§ 3.53 p.m.
My Lords, I fully support the views put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that the condition of our roads has a tremendous effect upon the costs of industry. The noble Lord also raised the question of congestion of the roads by heavy loads. I suggest that that point is a little exaggerated, as most of these loads move by night. Of course, road conditions have a great bearing on accidents, but to-day I propose to confine my remarks to what is perhaps the best method of getting new roads. In the first place, I fully appreciate the value of the recent schemes put forward by Her Majesty's Government for road improvements during the next few years, and I certainly do not see how more can be done out of current revenue, unless we are prepared to have new taxes, and I am sure none of us wants that. But what I suggest is that expenditure on the roads should be divided into two classes, namely, maintenance and capital improvements, and that only maintenance should come from current revenue. Commercial enterprises and the nationalised undertakings have to resort to the capital market for capital improvements when they want them, and it seems only logical that major new roads, or major improvements to existing, roads, should be treated in the same way.
I believe I was the first to put forward in your Lordships' House the proposition for a road loan. I was rather sorry to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, did not support that proposition to-day. I believe that during the last debate he undertook to think about it. I can understand the hesitation of Her Majesty's Treasury in sponsoring a road loan. No doubt that hesitation arises over the question of security for interest and sinking fund. Money collected from motor taxation goes into a consolidated fund from which moneys are voted annually by Parliament. Surely it would not be beyond the wit of man and the Treasury to devise some form of security for a road loan, which I am convinced is the only way by which this country will get a properly balanced and efficient road system in a measurable distance of time. If the proposed loan were sponsored by Her Majesty's Government I understand there would be no 77 difficulty in obtaining the money from the public, provided that the terms of issue, interest and redemption dates, were carefully adjusted to the state of the stock market at the time of issue. A road loan of some £500 should like to see a figure of £800 million—could not, of course, he spent all at once, and would probably be raised gradually over a period of years. In fact, we might have several road stocks on the market at the same time, as is the case with the nationalised industries.
But apart from the mere financial mechanism of a road loan, I have little doubt that the second hesitation on the part of Her Majesty's Government results from a decision as to the employment of the nation's investment resources as represented by physical assets—physical assets being labour and materials at a time of full employment, when diversion might become necessary for a major road scheme. I suggest that such a diversion t would be of only a comparatively small nature and would be unlikely to have any adverse effect on other works that are now being carried on in the country. I suggest, too, that very little labour is required with the modern large-scale mechanisation processes which are available for roadmaking to-day. I should like to spend a few moment in going into one or two technical details. It may not be generally known that one mechanised spreader with a team of two men, assisted by a gang of five, can lay five times as much bitumen material per hour as a gang of eight men can lay per hour by hand. That, of course, is a tremendous improvement on road laying in the old days. With modern technique, the direct labour force required for road construction and maintenance is comparatively small.
It may be argued also that engineering firms who construct road mechanical instruments are engaged in vital export work. This may well be true, but surely we ought to keep a certain perspective about these matters. Is it not possible to increase the capacity of these firms so that more road machinery can be produced? I think that can be done. I wonder whether it has ever been really looked into. In any case, with our export market, which is daily becoming more difficult, any road improvements which result in a freer flow of traffic will reduce 78 transport costs and, of course, the export price of the article. When we examine the question of materials we are certainly not faced with difficulties about foreign exchange, because what we really want is stone from British quarries, and cement, and we have no difficulty about getting those. The importance of road transport as a factor of production is not always appreciated. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, has given certain figures of money spent on road transport. I will put it in another way, by saying that 70 per cent. of all goods traffic is carried by road, and 85 per cent. of the total expenditure on road transport relates to commercial traffic. I think it can be assessed that commercial road use accounts for some 10 per cent. of the total cost of production and distribution. I was most interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, put this figure very much higher, and I think that may be true. This figure of 10 per cent. or 15 per cent., as it may be, could well be lowered with an efficient road system, and our position in the export market thereby improved.
