirely ruined by the disorganised, unsightly, and highly dangerous method of ribbon development. The communal aspect of the problem is another important point which must not be lost sight of. By that I mean that it is obviously desirable to plan buildings in such a way as to establish villages or townships. I think that is generally agreed in your Lordships' House and by anybody who has studied the subject at all, and it is unnecessary, therefore, for me to argue the point. It is desirable to plan on those lines rather than to allow haphazard methods of providing the habitations of the community to grow up, with all their resultant evils. Many of your Lordships will no doubt regret that it is not possible to find any certain means of securing the preservation of our existing rural amenities for all time and throughout the whole 919 country; but, while I cannot myself regard as feasible any general legislation which will guarantee the public against losing at one place or another an uninterrupted view of the countryside, the Government certainly believe that it is within the sphere of practical politics to provide for the proper and orderly development of lands adjacent to the highway. In this way we shall not only preserve the amenities as far as possible, but at the same time we shall prevent conditions being created which will endanger traffic on the highway and once more render inordinately expensive any improvement of the highway found necessary in the future.
I contend that this Bill now before your Lordships represents a real effort to achieve this end. In its preparation we have naturally paid the fullest regard to the representations made to us by the County Councils Association in the light of the important deliberations of their county surveyors and by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. We welcome their help as well as that of other local government authorities and associations which have put forward suggestions to us. Your Lordships will no doubt expect me to refer shortly to previous legislation directed in some sort to this same purpose. The provisions of the Public Health Acts and of the Roads Improvement Act of 1925, dealing with the so-called improvement line and building line, give the highway authorities certain powers in regard to strips of land immediately adjacent to the roads. These powers were designed to secure, first, the reasonable setting back of new buildings so as to give sufficient visibility along the road, and, secondly, to secure the land required for future widening of the road against development. But these measures were designed primarily as highway measures. Their provisions did not deal either with the wider question of amenity or with the question of control of access to the road, upon which I wish to lay very great emphasis this afternoon.
Then the more recent Town and Country Planning Act of 1932 undoubtedly marked a great advance. It did seem at first sight that it provided adequate machinery for dealing with the problem of ribbon development, but owing to a variety of causes the machinery of that Act does not work sufficiently rapidly to cope with this urgent problem. 920 Perhaps I might be allowed to explain in a word or two. In the first place, the planning of a, whole area involves issues of a far wider kind than the mere problem of ribbon development, issues which, if they have to be dealt with satisfactorily, demand careful study and consideration and in many cases prolonged consultation with the landowners and other persons interested. In addition to that, so far-reaching are the powers conferred on planning authorities that Parliament has quite rightly required, in the making of planning schemes, the observance of a somewhat complicated procedure which necessarily involves considerable delay. Again, the planning authority under the Act of 1932 is by no means always the highway authority responsible for the roads whose protection from indiscriminate development the present Bill is primarily designed to secure. While in some areas wise and valuable use is being made of the provisions of the Planning Act for joint control, in other areas that is not so.
Furthermore, I must admit that in come cases planning authorities are chary of exercising their powers to the full extent. They fear the possibility that they will be required to pay large sums by way of compensation within a short period of time irrespective of whether any injurious affection to the land has actually resulted from the planning control. In the present Bill, on the other hand, we have endeavoured to ensure that full and just compensation shall follow only upon proof that any such injurious affection has actually resulted. That is a very important point, which I am sure your Lordships will readily realise. I shall deal with these provisions in more detail later on, but I should like to take an early opportunity to pay tribute to the public spirit and co-operation which many landowners have shown to local authorities in formulating and carrying through great schemes, which have only been made possible by a farsighted policy on both sides.
Recognising as they did that the existing statutory powers were not proving effective for dealing with the problem of ribbon development, certain county councils have, in the last few years, sought and obtained from Parliament yet further powers. Those of your 921 Lordships who are associated with the counties of Surrey, Middlesex and Essex are probably quite familiar with these measures. These Private Acts provide, broadly, that on certain roads, which may be declared by resolution of the council to be main thoroughfares, au owner must obtain the consent of the council before building within 200 feet of the boundary of the road or before constructing any new means of access to the road. The County Councils Association made strong representations to His Majesty's Government that these special powers given to individual county councils should be made of general application, and Clause 2 of the Bill now before the House gives effect to this proposal. It enables the highway authority to control buildings, with certain few exceptions, within 220 feet of the middle of the road.
But the Bill marks, in my view, an advance on the Private Acts, for it brings this control so far as concerns the acquisition of roads into operation immediately upon the passing of the Bill. This was a point which we have been urged from many quarters to secure. This means that the requirement of consent of the appropriate highway authority for building and for the formation of new means of access along the line of 40,000 miles of roads, which are the most important roads from the traffic point of view, will be applied automatically and at once. We think that it would be going too far to apply this procedure automatically to the remaining 130,000 miles of roads in this country, but we have provided in this Bill that the highway authority may, in the case of any unclassified road where such control would be desirable, by resolution and with the concurrence of the Minister of Transport, apply the provisions of this clause to that road also. Quite obviously we do not want to see bad development driven off the classified roads merely to be free to spread to the unclassified roads which radiate from our towns and villages and are now in too many cases being spoiled. In this connection I should like to say that steps will doubtless be taken while the Bill is still before Parliament to draw the attention of the highway authorities to this power which is given in the Bill so that they may be in a position to act without delay as soon as this Bill is passed into law.
922 This general power of control for 220 feet on either side from the middle of the road may, I think, be conveniently described as the provision of an amenity building line. But I confess our purpose would be but incompletely achieved if this provision resulted merely in setting back, to a distance of 220 feet from the highway, the ribbon development. What we do aim at is to enable the highway authority to encourage ordered development arid, in particular, ordered group development. At the same time it is essential to provide, from the more limited traffic standpoint, that on the more important routes all possible steps should be taken to safeguard land which may be required to be thrown into the highway at a later date in order to provide sufficient width of road for increased traffic requirements, including, of course, where necessary, dual carriageways, footpaths and cycle tracks and, in appropriate cases, subsidiary service roads.
We are accordingly taking powers in Clause 1 of the Bill to enable the highway authority, with the Minister's approval, to adopt for any highway one of a number of scheduled standard widths as representing the possible future widths of the road between fences. As to this, I should like to make it clear to your Lordships at once that there is no intention of laying down extravagant and inappropriate widths on any arbitrary scale. Each authority will have to proceed in regard to individual roads in accordance with what is appropriate to the particular circumstances of that road. I would, however, ask your Lordships to bear in mind the rapid development of ideas which the growth of fast-moving traffic has brought about. Widths which a few years ago seemed altogether adequate are to-day proving cramped and unequal to providing means either of segregating the different kinds or streams of traffic or of giving space for service roads away from the main thoroughfare. If in this matter we fail to take a reasonably long view we shall most certainly regret it in the future. May I also remind your Lordships that a modern and well-engineered road offers many opportunities for adding to the appearance of the highway system? My honourable friend the Minister of Transport and his Department do all they can to ensure that verges are properly treated, and to encourage 923 wherever possible the planting of trees not only suitable in themselves to the particular locality, but varied in their character. They also support the work of any useful voluntary association concerned with this aspect of our road system.
To revert: within this standard width the highway authority is to be empowered to prohibit buildings and works of all kind other than defined improvements of existing buildings, and, furthermore, powers in default are given to the Minister of Transport in cases where the authority is held to have failed to take the necessary steps for safeguarding the line of the road required for the safe and adequate passage of traffic in the future. I ought here to point out that these powers may only be exercised by the Minister after the holding of a public inquiry. The maximum standard width set out in the Bill is eighty feet from the middle of the road, which, of course, means an all-over width of 160 feet. In the case of both the wider amenity building line and the narrower standard width line there are special provisions to meet the needs of agriculture, while provision is also made for works commenced before the date on which the restrictions come into force.
Then the Bill simplifies the machinery provisions of the Private Acts as to notice to interests concerned. The Bill itself therefore automatically applies the 220 feet amenity building line to all classified roads. On the other hand the application of the standard width line in all cases and of the amenity building line in the case of unclassified roads requires a special resolution by the highway authority and the approval of the Minister, and must be duly advertised as well. In addition to that the highway authority must maintain and keep available for free inspection by the public at all reasonable times sufficient plans showing the areas affected by any restrictions imposed by virtue of the provisions of this Bill. As a further practical means of emphasising the existence of restrictions upon access the highway authority is in certain cases empowered to erect and maintain fences and posts.
I must now say something with regard to the question of compensation. We have given the closest attention to this difficult question so as to ensure justice 924 to the public interest and, at the same time, to deal fairly with the owners concerned. The proposals now before your Lordships with regard to compensation for injurious affection differ somewhat from those in the Roads Improvement Act, 1925, the Public Health Act of the same year, and the Private Acts to which I have already referred. The earlier Acts, in effect, provided for settlement of compensation immediately the restrictions came into force. The present Bill gives the right to compensation only when evidence is forthcoming that the restrictions are, in fact, limiting development. The importance of this must be quite obvious to everybody. If agreement is reached between the parties concerned the claim for compensation may be settled and extinguished at once; but what we have done is to provide against the highway Authority having to face forthwith claims for compensation in respect of every yard of frontage of all roads throughout the country upon which restrictions have been imposed, and have to be imposed, if the evil at which the Bill is aimed is going to be effectively checked. The result of this is that compensation, instead of having to be paid all at once, is spread over a very considerable time indeed. In the vast majority of cases the injurious affection, if indeed there is any injurious affection at all, will only be felt at some future, and perhaps quite distant, date and we aim at making compensation march with the effective restriction of development.
