HL Deb 23 November 1938 vol 111 cc137-81

LORD ELTISLEY rose to call attention on behalf of the Roads Group to the inadequacy of our national road system to meet the modern requirements of the country; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion that stands in my name on the Order Paper. The Motion has been tabled on behalf of the Roads Group of members of this House, and it has been drawn on a broad basis to cover a wide field so that it may be in order, we hope, to discuss every aspect of this pressing and highly important question of the road development of this country. At one time it was the intention of the Group to raise this question on the gracious Speech from the Throne. However, after further discussion and more reflection, we felt that the subject was one that it would be better to raise by way of a separate independent Motion so that references could be made to various subjects—for instance, the question of the Bressey Report, and the question of the licensing of goods vehicles, which has become an important matter, for the Government are proposing to increase the taxation in some cases by no less than 100 per cent. Further, by means of this Motion, we have the opportunity of making an inquiry about the Road Fund of 1908, which was regarded as a very excellent method of raising funds for pressing development of the roads so as to keep pace with the growing needs of the then new industry of motoring, and the use being made of our roads. But that instrument, the Road Fund, has been deliberately scrapped and destroyed, and in our judgment nothing adequate has been set up in its place.

It is more than forty years now since the internal combustion engine was introduced into the field of locomotion, and it has become, as we all know, an almost perfect instrument of transport; at any rate it has reached a very high degree of efficiency. As for the roads of the country, except for experiments in connection with surfacing of various kinds, in most parts the design and the size of our roads have scarcely been altered at all during these forty years. When we look across the seas, however, we find that nearly every foreign country, at any rate every country of importance and consequence, has, I think I may say without exception, embarked on a vast programme of road development. No fewer than eight countries near to us, including Holland and Belgium, which are comparatively small countries, have felt that it is desirable and necessary to go in for large schemes of road development. Meantime we are doing what I venture to suggest is virtually nothing when we compare our efforts with those overseas.

Since 1910 the traffic on our roads has increased some twenty times, and since 1925, merely a matter of thirteen years ago, the roads have been extended and increased by only some 2 per cent. whilst the traffic during that time has more than doubled. We have now on our roads over 3,000,000 vehicles, and new vehicles to the number of no fewer than 500 a day are coming on to the roads. The net increase in the number of vehicles on our roads has been arrived at after deducting the vehicles which have been withdrawn as unserviceable, and we have a net increase of 500 new vehicles going on to our roads. In fact, our roads are more congested than those of any other country in the world. At the present rate, in fifteen years—a short space of time in national life—the 3,000,000 vehicles we now have will have doubled. We have seventeen vehicles per mile on our roads, or, if we like to divide the number of vehicles per mileage of classified roads we get no fewer than 66.5 vehicles per mile of classified roads. If all the vehicles were for some reason or other to come out together on our classified roads at the same time, let us say on a peaceful and quiet Sunday afternoon, it would indeed be a day of rest, because the vehicles would only be twenty-two yards apart and there could, I think, be very little movement in such circumstances. The transport industry, I may point out, is one of capital importance to us. Already 1,300,000 persons are employed directly and indirectly upon our transport system, and the industry, if so it may be described, is in the matter of employment the third greatest industry in our country.

If I may be permitted—and I do not wish to be long as we have many speakers on this very interesting topic—I would say a word or two about the roads themselves. Let us take the road to Bristol. That road, so far as 120 miles of it are concerned, varies in width from 19 feet to 40 feet. Then take the Great North Road. There is only a single track north and south on the Great North Road over no less than two-thirds of its length. Take next the London to Birmingham road and consider another aspect of the problem. There are twenty-three different types of surface on that road from London to Birmingham. Finally, I will come to the Great West Road, which was hailed as being such a triumph of foresight, skill and engineering. We already know that it is a byword for danger and delay. Take any road your Lordships like, we are definitely behind what is being done and what has been done by other nations. Some look upon it as a matter of kismet, as a matter of fate, a sort of march of events at which they look with folded arms and half-averted eyes, thinking that things must be accepted as they now are.

The Ministry of Transport produced last year a very helpful and useful memorandum, No. 483, on the layout and construction of our roads; but in the neighbourhood where I live I have come across cases where the well-thought-out schemes advised and urged in that Memorandum are not being carried out. I could give an instance where two great mains roads cross each other at right-angles in the middle of the country, and in that case, where there have been many accidents, a roundabout is being constructed. The minimum width of the roundabout at such a crossing or junction is given in the Memorandum as 100 feet. Nevertheless, the Ministry are making it only 90 feet, which is not sufficient to make the position better than it is at present and is not in accordance with the rules which the Ministry have laid down. I hope the Ministry of Transport will see that the forms of construction which they themselves recommend are carried out wherever it is possible to do so.

The solution of the traffic problem has many sides. There is the question of the segregation of traffic—perambulators, cycles, pedestrians, motors, all mixed up. That is not good from the traffic point of view. We require dual carriageways, cycle tracks and motor tracks and places for pedestrians; in fact many things which are quite obvious could and ought to be done. In so far as motorways are concerned, where scientifically constructed motorways have been built we find those roads are 80 per cent. safer for the same volume of traffic than were the roads they have superseded. At the present time we have adopted a sort of policy of make-do, tinkering with the roads. I venture to suggest that that is an expensive and not a very effective way of dealing with the problem. We are fully aware that expense is the difficulty, that we as a nation are confronted by a great monetary stringency and that many people are aghast at the costs with which we are now faced. But the cost of special roads to meet modern conditions need not necessarily be so very high. Experts tell us that they can be constructed for £60,000 a mile, and therefore a thousand miles can be constructed for something in the neighbourhood of £60,000,000. Our fathers had to deal with the construction of railways and they thought nothing of building some 20,000 miles of railways in the country. Surely therefore we can face up to a problem that only means constructing a few thousand miles of ordinary roads.

Then I venture to suggest that the unemployment problem and the question of relief is linked up with this question. At the present time vast sums of money are poured out and have been poured out almost for generations now—at any rate for decades—in dealing with this problem. If there is a difficulty about rates of pay, a trade union difficulty, surely it is one which can be solved in a way that would be satisfactory to the trade unions and would ensure some kind of return to the taxpayers of this country. I hope that that aspect of the matter will be examined and that a scheme which is fair to all will be evolved. New roads are necessary, I venture to suggest, to deal with new traffic. Their construction would help to deal with the unemployment problem and with the safety problem and, of course, safety is one of the most important and pressing of all questions. Five hundred people are killed and 17,000 injured every month, and I am given to understand that it is only those who are very severely injured that get on the record. We cannot sit still for ever with folded arms complacently tolerating a death roll of 500 every month and that vast number of injured.

In 1937, only last year, the Government collected £88,000,000, a vast sum, from road users by way of licence and petrol duties. Of that £88,000,000 only £22,000,000—under £22,000,000 to be correct—has been returned to the service of the roads of this country. Well, £88,000,000 is enough to pay for the whole of the roads, and that amount may not be required in one year to bring our whole road system up to date. At the present time, including the money contributed by the ratepayers, who provide a very large sum in addition to the money contributed by the national taxpayers, only some £58,000,000 has been expended on our road system. Why, in 1931–32, when we were in the very trough of depression, more money was spent. We remember that in 1935, when it is true there was an Election, and it is at Elections that one hears the most promising statements made, there was a great five-year plan. A sum of £100,000,000 was going to be spent in five years. Four of the five years have nearly elapsed and in point of fact only some £23,000,000 has been spent.

If we look at the matter of roads from another angle, the humanitarian angle, I think that sympathy for those who have been slaughtered and needlessly maimed should influence us in a decision. After all, death is stalking ceaselessly and cruelly along our highways and that could be avoided or the situation very largely alleviated. The toll of our cyclists has reached an appallingly high figure. Head-on collisions we could absolutely stop. Just as the railways, which in their early days accounted for a large number of deaths, have virtually solved the problem, so can our roads be dealt with. I should like to point out also that very vexatious and costly delays take place in our traffic movements and that the matter is important from the point of view of defence in a crisis. In the provision of garages which could be used as underground shelters a great deal can be done. In other countries attention has been paid to all those aspects of the question. Action should be taken to meet a national emergency, to deal with the question of the movements of troops, the provision of supplies, whether for the armed forces or for the civilian population, and to deal with the evacuation of our great cities. The roads are the very nerve centre of our national life. I hope therefore most sincerely that the Government will deal with this problem, because from whatever angle they view the matter it is one of the vital needs of our day and time that the question was dealt with. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, I am sure we shall all be grateful to my noble friend Lord Eltisley for having brought this very important matter before the notice of your Lordships' House. I think we are all agreed that the state of our roads at the present time is not entirely satisfactory: I do not want to put it too high. The responsibility for the roads rests partially upon the county councils and partially upon the Ministry of Transport. It is with the first portion of that responsibility that I myself am more particularly concerned, and I should like to say on behalf of the county councils that it is their desire to have good roads and to have safe roads. But, of course, it is also a matter ever present to the minds of those who represent the various districts on county councils that some regard has to be paid to cost. At a time when the Board of Education is pushing us to borrow very large sums for schools, and when the Ministry of Health is pressing on us the needs of housing and drainage and water supply and various other things, the county councils are naturally, and I think rightly, not anxious to spend more capital than is absolutely necessary.