There has been a tremendous increase in the density of road traffic in recent years. I think that this density figure was touched upon by Lord Brabazon of Tara. I should like to give one or two more figures. For every three vehicles on the roads in 1939, there are now five. Motor cars have increased by 700,000 and motor cycles have more than doubled in number; in fact, they now number almost a million. But what is important to note is that goods vehicles have almost doubled in number, arid now stand at the figure of 909,000. The great increase in road vehicles is due to the great industrial developments which have occurred since the war. The index of industrial production has risen from a figure of, I believe, 87 in 1946 to 132 in November, 1953. Therefore, we can readily see the reason for this tremendous increase in road vehicles. It is obvious that all this activity and construction has greatly stimulated the need for more road transport upon which, to a large extent, the development depends.
And yet, in spite of the enormous capital investment in these industries, little provision has been made for a corresponding treatment of the roads. Between the years 1948 and 1953, a mere five years, 79 the density of traffic in Britain has increased from 18.6 vehicles per mile of road to 26.2 vehicles. What do we find when we look at the density figures of other countries? They are rather surprising. If we take the figure for Britain as something over 11,000 vehicles per 1,000 kilometres, we find that West Germany comes next with just over 10,000 vehicles, then the United States with just over 9,000, Belgium, with just over 7,000 and lastly France with over 2,000. So, in fact, we have the highest density figures for vehicle traffic in the world. There is every reason to believe that the growth in the numbers of road vehicles will continue, and very serious congestion and delays are mounting up from day to day. I suggest that if drastic action is not taken on the lines which I have suggested, it will be only a matter of time before road transport will be virtually slowed down to a completely uneconomic level.
§ 4.4 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, I hope that I shall not be held discourteous to the noble Lord who introduced this subject if I do not follow the appeal which he made that the House should confine itself very largely to the commercial and economic effects of the inadequacy of our roads. I should be sorry if anything which I or any subsequent speaker said detracted in any way from the very powerful statement which the noble Lord made. I need hardly say that I agree entirely with what Lord Brabazon said about the increasing gravity of the position and the importance of taking action as soon as possible. However, I want to support the argument which he has advanced by saying that the inadequacy of our road system is one of the causes of the appalling fatalities which are taking place, day after day, month after month. It is difficult to appreciate how grave and how numerous these casualties are. I will inflict upon the House as few figures as possible, but I must remind your Lordships of the position. Last year, over 5,000 persons were killed on the roads—that is equivalent to the population of a market town like either Marlborough or Wells—and the total number of casualties, including the killed, on the roads last year was over 220,000—that is to say, the equivalent of a population such as is found in 80 a great city like Plymouth or Southampton. I should have found it very difficult to listen to a debate in your Lordships' House on the inadequacy of the roads without rising to draw attention to the fatalities and the casualties which are always occurring largely because our roads were made for quite different conditions from those in which they are being used to-day.
It is difficult to bring home to the country the gravity of the position. I notice that in his News Letter, Commander Stephen King-Hall made the somewhat original suggestion that in our big towns 5,000 volunteers should slowly walk through the towns saying, "We are the 5,000 who were killed last year," preceded by bands playing funeral marches. I am afraid that to adopt that suggestion might increase the number of casualties in that particular town on that occasion, but it is of real importance that, in some way or another, the country as a whole should be brought to realise much more than it does the gravity of the present position. The heaviest toll, I think, so far as pedestrians are concerned, falls upon the very young and upon the elderly or the aged. In 1952, there were just on 24,000 casualties to young children, and there were over 65 casualties—either fatal or not so serious—to children every day. Among the old—that is, people over 60, for that seems to be the popular definition of "old age"—in that year the casualties amounted to over 1,300 killed and over 22,000 injured.