If we were required to settle right away every claim the arbitrators might very well find themselves called upon to adjudicate on a mass of cases where the potential loss to the owner would be very little more than a matter of speculation. In any ordered scheme of development there should result a substantial element of betterment, and no doubt your Lordships will have observed that special provision is made in the Bill for the offset of betterment against claims for compensation when they arise. I think it is a just principle, and there are many precedents for it. In so far as restriction relates to the standard width line—that is, to the land which ultimately will be required for the purposes of the highway—the Bill proposes expressly to authorise contributions in respect of compensation to be made from the Road Fund.
925 I have already indicated that in close consultation with the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland we have inserted a number of special provisions to meet the needs of agriculture, whose necessary buildings are less likely to obstruct future improve-merits and are indeed often not a disfigurement of the countryside but an integral and pleasing feature of the landscape. We have also made special provision to meet the case of the owner who desires to make some reasonable improvement of a house which will not involve a material enlargement of the site of the building. It is admittedly desirable that no obstacle should be placed in the way of such improvement, but it is nevertheless necessary to secure that a complete alteration of the purpose of a building—such as the conversion, for instance, of a barn into a cinema theatre or something of that kind—should not be taken out of the control of the highway authority. I have dealt so far with the restrictive provisions of the Bill, although we very much hope that in the exercise of those restrictive powers fie authorities will pursue a positive aim. But, knowing how strongly some of your Lordships feel on the matter, we have inserted a direction to the authorities that in making a decision upon an application for consent they should have special regard to the need for preserving the amenities of the locality and for securing proper development.
Following the precedent of the Private Acts to which I have referred, the Bill gives the highway authorities powers for the compulsory acquisition of land adjacent to highways for the purpose of the creation of parkways and the like, as well as for the more limited purpose of the improvement of the highway itself. As in the Private Acts, we limit the depth to which land may be acquired to 220 yards on either side of the middle of the road. I want to apologise at this stage for the coincidence of the figures, which may cause some confusion. I should like to point out that in Clause 2, where we are dealing with the amenity building line, it is 220 feet from the middle of the road on which restriction may be imposed, whereas in this clause it is 229 yards. I may remark here that the general powers of the Bill are conferred not only upon county councils, but also upon the councils of county boroughs, 926 within many of whose recently enlarged boundaries there are still roads of a rural and undeveloped character. We provide also for the roads for which the councils of non-county boroughs and urban districts are responsible. Provision is also made in the Bill enabling authorities to contribute to the expenses incurred by other authorities in exercising the powers conferred upon them in this Bill.
In considering these problems it is quite natural that we should think especially of the roads outside the towns. But the orderly lay-out, the convenience and traffic value of some of our most important urban streets, are also seriously diminished by ill-considered or inadequately controlled building or frontage lines. The Minister of Transport is therefore anxious to take the opportunity to include in this Bill provision for dealing with certain urgent problems of road congestion in towns. The powers of local authorities to provide parking places are enlarged so as to enable them to provide parking accommodation for vehicles in buildings or underground. Those persons who are responsible for new places of resort, or other buildings containing a space of not less than 250,000 cubic feet, may be required to assist in dealing with the traffic which they create in that they may be called upon to provide and maintain accommodation for vehicles taking up and setting down passengers or goods at such buildings. We have reason to believe that these provisions will be welcomed by those responsible for local government.
Power is also taken to adapt the various provisions of the Bill to the special circumstances of London. Following precedent the provisions are, in terms, enabling provisions, but I am authorised to give your Lordships an assurance that the Minister of Transport will, on the application of the London County Council, exercise the powers proposed to be conferred upon him by this Bill to make the necessary adaptation Order under Clause 15 (2), and that the Minister of Health, after consultation with the various authorities concerned, will make the necessary adaptation Orders under Clause 15 (3) and (4). I have dealt, I think, fairly exhaustively with the provisions of this Bill and I do not, wish to, delay your Lordships too long as I know that many of you desire to speak upon 927 this important question. I therefore feel that it is unnecessary at this stage, at any rate, to take the House through the individual clauses of the Bill. I would only assure your Lordships that if any noble Lord wishes to raise any point in connection with any of the clauses I will do my best to deal with it in the course of my reply.
Such, my Lords, is the general scope of the Bill to which I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading this afternoon. We have been urged in many quarters to bring in emergency legislation. Of the urgency of the need His Majesty's Government, I need hardly say, are well aware. But legislation, whether or not we describe it as emergency legislation, must embody some practical proposal. The measure now before your Lordships proposes to bring under immediate control of the highway authorities a belt of land adjacent to the whole of the 40,000 miles of the classified roads of the country. We have gone this length because we are impressed by the arguments of those who urge that some immediate and automatic steps must be imposed lest this octopus extends further its tentacles while formalities delay action. But it appeared to us that to sterilise absolutely such an area would be outside the realm of practical politics; it would represent, in my view, an unjustifiable interference with needed schemes for the improvement of the housing accommodation of large numbers of people. Unless we are prepared—and the Government are not prepared; I say it quite frankly—to countenance confiscatory measures, it would involve the taxpayer or the ratepayer in claims for compensation of an almost unlimited magnitude.
What we propose is that the responsible highway authority should be invested with necessary powers to secure ordered development. The responsibility so far as concerns questions of amenity must largely be a local responsibility. Those of your Lordships who are personally concerned with the business of local government will, I am sure, accept our views that we should emphasise rather than diminish this aspect of the responsibility of local authorities. In the case of the highway itself, and of the land likely to be required in the future for incorporation in the road itself, the position, I agree, is somewhat different. In the 928 case of the classified road, the preponderance of the national over the local interest may be stated to be evidenced by the high proportion of the expenditure on maintenance which is met from the Road Fund. While we have left to the local government authority the primary responsibility for action with regard to standard width, we seek to empower the Central Government to contribute from the Road Fund to the expenditure involved. Furthermore, we reserve to the Minister of Transport the right himself to initiate action if the local authority fails to take the action necessitated by the national character of the highway concerned.
We have considered carefully whether it would in any way be practicable to make the operation of this Bill retrospective in its effect, as it has been suggested to us that recent public utterances as to the urgent need for this legislation have only spurred the ribbon developer to greater activity before a new control is imposed upon him. Be that as it may—and I might say parenthetically that we have had no definite evidence that that has been the case—we do not feel that we can properly ask your Lordships, by some "standstill" clause of drastic character, to immobilise all development, good as well as bad, between now and the date of the passage of the Bill.
In concluding, I would desire to place on record the assistance which my honourable friend the Minister of Transport has received from his consultation with associations representative of highway authorities and from the investigations of other bodies interested in the problem. He asked me to say that he would be glad to continue these consultations upon the provisions of the Bill now that it is before Parliament. We shall warmly welcome the assistance which we are certain to receive from your Lordships in the examination of this Bill. It undoubtedly has its somewhat technical aspects. Your Lordships have already expressed the strong desire to see upon the Statute Book at as early a date as possible a measure for the restriction of ribbon development, and I know that your Lordships will take all possible steps to ensure the early passage of this measure. We are anxious, however, to have the full advantage of the close examination which a measure of this character may hope to receive in this 929 House, so that when it is taken to another place, it may have reached such form that its further passage may have been materially facilitated. It is in these circumstances that with full confidence I ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Earl of Plymouth.)
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House must feel indebted to the noble Earl who has introduced this important measure for the extremely lucid and, if I may say so, sympathetic way in which he has explained what is a somewhat technical measure. He has surely disarmed a great deal of possible opposition to detail and I feel that he has made the matter very much clearer than is normally the ease, at any rate in some Second. Reading introductions of Bills. He has referred to the two principal evils of ribbon development, the traffic difficulty and the amenity difficulty. I suppose that every one of your Lordships who has driver upon the by-pass roads must have seen the danger to traffic of the building of these small houses close alongside roads which were intended, not for small houses, but for rapid t2affic. Similarly, in the case of amenities, the horrible lack of control of development in some of the most beautiful areas of this country must have horrified those of us who pass through them.
I was down in Devonshire last weekend. I saw bungalows growing up on one of the most beautiful areas overlooking the river Teign, with a notice by the builder that these small houses would be put up to the design of the individual occupier. We know what the design of the individual occupier too often is! And there is another beautiful area defaced by these terriole erections. In Hampshire, where I used to live, the area round Catherington and Waterloo-vine has been almost transformed into a traffic terminus by the number of people living in trams, omnibuses and other extraordinary monstrosities which have been allowed to develop alongside a main, first-class, classified road. I had a communication from the Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, pointing out what was going 930 on round the very beautiful City of Cambridge. They say that every day the damage is extended. The spreading out along the main thoroughfares of ribbon development is now taking place on all the most important roads, and, in particular, the rapid growth along certain sections of the main Cambridge to Bedford road has recently aroused serious concern. Clearly the matter calls for immediate attention.
The noble Earl referred to the Surrey clause. Everybody who has used the new and very beautiful Guildford and Godalming by-pass must hope that that beauty will be preserved by the effect of the Surrey clause. It is one of the most beautiful by-pass roads that I have been on, and it would be a degradation of the power of Parliament if that beauty were destroyed. Of course the remedy for those difficulties is, as the noble Earl stated, in the development of the group system of building houses. The group system lends itself to design and architectural beauty; it makes much cheaper the supply of the services—water, gas and electric light—to the groups of houses; it makes for the safety of children, who are able to play without constant anxiety on the part of their parents—and let me say the constant anxiety of drivers of vehicles using the road. Also, it makes possible the development of the proper use of the roads for fast moving traffic. The larger development of the group system—I mean the development of satellite towns—is again a system for preserving the great through roads for rapid traffic, and for making easier and cheaper the supply of services to the new communities. This was dealt with by the recent Departmental Committee over which I had the honour to preside, in the Report which was published some few weeks ago.
