HL Deb 17 February 1949 vol 160 cc937-79

2.35 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the main object of this Bill, which I think is a fairly non-controversial Bill, is to secure the recognition of motorways or single-purpose roads as a part of our highway system. But motorways are not the only type of single-purpose road, and the Bill also provides for the construction of other routes confined to one class of traffic, such as cycle-ways reserved for cyclists, or footways reserved for pedestrians. The motorway, however, is obviously the most important type of single-purpose highway from the standpoint of our national system of transport and communications. Therefore, I shall confine my remarks this afternoon mainly to the subject of motorways. I think that that would be the wish of your Lordships. Since the introduction of this Bill in another place, the advantages of the motorway over the all-purpose road have been widely canvassed. I do not propose to examine the details of the various savings in time and transport costs resulting from a motorway system, as it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make a precise estimate in terms of time or money.

But, however reluctant and indisposed one may be to pin conclusions down to the nearest pound or hour, or miles per hour, or journeys per day saved by a motorways system, few would disagree that in broader terms the case for the motorway has been established. To do this fairly, one should not compare the motorway with a typical existing all-purpose road. I think that would be an unfair comparison, for no one seriously visualises a motorway being created out of an existing road, though of course it may incorporate short lengths here and there. The proper and fair comparison is between the motorway, on the one hand, and either the new all-purpose road (which, of course, is likely to be confined, as a rule, to by-pass roads or ring roads) or the all-purpose road that has been as radically improved as practicable, on the other hand. Those are the two types of road which I think it is fair to compare with the motorway when we are trying to estimate the advantage of a motorway over other forms of road.


If I may be forgiven for interrupting, I should like to make the position quite clear. As I understood him, the noble Earl mentioned the "new all-purpose motor road." Would I be in order in suggesting that the noble Earl probably meant "new single-purpose motor road" as compared with the all-purpose road which we have now?


I am much obliged. I certainly intended to say "single-purpose motor road." I may have slipped up on that word. The question of building a new motorway—that is to say, a single-purpose motor road—arises only when the present road is so inadequate that it must be replaced by an entirely new road, or drastically improved by a mixture of new construction and widening. The first alternative will normally arise only when we are dealing with a relatively short mileage—that is to say, by-pass roads, ring roads, internal relief roads and the like. For the long mileages of the cross-country routes, the old road will normally be replaced only in parts by new construction, and elsewhere by widening and reconstruction of the present alignment.

In the first case, we can make a direct comparison between the motorway and the all-purpose road, since both will be entirely new construction, and we find that even on the initial score of cost of construction the motorway has the advantage. It is cheaper, for it will not have to cater for cycle-paths or footways, and the overall width can be reduced from some 120 feet for the all-purpose road to about 93 feet for the motorway. This reduction in width means something of the order of a 15 per cent. saving in expenditure on materials and labour that go to the making of a road. Equally important, it represents something like a 10 per cent. saving in land, and the cost of purchasing land is therefore considerably reduced. Similar comparisons between the new cross-country motorway and the reconstructed all-purpose cross-country road are much harder to make. The cost of reconstructing the all-purpose road, and the amount of land required, will vary greatly from one section to another, according to the amount of new construction undertaken. However, we can certainly assume that if these motorways are not built, the cross-country routes of exceptional importance which we have in mind will require a very extensive mileage of new construction in the form of diversions and by-passes to make them anything like adequate, as well as expensive works of widening and other improvement to bring them up to a reasonable standard.

A detailed investigation has been carried out on what is considered to be a typical case—the road between Bristol and Gloucester. I should like to give this example because I think it brings the point vividly before one's mind. In this case of the road between Bristol and Gloucester, it was found that to bring the existing road somewhere near modern standards, thirteen miles out of twenty-three would have to be rebuilt on a new alignment, and the other ten miles widened or otherwise improved. The cost of building a brand new motorway to replace this twenty-three miles—that is, the whole length of the road between Bristol and Gloucester—worked out at only about 1 per cent. more than the cost of improving the old road. We can, therefore, reasonably assume that the motorway by-pass will be a more economical proposition than the all-purpose by-pass, and that the cross-country motorway will be either no more, or very little more, expensive than the improvement of an existing cross-country route.

In addition to its many advantages over the improved old road, the motorway has one outstanding advantage over any all-purpose road, even the entirely new all-purpose by-pass, laid out to modern design, with strictly controlled frontage access and the total elimination of road intersections on the level. That advantage is the segregation of traffic, which is the essence of the motorway. The presence of the horse and cart, the pedestrian and the cyclist on a fast modern road carrying a heavy load of motor traffic, can mean only increased danger to everyone and a higher tendency to traffic congestion. The motorway, therefore, not only has the advantages of economy, to a greater or less degree, in cost and land use, and the further advantages that any new road can have of a scientific alignment, modern treatment of junctions, and restriction on private access, but it has also the unique and outstanding advantage of assisting the segregation of the through traffic from local traffic, and of slow from fast traffic.

There is a further point which I think is of considerable importance: the motor-way will be a new road "by-passing," so to speak, an existing road. It will naturally attract to itself the fast, heavy, through traffic. It will therefore not only be in itself a much more efficient and safe means of through communication than the old road would ever be, but it will also render the old road much less congested, safer and pleasanter as a route for the traffic that has to continue to use it after the new road has been built. I think it may fairly be said, without any element of exaggeration, that as a result of the construction of motorways our system of road communications will become both more efficient and far safer for road users. I have listened in years past (and the time that I recollect goes back quite a distance before the war) to many debates in your Lordships' House on the subject of road safety, in which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has always been a strong advocate of road safety. I am sure that he and other noble Lords who are interested in this subject will welcome this Bill, because it will go a long way to reducing the toll of the roads.

There is every reason to expect—and experience of motorways in Germany and of parkways in America bears out this expectation—that the motorway will offer nothing but gain if we start from the assumption that it will be built only where the alternative is a new or drastically reconstructed all-purpose road. Our highway system is, in its present state, not so inadequate that we need to duplicate every main road in the country with motorways; that would be an absurd and extravagant cost. But where the most vital of the main national roads are concerned, we are confident that as time passes the motorway will become the one really efficient, safe and economical answer to the problems of road transport.

I am sure that many of your Lordships will ask yourselves: what bearing motorways of this kind will have on agriculture. There are many noble Lords who have always taken a keen interest in agriculture, and they will no doubt envisage the building of motorways from the point of view of the effect on the farmer. So far as one can judge the attitude of the farming community in general from that of such responsible and representative bodies as the National Farmers' Union and of various spokesmen in another place, it appears on the whole to be favourable to the Bill. The effects of the motorways on agriculture fall to be considered under three main heads: first, the use of agricultural land for the construction of these new roads; secondly, the possibility of inconvenience to farming operations through severance of land—also the result of road construction; and, thirdly, the advantages to agriculture of a more efficient transport system. Summarised, those are the effects of this Bill, both harmful and beneficial, on agriculture.

I think it can fairly be said (and I hope this view will not be unjustified by the course of this debate) that the attitude of the farming community is that any disadvantages that may be feared under the first two heads—that is to say, under the head of the taking over of land for road construction and of the effect of severence on the utility and efficiency of farms—will be outweighed or set off by the advantages to be derived under the third head. It has been stated, during the discussions on this Bill in another place, I believe, that the efficiency of agriculture, as of all other industries, is entirely dependent upon an adequate system of transport. Your Lordships are well aware of the importance of transport charges as an element in farmers' costs, and I sincerely hope and believe that the improved system of transport will outweigh the disadvantages to the farming community. As regards these possible disadvantages, I have already suggested that the motorway has some advantages of economy in land use, because it is not so wide as the all-purpose road; and that is, of course, another benefit to the farmer.

On the question of severance, it is of course true that motorways cannot be built without considerable disturbance of agricultural land, but that is inevitable whenever a new road is built, whether it be a motorway or any other form of road. Whether we build motorways or not, we shall as time passes certainly have to build new roads to make good the results of the ordinary process of wear and tear. It is the sincere wish of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport that any disturbance caused to agricultural land should be reduced to a minimum, and when it does arise adequate alternative facilities will be provided. I will say something more on the subject of compensation and severance if the matter is raised (as I anticipate that it will be) by noble Lords in the course of the discussion, when I rise to wind up the debate.