Ratepayers as such make large contributions to local authorities, while at the same time as road users they pay in those taxes which my noble friend has enumerated very large contributions to the State. I quite admit that if they do not think they are getting value for their money they have every right to complain. Some time ago—to be exact, it was about a year and a-half—the Ministry of Transport took over the trunk roads. In doing so I think they were right. The trunk roads are a national and not a local affair, and to put the cost of them upon the State was a step in the right direction. But I must say that there is considerable disappointment because since those roads were taken over more improvements have not been made upon them. We were hoping, many of us, that such roads would be made an example, that they would be constructed and mended in such a way as to form an example to the county authorities of the real thing towards which they ought to strive, so as to set them on their mettle to bring the county standard as near as possible to the national standard.

No doubt that will come in time. I do not want to complain unnecessarily if the Ministry thinks that it ought to take plenty of time to consider what is the best and most fruitful way of improving and developing those trunk roads. The object of this Motion is, I think, that the time should be short. The mover of the Motion and those who are supporting him—of whom, more or less, I am one—think, I believe, that the time has come when the Ministry ought to be getting on with the work, that there has been quite enough time to think over and to make preliminary investigations, and that something effective should be done. In the meantime I must say that the county councils feel rather injured that in some cases where it is urgent to by-pass on a trunk road, they should have to pay half the cost. That matter came up at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the County Councils Association this morning, and a deputation was told off to wait upon the Ministry on that very subject. I will not, therefore, go into it further to-day.

Now I should like to say a word about the improvements on other roads—that is, roads which are in the charge of the county councils, roads on which undoubtedly the Ministry pays a large grant but for which the whole responsibility rests on the county councils. There may be a good reason for it, but it is a matter for complaint, of which I have experience and which I have also heard from more than one quarter, that when a county council has a scheme ready for immediate improvement of the roads or for making new roads, the Ministry takes such a very long time in sanctioning the scheme. My noble friend has referred to the fact that a year or two ago a very large programme was put forward by the county councils at the request of the Minister, and that very little of that programme has yet been accomplished. To a large extent, indeed, that is due to what seems to us the unconscionable time that the Ministry takes in allowing the preliminaries to go through. If it could be speeded up at that end, those schemes could be taken in hand and could be got on with very much more quickly than is possible at the present time.

Another question deals with minor roads. I am not sure that it is wise—and here, I think, I differ from my noble friend—that the Ministry should insist on so high a standard as a condition of a grant in every case. It means, of course, that when a certain sum is set apart for road improvements a lesser length of road can be dealt with for that sum. It is a matter of high policy, and quite possibly the Ministry is right. I think, however, that, at all events in the country districts, on rural roads, it is better to make a moderate improvement on a hundred miles than to make a great improvement on fifty. I own that that is a matter of opinion, but I put it forward for what it is worth.

Now as to accidents. The Minister states that two-thirds of these occur in built-up areas, and I saw that at the inquiry the other day the representative of the Ministry estimated that only 10 per cent. of fatal accidents are due to defects of roads and that 90 per cent. are due to defaults of road users. In my immediate neighbourhood there is a rather notorious place called Podimore Cross, where a good many accidents have occurred. I know that place very well indeed, and I am absolutely unable to account for accidents taking place there if the drivers of cars on each road show even ordinary care. You can see more than a hundred yards in every direction. There is now, and has been for some time, a halt sign there, but motorists do not always halt. The consequence is that the local magistrates administer fines, and those fines are so productive when there has been a little police trapping that they run into hundreds of pounds, and must really form a very valuable source of revenue to the Ministry. We could only wish that some proportion of those funds might come to us for the improvement of the country roads. One thing which I think I might be allowed to say about this question of penalties on motorists is that some scale of fines ought to be laid clown. It seems absurd that, in the same county and for the same offence, fines should vary so largely as they do at present. I do not know how it is to be done. I should have thought it was a matter for the Home Office, but I think something might be done to make the various benches agree on a scale of fines to be levied for similar offences under similar conditions. That is by the way, but my experience of this place, Podimore Cross, bears out what the representatives of the Ministry said, that 90 per cent. of the accidents are due to some fault on the part of the drivers.

There are one or two other small points on which I will merely say a word. A surveyors' map has been got out with great care and ability by the surveyors of the country: a map of proposed trunk roads for practically the whole of the country, with one exception, and that is the West Country from which I happen to come, so I cannot make any particular comment upon that scheme. I may say, however, that it has come before the County Councils Association, which did not feel that it was competent to deal with such a very big matter at a moment's notice, and simply received it. From what I see of it, however, I think that it is well worth the attention of the Ministry. One other matter to which I would like to refer is that I think it is very important, in the building development that takes place by the side of the roads, that a set-back of frontages and a service road should be insisted upon. I think that is an important thing upon which all county councils ought to insist. Perhaps the Motion may have been a little too ambitious, but I am sure it will have answered a useful purpose if it shows the Ministry that there should, in the opinion of your Lordships, be no unnecessary delay in getting on with work that is so much needed.


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot agree entirely with what has fallen from Lord Bayford, that the terms of this Motion are a little ambitious. To my mind the inadequacy of the roads at the present time is one of the most important things affecting this country. It is not just a question of national safety: it is also a question of national economy, and in time of war would become one of vital necessity. I admit that I believe a comprehensive scheme of motorways is the solution, and the expenditure on that scheme can be justified in three different ways, any one of which is sufficient reason for spending that money. First, naturally, one would put safety. A motorway, by taking the direct traffic that at the present moment is running on our antiquated roads, and giving it a clear run without going through any town or village, must necessarily mean travelling much more safely. It not only provides safety for the traffic which actually travels on it, but it provides a far greater degree of safety for the other roads. At the present moment you have traffic going through towns quite unnecessarily. In some places you have by-passes which are not adequate, which have been built-up, and which really are as dangerous as the old roads were. If you can relieve the congestion on those roads, and take more traffic off them, you at once relieve the main cause of danger on those roads.

Another quite minor item, but which has a material effect on those roads, is the driver's fatigue. If the driver of a vehicle has to be constantly on the watch and changing gear, as he has at the present time, dodging things which have no business to be there, his fatigue after ten hours, and sometimes eleven hours, a day, is tremendous. If you can reduce that fatigue in any way, you reduce the risk of accidents to a certain extent, and you are going to get a much better driver. If the strain is reduced his health is improved, and he will have much greater stamina to meet fatigue. To my mind those matters alone would be sufficient to justify the expenditure on these roads. But the pure and simple question of economy is another convincing argument. To-day, there are many large firms who, with an efficient system of motor roads, would be able to cut the number of vehicles they are using by something like 15 to 20 per cent. Ultimately, all those vehicles and the cost of running them are paid for by the country, and if we can save the cost of running those vehicles, we are saving money for the country and everybody in it. Then there is the time that your Lordships spend on the roads. Your Lordships' time is valuable. If it takes you an hour to make a journey, or two hours, it again means money to you, and ultimately to the nation.

There is further a point of economy which I have never yet heard mentioned in this House, and that is the value of human life. Some years ago I had brought to my notice, by an insurance company, the value of the life of the ordinary person who was lost at sea. That value was put by the insurance company at about £1,500 per life. That is the value in cash to the country. If we take our present road casualty list, and we put the value of the lives lost at that very low figure, our annual wastage in this country is in the neighbourhood of £9,000,000 a year. If we add to that the cost to the country of those who are injured we should at least treble that figure. If, by some adequate road system, we can reduce our accidents by onetwelfth—and we could do it by a system of motorways of about 1,000 miles, as the surveyors suggested—then the interest on the money which these motorways will cost to build will be met by the saving of unnecessary wastage. Those figures may seem rather far-fetched, but when your Lordships think of the matter I believe you will realise that they do affect national expenditure very closely.

Then there is the question of national safety itself. I wonder how many of your Lordships tried to come into London from the west during the recent crisis. There was one day when it was almost ridiculous. I had a friend coming up from west of London, from just beyond Weybridge, to have dinner with me. He was due at 8 o'clock. At 8.5 he rung up from Kingston to say that he had just got there and had turned round to go home again because he was tired of fighting the traffic. Suppose that crisis had come to war, and it had not been a case of one person wanting to come into London for dinner, but of our troops having to be moved—men, guns and munitions! Food would also have had to be brought in from the country. Adequate roads for those purposes are absolutely essential, and for that reason alone I feel that this is not a question that can be allowed to be put off on the ground that we have spent enormous sums on armaments. An adequate road system forms a vital part of our national defence scheme, and should be included as a part of that scheme. The cost of building motorways you have already been given, but I do not think it has been pointed out that it is more economical to build them than to adapt our present ill-designed roads. I am told that not only can new motorways be built for £60,000 per mile, but if they are built in adequate stretches, say a minimum of about 100 miles at a time, the use of modern machinery will bring the cost down very considerably, probably below £50,000 per mile.