The noble Earl referred to the need for this new legislation, and I want to give one example to the House of the method of getting round the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932. In one of the south coast towns, where the Act has been applied, it has resulted in very beautiful development in a part of the area; yet along all the main road leading into this town, the town of Worthing, the provision under which not more than eight houses to the acre are to be built—I think I am right in saying eight, or possibly 931 twelve—has been got over by the speculative builders by buying frontages and putting contiguous houses up every twenty-five feet, and putting gardens, 200 or 300 feet long, behind the houses on land which, being away from the road, has very little value, so as to allow the statutory number of houses, strictly in accordance with the Act. That road is ruined, traffic has become impossible, children are in danger, and the necessity for this Bill is surely clearly seen by everybody who has observed that sort of development.
I have sometimes said in this House, and outside it, that the House of Lords is useless, and is an anachronism, and ought to be got rid of as soon as possible.
§ A NOBLE LORD: Hear, hear.
§ LORD MARLEY
I am glad to have the support of some cheers on the other side of the House for that proposition. But while the other side may continue to support it, I am prepared at once to withdraw a portion of my attack on this House, because I have seen the effect on the Government of the debate which took place a few weeks ago in this House, in which all Parties were united in demanding immediate action, and which resulted in the very rapid presentation of this Bill. There has, of course, been considerable delay since the mention of the Bill in the King's Speech, a delay which has enabled speculative builders to make provision for the danger of this Bill to their profits, and the actual production of the Bill may, in fact, further that speculation. The noble Earl said that he had no evidence of that, and of course if he has no evidence of it I cannot have, but I saw in an admirable leader in The Times last Wednesday a statement that there is at least a strong probability that such building has been accelerated by the threat of a Bill and it will be still more accelerated by the production of this Bill.
Whether there is evidence or not, clearly there is temptation, and it has been said that the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. However that may be, it is, I think, for this House and Parliament to secure that the opportunities for yielding to that temptation shall be minimised to the utmost possible extent. Accordingly, on behalf of the Opposition in this House, I have to 932 say that we have decided that, despite the fact that there are naturally from our point of view imperfections in the Bill, and items that we do not altogether like, and changes that we would desire to see made, in order in every possible way to expedite the passage of the Bill through this House we shall move no Amendment whatever to the Bill. We do that because we appeal to the Government to be prepared to consider this only as a preliminary Bill, to be followed subsequently at an early date, or a later date if not earlier required, by an Amending Bill to meet any deficiencies or defects in the working of the present Bill which may become apparent by a close examination of the results of the Bill in the country.
Clearly there are certain small points in the Bill which we would like to see either altered by the Government themselves in this measure or included in an Amending Bill, if required, or watched very carefully while the Act is in operation, to see whether such amendment may be needed in any future Bill. There is, for example, an obscurity, at least to me, in Clause 1, subsection (1), paragraph (b). I have read this a great many times and I find it difficult to follow it, though I have no doubt it is my own fault. Perhaps the noble Earl would explain it when he comes to reply and make it perfectly clear. The paragraph says that it shall not be lawful without the consent of the highway authority:to erect or make any building or permanent excavation, or to construct, form, or lay out, any works upon land nearer to the middle of the road than a distance equal to one-half of the standard width adopted.So far as I can understand, it would appear to me that if the standard width ever became the actual width of the road we should have buildings right up to the edge of the road, and that would appear to make impossible the final adoption of the standard width as the width of the road. However, I may not have understood this matter, and we should welcome an explanation.
Finally, I want to ask whether the noble Earl would convey to the Minister a request either to consider the adoption by the Government of one or two Amendments to this Bill, or to watch the working of the Bill with regard to the points that I wish to raise, to see whether an 933 Amending Bill is necessary. First of all, in a. vital matter of this kind it appears possible that rather too much has been left to local authorities, who may be tempted to save the payment of compensation by allowing too much latitude in building, and I venture to suggest that possibly greater powers on the part of the Government Department concerned may be found to be necessary if local authorities are not living up to their duties, both in the consideration of traffic and the consideration of amenities. Then, while it is true that there may be grants from the Road Fund in certain forms of compensation, I would remind the House that there are certain local authorities who have much greater road responsibilities than others, and in certain cases it may be unfair to put upon them the full demands for compensation payments. I feel that there ought to be available, possibly in limited or emergency cases, monetary assistance from the Government where compensation assumes a form which would be an unfair burden on a locality; it should not be left entirely to the local authorities.
Then there is the danger, referred to by the noble Earl, of the restrictions applied to the classified roads forcing building, and therefore ribbon development, on to the secondary and non-classified roads. These are some of the roost beautiful roads in our country, and it roast be our desire that they should be preserved against any effect of these restrictions causing their amenity value—and this is mainly an amenity question, not so much a traffic question—to be threatened or damaged. Therefore, I hope that this matter will be watched with a view to the possibility of including the secondary roads along with the classified roads under the operation of Clause 2, not necessarily in this Bill, but in any Amending Bill which may be found necessary. There is also the possibility of extending the powers of frontage control to statutory planning authorities as well as to highway authorities. That, again, is an amenity question, but amenities, as the noble Earl said, are not of less importance than traffic, and I think will become of increasing importance as time goes on. Traffic will gradually solve itself, I believe, by the development of new forms of transport, by more rapid and speedy transport, but 934 amenities once damaged can never be replaced. Therefore, if this were extended to statutory planning authorities and not only to highway authorities, the amenity side of the problem would, I think, be further safeguarded.
There is a final point which was referred to by the noble Earl, the impossibility of making this Bill retrospective—that is to say, making it take effect from the date of the introduction of the Bill rather than the date of the passing of the Bill. I would have liked to see it take effect from the date of the introduction of the Bill. I see the difficulties of that, and that is the principal reason why we on these Benches do urge that in all parts of your Lordships' House we should turn this into almost an emergency measure, even though it is not perfect from the point of view of any one of us or of all of us. If we can secure its immediate passage through this House without a long Committee stage, without many Amendments, with, as far as possible, agreement, it will be possible to get it on the Statute Book before Parliament is prorogued, or whatever happens to Parliament at the end of July. I believe that to be the maximum possible time. I would like to see it go through both Houses within the next five or six weeks. That is possible, and I believe every member of your Lordships' House would welcome an assurance from the noble Earl that it is intended to get this Bill on the Statute Book within the next few weeks, or at any rate with the minimum of possible delay. We support the Bill.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, this Bill was introduced by my noble friend Lord Plymouth in a speech which deserves all the compliments that Lord Marley paid to it. It was a most clear, well-reasoned, and admirable statement of policy, on which, if I may, I should like to congratulate my noble friend. But when I turn from my noble friend's speech to the Bill which he has introduced on behalf of the Government I confess to a great deal of disappointment. The only thing that I can find in this Bill of which I entirely approve is its title. Its title is at least evidence of the intention of the Government to put a stop to ribbon development, and for that declaration of faith we must be grateful to them. I do not think that 935 the Bill as drafted can ever achieve that object, because it is designed on much too narrow lines. I agree with Lord Marley that it is acceptable as a temporary and interim measure. I accept it as such and, like him, I hope that it will be passed as soon as possible.
I agree with him, too, that it cannot be made a perfect Bill by any amendment, but if I criticise it, as I feel bound to do, I do so merely in so far as it can claim to be a, real remedy for the evil with which it professes to deal. The defect of the Bill, in my opinion, is that throughout it proceeds on the assumption that this problem is almost entirely a traffic problem. It is introduced by the Ministry of Transport, it is on the highway authorities that such powers as exist in the Bill are conferred, and nowhere throughout the Bill is there any recognition of the fundamental causes of ribbon development, nor any attempt to coordinate the powers of the highway and planning authorities. The real problem is not so much a traffic problem as a housing problem. A growing population has to be housed and houses have to have frontages on to roads; and, if building is not controlled, it is quite natural that it should follow the arterial roads and that houses should be built upon new roads almost as fast as they are made. Slums and ribbon development are the result of careless planning, and the remedy for both of them is in the decentralisation of population and industry, in restricting the growth of existing towns, planning new towns at suitable places, and then linking them up with efficient highways of communication on which all buildings of all kinds should be prohibited.
The problem is perfectly well understood by those who have studied it for many years, and the remedies have been clearly pointed out over and over again. The remedies consist in the more effective application of the powers of the Town and Country Planning Act and in the recommendations of the Committee presided over by Lord Marley. I think it is unfortunate that the Government should have introduced two Bills this Session the effect of which will be to accentuate rather than to modify or remedy the evils with which they profess to deal. Their Housing Bill, instead of relieving the congestion in our existing 936 towns, will anchor population and industry to the central areas in those towns for generations to come, and this Bill, I am afraid, will have the effect of creating new and better and more expensive ribbons in the future. They are both examples of doing the wrong thing at immense expense, whereas the right procedure would in both cases be very much cheaper.
The intentions of the Government, of course, are excellent. I entirely agree with everything my noble friend said about the problem with which he has to deal and the necessity for putting an end to the evil of ribbon development, but I must confess that the methods adopted in both these cases seem to me to be very unfortunate. The only good that I can see in these two Bills is that, by demonstrating the futility of wrong methods, they will at least strengthen the case for right ones. It is like the problem of trying to get into the centre of a maze; there are many wrong ways, but there is only one right way. Every wrong turning you take is an experience because, by a process of elimination, you ultimately arrive at the right way. I am afraid that neither of these two Bills will, in the sense of this metaphor, get us into the centre where we want to go, but they at least have this merit, that if they do not lead us where we want to go, they will make it more difficult for future Governments to avoid the right way, which is to follow a policy of decentralisation and scientific planning.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I wish on behalf of the noble Lords who sit on this Bench to give hearty support to the Bill so far as it goes. It is, I venture to say, a half measure, an interim measure. It deals with the negative aspect of the problem. It does confer on local authorities and on the Ministry of Transport certain very vital powers of control, but I wish I were certain that those authorities will use the powers which are going to be given by this Bill as vigorously as they ought to do. But none the less, so far as it goes, it is a good Bill, and I hope it will pass into law with the minimum of delay. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he thinks it is possible to complete the Committee stage and perhaps even the Report stage before Whitsuntide in order that the Bill may go to another place and be put on the Statute Book before the 937 evils, which the very existence of the Bill is bound to stimulate, go any further.