Let me now tell noble Lords, quite briefly, what we are thinking of in broad outline in relation to this motorway system. We are thinking in terms of a motorway system of some 800 miles—that, of course, takes in many country roads—plus a number of by-pass or radial routes in urban areas. This will inevitably be an expensive programme, and to it we must add the very considerable expenditure that must be incurred to modernise the rest of the highway system. It must be plain to everyone that at the moment we cannot afford to divert the labour and materials necessary for anything so ambitious. In case there is any possibility of misunderstanding, I want to emphasise that this Bill is not being presented now with any such idea in mind. We have no intention of starting these ambitious road projects in the immediate future, or of giving any encouragement to highway authorities to act in that way. Motorways must take their turn, and even within the highway programme itself we do not propose that arrears of improvement to existing roads should suffer a reduced priority in favour of extensive new construction of motorways. We must be able to keep a reasonable standard of maintenance in all our existing roads.

The reason for asking Parliament to approve this Bill at the present time is to enable highway and planning authorities, if they so wish, to plan for motorways. Many miles of new road are now being planned as part of the development plans in preparation under the terms of the Town and Country Planning Act, and much of this mileage should eventually be constructed as motorway. If the motorway principle of segregated traffic is accepted by Parliament, and receives statutory recognition by this Bill's becoming law, then these new roads can be designed and located as motorways from the start, as they should be, and not as all-purpose roads. Both the public and the highway authorities will know where they stand, and preparatory work on the more urgent projects can go ahead in certainty, without that element of doubt which would be present if Parliament had not sanctioned the construction of motorways. This, of course, will reduce delay in starting the actual constructional work as soon as the national resources allow it to be undertaken.

I should like now to draw attention to some of the salient features of the Bill. The construction of a motorway, obviously, requires a power to segregate motor traffic from other forms of traffic using the roads, but this power is not provided for by existing legislation. Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill, therefore, enable highway authorities to provide special roads for special classes of traffic; and these classes represent the most important change that the Bill proposes. A highway dedicated for public use as a carriageway—that it to say what is ordinarily called a road, as opposed to a footpath or a bridleway—cannot normally be restricted to a particular class or classes of users. That is the position under existing law. There are certain powers by which traffic of a certain specified class can be prohibited from using a given road for some particular reason; but in general anyone with any form of vehicle may use a road. The highway law of this country, broadly speaking, recognises restriction of the use of highways only if they are dedicated for public use as footpaths or bridleways. The highway dedicated as a carriageway—that is to say, as a road—is free for all—for the pedestrian, for animals, for carts, for cars, for lorries, for motor cycles, and so on.

This basic principle of existing law the Bill proposes to modify, so that highway authorities will henceforth be able to say that the highway they are to provide can be used only by a certain type of traffic, to the exclusion of other types. This power to control user will distinguish the motorway or other special roads provided under this Bill from ordinary highways. Access control and the lay-out of junctions, which are equally important from the point of view of these new roads, can be dealt with even if this Bill does not become law, because they are provided for under existing Statutes; but without the power to restrict user of the road it would be impossible to dedicate the road as a motorway. That fact throws one important point into relief. The special road of this Bill will be a special road primarily because of this control. In all other respects it will be a highway like any other highway, and highway law will apply in the normal way, subject to relatively few modifications made in the Bill. Accordingly, the Bill provides primarily for this control over user. Only in the second place does it provide for other matters considered necessary for special roads, such as the powers of Clause 3 to alter side roads, or the powers of Clauses 4, 5 and 6 regarding mains and sewers, and so on.

Then there are matters of procedure in relation to the machinery of the Bill. These procedural matters are set out in the Schedules and in the remaining clauses of the Bill. What we have in mind is that the Bill should operate in two distinct stages, which may be termed respectively the scheme stage and the order stage. Under Clause 1, a highway authority—which includes, of course, the Ministry of Transport—may be authorised by a scheme made or confirmed, as the case may be, by the Minister (it would be confirmed in the case of a highway authority, who would draw up the scheme subject to the approval of the Minister) to provide a special road. The scheme will prescribe the route of the special road, and the class or classes of traffic which will be allowed to use it. There will be two stages in the scheme. The first will be in the planning of the motorway, and then, when a scheme has come into effect, it becomes possible under Clause 3 for orders to be made authorising various matters consequential to the provision of the special road. These will include the alteration or stopping-up of other highways which enter or cross the route of the special road, the elimination of intersections on the level, the construction of junctions with the motorway, and the provision of alternative facilities as may be required for local and other traffic now using the existing roads. It is provided in particular that no existing highway may be stopped up unless the Minister is satisfied that a reasonable alternative is available, or will be provided before stopping-up takes place. That is the second stage which is necessary before the detailed plan of the motorway is completed by the highway authority.

I am confident your Lordships will agree that it is right and proper that this country should have an up-to-date road system, equal to any which exists elsewhere in the world, as soon as the economic situation permits work on such a system to be started. I have no hesitation at all in commending this Bill to your Lordships, because I think it will be the desire of every member of the House that this scheme should go forward when the proper moment comes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, we have listened to a pure exposition from the noble Earl of what is in this Bill, and those of us who sit on these Benches do not in any way contest the proposition that His Majesty's Government should take powers to construct roads of the type which is adumbrated in the Bill. But we intend to look carefully at this Bill and we may wish, either now or at a later stage, to draw attention to certain defects which we think it contains. We would also like to consider the Bill in relation to the transport policy of His Majesty's Government and I therefore invite the noble Earl, when he replies to this debate, to tell the House how these proposals fit in with the avowed aim of the Government to "unify, co-ordinate and integrate" all inland transport—I use the terms which have been used on those Benches in previous debates. The noble Earl has made it clear, and I should like to underline the proposition, that the Bill does nothing of itself; it is an enabling Bill. As I conceive it, it is not so much a Bill enabling the Government to construct roads, because they have powers to do so already under the Trunk Roads Act, as a Bill to exclude certain classes of traffic from certain roads. It is, therefore, literally a restrictive Bill, although I say that in no condemnatory sense.

The other provisions of the Bill are necessitated by this exclusive purpose of the Bill. That does not mean that it is in any way diminished in importance. May I give an example? It would be a restrictive act to deny access to the Public Galleries of your Lordships' House to any member of a particular category of the public, but it would also be a matter of prime importance, especially if we excluded the Press. By ancient usage the King's highway has been open to all users. Our roads have served alike the traveller on a far journey and the people of the countryside going about their lawful and, I regret to say, sometimes unlawful purposes. A special road will undoubtedly look like any other trunk road. It will be, as some unkind person described it, a gash through the countryside. But although in appearance it is similar, in effect it is very different. A special road reserved for traffic in Class I of the Second Schedule of the Bill—namely, motor traffic moving at more than twenty miles an hour—will be constructed to serve long-distance traffic moving between two or more important centres. It will cease to be at the service of local communications.

It seems to me that two main consequences flow from this. First, these special roads will improve (as indeed is designed) the conditions for long-distance road haulage, especially for heavier categories, including long-distance passenger coaches. Other things being equal, it must be and can be expected that operating costs of running such long-distance road haulage will be diminished. In fact, there would be little purpose in building these roads unless there were a good chance of that object being achieved. Secondly, special roads will offer few benefits to the agricultural industry except, possibly, indirectly. I do not think the noble Earl, in moving the Second Reading, seriously disputed that fact. On the other hand, the construction of special roads must inevitably rob agriculture once again of much valuable productive land, and certainly will cause disturbance to agriculturists. I conceive it to be the duty of the Opposition in this matter to direct the attention of His Majesty's Government to the need to state now the policy which informs this request for these enabling powers. It is our duty to see, so far as we can, that special roads are constructed in a manner causing the minimum disturbance and discouragement to agriculture.

I hold that in the nature of things the construction of these special through roads for fast-moving commercial traffic must offer competition to railways. That competition is little affected by the question of ownership. It arises because many classes of goods can be carried either by rail or by road. The problem existed before the war, often in an acute form, and I maintain that, despite the Transport Act, it still exists. This problem is not solved by saying that road and rail traffic should be complementary. In some cases that is true, but in many cases it is not. I am glad to see that the Minister in another place has given an assurance that transport users will not be compelled by restrictive ordinances to use one form of traffic or another; they are still to have freedom of choice. Therefore, it seems to me that those in charge of our transport system cannot lay aside the task of influencing the users of rail or road by comparative rates. If road costs are reduced by the making of these special roads, we must consider what effect that will have on rail receipts. If road competition proves formidable, will fares have to be raised to meet the railway deficit? Or will the Transport Commission have so to adjust their rates that traffic has to be diverted back to rail? The Minister of Transport cannot evade responsibility by declaring that the question of rates is a matter for the Transport Commission, for, by initiating the constructions of these special roads, the Minister must vitally affect the task of that Commission.