I was interested to read the Report by a voluntary society on the causes of fatalities among those between the ages of 60 and 80. The first cause given is that such people are more absent-minded than younger ones—though personally I should repudiate that statement. The Report goes on to say (and this is quite true) that these old people are less agile and have less acute hearing and vision. The Report uses the comforting phraseAlthough the old arc less teachable than the young they are still capable of learning and profiting from wise advice about road usage.Whatever may be the causes of the casualties among young and old, it is humiliating that, at this time in our civilisation, so many young and so many old should be sacrificed in this kind of way on the roads. I feel this is partly due to 81 the tremendous congestion on our roads, which means increasing strain on the drivers of vehicles; to the fact that many roads suddenly become narrow or have sharp blind corners. All these causes help to increase the number of casualties. I was reading a report from the West Riding Constabulary of Yorkshire which was issued I think, only two days ago, on road accidents. In this report it was stated that the type of road or road junction where most accidents occurred was a straight stretch followed by "T" or "Y" junctions, a slight curve and cross roads. And there is general agreement that a large number of these accidents are due to the congestion on, arid the condition of, our roads.
The condition of the roads, however, is not the only cause of accidents. Improve the roads as much as we can, unless there is an increasing sense of responsibility on the part of all users of the roads, accidents will continue. I know it to be grossly unfair to say that any one class of road user is responsible for all these accidents. Those of us who have to use the roads frequently—and I am in my car day after day, afternoon and evening, sometimes at nights, in the roads in the North of England—know that the condition of the road is:not the only cause of accidents, and that it is not only the motorist who causes accidents. But the motorist has a very special responsibility. He has the instrument which kills. If there is an error of judgment on the part of a child or an old man, he may pay the penalty of that misjudgment with his life. The motorist who makes an error of judgment probably does not pay the penalty with his own life, but the pedestrian, the child or the cyclist has to pay for the motorist's error of judgment We have to face the fact that, however goad the roads are, there is a class of motorist who is selfish and callous, who uses the roads without regard to any others who use it. Perhaps I may quote what I regard as a remarkable description of the psychology of this minority—and it is only a minority—of selfish users of the road. It occurs not in a strictly scientific hook, but in The Wind in the Willows. The writer describes his character, Toad, as getting into the driving seat, then goes on:… as if in a dream, all sense of right and wrong, all fear of obvious consequences, seemed temporarily suspended. He increased 82 his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was Toad once more, Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night.I think that is a true description of the minority of motorists who make the roads a real terror.
One of the problems in dealing with the inadequacy of our roads is how this minority should be dealt with. Not long ago I was bold enough to make a tentative suggestion that when a motorist had been frequently convicted of careless or dangerous driving, his car should be confiscated. That suggestion did not meet with general approval. I had a certain number of letters warmly approving it, especially, I think, from those who did not own their own cars, and I received vigorous protests from a number of those who did own cats. I am convinced that this suggestion is not a practical one. It would have meant simply that the wealthy owner of a car would have bought another and used the roads again. I think the right solution is a stricter enforcement of existing laws. In many cases the existing road laws are ignored. I am not suggesting that the kind of penalty that was put on Toad, whom I have just been describing, should be put on the road user. If I remember aright, that penalty was one year for stealing the car, two years for speeding, eighteen for cheating the police and one extra year from the magistrates "to be sure they were on the safe side." I am not proposing drastic penalties like that, but I do say that the road user who time after time has been shown to be so careless that he has caused injury to life and limb ought to have his licence suspended for a very long time—and in some cases it ought to be withdrawn altogether.