I would venture to say a word or two about what seems to me the lack of large-scale imagination in the Bill. It is completely devoid of any possible planning feature. It is purely a traffic Bill and does not attempt, so far as I can see, to bring about that intelligent far-sighted planning of the housing and amenity side of road development in this country which is the vital side of the question. I hope, therefore, it will be accepted as an interim measure, as a halfway stage, and that we shall have a further and more imaginative Bill at a later stage. I believe with the noble Lord, Lord Marley, that it is far more important to get this Bill on the Statute Book than to spend a lot of time on Amendments, but there are one or two Amendments as to which I should like to enquire whether the Government will consider them. Is it riot possible to extend the powers to include the non-classified roads? I do not see any reason why the Bill should have that limitation. The very extensive powers of withdrawing control contained in the Bill seem to be quite adequate provision to ensure that development is not unduly held up.
I do not understand why the possibility of contributions from the Road Ford is so very narrowly circumscribed, apparently for purely traffic purposes; in no case can the money be used for assisting amenity development. I think it was one of the sinister features of the recent Budget that there was a raid on the Road Fund to the extent of £4,470,000, a good pat of which might have been used to promote a more positive policy, not of road building, but of controlling ribbon development and in assisting the planning of housing development alongside the roads. I have always felt that one of the root problems, which is not of course dealt with in this Bill, is the question of where the cost is to come from for by-roads, sewers, light, gas, water, and so on. Everybody tries to push that cost on to someone else, and if public authorities would face the fact of providing these services I believe we should get infinitely wiser planning of private-enterprise housing than we get to-day. This is but, one more illustration of the bad finance which is involved in the use 938 which is made of Death Duties which, whatever may be said, are a tax on capital, a tax on savings, and ought to be used for capital development and not as general revenue. This is the kind of purpose to which some part of these capital taxes might very usefully be applied. I do not want to detain your Lordships any longer. The important thing is, as I have said, to get these powers of control on the Statute Book with the minimum of delay, and we on these Benches shall certainly give every support to the Government in that direction.
§ LORD BAYFORD
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister who introduced the Bill must be gratified by the favourable reception which it has so far had. The only note of dissent, I think, came from the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and his criticism was grounded on the preference that he has for developing the Development Act before proceeding with this measure for dealing with ribbon development. I do not know what experience he has had of the Development Act. Perhaps his experience has been more fortunate than mine, but so far it has seemed to me to be a very slow process. If we waited until the Development Act was in force all over the country, I am afraid we should have ribbon development going on all the time. It would be getting worse and worse, and by the time our development system was completed we should have a very large proportion of the roads built along them for a great portion of their length. Therefore I am very glad that the Government have not waited but have introduced this Bill at an early stage as they promised to do.
In the debate the other day I ventured, on behalf of the County Councils Association, to urge the Government to deal with the matter as speedily as possible. On behalf of that same Association I wish now to thank them for the early introduction of the Bill. At the same time I also want to acknowledge most gratefully the fact, to which the Minister drew attention, that they consulted the local authorities and went into the details of the Bill with them. In doing so, I think they were pretty wise. It facilitates the passing of a Bill enormously if, beforehand, you have an opportunity of consulting with those on 939 whom the task of administering it will principally fall. I am sure the Government exercised a wise discretion in making that consultation as they did and, speaking on behalf of the county councils, I would say we are very grateful to them for it. I hope the effect on the Bill has not been a bad one. Certainly it seems to me that this Bill has a merit which is rather rare in any measure that comes before the House, in that it is, if not absolutely intelligible, at all events a great deal less unintelligible than most Acts of Parliament.
As has been said from all quarters of the House, we are anxious that this Bill should be passed as soon as possible. We are grateful, I may say on behalf of the county councils, for the offer of the Minister to consult with their representatives about possible Amendments in the Bill. I do not think we wish to ask for any considerable amendment, but we should be very grateful if we might have the opportunity of consulting with the Minister about some points which are really only minor points. There are one or two points to which perhaps he will allow me to call his attention now. I was rather sorry that in his speech he took such a strong line about ante-dating Clause 1. Would it not be possible to ante-date the operation of that clause to a certain extent? If the Government cannot ante-date it to the introduction of the Bill—I believe that from all parts of your Lordships' House they would be supported if they did so, and I hope they will not put it out of consideration—would it not be possible to date the operation of the clause at least from the passing of the Bill?
After the passing of the Bill there are various steps that have to be taken—resolutions to be adopted, the consent of the Ministry to be obtained—and all that will take time. During that time the speculative builder will be pegging out claims. The noble Earl said that he had not any evidence of that being done at present. Well, I cannot say that I have any evidence either, but I hear a good many rumours about it, and if it is found that it is happening I hope the Minister will take into consideration the idea of bringing the Bill into force at the very earliest possible date. There is one other matter to which I want to draw his attention, and that is that while there are grants to local authorities under 940 Clause 1 there are no grants given under Clause 2. I do not know why. Of course we cannot move here to increase grants, or to make grants that are not in the Bill, but I hope that that matter will have the Government's consideration. Like the last speaker I am not anxious to prolong discussion in any way, and I can only again thank the Minister for having introduced the Bill at such an early date.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships more than a few minutes. I should like to say on behalf of a certain number of societies for whom I am authorised to speak that we welcome the introduction of this Bill, that we are very much obliged to the Government for having given so much trouble to it, and that we hope that, subject to an Amendment or two, the Bill may pass at an early date. I must say it is a very complicated Bill. My noble friend below me announced to the House that he understands it from beginning to end. I do not. My trouble is, in the first place, that although it is called a Restriction of Ribbon Development Bill it does not define ribbon development. That will give occupation to certain busy individuals at a later stage no doubt. It is essentially a Transport Bill, introduced by the Ministry of Transport, but dealing at the same time with housing and amenities, which are matters relating, presumably, to the Ministry of Health.
Clause 1 is obviously a transport and traffic clause, and not an amenity clause. Clause 1 may earn grants from the Road Fund from the point of view of transport and transport only, whereas Clause 2 is clearly a clause drawn up from the point of view of ribbon development as such, and therefore from the point of view of amenity, and no grant is available under it. Why is that? Why should money out of the Road Fund be devoted to matters coming under the provisions of this Bill when dealing with transport but not when dealing with amenities? I think it is based upon a very common but very dangerous fallacy. In my opinion good planning means amenity, and amenity means good planning. If you have got amenities it means that you have got good planning, and the way to get the one is to secure the other. Therefore in arranging good 941 planning you are promoting amenities, and in fighting for amenities you are securing good planning.
No one in this House—and I do not suppose a private member in another place would have power to do so either—can secure that some of the money available for compensation should be payable under Clause 2 equally with the money which can be spent under Clause 1. About Clause 2 I should like to say a word. The marginal note is "Restriction of building development along frontages of certain roads." The certain roads are the classified roads, of which we have nearly 40,000 miles in this country. But for every mile of classified road we have got three or four miles of unclassified road. If we check the development of building upon the classified roads we naturally increase the pressure on the unclassified roads, because we push the danger of ribbon development to the area of country which at the moment is least threatened.
Now we do not want to push ribbon development on to minor roads. Minor roads some day will have to be enlarged. It looks as if we are going to pay compensation to free great roads from ribbon development with the result that the unclassified roads will be invaded by the same infection, and we shall either have to tolerate it to the detriment of traffic upon the narrower roads or pay compensation a second time. That is an unbusinesslike way of proceeding. There is no distinction in principle between the big road and the small one. Each deserves protection. Building on the great road and on the smaller unclassified road alike demands planning and any house or group of houses built upon either category of road requires and deserves good planning. To exclude the unclassified road seems to me an error of principle and I cannot understand why it should be done. Why should we make a distinction in principle between the two? I should like all roads to be treated simultaneously. To them all should be applied the same restrictions and indeed the same benefits under the Bill.
The last matter I want to mention is compensation. It is very difficult to understand, but my noble friend on the Government Benches said that he expected compensation to be spread over 942 a very considerable time—in other words, claims for compensation will arise year by year for five or ten years and they will be dealt with year by year. Would it not be better to say that all claims for subsequent compensation must date from the value at the time of, say, the introduction of this Bill? Why should not that be done? Why should we say that ten years hence we are going to drive a new road through Berkshire or through Hertfordshire, and that then claims for compensation are going to come in, in order to avoid ribbon development when that road is made? Why should we not say to-day that any claim subsequently made for compensation shall date back to, and from, the value of the land at the date of the introduction of this Bill? That would riot only reduce the number and complexity of the cases, but I imagine that it would considerably reduce the amount of compensation which would ultimately become payable. I should be very glad if this afternoon, when he replies, the Earl of Plymouth would express a sympathetic attitude towards that proposal, and I hope that later on we may get the noble Earl in charge of the Bill to say that he will accept an Amendment to that effect. I do not wish to delay the House now, or at any subsequent stage. The matter is very urgent indeed. We have been dallying with the subject for years. The scandal of the, ribbon development of England has become a scandal all over the world, and it is high time that Parliament took action. I hope that Lord Plymouth will press the Bill through as quickly as he possibly can.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, I want quite briefly to associate myself with those responsible for the introduction of this Bill, and also to congratulate the noble Earl who introduced it on the very clear and interesting statement that ht made. I want especially to join with those who have pleaded the urgency of this matter. I am sure that they welcome the statement from the Front Opposition Bench of the intention not to move ally Amendments which are likely to delay the passing of this Bill. I am quite certain that the Government, in this matter, have the whole country behind them. Lately there has been a growing sense of indignation and of consternation at the 943 scandal which is caused by ribbon development. It is recognised that ribbon development has really defeated the purpose of the great highways which have been constructed at public expense. Most of them, instead of places in which traffic can be conducted in large volume in safety, have become real death-traps. Some time ago The Times made a suggestion that when a new road was opened, a mortuary should be opened at the same time. I think perhaps that some of these speculative ribbon builders might well be forced to turn one of their houses into a hospital for the wounded or into a mortuary for the killed.