By granting these enabling powers we are possibly forgoing the opportunity of discussing again this problem of the special roads as a whole. Having given the powers, we shall necessarily have to allow the Minister of Transport to avail himself of them. Therefore, we ought to hear to-day what are the considerations in the mind of the noble Lord and his colleague the Minister of Transport, and how the Minister relates his scheme for these roads to his declared object of integrating inland transport. After all, we are asked in effect to approve the expenditure of a great sum of money, not yet declared. The noble Earl was good enough to give us some idea of the mileage of these special roads—something over 800 miles—and we know that at present estimates the cost per mile is something like £150,000. We can see how large a sum is involved in this Bill. It is commonplace to say that our resources are strictly limited, and it follows, as I see it, that the more we spend on capital improvements to our road system, the less we are likely to be able to spend upon our railway system, in which the State has now invested a very large sum of public money.

It may be that the Minister has given careful and exact thought to this problem. It may be that he has a scheme which will reconcile these competing interests and these competing claims upon the national resources. He may have a good idea how railway traffic will be affected, and he may know exactly how he is going to keep the railways solvent without making road users foot the bill. If the Minister does know all these things, I hope he has shared his knowledge with the noble Earl who is to reply to the debate, and that the noble Earl in turn will inform us. If this problem is not considered and we hear nothing of the grand policy of His Majesty's Government for inland transport, I hope the noble Earl will not blame us if we suspect that there is no grand plan and that the sacred words "unification, co-ordination and integration" are really incantations. My noble friend Lord Swinton, when he was speaking on the Transport Bill, said that he hoped the policy of the Minister of Transport was not solvitur ambulando. There is a great opportunity in your Lordships' House to-day for the fears expressed on that occasion by my noble friend to be proved groundless.

It must not be forgotten that the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Transport told another place that, given five years of power, his Government would do more for transport than my Party could do in 500 years. That was a boast not very precisely expressed, and we must make allowances for the occasion. But this is a great opportunity to show that His Majesty's Government do expect, in something less than 500 years, to have a plan for transport. We should like to hear the recipe for success which obviously animated the Minister when he made this large and resounding boast.

Having invited His Majesty's Government to use this admirable occasion for declaring a policy for which we are all waiting, I should now like to turn, as the noble Earl has already done, to the question of agriculture. As the noble Earl has so rightly said, a considerable amount of land must be taken if these roads are to be constructed. He has touched upon the awkward problem of severance. Many holdings will be divided, and their management gravely impaired. Therefore, from the light of agriculture, we must look extremely critically at this Bill, and, so far as in us lies, see that where the need for a special road is proved the burden on agriculture is lightened. So far as that industry is concerned, a special road resembles far more a railway than a road of the ordinary type. A special road is driven through the countryside and is not available for normal local traffic; in fact, the kind of traffic which is the main concern of farmers—namely, tractors, trailers, cattle, horses and so on—will be prohibited from using these roads. Therefore we must examine this Bill with those considerations in mind.

We want it set down in the Bill that detailed plans of any special road scheme shall be made available in good time to all interested parties so that anyone adversely affected, or likely to be adversely affected, may be able to gauge the extent of the disturbance before the inquiry takes place and have ample time to make objections. We doubt whether this matter is adequately safeguarded. Certainly we should like to see that agriculturists are, under this Bill, in at least as favourable a position as their predecessors were in the days when railways were being constructed through our countryside. We want to see that in the matter of accommodation they are not less well treated. By "accommodation" I mean, of course, proper crossings, either over or under the roads, such things as "creeps," drainage, conservation of drinking places and other matters. It ought to be a principle of the Bill that compensation for disturbance is paid only where it is not possible physically to make amends for disturbance. There are certainly doubts as to whether this point is adequately met in the Bill.

We are also disturbed by the almost unlimited discretionary powers asked for by the Minister in regard to the acquisition of land for special roads. It is clear that if a special road is to meet its purpose, there must be land acquired for such things as "fly-overs" and for other ancillary matters. It is true that it is difficult to lay down in a Bill the width of land which the Minister may acquire, but we must look carefully at the relevant clause to see whether we can prevent the Minister from being entirely the judge in his own cause. These are matters which will concern the Committee. I thought it right to tell noble Lords opposite how our minds are working on this subject.

Great demands have been made on the agricultural industry for a decade or more. I am sure everyone agrees that the response of the industry has been beyond all praise. The threat that further land may be wrested from agriculture for these purposes is bound to be discouraging. If the discouragement is not to be followed by cynicism about the good will of the Government towards the agricultural industry, it must be apparent within the Bill itself that the Minister of Transport will give due consideration to the requirements of agriculture, as is set down in the early clauses of the Bill. As we have often said before on this side of the House, ministerial assurances of good intentions are no substitute for proper legal safeguards. There is one other point which is a matter of detail, though not a minor point. We should like to know whether, as the Bill now stands, it envisages pedestrian crossings on the level of special roads. If there are to be crossings, it seems to me they would in part interrupt the main object of the Bill, which is to have unimpeded flow of traffic. Perhaps the noble Earl will turn his attention to that point when he replies.

As I said in my opening remarks, we have a duty on this side of the House and, indeed, the whole House has a duty, to give this enabling Bill the most careful scrutiny. The Minister charged with the task of providing public roads must, we agree, take powers adequate to achieve its purpose, but the Minister has voluntarily shouldered a much larger self-appointed task of unifying all inland transport. In granting him the powers which he seeks, we have a right to inquire from noble Lords opposite how the Minister relates this request to his claim that in nationalisation he has found the right solution of our transport problems. Moreover, we have a duty to see that justice is done to all those whose interests and livelihood are affected by these schemes. In this spirit, and with the provisos which I have stated, we shall examine and, I hope, pass this Bill.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to occupy more than a few minutes of your time in the observations which I desire to make upon this Bill. My noble friend Lord Listowel was kind enough to refer to the fact that I had taken part in a good number of debates dealing with safety on the road. That is true. I think in almost all of them the main burden of my observations were critical of the Government of the day—to whatever Party that Government happened to belong—but in this particular case I am glad to find myself in a position of being able to support the Government of the day. I think this Bill is a good Bill, so far as it goes, and I think it is very necessary that we should do something to improve the safety of the roads. It is from that point of view that I look upon the provisions of this Measure. My noble friend who has just spoken treated it, I thought, as a restrictive Bill. I understand what he means by that, and I do not disagree with him, but I would prefer to say that it is rather for the regulation of the roads than for the restriction of their use. That is the real aim of this Bill.

Some reference was made to the somewhat similar problems which arose when the railways came into the country and began to transform entirely the traffic of the country. The difficulties which arose then will no doubt arise in this case. I have said this before in your Lordships' House, but I venture earnestly to press upon all your Lordships again that the restriction in the regulation of the traffic on the railways has been made more extreme than anything contemplated in this Bill. The railways are now almost completely fenced off from the rest of the world, and nobody can go on the railways unless he is in the employ of the railway authority, or is a traveller or user of the railways. In the same way, even though the railways are kept strictly to one particular kind of use, there is a very limiting provision which insists that that shall be use consistent with the safety of the users. Therefore, I welcome the precedent of the railways, and I hope that Governments will recognise as they proceed that the modern invention has so altered the problems that have to be dealt with on the roads, that it is essential for traffic to be regulated in quite a new way. It is for that reason that I personally welcome this Bill.

It gives definite approval to the proposition which some of us have often advanced—that it is quite unscientific to expect the ordinary roads to deal with traffic consisting of machines travelling at fifty or sixty miles an hour—or more—and at the same time deal with traffic which travels at the rate of two or three miles an hour. It is unreasonable to expect that the conditions which are suitable for one kind of traffic will be equally suitable for the other kind. There is, therefore, a very strong case for some kind of classification of traffic—my noble friend Lord Listowel called it segregation, though I would prefer a rather less offensive term—perhaps classification of traffic. Whichever way one looks at it, that is the principle, as the noble Earl candidly announced, which lies at the root of the most important part of this Bill, and it is that principle which I support.