Most of our magistrates use fully and rightly the powers they possess, but not always. Some of our magistrates are extremely lax and lenient in this matter. I will mention just one case. At the beginning of last year, in a dense part of a narrow road, a motorist passed three cars which were one behind the other and collided head on with a car coming in the other direction. The cars were badly damaged, and the two occupants of the car into which he ran, a man and wife, were seriously injured; one 83 has not altogether recovered even yet from the effects of the collision. The motorist who had passed the other cars was brought before the local magistrates, and they refused to convict him for dangerous driving. The bad conditions prevailing, they said, prevented them from convicting for dangerous driving (a strange reason, I should have thought) but they convicted him of driving without due care and attention, and in that category they regarded it as a serious case. They fined the offender £20 and suspended his licence for one month only, notwithstanding that on a number of occasions in the last two years he had been convicted of speeding. That is simply encouraging laxity on the roads.
I am sorry that I have wandered some way from the lines laid down by the noble Lord who introduced the Motion, but I felt that this was an opportunity of pointing out that, serious as is the inadequacy of our roads, that is not the only cause of motor accidents. I am glad the noble Lord has raised this question and I support him most warmly. I would end by saying that this is not only a question of law, there is also a moral question involved. Until the country as a whole realises the seriousness of the position and demands some more revolutionary change in our roads and, still more, until all road users realise their responsibility to others who use the roads, these casualties will continue to rise.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords. I cannot imagine a debate on roads taking place without the intervention of the most reverend Primate. With much of what he has said I find myself in cordial agreement, but I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him. I want to get back to the subject matter of the Motion introduced by my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara. As previous speakers have pointed out, there is a steady worsening of road conditions. The increase in traffic that is going on at the rate of 300,000 to 400,000 cars a year makes that certain. There is also a steady piling up of arrears of maintenance. It seems to me there has been a hopeless lack of vision by successive Governments, who have paid little enough attention to the fact that roads being built to-day will have to last for a very long time. That means 84 that those who design and lay out new roads have to think a long way ahead, and the Government must make certain that the design and lay-out adopted are of the latest possible pattern. As has been truly said by the noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth, roads to-day are hopelessly over-trafficked, both in the cities and in the country, and many of our classified roads are well known to be accident prone. We have heard a lot about black spots. It has always seemed to me. from the allusions made by people to black spots, that this is an easy problem with which to deal. There are over 50,000 black spots in this country to-day, and if I were to suggest anything to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who is to reply, it would be that the whole of Lancashire is a black spot. To my mind, widening and improvement of our roads is essential.
Your Lordships have great experience in these matters, but I want to recall to you the conditions existing to-day, although they really speak for themselves. Let me take A.1, to which the noble Lord. Lord Brabazon. drew attention. You start off down A.1, and you probably go through Finchley and out by the Great North Way. You then come to the intersection of the Great North Way and the North Circular Road. There you always have an appalling block. Such blocks are not found in cities abroad, where they deal with the problem differently. What is there to prevent the Government from improving that intersection by means of an overhead bridge to take the traffic clear of London? There is an enormous flow of traffic passing over that road intersection, and I feel that the intersection should be dealt with. You then go along the Barnet by-pass and eventually arrive at Stevenage. A new town has been built at Stevenage, but there is no new road. The road is just as we have always known it for the last twenty or thirty years—it has not even been widened. Two vehicles, one in each direction, can get along if they are careful but that is all. There we have established a new town, with a great centre of population. Surely, the Ministry of Transport, the Government or somebody will do something about it. But there is no evidence of this in the statement made in another place a few days ago by the Minister. You then arrive at Baldock, another small town 85 with right-angle turns in both directions, where, too, there is always a terrible block of traffic, controlled to a certain extent by traffic lights, but imposing further delay.