It is important that ribbon development should be checked as soon as possible, for the sake of safety, and—an equally strong reason—for the sake of preserving the countryside. It is impossible to exaggerate the harm which has been done to some of our most beautiful countryside through this really detestable ribbon development. The roads, no doubt, have in many cases done by themselves sufficient damage to the country, but at any rate from those roads you could get fine views over meadows, fields and downs. Now, mile after mile in many directions, you have these horrid little houses and bungalows, these wretched advertisements and petrol stations, which quite ruin the amenities of the country. The noble Lord who spoke from the opposite side of the House mentioned ribbon development in connection with Cambridge. I do not know how it is in connection with Cambridge, but I know that some of the roads near Oxford have been disfigured beyond any possibility of remedy by ribbon development. I know of a beautiful road on the South coast which has been completely destroyed by ribbon development, and every month we delay in dealing with this matter means that ribbon development will proceed on its evil course.
Let me just give one illustration which will prove the case for urgency. Many of your Lordships will know that beautiful view from Winchester of St. Catherine's Hill. A by-pass road has to be made—it is quite inevitable—to avoid traffic among the houses of Winchester. Already this road is under construction. I am told on good authority that it will probably mean cutting deeply into St. Catherine's Hill, which will be marked in the future by a 944 great bar, thirty-five feet wide, ruining one of the best-known and most beautiful views in the country. That, however, is not all. Even if this disfigurement is stopped, the plan will mean that, coming out of Winchester, there will be ribbon development on both sides of this thoroughfare and beyond St. Catherine's Hill. It will be impossible for ribbon development to take place immediately beneath the Hill, but beyond it ribbon development will also take place. That is the kind of thing which we shall have there and elsewhere unless this Bill is very speedily passed into law. I hope, therefore, that whatever defects and omissions there are in the Bill—and there awe several—both Houses will unite in determining to pass this Bill into law, so as to place some effective check on this ribbon development.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, your Lordships' House may well thank His Majesty's Government for the present measure, not perhaps without a suspicion of that complacency which is excusable in those who, like your Lordships, have played so considerable a part in prompting its authors to the good deeds on which we are now congratulating them. I have not been able (it has been mentioned by more than one speaker) to forget while listening to this debate how the tragedy of the whole of this prolonged struggle against ribbon development has been that every successive stage—and we must hope that we are now watching the penultimate scene—the now celebrated sentence in the King's Speech, the debate a few weeks ago in your Lordships' House, and indeed any minatory gestures which your Lordships may permit yourselves this afternoon, all inevitably provide an incentive to the very vandalism of which we complain. As I heard, and silently—and not always silently, I think—applauded the admirable speech with which the noble Earl introduced this measure, I could not help remembering that the very vigour of some of his phrases may well have been unwittingly sealing the fate of a few more miles of English countryside at the hands of the vandals anxious to snatch their, fortunately now eleventh-hour, profits. However, all that is now spilt milk, over which all of us in your Lordships' House who took part in the recent debate have already done a great deal of public weeping. I suppose all that can be said about 945 it now is that it is one more argument for an effective measure, and above all for a speedy measure, and to that speed I venture to offer my own widow's mite and detain your Lordships with only a very few remarks.
I want to make one observation as to the general character of the Bill. I wish to echo the regret expressed by more than one noble Lord that this Anti-Ribbon Development Bill, for which we Lave struggled so long, should have assumed so very predominantly the character of a Traffic Bill. I hold very strong views on the barbarous total of cur road casualties, views which I have ventured to express more than once in your Lordships' House. I feel, however, that to-day it is the amenity aspect which should be stressed, partly because it is the more intractable of the two problems, partly because it is the more likely to be underestimated—if only because the one is a threat to flesh and blood, while the other is a threat to the mind and spirit of our people, a deep-seated sickness of the soul which is, I am afraid, peculiar to our age. How does this Bill—and this is almost the only question that I want to ask your Lordships—arm us against that steady destruction of the English countryside? I may be wrong, but as far as I can tee, Clause 10, the clause by which the highway authority is permitted to acquire and sterilise a quarter-of-a-mile wide strip of land beside a road, is the only weapon which is expressly forged for the purpose of protecting amenity. For the rest, we have to depend upon what one must call the subsidiary intention of what are primarily traffic clauses, and that, I feel, is not proper for an enlightened democracy passing through its second and swifter industrial revolution, a revolution which is a transport revolution, in which the destructive rôle, confined during the first revolution to the factory, is now being played by the road. I venture to think that that is a proper general criticism of the Bill.
With regard to specific criticisms I wish to say virtually nothing, not because I do not think that there are one or two specific criticisms to be made, but because I wish in this general atmosphere of congratulation, in Which I should be the last to wish to strike a discordant note, to confine myself to emphasising the support which I am sure most, if 946 not all, of your Lordships would wish to accord to the two Amendments already adumbrated by (I think) the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and by the noble Earl, Lord Crawford. That is, firstly, an extension of Clause 2, subsection (1), from classified roads to all roads (which personally I regard as vital); and, secondly, the suggestion made by those noble Lords with regard to a further use of the Road Fund for all purposes of compensation, not only under the clauses whose purpose is to make traffic speedier and safer but also under clauses whose purpose is to protect amenity. We motorists are, after all, citizens, and I think it would be perfectly just to use the Road Fund not only to make the roads safer and speedier, but to repair the damage for which we as motorists have largely been responsible, and, in a word, to make the countryside worth motoring through.
There is one other point that I should like to make because I do not think it has yet been made. I should like to suggest one respect in which possibly at a later stage the Government might be willing to accept an Amendment. Under Clause 2 as it is at present drawn, the only person permitted to appeal to the Ministry of Transport is the would-be builder. He is allowed to appeal if the highway authority refuses him leave to perpetrate an injury to the public. I should like to ask His Majesty's Government: is there any reason why those numerous individuals and organisations, whose object is not to injure the public but to protect it from injury, should not be analogously entitled to appeal to the Minister against some hypothetical highway authority which may be scattering its licences for ribbon development far too broadcast? That is the only specific point to which I would venture to ask some attention on the part of the noble Earl.
I hope that by referring to these three major aspects of the Bill, in which I suggest that some improvement is possible, I shall not appear too pessimistic or to be looking what I freely admit to be a very valuable gift horse too narrowly in the mouth. I am not suggesting that the Bill will fail. I am merely suggesting that as it is at present drawn there are one or two instances in which it is possible to make it more certain that it will not fail, and that we do owe to the 947 country the maximum degree of certainty which we can offer to it in view of the number of occasions upon which we have publicly advertised our intention to act, and by that very public advertisement created the incentive to the malpractices which we are trying to end. Finally, I should like to echo approximately what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Marley. I hope that the Government will consider some of the Amendments which have been suggested to them at this stage. If they are not prepared to consider them, I hope that the Bill will go through very rapidly but with the understanding, I hope explicitly voiced by the noble Earl on behalf of the Government, that it is in a sense an experimental measure, and that the Government will be prepared to carry their measure further at the very first moment when it becomes obvious that the present measure has failed.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, several of your Lordships, including the noble Lord who spoke last, have criticised the present Bill as being primarily a Traffic Bill. I sometimes wonder whether we should ever have heard of this Bill if there had not existed that terrible and tragic problem with which this Bill is partially designed to deal. It seems to me that if it had not been for all those thousands of lives which have been lost and those people who have been injured on the roads, it would have been almost as impossible at this stage to induce this or any other Government to bring in a Bill of this nature as it has always been in the past. The interests for whom I speak—namely, the motoring world—are just as anxious as any other section of the community to see the passage of this Bill into law. Anything that we can do to facilitate its passage will, I know, be done by those who speak for the motoring world. Every one of us must recognise the urgency of it.
But there are one or two considerations that occur to my mind. First of all, one of the chief difficulties with which the Government have obviously been faced in bringing forward this Bill is the difficulty of dealing with highway or local authorities. It is not until one really comes to deal with those who are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of our roads in this country that one really realises the enormous number of local authorities with whom the Government must deal. I cannot help 948 feeling that at every stage, by reason of an experience which I have had. I happen to have been serving on a sub-committee under the Ministry of Transport dealing with public safety. The particular subject with which we have been concerned has been the construction, surfacing and so on of our highways. I have been increasingly conscious throughout the whole course of our deliberations how little power the Government really have to deal with local authorities and to get them to act. In fact, almost the only way in which the Government can bring pressure to bear upon local authorities to do what is obviously wanted is to refuse to make grants to them. I cannot help feeling that in connection with this Bill. How much simpler it would have been if only the Government had a greater measure of authority and responsibility for our highways! However, they have not, and I suppose this Bill is probably the best way in which the problem could have been tackled.