Turn for a moment to the policy of the Minister of Transport. Personally I feel it is very urgent that he should immediately revise the methods of his Department. To-day schemes are held up while small details of construction are considered and discussed by, I should imagine, the clerks in his Department. The Minister's job is not one of small detail, it is one of policy. He has his road surveyors, men who spend their whole lives on roads, who understand them and know the local conditions, and if they do not, well, they can easily be replaced by men who do. Those are the men to see to detail. Detail is not part of the Minister's job, and the sooner he forgets about details and leaves them to the responsible people the better.

Let me give your Lordships just one illustration of the absurdities that can be perpetrated. Recently the Minister has apparently decided that the twenty feet that he laid down originally as the correct width of a road should in fact be twenty-two feet and so certain main roads which it is hoped eventually to turn into dual roads are now being widened by two feet. Anyone would assume that that widening would consist of taking up the kerbstone on one side of the road and widening the road on that side by two feet. But that is not the Minister's economical method of doing it. He takes up the kerbstones on both sides of the road and widens it by one foot on each side. Can anyone see a sane county surveyor doing a thing like that? What it really boils down to is this: the how should be left to the surveyor, and the why should be the business of the Minister. I think if that system were followed, and the Minister confined himself to general policy, leaving it to his county surveyors to work out the details, we should find our road system improving certainly 100 per cent. more quickly than it does at present.


MV Lords, I am not one of those who subscribe to the idea, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, that this Motion is a little too ambitious. I think the very fact of the noble Lord's intervention shows the importance of the occasion. This is a matter which your Lordships ought to consider as one of the greatest urgency. A year and a half ago the Ministry assumed responsibility for the trunk roads. The Trunk Roads Act was passed very largely as a result, as it was alleged, of the dilatoriness of the local authorities. But the dilatoriness of the local authorities is simply nothing to the blight that has descended upon the trunk road system since the Minister took it over. The question I want to ask the Ministry is, what are you really going to do about the trunk roads? Everybody is asking that, everybody wants to know. Surely there cannot be any particular reason for not stating clearly and unequivocally the Ministry's decision. We have been told by the Minister that he is going to embark upon the system of modernisation of cur trunk roads. At present the policy of the Ministry seems to be to encourage the production of a number of by-passes. The Minister made an important speech a little while ago and recited with pride a list of fifteen bypasses in which apparently he was interested. But he left out quite a number which are under construction and have been under construction for two years, and which will not be completed for another two or three years. By-passes such as those at Winchester and Crawley, for instance, were not mentioned.

I should like to refer to the policy of modernisation as compared, for instance, with the proposals mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bayford—the very important proposals which have been put forward by the County Surveyors Association through the County Councils Association. They would be the most costly system of all. I have obtained some figures from the County Surveyors Association which I will quote. There is a road near Bristol which it was proposed to widen to 120 feet. It was to have dual carriageways, according to the specification of the Ministry of Transport, and also footpaths and cycle tracks. The cost of the modernisation of that road worked out at £221,600 per mile. Figures were got out for a new road in the same area that was to cost £77,600 per mile, and the cost of a motorway which, of course, would not have included cycle tracks and footpaths, would have worked out at about £60,000 per mile.

Another important point is this: are you going to proceed with the reconstruction and modernisation of a road as a unit, or is it going to be a patchwork system? The advantage of constructing a new road as a unit has already been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst. It is that you can employ the most modern road-making machinery on the job, by which you can enormously reduce the cost and expedite construction. The Ministry are apparently going to have a sort of modernisation scheme, and only two roads in the country have so far been tackled as units. I refer to the road from Glasgow to Edinburgh and the road from Liverpool to East Lancashire. I have not heard of any other roads that have been dealt with in that way. It is said that we cannot make motorways in this country, that it is far too expensive, and that we have got too many roads already. The noble Lord, Lord Eltisley, has already informed your Lordships that Belgium and Holland are busily constructing motorways. So they are; so also is Italy, so also are Germany and, I believe, Denmark and America. With the exception of America, these countries are not conspicuously wealthy, and if they find it possible to go in for the system of motorways, surely it might be considered here.

What really have the Ministry been doing? In the last seven years, I believe I am right in saying, about 280 miles of new roads have been constructed. They are constructing 650 miles a year in Germany. The first fly-over bridge has still to make its appearance here, but we can at least be grateful that the first by-pass to by-pass a by-pass has been authorised by the Minister at a cost of £150,000 at Daventry. Our Western Avenue, which is the old man of the sea as far as roads in this country go, has been twenty years under construction already. It is still two and a half miles short of its ultimate destination, and it will be another two years or so before it gets there. The first portion of that road, as your Lordships know, is most dangerous considering the colossal amount of traffic which is endeavouring to use it, and we must remember the public demonstrations which have been organised by the frontagers who live on the road. The Chertsey by-pass peters out, poor thing, into the middle of a field somewhere in the West of London, and yet it has the makings of one of the finest roads in this country. Sir Charles Bressey in his Report referred to it, and explained the enormous use this road might conceivably be in a well-ordered, well-organised, and well-planned road system.

But the Ministry of Transport have been very active all the same. No one must think they have been sitting down and doing nothing, because between January and August this year they managed to produce fourteen Acts and Orders dealing with such matters as speed limit, index marks, number plates, steam vehicles, drivers' licences, etc. Perhaps I should also tell your Lordships that, altogether, these fourteen Orders and Acts produced another sixty-eight pages of restrictive legislation which, I submit, is opposed to the constructive action that we really want. Much of the money which has been spent has often been misspent and wastefully spent if considered in relation to the pound sterling. Take another aspect of the problem, and this is one I have not seen referred to in this House very much. Take the way money is spent on the roads. Six million pounds is to be spent in the crofter counties of the Western Highlands. The Minister proudly tells us that nearly £2,250,000 has already been spent. The roads which he is building in the crofter counties of the Western Highlands are the sort of roads which are all right for the wealthier class of motorists, but there are no industries unfortunately in that area, and there is really not the local need for a road system of that kind, especially when you bear in mind the schemes to which the Minister has said "No"—a bridge across the Severn or a bridge across the Forth or the Humber.

The Minister sent his chief engineer to the Select Committee of your Lordships' House which is inquiring into road accidents to explain the cost of a new motor road between London and the Birmingham area. He told the representatives of your Lordships' House that it would cost £60,000,000. It is true he corrected that figure a little later by cutting off a nought which had been added by mistake. Still it would cost £6,000,000, just exactly, curiously enough, the sum which is being laid out on the crofter counties of the Western Highlands. If you contrast the traffic needs of the two—£6,000,000 for the Western Highlands or for a bridge over the Severn or a new road from London to the Birmingham area—which proposal would really be of most benefit to the road system of the country? I submit to your Lordships that there may be another reason why it was a good thing to lay out so much money in the Western Highlands: there is no railway system there.

Take other instances. The Minister is positively spending at the present moment £40,000 on eleven miles of road in the Isle of Mull, and the idea is to reduce the width of the road from 14 feet to 9 feet. Forty thousand pounds to de-make a road, not make it! The local people, I understand, are very much exercised about it. They like the road to be 14 feet, but the Minister says it has to be reduced to 9 feet, and £40,000 is being spent upon it. Again the Minister is constructing a length of forty-five miles in the Isle of Skye. There are roads for the Western Highlands and for the Western Isles, but when it comes to a new road for this country, "Oh dear, no, it costs too much." I submit that road construction in itself is a sheer waste of money if the roads are constructed where they are least needed and in disconnected bits that bring no real relief to traffic.

Another most important question which everybody is asking on the road question is: What is the Government's attitude towards the Bressey Report? We all want to know this. That Report is the one long-term view which has been taken of our traffic needs on behalf of the Government, though of course it only applies to a small area. But nothing whatever has been done, and all that the Minister has told us is that he is waiting for proposals from the local authorities. There are 132 local authorities who are, I believe, immediately affected by the Bressey Report. How does the Minister really think he is going to get a comprehensive view from 132 local authorities? Meantime the fact that nothing has been done is already compromising the Bressey Report. The Minister may wait, but building development will not wait. Already some of the roads envisaged by Sir Charles Bressey have been built on. I believe a factory is now being constructed on the direct line of one of the most important arteries from east to west mentioned in the Report. Building development is going on all round London. These things, I repeat, will not wait.

Take another point. Only a few days ago the B.B.C. and the Press told us that the London County Council were proposing to construct a new road or embankment south of the Thames from the County Hall to Waterloo Bridge, and it was announced that the Minister of Transport had authorised the maximum grant for this as being a scheme of major importance. This scheme was not even mentioned by Sir Charles Bressey in his Report. Its traffic value will be exactly nil, and it is going to cost a very considerable sum indeed. Why does the Minister lay out money on things like that? I am sorry that the noble Lord who leads the official Opposition has not been able to be here this afternoon and give us a little information about this embankment south of the river. I am sure we should all like to have the south side of the river looking very nice, but if money has got to be spent we ought to spend it on a traffic road that would be of some importance.