The Bill, as your Lordships know, provides for the creation of these special motor roads and gives facilities for their creation and their use, apparently by the fast traffic. I hope that that is what is meant. That is not actually stated in the Bill, but there is power to exclude all traffic which is not of that character from these new roads. I welcome both those provisions, and I hope that they will necessarily lead to the exclusion of the fast traffic from the ordinary roads, because then we shall take a real step towards the safety of the roads. It is possible to limit the ordinary roads to traffic going at a moderate speed. I have always believed (though I know there are other members of the House who do not share that view) that that would make a great difference to safety in the use of these roads.

This classification is not a new principle, even in regard to roads, because, of course, all footpaths are designed, at any rate, to accommodate the pedestrian traffic, leaving the main roads to deal with the vehicular traffic. I warmly hope that once the Government have launched these ideas they will press more strongly for a great increase in the number of footpaths. I think there ought to be a footpath along every reasonably frequented ordinary road. It is all very well to say that people do not use footpaths. Perhaps they do not use them so much as they should when the paths are first established, but my experience is that when people get used to the fact that there is a footpath, they begin to use it more and more. And if there were ample footpath facilities it would be reasonable to consider whether there should not be stringent regulation of the use by pedestrians of roads intended entirely for vehicular traffic.

I must repeat what some of us have said—too often perhaps: that the present condition of slaughter and accidents on the road is a great scandal. A great deal has been made of the fact that it is not so great as it was; and the improvement is attributed to the persuasive character of the Highway Code. That Code may have something to do with it, but I think the restriction of petrol has more. But whatever may be the real reason, this broad fact remains true: that every year hundreds of people, largely children, are killed, and thousands of others are maimed. So long as that condition of affairs exists in this country, we have no right to boast that we have the best civilisation in the world. It is because I regard this Bill as a first step towards a practical remedy for this state of things—going a very little way, I admit, but still a first step—that I venture to give it my support.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I think there must be other noble Lords besides myself who find it a little difficult to feel an acute and immediate interest in this Bill. The noble Earl who has spoken has given us the reason. He said that it would be a very long while (I think those were his words) before anything could be done in this matter. In another place the Government went further, and mentioned a term of years—I think it was ten years. In ten years the interest I shall be taking in motor transport will be extremely small—and that, no doubt, applies to other noble Lords. Nevertheless, I am a great admirer of optimism; and I have yet to hear anybody accuse the present Government of any lack of that excellent quality. They are surely somewhat optimistic in this matter, because they are taking powers now for a date ten years hence (or it may be less) to install a system of roads which will cost, we are told, £150,000 a mile. I have heard a similar estimate before, but I think that was for dual-purpose roads. The noble Earl said there would be a saving of 15 per cent. on that £150,000 a mile, but the estimate of £150,000 was made a considerable time ago, and the cost has risen by at least 25 per cent. since the time the estimate was made—and it was made by most reputable people.

Many things may happen in ten years. It may be that by that time a large proportion of our traffic will be carried by air. What I regard as being more likely is that by that time the world's supplies of petrol, which are not illimitable, may be sinking rather low; what is even more probable is that we in this country may not have sufficient money to buy all the petrol we want for these new roads. Noble Lords opposite laugh, but I suggest that it is a possibility.

I take it that one of the reasons which prompted the introduction of this Bill is the desire to transfer from the railways to the roads a considerable amount of traffic. I wonder whether that is altogether wise. Many notable authorities have stated that if the fact is taken into account—as it must be taken into account—that the railways have to keep up their own tracks whereas the roads are kept up by the general public, railway transport is distinctly more economical than road transport. Personally, I should be much happier to-day if, instead of taking powers for the making of these special roads at some future date, the Government would take some immediate steps to improve our rolling stock and our railway facilities. I think that that would be a better contribution at the present time than the steps which they now propose to take. Nevertheless I find it a little ironical (and I think other noble Lords besides myself may find it so, especially those who have the duty of maintaining county roads—which, after all, are the roads that farmers and the general public will use to a far greater extent than these special roads or the great main roads) that we should have our grants cut and our labour force curtailed, and be forced thereby to experience the greatest difficulty, not only in improving but in maintaining our roads. Roads are like buildings: you do not maintain them, the ultimate cost of restoring them is much greater than their regular maintenance would have been.

I cannot express any great enthusiasm for this Bill as a whole. There is one clause—namely, Clause 10—which arouses my immediate interest, because it has immediate effect. The Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Tom Williams, is, in my view, a very good Minister; one has to go a long way back before finding a better. If I had any criticism to make, it would be that he seems somewhat unsuccessful in fighting other Departments—if he does fight them. Mr. Tom Williams—and, indeed, other Ministers, when they can find time to spare from the more congenial task of general destruction—is frequently in the habit of addressing the farming population and telling them that the vital need is production of food. He has many times explained that the need is as great as it was during the war and calls for the same effort as the farmers made with such success in those days. He has set them a good target and they are straining to hit it. But, from time to time, they find themselves flabbergasted. Those of your Lordships who are in touch with branches of the National Farmers' Union (I personally am fortunate in having an extremely good branch) will know with what extreme perturbation the farming community have noted the fact that good agricultural land is continually being filched from them. Some of your Lordships probably remember that before the war we lost every year over 60,000 acres of agricultural land—roughly 100 square miles every year—and as it is computed that one acre of arable land feeds two people each year, 120,000 fewer people can now be fed off our land.

That, in itself, is a serious matter, but this filching of agricultural land has now greatly increased. It would seem that there is a sort of competition among the Ministries as to who can get the most. They are all at us. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning will, in all probability, win in the long run—at any rate, they are trying very hard. Then the Minister of Health has his "whack." The Fighting Services naturally—I must confess I have more sympathy there than I have in some of the other cases—take their share. The Ministry of Education like their bit. Perhaps some of your Lordships are unaware of the fact that when a school for 100 infants is to be built, the minimum requirement of the Ministry of Education is four acres—and it must be the best land in the neighbourhood!

The Ministry of Transport have had a good "whack" in the past, but apparently they are not satisfied, for, under Clause 10 of this Bill, they take power not only to acquire all the land in the fairly generous limits of 220 yards from each side of the centre of the road—that is a quarter of a mile from side to side—but as far beyond it as ever they wish and upon any sort of ground they like, without consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture or anybody else. According to this Bill, as I understand it—it is fairly plain English—they can take land where-ever they like. For instance, they can make a by-pass and make provision for the parking of cars. Then, with their 300 yards of road, they can say: "This is a good position for a rest house. Let us have a rest house here." But, not resting there, they can say: "Let us see if someone wants to put up a cinema." Next they may add: "After all, people will not want to be indoors all the time, so let them have a football ground adjoining." They can do all that under the Bill. Perhaps the noble Earl will tell me what in fact it means. Maybe in due course he will explain what are the powers.

In his most lucid explanation of this Bill, the noble Earl expressed—I know quite generally—his interest in agriculture. When I ask him whether he believes that it is of vital importance to the nation that we should produce every iota of food that we can, I have no doubt his answer will be emphatically "Yes." Therefore, with every confidence, I ask that he will in due course permit such amendment to this Bill as will not only have the effect of removing the fears I have expressed, but will show the farming community that the Government really mean business in getting the utmost out of the land. I ask him to disperse the fears which are only natural to common-sense people when at one moment they are asked to produce all that they can and at the next moment as much as possible of the best agricultural land is taken from them.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and most persons who have interested themselves in the ghastly problem of road accidents, I have always regarded the building of segregated motor highways—with due respect to the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, I am not afraid of the word "segregation"—as eminently desirable. And if I support the Bill only with a number of cautionary reservations, I hope that the noble Earl will not think that I am looking a gift horse in the mouth, if indeed that is a metaphor appropriate to this particular context. When considering the case for an enabling measure—and every speaker this afternoon has reminded us that this is merely an enabling measure—we are a little apt to allow our imaginations to run away with us, and to picture the process for which powers are taken as a completed achievement; and then to go on to consider the effects of that imaginary achievement upon some vaguely generalised conception, such as British agriculture, or the future of British commerce or the British countryside. It is sometimes helpful, first to remind oneself that this measure represents what in fact it obviously does represent—the prospect of a highly tentative and piecemeal process—and then to go on to try to forecast the effects of that process upon some particular clear-cut community of which one has first-hand knowledge. Therefore, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to try for a few moments to foresee what appear to me to be some of the probable effects of this measure upon the little community in which I happen to live.