While one recognises all these facts, I should like to know whether there is anything in this Bill which will compel a local authority responsible for a stretch of arterial road to preserve the arterial road for through traffic. That is one of the most difficult problems to-day, and a problem which is causing more danger on our highways, than anything else. I will give your Lordships examples of that. The southern end of the Watford by-pass, for instance, is, I believe, 104 feet from one side of the highway to the other. The highway of course goes from the fence on one side to the fence on the other side of the road. The carriage way is actually only thirty feet broad. There are two strips of grass between the carriageway and the footpath, one on either side, which are thirty-two feet wide. It seems to me that at any rate part of those strips should be used for a system of parallel or distributive roads to take off the carriageway the purely local traffic which arises from the ribbon development which has already taken place, leaving the carriageway free for the through traffic. I might remind your Lordships that that particular stretch of road is a derestricted road, and 30 feet is really a very inadequate width for a main arterial road under modern conditions. It really only allows for three lines of traffic under ordinary conditions, and 949 it means that vehicles overtaking one another are liable to meet other vehicles coining in the opposite direction end on, and some terrible accidents, I believe, have occurred on that stretch of road from that particular cause.
With regard to Clause 1, one very extraordinary feature of it is that there is no appeal from the decision of the Minister in respect of Clause 1, and there is such an appeal in respect of Clause 2. I do not know what is the precise reason for that difference of treatment of the two cases. Perhaps the noble Earl, when he replies, can tell us what the reason really is. Again, in Clause 2 there is a provision that consent shall not be unreasonably withheld, but there is no such provision in Clause 1. It seems to me very odd that it should be necessary to treat the two problems so very differently. Then the question of compensation of course raises most important matters. The motor world is naturally extremely interested in the Road Fund. Only the other day we saw what has been already referred to in this debate as a raid which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made on the Road Fund. Many of us must have regretted that most sincerely, because the Minister of Transport some little time ago made a very important speech at Leeds in which he indicated that the Government were going in for a five-year plan in connection with the roads. There are many eminent authorities in this country who say that the roads to-day have reached saturation point, and that what is needed is not so much improvement in maintenance of existing roads, which indeed are in many cases impossible of improvement., but a new road system altogether, with very much improved exits from our larger centres of population.
All these matters, they came into being, would undoubtedly make for greater safety on the highways, because I think the Accidents Returns show that congestion is one of the most fruitful causes of accidents and loss of life and injury. I cannot help feeling, on the question of compensation, first of all that the existing income of the Road Fund is almost entirely mortgaged already, and that if extra demands be made on the Road Fund in respect of compensation it would be urgently necessary that the country should know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to 950 allot a larger sum from the proceeds of motor taxation than, up to the present, he has been able to set aside. Several speeches have been made urging that more compensation should be given in the case, I think, of the amenity line. Amenities are always expensive. London has seen that, because she has now to foot the bill for the new Waterloo Bridge, and we do not want to see too great a demand made on the Road Fund in that connection, although we have every sympathy with the reasons for which it is made.
Under Clause 10, as has been referred to already by previous speakers, power is given to the local authorities to acquire land. I would like to ask the noble Earl whether he can give us any indication as to the uses to which such land may be put. I would point out to your Lordships that the local authorities can acquire already a strip of land a quarter of a mile broad, and there appears to be no restriction upon the use to which such land may be put. It may be re-sold or let, in order to comply with the requirements of the Housing Acts, etc. I think we ought to know exactly to what use that area of land is going to be applied. The use ought to be restricted in some way, so that it should not be possible for local authorities compulsorily to acquire land and subsequently let it or resell it. I think that if they acquire land for the purpose of amenities it should be so stated, and that that land should be preserved from any development by the local authorities or anybody else.
Local authorities are not above suspicion in this matter of ribbon development. I believe I am right in saying that in the case of the Oxford by-pass road the Oxford City Council sold certain sites at a very high figure per foot frontage on the Oxford by-pass road, which was designed to relieve the traffic through the Central Oxford area. I would also like to know what powers the Minister has to deal with local authorities who refuse to take action or who do not take any action. How can be compel them to acquire strips alongside the road? They may say that they would have to pay such a large amount in compensation, in order to sterilise the strips, that they cannot possibly afford it; and it seems to me that if they did that it might almost defeat the object of the 951 Bill—if local authorities thought that by holding out they could compel the Government to foot the whole cost. I hope the Minister will make it quite clear that the Government will be armed with full power to deal with the authorities who refuse, or who are unable, to take action under the Bill.
On the question of date I entirely agree with every word that has been uttered by those who have previously spoken, notably Lord Crawford, when he urged, on the subject of value at any rate, that value should be taken from the date when, as I understood it, the Bill was introduced. I wish it were possible to ante-date the Bill to the time of its introduction. I am terribly afraid there may be a very long interval, resulting from the passage of the Bill through both Houses and the subsequent formalities which have to be observed, before the Bill comes into operation. Can no assurance be given that it will be possible to advance the date a little, so that it may come into law at an earlier stage? I am afraid that by not doing so the actual cost of compensation, and such matters, may increase somewhat.
The final point to which I would like to refer is the power taken in the Bill to require the provision of means of entrance and egress and parking in the Case of building plans. Everybody knows that this is urgently necessary, and that unless some such powers are available to the Minister of Transport it is more than likely that the traffic in at any rate our greater cities, and notably in London, is likely to come to a complete and absolute full stop. It has already reached saturation point. You see large buildings being erected in London, huge blocks of flats going up where previously only small houses have existed. Nearly all the owners of these flats have one motor car at least, and some more than one; and those people want their cars, and it is not perhaps an unreasonable desire to want to have their cars standing in the street not far from where they are. It is intolerable from the point of view of the general community, and it raises endless difficulties in the shape of congestion and so on. I feel that the Government should certainly be armed with full powers to require those who put up these large buildings to provide the necessary parking accommodation 952 and means of entrance and egress from them without interfering with traffic.
Finally, I may add that I will do all can, and my friends will do all they can, to facilitate the passage of this Bill into law at the very earliest possible moment. In common with the noble Lord who spoke from the Socialist Benches, I do hope that if, in the operation of this Bill subsequently, the Government find that there are any defects, they will not hesitate to bring in an amending measure. I am certain, if they do, that all sections of this House, at any rate—and I believe that is probably true of another place—will combine to assist the Government in a matter which obviously concerns life and death.
My Lords, I have been asked, on behalf of some very interested parties and some parties deeply interested in the matter of finance, to voice our first reflections on seeing this Bill, and the first thing I am asked to say is that really we have not had proper and sufficient time to consider the Bill. To those of us who live in the country, the Bill came by the late post on the 8th May, and here we are, on the 16th of May, supposed to be fully capable of debating this very complicated measure. I deplore, on any grounds whatever, the Americanisation of this House. It does seem to me, if we are going to give our usual good, careful work and attention to any Bill, we must have the proper time to reflect upon it, and it is a pity that the Second Reading of any Bill should be taken before we have had that time. I cannot help thinking that some of the speeches to-day reflect immature consideration of the Bill, and I, in my turn, shall probably offer a few remarks that I should not have had to offer if I had had longer time for consideration of the Bill. That is my first point.
My second point is that in general I am very much in sympathy with the attitude of those of your Lordships who have regretted that this was purely a traffic measure. I question very much whether this is a Prevention of Ribbon Development Bill at all. Is it not the case that the ribbon is merely moved farther back under this Bill? Is there anything in this Bill to show that any ribbon development will be prevented whatever? It seems to me that the 953 ribbon that went round the hat is now going round the neck, and that is the only difference. It is true that certain traffic objects will be very favourably effected by that movement. Questions such as the noble Earl., Lord Howe, dealt with, of access to the road, will obviously be made more simple, but as far as the matters of housing and population and the regulation of housing are concerned, I do not think this Bill is going to help very much, and I speak with deep sympathy for those who wish to attain that object. I may perhaps be allowed to take a certain amount of kudos for myself in that, as far back as five years ago, I was instrumental in getting on the map one of those new parkways designed under Clause 10 of this Bill. That is my second point. I want to be assured, and I hope the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, will be able to assure me that this is really a Prevention of Ribbon Development. Bill.
There are one or two considerations which seem to me to be somewhat extraordinary in this Bill. Has it been fully grasped that Clause 10 enables the highway authority of any county to sterilise no less than one-tenth of that county if—admittedly a very exaggerated supposition—they took powers on every read and every mile of road to do what they are allowed by this Bill to do? In my County of Oxford, I think I am right in saying, we have 480,000 acres and some 3,000 miles of roads. Assuming that there are 3,000 miles of roads, the highway authority could sterilise one-tenth of the whole area of Oxfordshire under Clause 10. I cannot think that that is a necessary provision. I cannot think that that clause needs to refer to anything but main trunk roads, not to use too technical an expression, or was intended to deal with anything but main trunk roads when it was first conceived. Perhaps the noble Earl will throw a little light on that subject. It is sometimes usual, I believe, for the Government to give some estimate of the expenditure which will fall on the National Exchequer when a Bill is introduced. Have we any idea whatever what the cost of this Bill will be, either nationally or locally? I have seen no estimate, and I have heard no estimate, and no White Paper is issued with the Bill.
Then there is the question of compensation. If this is a hastily improvised 954 Bill, to be rushed through your Lordships' House, is it not rather important that wholly new principles of compensation should not be brought in with it? I personally fail to see how the new principles, as to which the noble Earl who introduced this Bill gave us a very clear exposition, can possibly be got to work. Supposing I say with regard to any piece of land which might be injuriously affected by the passage of this Bill: "Here are so-and-so and so-and-so, my cousins and my aunts, who are prepared to swear that they would, possibly not now but ten years hence, or possibly six months hence, build houses or buy houses that I build on that strip of land." Who can possibly refute it? I cannot myself understand how this new principle is to be administered. Neither is it in conformity with the principle of compensation under the Town and Country Planning Act. Of course, those of us who have worked the Town and Country Planning Act know that it is a very great difficulty that we cannot use the principle attempted to be introduced by this Bill. How it is going to work out in practice I think your Lordships will be puzzled to find out.