The question of national defence has already been referred to by Lord Sandhurst. I am always told by my friends in the Air Force who are competent to judge that a railway forms the almost ideal aerial target. If that is so, we may look forward to our railway system being either wholly or partially out of action in the first few hours of another war, if one should unfortunately come. If that happens we shall inevitably be thrown back on the roads for our life as a people. Our roads will have to try and evacuate the civil population at the same time as supplies are being brought up from the western ports to the London area, and they will have to try and meet the needs of industry. When the crisis came the other day I happened to be connected with the biggest organisation in commercial transport that we have in this country; in fact it represents the whole of commercial transport, and I can assure your Lordships that the information we have in our organisation is that, as a result of the crisis, it was disclosed that we really have not got enough transport available to do the job. There were all sorts of muddles—I need not refer to them—like the commandeering of meat lorries for anti-aircraft munitions and silly things like that, but the central fact remains that to such an extent has the number of owners of motor lorries in the country been reduced through the operation of the Road Traffic Act, and to such an extent has it been impossible for other operators to secure licences to operate, that we now have not got enough heavy commercial motor vehicles in the country to keep us going if such a grave emergency arose as I have tried to outline.

The road system of the country, I submit, forms a swift and flexible means of concentration for military needs, and I also submit that the Ministry of Transport ought to be doing everything in their power to try and improve the road system from the ports to the large centres of population. That is vital to our needs. I have already referred to the operation of the Road Traffic Act, but now another matter comes in. Many people want to know from the Government, whether they are really in earnest about this road question. It is quite obvious that there has been a most appalling muddle. You have not to go very far along any main road before you see the sort of muddles that have taken place—by-passes compromised by building development, and nullified very largely by speed restrictions, by various forms of pedestrian crossings, and so on. I want to know whether the Government are really in earnest on this question of the roads.

There is a newspaper your Lordships probably know as well as I do, called the Daily Express, and it is always very well informed in such matters. The Daily Express two days ago told us that a deputation was going to the Minister to discuss falling railway receipts. It was indicated that the companies' representatives would ask the Minister of Transport for Government action to control heavy traffic carried by road, and would say that unless the Government were prepared to meet their wishes they would be forced to apply for an all-round wage reduction. I do not know if that was true, but if it was true I submit that it represents a very obvious case of blackmail. I really am sick and tired of hearing the argument used that the difficulties of the railways are due to road competition. Railways themselves are great road operators; they are the only road operators whose receipts have shown an increase, and that is because they have been so kindly dealt with by the Traffic Commissioners.

But let that pass. Perhaps this is not the time to enlarge upon the difficulties of the railways, but when you find a railway that keeps up 9 stations in 10 miles—that is between Rose Grove, in Lancashire, and Colne—between Nottingham and Chesterfield, keeps up 19 stations in 33 miles, between Newport and Blaenavon, keeps up 14 stations in 16¼ miles, and between Southport and Preston, 13 stations in 15⅞ miles, I submit to your Lordships that that sort of thing might account perhaps for some of the difficulties of the railways. All those stations are less than two miles apart, and I cannot believe that in these days of modern transport it is really necessary to keep stations fully manned with all their staffs at such short distances, unless you have money to burn and throw away.

I think, too, that the difficulties of the railways can be accounted for in other ways. There is a gentleman who wrote a very remarkable letter to the Daily Telegraph on the 10th September, a Mr. Roberts, who is a railway expert from South America. He said that the basic cause of the financial difficulties of the railways comes from their costs of operation, which are about 200 per cent. higher than they are in any other country. What I plead for with railway companies is that they should stop trying to build up road transport against their own rail system, and that they should try to use their system in such a way that all can work together for the common good of the country rather than try to maintain an uneconomic system, if it is an uneconomic system, when possibly great economies can be made. I do not see why redundant mileage should not be closed down. For instance, I do not see what is the good of the Great Central Railway. However, these are matters for another occasion.

I am afraid I have spoken far too long, and I want only to add this. I entirely support the noble Lord, Lord Eltisley, and I welcome the fact that he has brought this Motion before your Lordships' House this afternoon. I have tried to show that in many ways the money that the Minister is now spending is being wastefully spent, is being misspent. I do not believe it is being spent so as to benefit the road traffic needs of the country. The Minister has not said very much about his policy. Perhaps the noble Earl, when he replies, will be able to tell us what the Minister is going to do, but at any rate I am perfectly certain that unless some improvement can be made in the road system of this country in the next few years we are going to bring road traffic almost literally to a full stop.

The noble Lord, Lord Eltisley, gave your Lordships a daily figure of the increase of vehicles on the road. That cannot go on unless you find some cure for the present difficulties. You cannot tell the country that the only cure is further restrictions. If you resort to that you will face wholesale unemployment in the motor industry. Already it is feeling the draught. I submit that something must be done. There is this great proposal which has been submitted by the county surveyors, and I only hope we shall be told that the Minister is really going into this with the idea of trying to do something to solve the difficulty. We want to know about the Bressey Report and other matters also. All I can say is that unless something is done I am perfectly certain that the whole of the country is going to feel it, and the increased cost of everything is not one that the country will welcome as a whole.


My Lords, I feel it rather difficult to follow the noble Earl who has just sat down because of his great expert knowledge of the reads of the country. At the same time, I think the House will welcome the opportunity of discussing this question, because I think that of the £88,000,000 raised in 1937 from road users, a large proportion was paid by members of your Lordships' House either by way of taxes on private vehicles or on commercial motor vehicles. What I feel most sore about is that the expenditure is generally made in a wrong way. There is waste of money, as has already been said, although not enough is being spent in comparison with the enormous income which is derived from users of the roads. What is spent is uneconomically spent. There does not seem to be any particular improvement in the roads as a consequence. County councils are visited by Ministry of Transport officials and told what to do. They are informed that it they do not do it they will not get the grant, and that they might as well spend the money because it is there to spend, whether it is necessary to do so or not. That seems to me an uneconomic way of dealing with public funds.

Not only that, but those who provide the funds are entitled to get something in return for the enormous sum they pay in licence duties and other ways for the roads they use. Unfortunately, as the noble Earl who has just sat down has instanced, a great deal of money has been spent in certain parts of Scotland where the expenditure really is quite unjustified—although I am not going to say that Scotland receives a very good proportion of the money spent—for the reason that the roads pass through very thinly populated areas. It is impossible for areas to maintain excellent roads at enormous expense when the roads are mainly used by people from south of the Border on holidays. And of course the narrowing of the road in Mull is an event which is being rapidly completed and which cannot be explained at all by anybody in Mull or anybody else anywhere in Scotland. The great trouble I feel is that money has been spent wrongly because of the lack of a programme. If there was careful planning as to where money should be spent, and in which year or group of years it should be spent, I cannot help thinking that road improvements which were most required would be settled first and those not so urgent would be left to be dealt with later.

Another trouble is that not enough account has been taken of the question of safety. Where there is most traffic considerations of safety have to come first. Where there is little traffic the question of safety does not arise in the same degree. There seems to be an obsession on the part of the Ministry to take off every bend or curve, no matter how small it is. That is not only unnecessary, because very often these bends are at places where there is very little traffic, but it also detracts from the amenities of the countryside. I cannot see why the amenities in a rural district should be wilfully thrown away simply to make a road straighter and thereby encourage speed beyond all bounds. There is a very interesting case in my own county where at the present time the Ministry wishes to straighten a road which ends at a T junction. The road is on a steep incline and anybody using it now must be careful because of the bends. If the Ministry take away all the bends and thereby encourage speed the result will be that a motorist strange to the district, when he gets to the bottom of the hill, will almost certainly have an accident. That is not what I call improving a road, especially in view of the fact that the traffic on it is not very great. I cannot understand why there is this mania for taking off bends. It is really only for the benefit of the minority of road users, the inconsiderate users of the roads, who really cause most accidents.

It would appear that there is in the Ministry very little thought of safety pure and simple, and I think that with the appalling figures of accidents which are published every month they ought to put safety in the van of their programme. It is not necessary to widen a road in order to make it safe, and it is not necessary to take off all the bends. If only they would pay attention first to the spots where accidents occur I feel sure that there would be far fewer accidents than occur to-day. It seems to me that the Ministry ought to pay more attention to finance, to amenities, and most of all to reducing the enormous number of accidents by improving the roads at places where the accidents occur and not at places where they do not occur. Let us have a road safety policy as the foremost of our improvement schemes. And as regards trunk roads do let the Ministry follow the example of the county councils rather than their own sweet will. The county councils have far more experience in the making and maintenance of roads, and I suggest that the Ministry would be better advised to follow the example of the county councils rather than to tell the county councils to adopt an entirely new policy, when the county councils are dealing with what the Ministry wish done through their agency on the trunk roads. I apologise to your Lordships for these disjointed remarks, but after the excellent speech we have just heard from the noble Earl I feel quite unable to do justice to the question. I hope that the Ministry will take careful note of what the noble Earl has said.