This is a small and lovely North Oxfordshire village of stone and thatch, strung out over about a mile of secondary road, across the extreme eastern end of which cuts the main Birmingham—Oxford—London highroad, carrying—and carrying round at least one blind corner—a steady stream of light and heavy traffic, 75 per cent. of it paying no regard whatever to the speed limit. Naturally, the first need of the residents in a village of that kind, and of the residents in so many other villages of the same kind all over the country, is a by-pass. In this particular instance, the plans for a by-pass were completed and approved before the outbreak of the late war. Naturally enough, they have since been shelved; and that although a few miles away in the same county gardens and farms are being cut up and walls and even houses are being pulled down, in order to broaden and straighten a stretch of highroad to enable motor traffic between Oxford and Stratford-on-Avon to save some three or four minutes in transit—though what those who save them do with them I have no idea! Unfortunately most highway authorities seem to regard speed of travel as infinitely more important than the safety and comfort of resident communities, and the by-pass has been relegated to the Greek kalends.

What is likely to be the effect of this Bill upon that situation, which I am sure reproduces itself endlessly all over the country? Well, it may be said—I am not sure that the noble Earl did not in effect say it—that in due course the construction of some such segregated motorway in our neighbourhood will relieve the road through the eastern extremity of our village of a large proportion of the traffic which now passes along it, night and day. I do not want to be a pessimist, certainly no more pessimistic than the noble Lord who has just spoken; but I cannot help feeling doubtful whether a road of this new kind is likely to be built in our neighbourhood within the lifetime of anybody taking part in this debate—and I say that, despite the fact that the average age of noble Lords who speak on road topics is considerably less than that of those who take part in other debates.

After all, we have to remember that we are still "in the red," I think I am right in saying, by at least £280,000,000 in the national income; that we are still living on charity. The British Road Federation has told us that it is going to cost at least £150,000 a mile (and Lord Cranworth suggested 15 per cent. more than that) and we are dealing with 800 miles. My arithmetic is somewhat shaky and I speak subject to correction, but I think that means a total figure of something like £120,000,000. Are we entitled to think even of beginning to spend that sort of sum while we are still in effect almoners of our friends on the other side of the Atlantic? The Government, quite recently, and very rightly, have made a cut in road expenditure of, I think, £21,000,000. Is it likely, in view of all these considerations, that we shall, in fact, see a road of this kind (if I may continue to think in terms of my own neighbourhood) within the lifetime of anyone now living in the village?

And there is this further consideration. If the Minister takes these powers he will be under immediate pressure to use them. Your Lordships may have noticed that during the Second Reading in another place numerous Members seized this, the earliest, opportunity, to recommend warmly to the Minister a bridge for the Severn, a bridge for the Forth, a bridge for the Tay and numerous other projects. What I am afraid of is that local authorities may find themselves tempted to say, "With all this talk of new great improvements in the air, surely we should be recklessly ill-advised to spend much on improving the state of the existing roads."

Again, my Lords—and this is a very important matter indeed, and one to which I think every speaker has paid some attention—the Minister has virtually no compulsory powers whatever to ensure that those for whom we are to construct these roads, at enormous expense, will use them. This is, in fact, in a double sense an "enabling" measure. It gives the Minister powers which he may or may not choose to employ, and it proposes to build roads which the motorist may or may not decide to use. The experience of Oxford and other show-places is that not only light traffic and public service vehicles but quite a proportion of heavy traffic also prefers to continue to use the old road through the town rather than the by-passes which have been constructed at not inconsiderable expense round their extremities. I hope that at the very least the Minister will think it desirable to make it a condition of the licences which he gives to public service and other vehicles, that they should use the roads which are to be provided for them, if and when they are forthcoming. And, of course, there is the further consideration, that the present stream of heavy traffic has long been accustomed to the amenities provided on the present roads—the pull-ins, the cafeterias, rest-houses, garages and so on. It may be a long while, certainly unless we are very quick in providing amenities on the new roads, before they are prepared to abandon the amenities with which they are familiar, constructed beside the existing roads.

All things considered, then, it seems to me extremely unlikely that the discomforts to which I have referred in the small village of which I am thinking will be removed by this measure in the foreseeable future. I very much hope, therefore, that local authorities will not see in this measure an excuse for still further postponing the necessary improvements on the existing roads. I noticed that the noble Earl in his opening speech did say that of course it was necessary to maintain the existing roads, but I was somewhat afraid that, in the context, he was referring merely to the surface of the roads rather than to the removal of such dangers as blind corners and roads through built-up villages. Perhaps he would be good enough to make that point clear in his final reply.

There is one more point that we must not forget—namely, the problem of amenities. There is bound to be, if and when there is a road, the familiar ration (I almost said "the familiar rash") of garages, petrol stations, road-houses and all the rest of it. As I have just reminded your Lordships, we are not likely to get the heavy traffic off the familiar roads until we have provided those amenities elsewhere. In my reading of the Bill, which may be defective, I am unable to see that the Minister of Town and Country Planning is expected to take any particular interest in this very real problem of the building of all these adjuncts to the new roads. And that, of course, is closely akin to another problem which very much concerns those interested in road accidents—that of severance. These roads, as Lord Cecil has reminded us, carrying a steady stream of high speed traffic, will be much more dangerous than railways to those who live near or beside them. They will be slashed across the countryside, occasionally between neighbouring village communities which have shared their amenities perhaps for centuries. They may, unless we watch this matter closely, impose long detours upon farm vehicles and cattle, upon pedestrians and cyclists. That is a matter in regard to which Amendments may have to be moved at a later stage. I do not know what Ministry is specially concerned with the problem of severance. Presumably it is the concern of a number of Ministries, and I trust that, whoever they are, they will pay due attention to it.

My Lords, I hope the Minister will not feel that I am not supporting the Bill. I do welcome it, subject to the one or two reservations I have tried to put before your Lordships. And if I may return to the point with which I started, I do urge almost above everything else, that the prospect of what may one day eventuate from this measure should not cause local authorities to delay in making the sort of safety improvements in the existing roads to which I tried to draw your Lordships' attention at the outset.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I wish very much that I could welcome every Bill introduced by the Government Front Bench as wholeheartedly as I do the measure which they have produced this afternoon. The first reason for my welcome of the Bill is that it is the first tangible expression of the point of view that roads should be made to fit the traffic, rather than the traffic to fit the roads. That I consider to be a most valuable principle. We have had a number of speeches this afternoon, mostly, I think, if I may be allowed to say so without offence, rather damning the Bill with "gin and water" praise. Surely the point is this. There are 3,500,000 motor vehicles registered at the present time in the British Isles, and they are struggling constantly to use a road system which was designed certainly more than a hundred years ago. If we allow that state of things to go on without trying, at any rate, to take direct steps to improve it, there is no doubt but that road transport in this country will be slowly strangled. That will affect every commodity produced in this country. Every single thing that is produced for export, or for that matter for any other purpose, will be affected. Defects in road transport strike at the very root of our production in this country, for the increased costs must be borne by everyone.

More particularly, I welcome this Bill from the point of view of the hope which it gives of a possible reduction in road accidents. This is borne out by the experience of every other country where these motor roads are now in existence. There are at least six such countries from which we have data—Holland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, the United States and Denmark. All these countries have a modern road system, and in practically every case when the new roads have been constructed the accident figures have gone down in an amazing way. In the case of Germany, when the autobahn system was brought into use the accident figures were reduced by over 80 per cent., the same is equally true of America, though conditions, of course, are very different there.

I am sure that noble Lords—particularly Lord Elton (who we know has made the promotion of road safety one of his principal tasks) and the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil (to whom we have always listened on this question with great attention and respect)—will share my feeling when I ask: If by constructing a new road system in this country we can secure even a 40 per cent. reduction of road accidents, can we afford to wait another hour? Do not let us forget that during the ten years ending 1947, 67,000 people were killed on the roads of this country and about 1,421,000 were injured. Those are frightful figures, and I am sure that we all deeply deplore them. Surely we must do everything that we can to encourage the construction of new roads, if there is reason to believe that it will produce a drop in the accident level. Consider the Outer Drive at Chicago, which is used by 10,000,000 vehicles in the course of a year. The accident rate for the last year was eight. Think of that: eight accidents only! Normally the figure would have been something like 189.

The Oxfordshire County Council—a body in which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is particularly interested—have said that in their judgment by proper road construction, according to modern methods, the accident rate can be reduced by something between 58 per cent. and 73 per cent. Therefore, it seems to me that we must try to do something about this, from the point of view of reducing the number of road accidents, if for no other and better reason. It is a melancholy thought that as we sit here this afternoon, in nice comfortable circumstances, people are being killed and injured on the roads of this country who should not be killed or injured if the roads were properly designed. People are losing their lives at this present moment. How can we wait and spend time arguing about niceties connected with these matters? We ought, I submit, to go ahead. I only wish that this were not merely an enabling Bill, and that it embodied a forecast that within the next year or two we should really see a start made in dealing with this question. Up to now, all Governments in this country have proceeded on the patchwork improvement system.