I do not wish to delay this debate further. Neither have I nor my friends been able to give sufficient attention to the Bill to treat exhaustively of its clauses, but I do beg the Government, if they cannot adopt the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Bayford, to date the compensation period back to the date of the introduction of the Bill, at least to take any steps they can to give us full time to consult those interested, and to make up our own minds as to the provisions of this Bill, so that we may be able to deal with it adequately in the Committee stage. I suggest that we shall only lose time in the end if we hustle through the Committee stage without sufficient preparation and send the Bill in an ill-digested form to another place.
§ LORD ELTISLEY
My Lords, it must be rare indeed for any Bill introduced in this House to be accorded such a general chorus of approval as this Bill has received to-day. It has been given this welcome because it is generally admitted that something must be done, and done quickly. I listened with respect and interest to the introductory speech of the Minister in submitting the Bill to the House, and noted that he told us that 955 it did not seem to him possible to make a standstill order. It seems to me it would be better for us to stay our hand and not attempt to rush the Bill through quite so quickly, and deal with the difficulty which is so obvious to us all by means of some kind of stop or standstill order. I do not mean a standstill order in respect to those buildings already in course of erection and which in any case would have to be finished and completed, but I do mean some kind of stop or standstill order in regard to those buildings of which no bricks or foundations have yet been put into the ground. I venture with respect to ask the Minister to consider that point and, if possible, to give some kind of undertaking in regard to it in his reply.
In view of the number of speeches which have already been made, I do not wish to inflict another of any length on the House, but I should like to say, in regard to the attitude of the Municipal Corporations Association, with whom I have been in close touch, that they welcome and support this Bill, recognising, as everyone must, the serious disadvantages which obtain at the present time; and they desire to offer their co-operation as far as possible. Perhaps it might be made clear to us what will be the position, after this Bill reaches the Statute Book, of those local authorities which have already promoted their own special Acts, such as the Surrey County Council and Middlesex or Hertfordshire County Council which, I understand, has a Bill under consideration in another place. One other point to which I should like to refer is that it seems to me that the real cause of this ribbon development is a question of transport more than anything else. People build these little houses alongside the highway because they can get easy transport for their children to schools and for themselves to their work and also for the produce that they require. All this Bill does, so far as I can see, is to set back the parallel lines of streets at a prescribed distance, a few more yards further back than they would otherwise be built. It seems to me that to get at the basis of this problem we want to take a wider view and see if it is not possible to build group's of houses through which loop roads can be constructed of sufficient importance to induce the omnibus services to make use of them and give amenities 956 to these group communities rather than continue running along the main highway. If some system of licensing could be introduced it might tend to stimulate group development and the development of these loop roads. I desire heartily to support this Bill, and trust it may have a quick passage.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Eltisley, has emphasised a point which I think is of great importance, and that is that in dealing with this question of ribbon development we cannot only look at it from the purely æsthetic or traffic point of view: we have got to look at it also from the point of view of the individual who requires a house in the country and has to carry on his ordinary work and ordinary life, and wile requires the necessary transport to enable him to get to and from his work and to enable his wife to get to and from her shopping, and so on. While there may be an overwhelming case for the Bill on the ground of traffic dangers and on the ground of æsthetic necessity, one does want to be extremely careful, when considering this Bill, that you do not at the same time inhibit development and building.
I had an instance on my own estate of that very thing. I have set aside a certain portion of my estate to fulfil what I suppose most noble Lords would call undesirable development but a development for which there is a very definite demand—comparatively small plots of land, about one-quarter or one-eighth of an acre, on which some retired person wishes to build a house. These people can afford neither a high price for the land nor a high price for the house, and they buy these plots of land at a reasonable price and put up the most horrible little houses which they love to live in. The portion I set aside for that purpose was along a main road, and it started, as all such development does start, with ribbon development. The frontage is now fairly fully occupied, and I have built a road in the backland in order to develop the back area; but a little further on there is a by-road down which the omnibuses go. While I have had several inquiries for plots on that by-road, I have had no inquiries for plots on the road that I have made on the backland. The individuals who applied for a public road frontage have been offered plots 957 at a very reasonable rate on the road I myself built, but, so far as my knowledge goes, these individuals have not built at all because they could not get what they wanted, a public road frontage.
When considering this problem one does need to take that into mind very carefully indeed, and, as far as I can see, in the Bill that is not taken into consideration. The only provision that really does more than set up a building line is actually the permissive provision in Clause 10, whereby a local authority can sterilise up to 220 yards on either side of the centre of the road. The noble Earl representing the Government talked about amenity under Clause 2, which specifies 220 feet, but I do not think he is quite right in saying that is an amenity provision. He admitted himself that a line of houses 220 feet from the centre of the road was very little less undesirable than it might be if it were closer. I am inclined to think such houses would be even more undesirable at that distance than they would be closer to the road, because when you have a house close to the road you have the front garden which is often attractive, whereas if the house is set back 220 feet the man will bring his back garden to the front, which will be very often untidy, and he will put his washing in it and it will be extremely ugly.
There are two points with regard to the permissive provision regarding going back 220 yards. The first is that if you put people 220 yards away from the main road you are making it rather difficult for them to consider going to that district at all. In our country, 220 yards is quite a long distance. People want to be close to a road. They do not want to get wet before they can get into an omnibus to go to work. Control of the means of access may be a very valuable method of controlling development along these roads always provided that it is made use of wisely. On the other hand, it probably means that parallel roads and other roads have got to be made before land can be developed, and that, unless there is assistance from the Road Fund or from some other source, is going to add very considerably to the ultimate expense of building and consequently to the expense of the purchaser of the house. It might possibly inhibit building development, which I think is a thing which we all desire to avoid.
958 I do not want to cover the ground that other noble Lords have already covered so efficiently, but I would like to add one word on the question of the urgency of this Bill, or a Bill, passing into law. It is a very complicated Bill. It affects landowners in many ways, and there are difficulties which may not be immediately realised. I think it is necessary, unless mistakes, and serious mistakes, are to be made, that we should have considerable time to consider the Bill in detail, and that the Government should be prepared, if necessary, to accept very large Amendments on the Committee stage. If the noble Earl in charge of the Bill could make the announcement to-day that the provisions of Clause 2 will come into effect as from the date of the introduction of the Bill, then I think undesirable development would be checked, and we should have leisure to consider this Bill far more carefully than seems possible now to those noble Lords who have urged its immediate passage into law. If the noble Earl could make that announcement to-day I for one should be much more happy with regard to the future consideration of the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
My Lords, I need hardly say that I am extremely gratified at the reception given to this Bill by your Lordships this afternoon. I am particularly grateful for the generous offers of co-operation which have been made from all sides of the House in order to make it possible for this Bill to pass into law with reasonable despatch. A considerable number of questions, some of them of major importance and some of minor importance, have been raised during the course of the debate, and if I am not in a position to deal with the whole of them I feel certain that in the circumstances your Lordships will excuse me. Some points have been dealt with by a number of noble Lords and therefore, without necessarily alluding to each speech that was made I can deal with those matters in a general way.
The noble Lord opposite, Lord Marley, in announcing that the Opposition do not intend to move any Amendments to the Bill on the Committee stage, said that they had so decided in order that the Bill should reach the Statute Book without any undue delay. He also said that they hoped that the Government might be prepared to look upon this Bill purely as a preliminary Bill and to give an undertaking that if it was found that the 959 provisions contained in the Bill were wholly ineffective, they would introduce an Amending Bill as soon as it was found to be necessary. Of course I am not in a position to give an undertaking this afternoon—your Lordships will readily understand that—but I feel certain that the Government will watch the effects of the Bill most closely, and I cannot conceive that they would not be ready to introduce any legislation which they thought might be necessary to attain the object which they had hoped this Bill would attain if, as the result of experience, its provisions prove ineffective.
Then the noble Lord raised a rather complicated point on Clause 1 with regard to the standard width laid down in that clause. His difficulty was, if I understood him rightly, that if you lay down a standard width of, say, 160 feet it would be possible to build houses up to that line and if you wished to take the whole of that 160 feet into the roadway in due course those houses would be directly abutting on to the highway, which would be very objectionable. I think the answer to that—I have not had time to go into the matter at all closely—is that under this Bill the highway authority has power to control the means of access to that road. I imagine that they would not be prepared to grant access unless the person in question was prepared to abide by certain conditions laid down, and I imagine further that one of the conditions they would lay down would be that houses should not be built right up to the 160 foot line.
A number of criticisms have been made of this Bill. It has been said—I think it was said by the noble Lord, Lord Marley—that too much has been left to the local authorities, and that it might be possible that in some cases they would attempt to avoid their responsibilities in connection with the Bill. There is a provision, as of course he remembers, that if in the view of the Minister a local authority has failed to adopt a suitable standard width the Minister, after holding a public inquiry, may step in and impose one. But of course I know he means more than that. He has a fear in his mind that some of the highway authorities will not be prepared to withhold their consent or will give their consent too liberally, and in that way will render the provisions of the Bill ineffective, in order to avoid 960 having to pay a large amount of compensation. I quite understand this fear, but I think that I ought to point out in regard to the smaller local authorities that there is a further power included in this Bill to enable the Minister if he thinks fit, and if he thinks these provisions would thus be made more effective, to transfer to the county council, to the larger local authority, the responsibility for giving effect to, or for withholding, this consent.
On the general question I can only say that it always has been the policy of Parliament to place upon local authorities responsibilities of a special character. I think that apart from this it will be found in practice that it would be almost impossible to make the Minister or the Central Government responsible for the granting of consent over the whole of the enormous area with which this Bill is concerned. The view of the Government is that in this matter at any rate we must hope and believe that the local authorities will use the powers that are given to them effectively. If that should prove not to be the case then, of course, the position will have to be reconsidered.