My Lords, it is, alas, all too seldom that I can afford myself the honour of attendance in your Lordships' House, but I have taken care to be in my place to-day because, as some of your Lordships may be aware, I have for my sins been responsible for instituting and supervising the training of the new mobile police about which there has been some talk recently. I intend, of course, to make little reference to the question of the mobile police to-day, because the Motion before your Lordships' House refers only to roads, but I shall have to refer to them in passing in so far as what they are doing and the lessons to be learned from the way they are doing it affects the question of the roads. Let it suffice for me to say for the moment that by their devoted, broadminded and public-spirited efforts, a number of Chief Constables and several hundred mobile police patrols have in certain areas succeeded in reducing the number of accidents by a proportion hitherto unknown, and in fact in one instance by very nearly half. But, if I had not come here to-day and had remained silent, it might possibly have been thought, because of my association with this police work, that my silence was therefore an unspoken statement or claim that mobile police supervision was in fact the answer to the whole question of safety on the roads. I should be the last to make any such claim, because I do not believe it to be true. I regard the Ministry of Transport's contention, that only 1.5 per cent. of accidents are due to road conditions and the remainder to the behaviour of people on the roads, as nonsense.


Hear, hear.


Naturally there would be no accidents at all if everybody were a first-class driver. That is very simple; and that would continue to be so even if our roads—many, many thousands of miles of them, all too many thousands of miles of them—continued to be narrow, twisty, black and slippery. But, my Lords, perhaps you will agree that I am in a position to judge that all drivers cannot be made perfect. Many hundreds have passed through my hands in the last two years, and I can assure you that, even under conditions of the most intensive and arduous training, some will always be second-rate drivers. Some members of the public who are driving, who have not been specially picked, as, of course, these police patrols have been picked, will be even worse. There will always be the second-rate driver, whose latent period, whose physical reaction, is long, whose nerves are had, and who is unmechanically-minded in general and clumsy. Unless you are going to legislate that entire class of driver off the road, you have to do something about the road itself. For that type of driver you have to build into the road the degree of safety which he himself inherently lacks, unless you are going to stop him from driving. Even when you have done it you must still have a number of specially-trained police to see that he lives up to the necessary factor of safety. That is why I feel it to be of the greatest urgency that the Minister of Transport should start to put into our roads, not only non-skid properties in very much greater proportion than they now exist, but also adequate width for the traffic volume on any given road, and all the other modern devices which noble Lords on my left have outlined to you—fly-over crossings, sidings, and so on.

I am told it is common gossip that police patrols in the past—and here I do not speak from my own experience, for I have only just heard this, and I should like to hear it denied—have been told (where the instruction came from I do not know) not to criticise road defects when reporting an accident. The danger is, I suppose, that if they did and the criticism became known, members of the public involved in accidents might perhaps feel encouraged to take action against the road authority. I should like to make it perfectly clear that no police patrol has ever said that to me, but I have heard it as gossip. Whether it is true or whether it is just gossip, I feel confident that the Minister of Transport's figure will itself change as soon as he starts to receive in any quantity the reports of these men who have had the benefit of special training. Their analyses of the causes of road accidents are going to be more accurate in the future, I trust, and it should not prove impossible even at this moment to separate and analyse on their own the reports of these several hundred men. I think your Lordships would rind then that the road was blamed very much more often than it has been in the past.

As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, have pointed out, the basic trouble really is some kind of muddle on a very large scale. I have come across evidences of it myself which I will in a moment mention to your Lordships. But, to stay for a moment on the question of the roads themselves, what is so disgraceful to me, and has appeared so for years, is the enormous mileage that we still have of slippery roads. Not being a private detective, thank goodness, I cannot quite get to the bottom of it, but I feel certain that one reason is the very much greater influence which is exerted in some way or another by what is referred to in the trade as the "tar ring." I do not know whether that conveys anything to your Lordships, but it is a very remarkable thing that we have such a small proportion of concrete surface in this country. I know it is slightly more expensive—in fact, quite a bit more expensive—to lay, but it is considerably cheaper to maintain. You do not find the big motor roads in America built of this black slippery stuff; you find them built of concrete, for hundreds or thousands of miles. All their new parkways are concrete. Why not? Why can we not have them?

There is a little bit too much talk altogether in these days about rings of manufacturers of this commodity and of that. I feel that the country is becoming a little impatient. I noticed in a newspaper only the other day that the chairman of a big aero-engine factory, which had been specially erected at considerable cost and from which had emerged a highly efficient engine which had passed its Air Ministry type tests, said that it could not get any orders. The firm could get orders—yes—to make parts for some other engine being built by another factory, but they could not get any orders for their own. Eventually, so the chairman himself reports, it transpired, or he was told, that he could not get orders because he did not belong to the chosen ring, and I believe that he intends to raise this at the general meeting. It seems to me to be high time that somebody did raise this question.

To turn again to this muddled policy, I would like to read to your Lordships a very short extract written by a man whom I know and have known for years. He is well-known to certain of your Lordships too. He is a very competent engineer, observer and journalist, and this is what he says. He is referring to the Government taking over the main roads: Before the change-over, I frequently mentioned in these notes instances of unnecessary waste of money in carrying out futile alterations, but I find, to-day, the same, or at any rate similar mad schemes are in process of completion. Let me take a few examples. Then he refers to the ridiculous placing of a thirty-mile limit, but we can leave that out. This is the interesting portion: Practically every day of my life I travel to and from Hindhead to Milford on the Portsmouth Road. Near the former village, the twisty road on the higher reaches is being reconstructed and has had a lot of attention from armies of workmen for the past few months. This particular stretch of main road is extremely narrow, boasts a tremendous number of bends, and the surface was none too good. In addition I find that this particular portion of road for some reason or other induces drivers to take the most appalling risks while driving either up or down the gradient. Anything, therefore, which improves the surface, widens the road and makes the camber safer is all to the good. It is scarcely believable, however, that some of the bends or corners are being definitely banked, while others which were only completed a week or two ago, are not, unless it is in the wrong direction. Whoever is responsible for this work must possess a brain which works erratically. That is a mild description, I should imagine, of the gentleman's brain.

Surely there is something unsound in a Department which permits that kind of thing and which wastes many thousands of pounds—I do not know how many—on things like beacons. I have been abroad a great deal, motoring and observing traffic, and I notice that the people in other countries are not regarded as quite so half-witted as the British public. They are relied upon to see the studs in the road, and if they cannot see them when coming out of their doorway or out of a shop doorway, they take it for granted that those studs will be found at the next corner. They do not have to look for those monuments of inefficiency which clutter our rather attractive old streets.

The noble Lords who have spoken before me have referred to the entire absence of anything like a modern motorway in England. There are, of course, short sections of an extremely good combination type of road, with footpaths and cycle tracks and a divided roadway, up in the north, for the most part. I have used them, and they are very good, but there are too few of them, and for long distance traffic there are no motor roads in the strict sense of the term at all. As a nation, as Lord Howe pointed out, we are practically alone in this. I agree with him—I think Lord Sandhurst also mentioned it—that these roads are needed as much in war as in peace. I tremble to think what the state of the roads leading out of London would have been if that crisis had not remained a crisis and then just faded back again into peace. I think it would have been a most disastrous sight. Many, many hundreds of people would have lost their lives on those roads, because they could not get away.

It seems to me that there are three main considerations to be borne in mind when roads are planned in these difficult days, and there are three main interests to consult. Firstly, the War Office, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry. All these in their own way need to use the roads to get their stuff about, and they may need to use them very quickly. Secondly, the convenience of industrial areas needs to be consulted at all times, obviously in the interest of commerce. Lastly, there are the seaside resorts and those holiday districts to which the workers of our country go for their annual holidays, and which they so badly need to reach as speedily as possible, in order that they may there refresh themselves and enjoy their sur- roundings. Similarly, there should be, I think, three types of road. First there should be the motor road pure and simple, which one can regard as being in almost the same category as a railway for purposes of argument. Then there is the combined road or Ministry type, with cycle tracks and footpaths alongside it, and for the most part these combined roads should link up urban areas which are comparatively close to one another. Then the third type is the secondary road, with footpaths and cycle tracks where necessary, but not, of course, a dual highway. If it needs a dual highway I claim that that puts it into another class altogether.

It seems to me that the truth about this whole problem of road accidents is not the prerogative of any one school of thought. As I have said, despite the great success already won by these amazingly energetic, industrious and devoted police officers, and although they have in Lancashire reduced the accidents in the last six months by 45.9 per cent., in Cheshire by 11.1 per cent., and in Salford by 20.2 per cent., I would be the last to claim that that is the answer. The answer lies somewhere between an amplification of police supervision and what is now known as the Bennett school of thought about roads.

I should like to add a few words to what the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, said just now about the Minister of Transport reorganising himself. I have rather drastic views about that proposed reorganisation. I feel in fact that in the interests of the country the Ministry of Transport, as such, should be abolished, and I will try to give your Lordships my reasons. I have seen a good deal of the working of it, as your Lordships may imagine, during the work that I have been carrying out for the Government in the last two years, and I cannot see that the continuity of policy which is so essential in this matter can be achieved in the necessary degree in any other way than by making—mark you, this is an ideal—the Ministry of Transport, large though it is, a technical department of the Home Office. My reasons are, I think, fairly cogent ones. Transport in these days is bound up increasingly with police work, and Government Departments work better together if they are not in fact two Departments but one, and are under the same roof. At least that has been my experience. Probably a still more important reason is the technical one. Nobody has seemed so far to realise that the Ministry of Transport is in these days a highly technical Ministry. The Admiralty is run by professional sailors, the War Office by professional soldiers, the Air Ministry by professional airmen, but I do not know that most of the officials at the Ministry of Transport have had any special training to fit them for their duties. If so, surely the complaints that Lord Howe has so straightly put to the House this afternoon would have no reason.