The noble Lord who spoke last mentioned his hopes of a by-pass being constructed. I was not clear where the road is to which he is referring, though I know most roads in that part of the world fairly well. It seemed to me that he was advocating what has already taken place at Daventry—the construction of a by-pass to by-pass the by-pass to the by-pass. That is more or less what has happened in several instances. A plan is brought in for a road to by-pass some little village and you merely divert traffic from one bottle-neck to another. No wonder that in a number of cases drivers do not consider it worth while using the by-pass in preference to the old road! A good illustration of that is afforded by the case of Crawley. Often it is a simpler matter to go through Crawley than to use the Crawley by-pass.

Up to now, as I have said, we have had a policy of patchwork reconstruction, and what has it cost us? We are told that the cost of this new road improvement will work out at £150,000 a mile. There was a main road in the Bristol area—no doubt the noble Earl who is in charge of the Bill will be able to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" in the account of this matter—which was widened to 120 feet, to Ministry of Transport standards, at a cost of £221,600 per mile. Adapting, patching, widening or improving our existing roads is about the most expensive way in which we could deal with this matter. There are only two perfectly new roads in this country to-day. One is the road in Scotland which runs between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and that is not perfect. It does not include any fly-over or fly-under junctions, and it is not a twin-track—at least, it was not when I last used it—for the whole of its length. It is an all-purpose road used by all forms of traffic. The other new road is the one between Liverpool and East Lancashire.

Surely we ought to try to do something about this problem. Look at the existing trunk roads. Not one of them is adequate for the traffic using it. There are 1,400 level crossings on our main trunk roads; that is an anachronism if ever there was one. The noble Lord who spoke last (I hope he will forgive me for referring to him so frequently) instanced the difficulties experienced at a little village in Oxfordshire. I wonder how many of your Lordships would care to live in the little village of Markyate. It is just possible to get two big lorries in most parts of the road there—at some places it is not possible to get two side by side. Yet that road is a main artery for all the traffic between Birmingham and Coventry and London Docks. More than 5,000 vehicles use it every day. Imagine the feelings of any of your Lordships who has children if you had to live in that village. Think how you would feel if you had to leave the children in the house. You would probably have ten thousand fits as the result of worrying over what might happen to them if they were to run out of doors and cross the road. In these days it is incredible that such a narrow road should form a main artery for traffic. Surely we ought to do better than that.

The illustration which I have just given is of exactly the sort of situation which this Bill will try to remedy. Take the case of the Birmingham road. It contains at different points no fewer than twenty-three different road surfaces Take the Bristol road. It varies in width nineteen times between London and Bristol. Take A.1, the Great North Road—for the first 200 miles of its length only is there a twin track road. Surely we ought to be able to do something better than that. Noble Lords have spoken as if this were a Bill likely to finish in a road-rail war. Surely it is not that, but simply a Bill to enable the Government to look ahead and take steps in time to try and provide the country with a worthwhile road system.

It seems to me that nobody has stopped this afternoon to consider the saving that may result. The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, said that we might have difficulty in buying more petrol. I should like to submit to the noble Lord that traffic using these special roads will secure a saving of fuel of roughly 40 per cent. An ordinary road operator using a 10-ton lorry will save roughly 30 per cent. in operating costs. All these savings will eventually become effective in the charges made for the operation of these vehicles and will represent a saving to industry as a whole. Therefore I feel there will be certain counter-balancing savings to put against the cost of constructing these roads. Every time a lorry is held up on a main road and started up again, it uses more rubber off its tyres than in one mile of ordinary running. These are not haphazard figures, but figures which have been ascertained after a great deal of research by the tyre companies.

I welcome this Bill, but there are one or two points that I think require clarification. I was glad to heard what the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, said about the question of crossings. If we are to have crossings at every and any joint across the new roads, it will nullify the use of these roads, as the noble Lord so rightly said. If the crossings are made, there will probably have to be lights. Once we have lights we get back to exactly the same state of affairs as exists on the old roads. Where crossings are necessary, they should be made by fly-over or fly-under bridges. Another point of the greatest importance is the laying of mains—water mains, electrical cables and the like. Nothing does more damage to a road than constant excavations. People dig up the roads at intervals and destroy the surface, potholes develop and it is very difficult to put the road back in repair. Where mains have to cross the new roads, they should be taken across in culverts specially constructed, and in no case should mains of any description be laid along new roads. If they are, repair parties will be constantly at work, and the moment that happens there will have to be restrictions of one kind or another on the use of the roads themselves. Therefore I hope that during the passage of this Bill the Government will be able to assure us that it is not their intention to lay mains along these roads, and that where mains are taken across, they will be taken across in culverts.

There is much else I would like to say about the Bill, but I do not want to delay your Lordships unduly. Much has been said about cost and I would like to add a word about that. The cost of the autobahnen in Germany (although I do not know whether their cost bears any relation to the estimated cost of our new special roads) was £74,000 a mile. Of course, that was the pre-war value and probably the cost to-day will be double. There is a considerable difference between £74,000 a mile and £150,000 a mile. I do not know any more than the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, where the £150,000 comes from. I think we ought to be told something a little more definite on the subject of cost. When talking about autobahnen in Germany, it may be of interest to your Lordships to know that construction proceeded at the rate of 650 miles per year. Construction went on at the rate of 240 yards a day with a single shift, and 440 yards working a double shift, and the actual rate went up as high as 580 yards a day. Whether we shall be able to achieve anything like that I do not know, but I do not see why we should not, using the most modern machinery such as was no doubt used in the case of the autobahnen. I do not think the Bill is an unduly expensive one, because I believe there will be certain savings to offset the cost. I feel that at lone last there is a chance that we may have roads made fit for the traffic, instead of having traffic made fit for the roads. I consider that while the cost may be large, it would be most economical to construct these roads as early as possible. I do not think we can afford to wait.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in moving the Second Reading of a Bill to build roads at some distant date in the future which he thinks are needed to-day, expected universal, if not praise, at least acquiescence. I think he must feel now that he has been led somewhat into an ambuscade, because I have heard little praise that was not distinctly qualified. I personally am extremely glad that he has not proposed to build these roads now, because to do so would be utterly and completely at variance with every other aspect of the plan which the planners have unfolded to us from time to time. If and when national savings are available for such purposes, I sincerely trust that houses and schools will have first call on the type of resources which the noble Earl wants to see used for speed tracks. I gather that the length of these speed tracks is some 800 miles. I simply fail to see how it is that 800 miles of new roadway in this country can create a transformation in the entire transport problem of the Island. Of course, it is ludicrous to suggest any such thing. They provide for but a small fraction of the traffic going on in the Island.

What is the situation with which we are faced to-day? We have an expanding commercial road haulage traffic; we have a contracting nationalised rail traffic; we have a fleet of private cars being gradually worn out, and private incomes which are wearing out as fast as the cars. I submit that to-day's conditions are no basis on which one can tell the type of roads we are going to require in ten years' time. I am afraid I have always regarded His Majesty's Government—I do not know quite the right expression to use—as "suckers." If there is any grandiose scheme going, I feel they will always fall for it. This is one of those schemes. I think my noble friend Earl Howe has also fallen. I have come across propaganda by road interests all over the world. It always runs on the same lines; it is extremely clever, but very specious, and it takes in a lot of people. I believe His Majesty's Government have been taken in.

We have to consider the problem of traffic generally. Any of us who has had anything to do with traffic knows that in regard to capital improvements, which are guaranteed to produce savings within a guaranteed time, the sky is the limit. There is absolutely no limit to the amount of money which can be sunk into improving the transport of this country, or of any other country. In some cases there may be a return on it; in some cases there will not—and often it will be incalculable. To take it to its logical conclusion, the transport of this country would not be complete until Britain was a cap of concrete, across which the noble Earl could plough his way at a speed which I have no doubt would suit him rather than me.