The noble Lord, as well as many other noble Lords, also asked whether it would not be possible to make the provisions of this Bill retrospective, whether it would not be possible to antedate them, at any rate to a certain extent. I quite understand the anxiety that noble Lords have lest, between now and the passage of this Bill into law, certain speculators and developers of land should try to take advantage of the time that is allowed. But I can only say that there are undoubtedly some practical difficulties in the way of antedating this Bill and making it retrospective. Apart entirely from the general ground that such a thing, although it has entered into the provisions of Acts before, is not very desirable, the difficulty is that, during the period between the introduction and the passing of this Bill, there will as a matter of fact be no authority competent to grant any consents or to enforce any restrictions under the Bill. Furthermore, nobody quite knows, neither the local authority nor the individual in question, in what exact form this Bill will pass into law. It is therefore perfectly clear that any development which may take place at that time will 961 be at the risk of the developer himself. As I say, it will be impossible either for him or for the local authority to be quite sure in what final form this Bill will appear on the Statute Book. That is the practical objection as I see it, but I need hardly say that if your Lordships wish to put down any Amendments on this particular subject the Government will naturally give them consideration. Further than that, however, I am afraid that I am not in a position to go at the present moment.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and I think my noble friend Lord Phillimore, took very much the same kind of line: they argued that there was not enough planning in this Bill. That, theoretically, may be perfectly true. I should, however, like to point out that the planning authorities have now wide powers, although the really important aspect of the question is that it takes a great deal of time for them to bring those powers into operation. This Bill is specifically designed to secure rapid action. The view has been expressed on all sides of the House that it is essential that this Bill should be passed into law as reasonably quickly as possible. But a Bill such as is envisaged by the speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and my noble friend Lord Phillimore, would be the kind of Bill that would lead to a great deal of controversy and discussion and could only be passed into law with considerable delay. In fact, I feel extremely doubtful whether it would be possible to pass a Bill of that kind into law this Session. That, generally speaking, is my answer to these two noble Lords. At the same time I do not think that there is anything in this Bill which pre eludes or prevents the highway authority and the planning authority from putting their heads together and trying to give effect to Clause 6 (2), where it is very definitely stated that:In making a decision upon any application for any such consent, the highway authority shall have regard to the need for preserving the amenities of the locality and for securing proper development.
Would the noble Lord permit me to ask whether he would view favourably a suggestion that the planning authority might be brought in at that point as well?
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
Well, my Lords. I am afraid I cannot appreciate 962 the full implication of that suggestion at the present moment, and I cannot therefore give it a definite answer. The noble Marquess who spoke afterwards, Lord Lothian, gave a very favourable reception to this measure. He also urged that it should be passed as expeditiously as possible, and I can give him and other noble Lords the assurance that it is the intention of the Government to pass this Bill through your Lordships' House before Whitsuntide, and we hope through another place before the end of July.
But he raised, as a number of other noble Lords raised, a very large issue when he suggested—I think I am right in saying that he did so—that Clause 2 of the Bill should apply automatically not only to the 40,000 miles of classified roads, but indeed to all the roads of the country. May I explain what the position is with regard to that? There are some 177,000 miles of public road in the whole of Great Britain, and, as I have said, over 43,000 miles of these are classified roads. Of the remaining 134,000, about a quarter—over 32,000 miles—are in the City of London and the Metropolitan Boroughs, county boroughs, non-county boroughs, or urban districts. In those areas, which are already closely built up, the imposition of these new restrictions would quite clearly, in many cases, be meaningless. That leaves just over 100,000 miles of road left. Of those 100,000 miles I imagine that a very large proportion are merely country lanes in remote parts of the country, where the problem of this kind of development cannot possibly arise.
I suggest that it is undesirable to impose restrictions of this kind where they are, in fact, entirely unnecessary. We have enough rules and regulations already, in all conscience, and generally speaking I think it is fair to say that it is undesirable to apply these restrictions where they are not really necessary. Of course it is a fact that there is no simple method by which a distinction could be drawn between these roads and other unclassified roads. That is the real difficulty. But I want to point out to the noble Marquess once again that there is a provision in the Bill to enable local authorities, by resolution and with the approval of the Minister, to include unclassified roads within the scope of Clause 2, and, furthermore, that it is the intention of the Minister to draw the 963 attention of highway authorities and local authorities to this provision, so that they may be prepared without delay, when the Bill passes into law, to put forward their proposals with regard to those unclassified roads.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
If I may be permitted to interrupt, I hope the noble Earl will give some further consideration to this matter. I happen to live in a part of the country in which a very large number of very undesirable houses are being built at the present time along these country roads. As one or two noble Lords have said, it is only going to mean that the difficulty will become far more serious later on. I do not think that in stun total the number of houses on these 100,000 miles of road is immense, but it does seem to me to be desirable that the county authorities should consider in every case whether the erection of a new house on a country road, right on the frontage, is desirable or not, and should consider whether some condition should not, be imposed with regard to the erection of such a house. I do not suppose it would entail a great deal of additional work, but it may prevent the extension of this very undesirable ribbon development along quite narrow roads all over the country. I think it is very important that, if possible, the whole aspect of the subject should be very carefully considered. The essential matter is not the number of roads but the number of houses, and if the noble Earl will ascertain the number of houses of that kind likely to be built, I think he will find that the burden on local authorities is not going to be nearly so great as the words "a hundred thousand miles of road frontage" might seem to imply.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
My Lords, that is undoubtedly an arguable proposition, and I can certainly assure the noble Marquess that further consideration will be given to this subject. I fully appreciate the importance which your Lordships attach to it; and, indeed, if any practicable proposal is put forward on the Committee stage, it will naturally receive the fullest consideration of the Government. My noble friend Lord Bayford, who sits behind me, was kind enough to say that this Bill is more intelligible than most of the Bills which he has come across. It is nevertheless, I think, a very complicated Bill still, and it naturally 964 requires very close consideration. I think that in referring to the speeches of other noble Lords I have dealt with most of the points which he raised.
The noble Earl, Lord Crawford, raised a very complicated issue with regard to compensation. I am afraid I must confess that I did not quite understand what his point was, but I will study in the OFFICIAL REPORT what he has said and I will see whether I can give him a more satisfactory answer later on. My noble friend Lord Elton asked me, in respect of Clause 2, which gives a right of appeal, why that right was given only to persons who wanted to develop or to build and not to persons or associations whose objects were, perhaps, different from the objects of those particular individuals. I really think that the answer is that if you gave opportunities to people who really were not affected, to intervene and to raise arguments, appeals might become so numerous as to be unmanageable.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
I think that generally is the answer, and the point which the noble Lord now puts does not really affect the argument which I was using; but it is a matter which, if it is put forward in concrete form, will naturally receive consideration. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked me why no appeal was allowed with regard to Clause 1 while an appeal was allowed with regard to Clause 2. I think the point is that Clause 1 deals with the standard widths of roads, and clearly it would be quite useless to allow exemptions in cases of that kind, and in certain instances to allow buildings to be built within the standard width, for it is more than probable that in due time the highway authority would wish to take the whole of that standard width into the roadway itself. Indeed, Clause 2 covers a much wider field altogether and is of a different nature, and I think the difference is quite sufficient to justify the different treatment which is proposed in this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, raised a question as to whether the provisions of Clause 10, which empowers the highway authority to buy ground within 220 yards of the centre of the road for certain purposes, was really necessary.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
Yes, on all roads. The answer to that is of course that they cannot acquire the ground without the sanction of the Central Government and it is extremely doubtful whether the Central Government would grant them that sanction unless there was a very clear case for the proposal which they had put forward. My noble friend Lord Radnor raised the issue as to whether the effect of the provisions of Clause 2 of this Bill would not be merely to set back the ribbon development to 220 feet from the centre of the road, instead of allowing it quite close to the road, as is possible now. I think I have given the answer to that, though I do not know whether he will consider it an entirely satisfactory one. The: question has been very carefully considered and I think the answer was contained in my reply to former questions which were asked me. It is this, that as the highway authority have complete control over the means of access to the road, unless people were prepared to conform to any reasonable conditions which the highway authority laid down, that authority would not grant them means of access, so that it would be quite useless for people to build in this way. I think I have now dealt with all the questions, or with most of the questions, which have been raised. I should like to thank your Lordships once more for the very cordial reception which you have given to this measure, and I hope you will now be prepared to give it a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, before we adjourn may I say a word with regard to dates for the future stages of 966 the Bill which we have just been considering? As my noble friend Lord Plymouth has just said, we think that we are acting in accordance with the general wish of your Lordships' House and also in accordance with the public interest if we ensure that this Bill is disposed of in this House before we rise for the Whitsuntide vacation on or about June 6. Subject to that I am anxious of course to make whatever arrangements are most convenient to enable your Lordships to consider Amendments. I had thought that if we had the Second Reading to-day we might have had the Committee stage in a week's time, the Report stage a week after that, and the Third Reading would come about a week after the Report stage; but unfortunately I gather from some noble Lords behind me that they do not feel that that gives adequate time for the preparation of Amendments. One is naturally anxious to give every possible facility winch is consistent with the general scheme which I have outlined. It may be that it would be more convenient to my noble friends and to the House generally if we postponed the Committee stage until Wednesday, May 29, which would give very nearly a fortnight for the preparation and consideration of Amendments; but if I did that it would have to be on the understanding that no complaint was then made that there was not a very long interval between the Committee stage and the Report stage, which will obviously have to be taken on June 4. I make this statement so that your Lordships may have time to consider the proposal, which I think is the best I can do to meet the desires which have been expressed for time for the preparation of Amendments.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes past seven o'clock.