I found a sad state of affairs when it came to the all-important question of co-operation between Chief Constables and the Ministry of Transport. The Chief Constables have the same complaint against the Ministry that Lord Howe has, that things take too long. They themselves probably know more about the control of traffic and the safety of the roads in their own areas than any men in England, and they put up proposals to the Ministry and they often get no answer for a long, long time, and then it is not a helpful answer. I reported this state of affairs, as a matter of fact, in the proper quarter, and a conference was held, and I feel sure that the new permanent head of the Ministry of Transport has done all that he can to bring about a better state of affairs. But how did the original state of affairs ever come about? It is founded on a wrong principle altogether. Your Lordships have only to think for a moment that if there had been in the Ministry of Transport in past years a sufficient number of trained minds—minds trained specifically for transport, that is—such an idea as the education of the public by means of the mobile police would have emerged long ago, but it never did. I will not weary your Lordships about the details of such a reorganisation, but I assure your Lordships that from my own personal experience I can guarantee that it would be very much more effective, it would work very much more smoothly, and it would be in every way better than the Ministry as it now exists.

Finally, I would like to leave this one thought with your Lordships, particularly with the noble Lords on the Front Bench. It is nine years this month since I ventured to urge in your Lordships' House a large extension of mobile police, and it was nearly eight years before anything was done. Your Lordships have seen the results already. More lives have been saved, or rather they have started to be saved in a greater proportion, than at any other time or by any other measures since the War. Do not let it be said of this Government, as it can be said of the Socialist Government that was in power then, that it failed to listen in this instance to the speeches made by noble Lords this afternoon in support of Lord Eltisley's Motion. Do not let that rest upon your consciences, because this is a very serious problem and a tragic one, and it has gone too long unsolved.

In these days we are all rather on edge perhaps. The future of democracy seems to be clouded. I feel that these clouds can be swept away, but they can only be swept away if we show in many departments, and not only in road planning, more efficiency. There is no other way. I claim that democracy can be made efficient. I would like to point to the result of this experiment in the one County of Lancashire alone. To take one figure only, 344 children have been saved. That is five times the size of the average preparatory school to which we went. They have been saved in the last six months, not by regimentation but by co-operation. I claim that that same co-operation, if put into road planning between the Ministry or, as I like to term it, the Traffic Department of the Home Office and the local governments, will produce an even greater result, more lives will be saved, and this bitterly tragic problem will have been largely solved. It is a problem that has got to be solved. It has been going on too long, and it has been going on unnecessarily. I feel that the public are beginning to get wise to it. If the smell of whitewash is to assail our nostrils too strongly there will be many noble Lords in this House, many honourable members in another place, and many members of the public outside who will join together to find a solvent for that whitewash which may be scorching and far-reaching in its effects. I beg to support the Motion of the noble Lord.


My Lords, after the speeches that your Lordships have heard I do not feel capable of adding very much. While I heartily endorse what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has said with regard to motor roads and what has been said by other noble Lords who have sup- ported that point of view, I rather wonder if we are not putting the cart before the horse. It does not seem to me much use having excellent motor roads throughout the country unless we can get on to them from our towns and cities with the minimum of delay. Therefore I feel that the first step should be to make the outlets from our cities and towns absolutely passable at all times and in all stages of traffic. This point was partly brought out by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, when he referred to the question of defence and the evacuation of the population in time of war. The Bressey Report was one which showed how that could be done as regards London. I would like to stress the fact that we must not forget our other cities as well.

There has been in the past week, as some of your Lordships may know, an investigation made by an enterprising newspaper, the Evening Standard, into the traffic of London. A newspaper van has been fitted up with a special clock recording the passing of minutes and seconds, and has been touring the streets for about a week. It may interest your Lordships to know some of the facts that have been obtained. I believe the underlying motive in this investigation is to prevent the Report of Sir Charles Bressey and Sir Edwin Lutyens from being shelved, and it is my contention that the Ministry of Transport and the London County Council and all other bodies concerned should not be allowed to feel that there is no immediate urgency for getting some preparatory work done on this Report. I can tell your Lordships that leading officials of commercial road interests have applied for, and been granted, facilities to accompany the motoring correspondent of this newspaper on these survey runs, and a great deal of interest has been already created. The results indicate that the average speed of London traffic is becoming still lower and more spasmodic. Apart from well-known points such as Aldgate and King's Cross, where engineering work in connection with the Underground Railways is in progress, there are obvious points of congestion which can only be cured by major road improvements such as are indicated in the Bressey Report. I again say to the Ministry of Transport that these improvements are badly needed.

This newspaper van has struggled through bottle-necks in the West Central area of London, and has been delayed for many minutes at a time in company with a large body of traffic for which the existing roads were never designed. The time of halting has sometimes been eight to twelve minutes, and the average speed of the van on various journeys has been from six to ten miles an hour, which is little more than the average speed of horse-drawn traffic in days gone by. It may be true that horse traffic, which some people consider should be abolished altogether, has been responsible for the delay, but it is surprising to reflect on the paradox that with the modern improvements in engineering our average speed is still the same as that of the horse-drawn vehicle. I do not wish to detain your Lordships, as I know the noble Earl wishes to make a reply, but I do feel that, admirable and necessary as are motor roads and improvements on the main highways, it is vitally necessary that the outlets from our cities and towns should be constructed first, otherwise we are almost certain to have the trouble that we now have with these main roads and no means of getting on to them.


My Lords, I should like to support the Motion which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Eltisley, and I hope that His Majesty's Government will not pigeon-hole the Bressey Report to which attention was called by my noble friend Earl Howe. I also hope that the Government will give their support to the proposed building of a trial section of motorways which I believe has been surveyed for the Lancashire district. The noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, also impressed on your Lordships the importance of this Motion, and I am sorry to see that the Benches on the other side of the House are not so congested as are our roads. The noble Lord who moved this Motion and other noble Lords have covered the ground so effectively that I do not propose to follow them on similar lines, but will rather draw your Lordships' attention to one or two particular points in connection with car parks, principally designed to reduce the congestion on the roads in all large cities and urban districts. It is agreed that with the ever-increasing number of cars on the roads—a rate of 500 new cars a day was mentioned by Lord Eltisley—traffic is greatly impeded by lack of parking facilities, and any steps that can be taken to improve these facilities will be of the utmost benefit to traffic control and to the convenience of road users.

It is no doubt already known to many of your. Lordships that recent inventions in mechanical car-parking have been so improved that it is possible to double the number of cars which may be stored in any given space. The principal obstacle in the past in the way of constructing an adequate car park has been that the car capacity of such spaces has been insufficient to produce revenue large enough to justify the capital cost involved, and in the ordinary method of construction it is only possible to use from 45 to 55 per cent. of the available space in a garage actual parking, as the balance of space must be reserved for manœuvring cars. This obstacle has now been overcome by a mechanical method of moving cars so that any selected car can be automatically brought to the delivery point in the garage without any manhandling or use of its own motive power. This mechanical method makes it possible to store approximately double the number of cars for any given space at an increase in the cost of construction of only from 12 to 15 per cent. and an actual saving in the cost of operation.

I have reason to believe that a number of local authorities have arrived at the conclusion that the only solution of their car-parking difficulties lies in the provision of underground car parks, and I particularly emphasize underground car parks because the high cost of space above ground in congested areas and where car parks are most needed rule them out as commercial propositions. It is now possible, with mechanical car-parking methods, to derive sufficient income from handling the increased number of cars to pay for the excavation of a suitable site, the whole cost of the underground structure and mechanical fittings, and, last but not least, to provide as a "by-product" a first-class air-raid shelter. I would suggest that there exists in nearly all congested areas in London and elsewhere a number of suitable spaces under squares and parks which could be used for the purpose of underground garages and as air-raid shelters in time of war. Clause 2 of the London Squares Preservation Act, 1931, and Clause 16 of the Ribbon Development Act, 1935, appear to permit the development of the subsoil of the London squares, but these Acts do not overcome all the difficulties, and perhaps His Majesty's Government may see their way to obtaining any further Parliamentary powers that may be necessary.

For one moment I would like to call your Lordships' attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares in 1928, before which a committee appeared representing a number of property owners in the London district. The Royal Commission concurred that the owners should remain at liberty to deal with the subsoil in any way they think fit, provided that they do not longer than is reasonably necessary interfere with the surface as an open space. They considered that this was important in the public interest to allow for the construction of garages and parking places in underground structures.

Again, the Report of the Advisory Committee on the Amendment of the London Building Act, 1930, published in 1935, contains a paragraph that I would like to read to your Lordships. It is as follows: We suggest that there are many places where areas unused at present could be usefully employed, namely, under many of the open spaces to be found in London. There is no physical impossibility in providing underground accommodation beneath the whole of certain squares; the ground could be excavated without impairing the amenities which now exist… I think that is an important point, because when this matter has been raised on previous occasions the question of the amenities has always been brought forward.