The practical limit to transport is the amount of money which one is prepared to devote to the matter, including, of course, men and resources; one has to take in everything—road, rail, coastal shipping and the air. His Majesty's Government have inherited (I was going to say stolen, but I want a word between the two) the best railway system in the world. To put any goods on that system costs the community approximately 20 per cent. of the freight that is charged. We also have a very fine road system, and to put goods on that road system costs the community something like 80 per cent. of the freight charged. For the carriage of the goods it is generally more convenient to use the road, because in that way the goods are carried from door to door, and the user does that which is most convenient to him. How does he calculate the cost? He calculates the cost on what is charged to him.

That is where what I call the great road fallacy creeps in. If you carry a ton of goods by road you are paying about 16s. for men and machines. If you send the same ton of goods by rail you are paying only about 4s. extra; the balance goes on overheads. So that by putting a ton of goods on the road the community is taking only 16s. from the man who sends them, but it is in effect costing the community 32s.—16s. for the men and vehicles employed on the road, and 16s. for the overheads the railway have not received. In that way the men and materials used in transport in this country are duplicated. The figure will be found in the Green Book of Statistics, and though I feel certain that planners would like to see it going down, it will not go down, of course, if you improve the facilities for using the road at the expense of the rail. The price system is bound to prevail. The use of the road increases, and the rail overheads have to be spread over a smaller and smaller traffic. So the taxpayer has to step in and pay more, either as a consumer on his coal and his season ticket, or as a plain taxpayer in taxes.

Of course, the remedy is to put the long-distance goods on the railways, where they were always intended to go. Why the Transport Commission have not taken this vital decision, I do not know. They have bought the road hauliers, and they have bought the railways. By now they ought to have decided whether they are to operate the railways at a perpetual loss, and the road hauliers at a profit, or whether they are going to close down the road hauliers, take the congestion off the road, and operate the railways at a profit. We expect a decision from them, but they will not face up to it. Until we get that decision, I feel it is premature to consider a Bill of this sort, because if the Transport Commission take that decision, which I and others believe to be right, a great deal of the need for these 800 miles of arterial speed track will no longer exist.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, speaking as a "sucker" of some fifteen years "suckering," I must heartily support this Bill. Like most previous speakers, I propose to deal mainly with the road side of this Bill, and I want to speak rather on the economic aspect. The noble Earl who introduced the Bill dealt with the cost of the roads themselves, but he did not deal with the saving that would result from them. We have heard to-day various opinions as to whether or not those savings are illusory. Certainly the suggestion has been made that one person who will not benefit from these roads is the farmer; all he will do, it is said, is to lose his land or suffer severance. But I suggest there is another way to look at that question. The farmer will certainly gain one benefit, in that he will get his goods more quickly to market, which to him and to the consumers of those goods is a very important point.

It must not be thought, however, that he gets his goods more quickly to market only because they travel on these roads. That is limiting the matter, and ignoring one of the main results of building these roads. One of the results will be that the parallel road, which at the present moment is suffering so much from congestion, will become much freer, the farmer's lorry will be able to go at a more even pace, and therefore in the end more speedily, without going at a fast maximum pace. It is probable that the farmer who suffers severance or loses his land will not reap that particular form of benefit, because the road which has been relieved may not be in his own immediate neighbourhood; but that advantage will go to other farmers, and must be borne in mind.

We have also had mentioned the problem of the railways and the roads. I would suggest that a very short-sighted view has been taken in that respect. Unless we do something soon, the Minister of Transport, who, as has been said, has the road haulage on one side, and the railways on the other, will find that his railways are running all right, but that he cannot operate his road haulage because there is no room on the roads. It is a very serious situation, and it is becoming increasingly serious every month. Anyone who uses the roads as much as I do must notice the monthly increase in the traffic on them. When the Government see fit to release a few extra lorries and a few more cars for home consumption, the situation on the roads is going to be really serious, and economically the road haulage side of nationalised transport is going to find itself stranded. That, to my mind, means that, if that side is to survive, we must build these roads, and I do not see in the least why road haulage should place unnecessarily severe competition on the railways. I believe there is room for the two side by side.

From the point of view of the private owner and the holders of C licences in this country, these roads will make a great difference. As my noble friend Lord Howe has mentioned, the saving in the cost of operating will be 32 per cent. for a 10-ton vehicle, and 17 per cent. for a 3-ton vehicle. But it is not only those people who will benefit. The firm with its commercial traveller, the big business operative who has a business in Liverpool, a business in London and, possibly, businesses in between, will be able to save his time; and time is something for which everybody in this country has to pay. Waste of time is just a waste of a national asset.

On every ground, so far as I can see, there is an imperative demand for these roads, but the one upon which the most imperative demand arises is that of road safety and the saving of life. The value of those lives to this nation would pay a dividend which, if any business man dared to pay it from a company to-day, would cause the Chancellor of the Exchequer to "twist his tail" for him. Without any of the other savings, this Bill is justified on the ground of the economic saving of life and accidents. We have lagged behind every other nation. Our roads suffered through two wars, and modernisation between the wars was completely neglected. We are at the moment the most backward nation in Europe, so far as road design is concerned, while we are the most forward nation in the number of vehicles per mile of road. Those two things do not marry. Our trade, if it is to compete with the rest of the world, will be dependent on our transport. If we waste money on our transport, we waste money and lives and we put up the price of our goods for export. We cannot afford to do it. We have to bring the price down; and proper roads will help us to do it.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to detain you for more than two or three minutes, because other noble Lords have said practically everything I wanted to say. I do want to support this Bill, however, because it is one which is long overdue. I may be a "sucker," but I still think it is a good Bill. We have had reference to speed tracks which are going to slash their way across the country. Speed tracks! Well, all I can say is that the secret of getting anything moving is to keep it moving. I will give your Lordships an instance. I live on a main line railway and there is a business train which, unfortunately, does not stop at my station but stops at one five miles away. There are about thirty business men who use that station in the morning and the evening, and we asked if it were not possible for the train to stop there for a minute. The answer came back that if it stopped at that station for a minute it would delay the "Cornish Riviera." Now the same thing happens on a road. A road jam fifty miles away can affect people coming out of London. If we have these motorways which will allow a free, uninterrupted flow of traffic, they need not necessarily be straight, so long as the traffic knows that it can keep on moving. It is ridiculous to think that anybody wants to use these roads at sixty, seventy or eighty miles an hour. Their whole purpose is to get the traffic moving and to facilitate the egress and ingress to and from the big towns.

I do not know how many of your Lordships have been to America, but possibly some of you have landed at Newark and have gone through the tunnel-way there. You do not stop from the time you leave Newark Airport until you get practically into the centre of New York. There is not a single traffic light. There are two lanes in the tunnel; there are policemen stationed about every 400 yards, and if you do not keep moving, or if you try to cross from the "slow" to the "fast" lane (to use a colloquialism) "you don't half get it!" The policemen get very annoyed, but they keep the traffic moving. Or take, for example, New York when the offices close. There is a mad surge out to Long Island. They go out by East End Drive or West End Drive, and the traffic keeps flowing right across and gets away. That has all been done by the construction of these motorways.

But the most important point to which my noble friends Lord Howe and Lord Sandhurst have referred, and to which I want to refer again, is the fact that it is going to keep death off the roads. It is going to help by keeping the heavy traffic on these motorways, where they know they will not have to apply the emergency brake. I do not know whether any of your Lordships has driven a tank transporter with a tank on it on wooden blocks, and have had to put on your brakes. The result is rather alarming. Those heavy vehicles, if taken on these new roads, will relieve the problem to a large extent, and the old roads will be left for the person who wants to travel slowly and admire the scenery. I hope that this Bill will be passed and that it will not be put into a pigeon-hole and forgotten. I remember the little man with the little nose who used to appear during the war peering over the wall, and if this Bill is forgotten I shall be sending the Minister one of those Mr. Chads with the words: "Wot—no motorways?"

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the response which your Lordships have given to this Bill, and I will do my best to answer some, at least, of the points raised during the debate. I should like, first, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, on his first appearance at the Despatch Box. I think your Lordships will agree that his speech this afternoon shows that he is a considerable acquisition to the Opposition Front Bench. I can assure him that we shall always welcome any criticisms made by him in the spirit in which he made his criticisms to-day. He was good enough to give me advance notice of some of the points he intended to raise, and I shall, therefore, deal fairly fully with what he said.

The noble Lord asked what was the relationship of this Bill to the transport policy of the Government. Our aim is the unification and co-ordination of all forms of transport. I can assure the noble Lord that this is not an incantation; it is a real and practical policy which we believe will do a great deal of good to British transport. There is nothing in this Bill that conflicts in any way with the aims set up in the Transport Act: the provision of a properly integrated system of public transport, in which all forms of transport will play their due part.