I would like also to refer to a paragraph in the Bressey Report which says: It seems likely that the high initial cost of the underground garage, and the fear of detracting from the amenities of London squares, have deterred local authorities from undertaking schemes of this kind, but such rapid changes are taking place in the character of various quarters of London, that it should be possible as part of local replanning schemes, to provide for the construction of underground parking accommodation. I would suggest that if adequate underground car parks, which are potential air-raid shelters, could be provided at no considerable cost to the Government, they would prove of very great value in reducing congestion in the streets of London and other large cities. One important city in the West of England has already decided to construct such a mechanical car park which can be used as an air-raid shelter, and I think, after a very careful examination of all the facts, it is expected that after the payment of all overhead charges, including rates, interest and sinking fund upon the investment, the operation of the car park will produce a substantial net profit and at the same time will give a high degree of protection from air raids for about 3,000 persons at very little additional cost. There will also be accommodation provided for about 500 cars. I hope His Majesty's Government will consider giving their full support and encouragement to local authorities and private enterprise in the construction of mechanical garages with a view to relieving the congestion on the roads and providing at the same time potential air-raid shelters.


My Lords, this is a complex and many-sided subject. At the outset I should like to say that I am sure we are keenly looking forward to the Report of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House which will no doubt shortly be published, and that we should like to take the opportunity of saying how much the great labours of that Committee are appreciated by the House. There are only one or two points which I should like to put forward this evening. The safety of the roads is always uppermost in our minds in these matters, and I for one, speaking as a motorist and pedestrian user of the roads, would welcome a greater measure of discipline upon the roads, not necessarily in the form of prosecutions in police courts, but discipline maybe in the shape of a greater extension of the motor patrol system on the lines of what I believe is called the Lancashire experiment, about which we have heard to-day. We hear a great deal about the loss of the liberty of the subject, but when it is a case, as I think can be demonstrated, that the person who uses the road is faced with the grim alternative of losing for certain part of his liberty or very possibly his life, I do not think that there can be much reason to doubt that any sane person would choose, if one or the other must be suffered, a greater restriction of his liberty in the interest of safety.

Then, again, I suggest that we should keep in the forefront of the programme the more complete segregation of the various classes of traffic—the segregation of motor cars from horse traffic and from bicycles and from pedestrians. I often think what would happen upon our railways if something of the same state of affairs took place there. We speak with pride about the speeds attained by our railway trains, whereas when we talk about speeds on the road we have to speak with bated breath. Why is that? If upon the railways there was no signalling system, if persons were allowed to take their own locomotives out and drive them wherever they would, should we not have exactly the same position on the railways as upon the roads, and does that not teach us that if we had upon the roads a much more rigid discipline and even application of the law, we could very materially reduce the accidents upon the highways?

To quote one or two very small examples. There is, I think I am right in saying, no statutory rule of the road for meeting vehicles. Be that as it may, there is no rule of the road of any kind for crossing vehicles who meet each other either at cross roads of equal importance or indeed of divergent importance. There is no rule of any kind. There is on the sea a rule which everybody knows and understands for crossing ships. There is, I believe, in the air a rule for aeroplanes. But upon the roads, where traffic is much denser, there is no rule of any kind or description. I should have thought we should have followed other countries in providing one.

Again I would like to see many of the provisions of the Highway Code more strictly enforced and in some cases translated into legislation. The Highway Code, I am prepared to admit, has done much good, but unfortunately it is the case that there are many people who have not read it, or if they have, pay no regard to it. Motorists are frequent offenders, but pedestrians are also offenders. I may perhaps be allowed to mention a little experiment which I have frequently made in connection with one single clause in the Highway Code. It is there said that it is generally better to walk upon the right hand side of the road facing the traffic. Upon country roads at night I have taken counts of pedestrians I have met, and I have never yet in any one of those counts arrived at a total of less than 90 per cent. of pedestrians who were walking on the wrong side of the road. It is a curious fact, and if it is worth while stating it in the Highway Code it is worth while doing something to enforce it.

One further point, there is too little vision and too little planning in our road system. There is top little understanding, in my humble opinion, between planning authorities and road makers. It is unfortunately the case that under the Town and Country Planning Act the work is carried out by a different Government Department from that which administers the roads. That may be necessary, but it is certainly unfortunate. It is also a fact that planning is not compulsory in all parts of the country. The local authorities can plan if they wish, but there is nothing to make them do so, and an important part of their work is to make long-range forecasts of future road development. That is why we get the extraordinary position mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that we are already starting to by-pass the by-passes. I know of other cases besides those which he mentioned where that is imminent.

The noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, mentioned amenities, and I would like to add a word to what he said to the effect that in planning roads amenities should on no account be forgotten. We have not yet begun to imitate the Americans in the provision of parkways, and we are continuing in devising our major roads to sweep away all the banks and trees which could in many cases be retained without any harm whatever to the plan of the new road. I for one believe that no Class I road should be reconstructed unless it contains double tracks, and surely a greater use could be made of existing banks so that they could be left between the two tracks. One advantage of that would be that the lights of on-coming cars would be far less detrimental and far less a cause of motor accidents than they are now. In fact I look forward to the time when along the double-track roads we are now making we shall have to erect banks or fences or some such structures in order to achieve that object. Had that been foreseen when the road was made, not only would a great deal of money have been saved but the amenities of the countryside could in such cases have been to a greater extent retained.


My Lords, I do not intend to follow exactly the same lines as previous speakers and I will try to be very brief. When I last ventured to address your Lordships on the subject of roads about a year ago, it was on Lord Newton's Motion for the setting up of a Select Committee on Road Accidents. The Committee, I understand, has now finished taking evidence and is preparing its Report. I am sure the whole House anxiously awaits that Report. I feel certain we are all very delighted to see the good results from the recently introduced system of mobile police for the preventtion of road accidents. I should like to congratulate the Minister of Transport and the Commissioners of Police on this important step forward. I would also congratulate the Minister on his further important step forward in the prevention of road accidents on some of the most important by-passes leaving the Metropolis, by his introduction of overhead pedestrian crossings, underground subways and pedestrian lights, a point I ventured to stress last year.

Now I come to the terms of the Motion of my noble friend Lord Eltisley, to whom I am sure we are very much indebted to-day for raising the important matter of the inadequacy of our road system for modern requirements. I agree that many of our roads, both inside and outside our big cities, are greatly congested and some of them are rapidly approaching saturation point. I am naturally disappointed, but not surprised, that the other place has not been able to vote more than £23,615,000 for this year from the National Exchequer for roads. This country is faced with a rapidly increasing expenditure on national defence which will need a great deal of financing. What does this £23,615,000 represent? It represents two-thirds of the taxation collected from motor vehicles for horse-power taxation. I think that under the present difficult circumstances we should not be too ungrateful for this handsome, though perhaps in some people's estimation not large enough, contribution.

But the point I should like to make is this—is the balance between trunk road and other road expenditure the best that can be arranged under present conditions? I think the proportion is £5,500,000 for trunk road improvement and maintenance and a grant of £17,000,000 to local authorities. While I fully realise the responsibility of local authorities for the improvement and maintenance of their roads —because on the top of this grant I think they spend something in the neighbourhood of another 30,000,000 on their roads—this balance should be studied further in the light of recent experiences, because from a national defence point of view the most important roads for evacuation of the population are the main arteries leading out of the big cities.

May I be allowed to touch on one further point, which I know is not strictly within the terms of the Motion but to my mind is very important? Much has recently been said about the unfair competition between rail and road transport. I am one of those individuals who think that fair competition is the best policy for the community, but it does seem to me that the railway companies are working under unfair competition in one respect. Their Acts of Parliament have restricted their competitive powers, and they should be given competitive rights as they play an important part in our national life. In conclusion, while I do not think that under present circumstances we can expect a great increase on the road expenditure in the near future, I feel that we should devote our energies to the best allocation of existing income for road safety, the alleviation of the most congested areas, and evacuation needs in a national emergency.


My Lords, I rise to support the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Eltisley. Much of the ground has been covered, and I do not propose to deal with many of the points that have been touched upon, but I think it may not be altogether out of place if I emphasize some of the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, and other speakers who have called attention to the question of road construction and the lessons that have emerged from the recent crisis which the country has gone through. It is of the utmost importance, and I am quite sure that the Minister of Transport has not lost sight of the subject, but it does a great deal to emphasize the necessity for both public attention and also greater activity by the Minister when we consider what might have happened quite recently. Owing to the policy of the country it is necessary for us to import the greater part of our food from overseas. Though we may have great confidence in the security provided by the Navy for the convoys of food, we must consider the distribution of that food after it has reached the ports of this country. On that point what seems so obvious is that the saturation point, such as it is, that has been reached in the mechanical transport of this country on our roads emphasizes strongly the need for these motor roads, if only from the strategic point of view. I read a phrase to-day which struck me as being a very pregnant and a very true one: "The congestion of the roads is congestion of our nation's arteries." Applied to the distribution of food, I think your Lordships will agree with that statement.

There is also, of course, transport in a time of emergency such as we have passed through, or, if it had come to an unhappy conclusion, the transport of troops and of munitions. All the modern tendency in His Majesty's Forces towards mechanised units, which must travel by road, would still further complicate the situation and increase the necessity for adequate provision of main and direct roads. It is quite clear that the railways alone could not cope with the extra strain that would be placed upon them. Earl Howe's point concerning the target that railways offer to bombing from the air is one of which I feel sure the country should not lose sight. There is also the question of the evacuation of the civilian population from the large centres. I believe the aggregate figure of those whom it was proposed to evacuate from London was something like two million. When one bears in mind one's ordinary experience in holiday time at our railway stations in the Metropolis, and considers the figures of the vehicles available for the transport of civilians into the country, one realises more and more the need for adequate roads out of London and other great centres of population.

I do not wish to detain the House for any long time, because it seems to me that the case has been clearly set out by previous speakers. I should therefore like to do little more than say how warmly I, for one, support the Motion before the House. I would emphasize Earl Howe's question, in a speech which has been of immense value in the consideration of the problem before the Ministry at the present time: what has become of the Bressey Report? I should like to urge, with all the force that I can, that everything goes to show that it is of the utmost importance that the Ministry should make up its mind what action it should take on that Report. It should carry through those reasonable schemes that have been promised us under the Government five-year road plan, and construct these special motor roads, the necessity for which is fully established by all the present considerations. On those grounds, and in particular on the ground of the lessons that have been learnt from the recent crisis, I beg leave to support the Motion.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Eltisley, in his Motion, calls attention to the inadequacy of our national road system. No one can deny that our road system as a whole is fundamentally sound. We have the best system of first- and second-class roads as compared with other countries, and these are maintained at a relatively high standard. It is only towards our main arterial system that criticism has been directed. It is precisely for 'that reason that the Trunk Roads Act was passed in 1936. Now the question is: What is the best method to bring our system up-to-date? As regards trunk roads the position is that since April 1, 1937, the Minister has approved for execution some boo schemes of improvement, involving a total estimated expenditure of about £11,500,000 in addition to the £4,500,000 which he originally took over. These schemes are now in course of execution. I must remind your Lordships that any scheme involving land acquisition takes a very long time. I need not weary your Lordships with details or examples, but the time varies from two months to two years. The process of land acquisition is rarely that of buying a single property. It is generally a question of buying a series of strips of land in which many different interests, sometimes as many as 150 in a mile, are concerned. A year ago 3,600 interests were in course of acquisition; to-day the figure is 13,000, and work has already started on a number of these schemes.

As to the future of trunk roads, during the last nineteen months a preliminary survey has been completed for nearly the whole of the 4,500 miles. The object of this is to see how far the standard that the Minister has adopted—namely, the construction of dual carriageways, foot-paths and cycle tracks—can be secured on the existing alignment and how far the construction of entirely new roads is necessary. The conclusion is that the existing roads for about one quarter of their existing lengths must be superseded and about 1,000 miles of new roads in the form of by-passes and diversions are required. The Minister is taking steps to safeguard the lines of such by-passes by means of Orders under the Trunk Roads Act. Two hundred and two such Orders have been published to date and the number is now increasing at the rate of eighteen per month. During the next six months a large number of schemes will have reached the actual construction stage. I have a long list here, to which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has referred. There are about fifteen to twenty names on the list, and I will not weary your Lordships by reading them out, but I want to make it clear that this is only a selection and that many more schemes are well under way.

Noble Lords have argued on the merits of the German system. The German motor roads are undoubtedly the admiration of all who have seen them, but it would not be safe to assume that what has been done in Germany can be, or should be, adapted to this country. The geographic and economic circumstances, the distribution of population, the distances and the character of the country between the main centres of population and the standard and effectiveness of existing communications, are all different. For a variety of reasons the cost of construction would be far greater in this country; more bridges would be required, land would be dearer and labour conditions are different. It will interest your Lordships to know that on certain of our main roads, for which figures have been taken, less than 25 per cent. of the vehicles travel more than thirty miles.

Now the real question is: What would new motor roads give which the improved trunk system would not give? This question cannot be determined by reference to vague generalities. Detailed examination of traffic and engineering aspects is necessary, and the question of costs is by no means the least important. That this is so was illustrated the other day when the Minister held an inquiry into a proposal for a new road from Coulsdon to Crawley, in Surrey, to bypass some fifteen miles of the Brighton road, including Merstham, Redhill and Holley. Now this scheme was objected to by the Surrey County Council, the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club on the grounds that a new road was unnecessary in the public interest, and if any improvements were required several by-passes of much shorter length would be adequate. There is a clear case where a substantial new length of road is proposed, and where a very large proportion of peak traffic is through traffic, and the motoring authorities argued that small by-passes would be sufficient. So your Lordships will see that the proposal for motor roads must be examined by reference to concrete proposals. You have heard the argument that it would be cheaper to build new roads than to improve the existing roads. Sometimes, of course, this is so, and I have already explained that in those cases substantial by-passes and diversions will, in fact, be made. The case for motor roads is not so simple as it may appear at first sight. It must be recognised, as Lord Bayford said, that at present the financial aspect presents very great difficulties, but even if these are overcome there will still be no justification for slackening efforts on the existing main roads, which must inevitably continue to carry a heavy volume of traffic.

As regards the Bressey Report, I may say at once that active progress is being made with those schemes recommended in the Report which concern trunk roads. As regards the schemes relating to other roads, the responsible highway authorities have the matter under consideration, and their proposals have been invited. Owing, no doubt, to the recent crisis, and the consequent preoccupation of authorities on emergency work, they have not yet been able to submit their observations to the Minister, but I am assured that active consideration is now proceeding.

Lord Teynham raised a point on underground garages. I may say at once to him that the Minister is fully aware of the need for these garages and is doing everything possible to encourage their provision. The local authorities have power to provide these, but as noble Lords are aware the Minister has no power in regard to the provision of garages or to make grants from the Road Fund to local authorities which might wish to provide them. I am informed that underground garages at blocks of flats or offices are being provided in increasing numbers, and the Minister hopes these will have the effect of relieving to a certain extent congestion of traffic in the streets. As regards the A.R.P. aspect, this will of course be considered by the Lord Privy Seal. As regards accidents, I do not intend to deal with that question in this debate because your Lordships are aware that a Committee of your Lordships' House is now dealing with that subject. I would add that the Government welcomes this debate upon a subject which is admittedly a most complicated one, and I can assure your Lordships that all your suggestions will be most carefully considered.


Before the noble Earl sits down, will he say, with regard to the Bressey Report, how long the Minister of Transport is going to wait while the process of consideration goes on with respect to the scheme as a whole?


I am afraid I am unable to answer that question. If I can consult my right honourable friend and let the noble Earl know privately, I shall be only too pleased to do so.


My Lords, I am encouraged by the reply that the noble Earl has made on behalf of the Government to think that the Bressey Report has not been put finally into one of that legion of pigeon holes which we so strongly suspect to form a great part of the furniture of the Ministry of Transport. The other encouraging point is that attention has been given to the question of underground car parks. But those two things are all that I find encouraging in the reply. Noble Lords have presented the whole case so clearly and so ably that it has been an absolute pleasure to listen and learn from them this afternoon. When some twelve months ago a debate took place in your Lordships' House, as the result of which the Select Committee was appointed, I said that I thought that the authorities were just playing with the roads question, and it is most regrettable to have to stand here to-day and utter precisely the same sentiment.

The noble Lord, Lord Bayford, touched upon a very important point when he mentioned the attitude of the county councils, wrapped up as it is with the question of lack of money. Lack of money is a very ready excuse for any deficiency, and we should not lose sight of the fact that that particular lack of money is due in no small measure, in fact probably in toto, to the fact that the Road Fund itself is no longer a Road Fund. We are inclined to lose sight of that fact. So carefully was the Road Fund pillaged a few years ago that the meaning almost of the word has been buried with the Fund. The question is whether we are just to jog along or really to get down to this business. The noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, brought in the question of economy—a most excellent point, for there can be no doubt that the reconstruction of the road system does effect an economy. He also mentioned national defence, and many of your Lordships have also dealt with that, so I will not touch upon it.

I will only say that I am ashamed to think that other countries, like Belgium, Holland, Germany, and America cope with their road problems, as we do not, and although the noble Earl in his reply has said that this country is ahead of other countries, or equal to other countries, in the matter of road construction, I dispute that view. It is not so. Those other countries are ahead of Great Britain, and it is very humiliating to have to admit it. The way we neglect our roads will one day make a sorry story in the history books for an English child who reads as his first lesson that the roads of England were built by the Romans.


My Lords, in view of the courteous and informative reply of the noble Earl I do not feel that we should be justified in pressing this matter to a Division. Had we done so we should have liked quite definitely to have had Papers from the Government in respect to the Bressey Report and to the Government's projected ma in road proposals. As it is, we hope the debate has served a useful purpose by stimulating the Government, and we look forward to increased activity in regard to road development in the near future. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.