In time, of course, the British Transport Commission will be the main provider of long-distance transport for goods. When acquisition under the Transport Act has been completed, the Commission will own or control 42,000 goods vehicles, of which 32,000 will engage permanently in long-distance road haulage. The operation of these vehicles will be greatly assisted by the provision of special roads, as will the activities of the Commission in connection with road passenger services. It is our main aim to ensure a proper transport system, embracing both good roads and good railways. Our first duty to the public is to provide a cheap and efficient transport system, and for this purpose we want to improve both our roads and our railways. The different forms of transport are surely complementary, and if we go ahead and improve our railways pari passu with the improvement of our roads I see no reason why the roads should undercut the railways or throw them out of business. That is our aim.

The noble Lord asked me another question, concerning the form of compensation for injury resulting from the building of these roads. I think the noble Lord would have liked a requirement in the Bill to provide accommodation for the agricultural interests disturbed, and that he would prefer this form of compensation to a compensation in money. I cannot see, however, why the new motorway should raise any greater difficulty than exists at present.


Surely the answer is that a man can go across a special purpose road but will not be allowed to go across this one.


He will be compensated in the same way, however he wishes to cross.


He will be prohibited, as I understand it, under this Bill from crossing the road with his cattle, or whatever it may be. It is possible at present for him to have access to the main roads, but that will not now be allowed.


It is true that in the interests of safety access to any new single-purpose road must be controlled. There will inevitably be problems, and these problems are dealt with in other legislation. If there is any case for altering the arrangements with regard to compensation, this should be done generally, and not solely in relation to the special roads. I cannot agree that there is a special case so far as these motor roads are concerned. We have no reason to suppose that the current code will not continue to work satisfactorily. Under the current code, owners and tenants have statutory rights to compensation for the value of land taken and for severance or injurious affection caused thereby. Their claims can go to independent arbitration. It is the experience of the Ministry of Transport that negotiations with owners and other people interested rarely break down on this point. Arrangements are normally possible whereby other accommodation is made available, or the owner is left with money compensation.


The point was that in order to cause the minimum disturbance to the permanent interests of agriculture, it would be much preferable, as a matter of policy, to offer accommodation rather than financial compensation.


I accept what the noble Lord says, and I believe that in many cases accommodation is provided by the highway authority.

I should like to say something about the question of powers of land acquisition under this Bill. This question was raised also by the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth. This Bill does not enlarge to any considerable extent the existing powers in relation to compulsory acquisition of land. To suggest that would, I think, be to misunderstand the Bill. The noble Lord will observe that in Clause 10 there is no provision for general powers of land acquisition, and the reason is that these general powers are already available to highway authorities under other Acts. Clause 10 provides for an extension of those powers of compulsory acquisition, so that they can be used for certain purposes in connection with the special roads. I should like to point out that the extension of these powers is very carefully set out and carefully limited.

The land acquisition powers of Clause 10 are extended beyond the usual limit of 220 yards from the centre of the road for two purposes, and these two purposes are specified in terms in paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of Clause 10. The two purposes are, in the first place, to provide petrol stations and other facilities, garages and whatever works may be necessary when they are directly connected with the construction and use or maintenance of the motorway. The second purpose is for the alteration or diversion of side roads which is essential in order to make the motorway an effective road for the use of transport. Noble Lords will agree that these new powers are very limited, and that they are set out distinctly in Clause 10 of the Bill.

I should now like to pass to a question asked by the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, and by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about pedestrian crossings—


Crossings, but not pedestrian crossings—I was referring to Clause 12.


Yes, crossings as distinct from tunnels or bridges. What I think both noble Lords were afraid of is that these crossings might interfere with the main purpose of the motor road, which is to provide a steady uninterrupted flow of traffic. In Clause 12 it is made permissible for a crossing for pedestrians to be authorised on the level, as opposed to a bridge or a tunnel. I should like to emphasise that it would be very rarely desirable to permit such crossings in practice. They would not be contemplated where there is any question of danger to the road users or interruption of the flow of traffic. However, there might be some instances in which it would be safe to allow pedestrians to cross on the level, and it would be absurd for this Bill to prohibit any such thing and to make it essential for the expensive alternative to be provided—that is to say, a tunnel or a bridge. Suppose, for example, there was a long stretch of straight road; why should not pedestrians cross at a point on this long stretch of straight road where they could see for a considerable distance in both directions? That would be reasonably safe. In a case of that kind it would be absurd to go to the expense of providing a tunnel or a bridge.

I should like to say how grateful we are for the support offered to this Bill by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, because it makes us doubly sure that the Bill will contribute to the safety of the roads and will lessen the number and seriousness of road accidents. If this Bill is underwritten in that respect by the noble Viscount, we may feel really sure of ourselves; because if it had failed in any degree we could be certain that the noble Viscount would have dropped upon us like a ton of bricks. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, that we share his desire that agricultural interests should be considered. I know he appreciates that we are at one with him on that matter. We sincerely think—and I believe this view was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, in the course of his remarks—that agriculture will benefit by cheaper transport and that in the long run, especially as these roads develop, the farmers will find it easier and cheaper to get their goods to market. The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, thought the figure of £150,000 per mile as the cost of these new roads was out of date; but it is in fact the present estimate—an estimate based upon present-day costs. Of course, I am not offering that as a firm estimate of what the cost will be at the time that these roads are built. Maybe the cost would be higher. I do not think anybody would offer to hazard a guess as to what the precise cost will be in terms of pounds, shillings and pence.


Does the figure of £150,000 per mile cover the construction of the road, or is it just a charge for compensation, or something like that?


I should not like to answer that question without consulting my advisers on the point. I have not the noble Earl's knowledge of what, as a rule, goes into these estimates. I would wish to see a breakdown of the figure. If I may, I should like to thank the noble Earl warmly for his support. We all listen with great respect to what the noble Earl says about road safety and the use and construction of roads, because he has made himself a leading authority on the subject. We are accustomed to hearing him as such when these matters are debated in this House. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, and the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, for their support. It was encouraging for us on this side to observe that most of the Back Benchers on the opposite side of the House, with their characteristic and (if I may say so) admirable independence of mind, were so strongly in favour of the provisions of the Bill.

May I now reply to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Elton? Your Lordships have a great deal of other business to which to attend to-day so I will, if I may, confine myself merely to his main point about amenities, because that is the point that was not touched upon earlier by myself or by others in the course of the debate. I think that this question of the proper and agreeable appearance of the motor roads is a point of great importance. Of course, we all look at the motorway first from the point of view of its use. Possibly some people would say that if it serves its primary purpose of being a good road for road users, we should not worry about anything else. But I am sure that noble Lords and all other far-sighted people would say that we should go further and ask ourselves what these motorways will look like. Will they disfigure the countryside? Are they to be ugly necessities, or can we combine their practical virtues with success in making them an adornment, or at least a neutral factor in their surroundings rather than an eyesore?

A great deal of thought is being given to technical matters of construction and design, but, rightly so we think, attention is also being paid quite as much to the look of these motor roads. Thoughtful design can easily avoid the bleak monotonous effect of endless straight stretches of concrete and bridges starkly silhouetted against the sky. We are planning for motorways that will fit in unobtrusively with the countryside, taking advantage of natural features like woods and hills to mask the road and its bridges, and swing the alignment of the road in gentle curvatures rather than dead straight lines. Building materials can be chosen to suit the locality, and there is a considerable art in correlating the vertical and lateral lines of a road to avoid disharmony and to achieve, it may be, a measure of beauty.


The "New Look," in fact!


We hope that the new roads will also have the "New Look," in the sense meant by the noble Viscount. Designing a road so that it will be efficient and also look good is not a short nor an easy task. And it is rendered the harder and the longer because of the congested condition of the roads of the country at this moment. Our road engineers must survey to find, not only an alignment that is efficient and æsthetically inoffensive, but, in addition, one that causes the minimum interference with property and makes the minimum demands upon land which is useful for agricultural purposes. In no other country in the world do the location and design of a new road give rise to so many difficulties and problems. The blue-print of a major highway may take years to complete, and the road engineer needs all his skill to produce the good-looking and efficient road that everyone wants, because he also has to satisfy the requirements of planning, of agriculture and of private interests. It is a difficult task, but one which is not beyond the outstanding ability of the road engineers of this country. Theirs will be a great opportunity when the time comes, and I believe that they will be worthy of it. I thank your Lordships again for the support you have given to this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.