Then you come to Stamford—and many of your Lordships must know the conditions there: they are simply appalling. Through Stamford goes A.1, one of the greatest and most heavily trafficked trunk roads in the country. No improvements have been carried out in Stamford, I should think, for the last fifty or sixty years. The hold-ups that occur there are mainly due to heavy lorries and commercial traffic. The streets are so narrow that they find difficulty in getting round corners and passing each other. Then you arrive at Grantham, with further appalling traffic blocks. You go on to Retford—and I am glad to see that there this problem is probably going to be dealt with. Then you arrive at Doncaster, where, on occasions, the conditions are indescribable. If by any chance Doncaster Rovers are playing at home, or if the St. Leger is being run, heaven help anybody who tries to drive a lorry or any other form of motor vehicle through Doncaster! Can you wonder that accidents take place? Can you wonder at the appalling delays there are to traffic? In the Minister's statement it says that Doncaster Mill Bridge is going to be dealt with. I do not know which bridge is called Doncaster Mill Bridge. I do not know whether the noble Earl who is to reply can tell me whether it is one of the bridges on the main trunk road through Doncaster. Moreover, on the Great North Road there are long stretches where the road is so inadequate that there are notices on the side of the road saying "No passing" or "No overtaking." That sort of thing goes on for miles, and is repeated on many occasions, particularly on the part of the road that runs through Huntingdonshire— with good reason, I agree; but surely that is an appalling state of affairs.
Then there are other main roads. Let me take A.5. There you have a stretch from St. Albans to Markyate. Anybody who knows that stretch of road knows that there is single-line traffic in each direction. How many thousands of lorries pass down that road in the course of a day. I do not know, but the number is between 10,000 and 15,000. If anybody 86 wants to know what A.5 is like, he should take my tip and leave London between three and four in the morning and drive north. He will see a most extraordinary collection of traffic—if anything, heavier than in the daytime—with cars and lorries mixed up. It is worth doing, if only to see what conditions can be like. Then, further along you get to Atherstone.
Or take A.30, the road leading to Southampton, our premier port, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, said. On many occasions in the summer it can take you anything from three-quarters of an hour to an hour and a half to get through Staines, which is not a large town. What are the Ministry of Transport going to do about that? There is no mention in the Minister's statement about Staines or Staines Bridge. You proceed further on. and arrive at Sunningdale. There you have a level crossing, right across the main road. You then come to Camberley, and from then on it is one-line traffic in each direction, with, very often, an extraordinary collection of military traffic. Large convoys of lorries are sent out on to that road carrying "L" plates, with the idea, I suppose, that the drivers should obtain experience in driving in heavy traffic. There are tanks on tank transporters. On more than one occasion, I have followed a tank transporter for ten or fifteen miles on that road, when it has caused a traffic block as much as two or three miles long. I remember, on one occasion, being on the stretch of road where there is the public-house at the top of the hill leading out of Bagshot, where the really narrow part of the road begins. From there you have a downhill stretch leading into Camberley. So far as I could see, the whole road was blocked by a tank transporter; and this block continued for miles.
Then you can go east, on A.12, to Brentwood, Romfard, Ingatestone, and so on. It is commonplace in the summer months to have traffic blocks there two or three miles long. Then take the High Wycombe—Oxford road. I have had a good deal of correspondence with the Chief Constable of Oxford about A.40, and he has given it to me as his opinion that A.40 is a death-trap. But what are the Ministry of Transport going to do about this death-trap? There is no doubt that the traffic will go on increasing. Then 87 you get A.4, which goes through Slough, Maidenhead, and so on, where the conditions arc the same. Then there is A.2, to Rochester and Dover, where similar conditions exist; and A.22, to East Grinstead and Forest Row. So one can go on up and down the country, with appalling conditions everywhere. In Lancashire it is a by-word that the accident rate there is 2.5 per cent. worse than the whole of the average for the rest of the country. According to the Minister's statement, nothing is likely to be done for any section of the roads of Lancashire for at least two to four years. To-day there are at least 66 per cent. more vehicles on the roads than there were in 1948; commercial traffic has more than doubled, and it is carrying far heavier loads; buses and coaches have increased by 50 per cent.—and this increase is going on steadily all the time. But what is much worse is that we are threatened with the advent of the "people's car." Those who are interested in motor vehicles, motor shows and the like, will remember at the last Motor Show the number of new small cars which were exhibited. When the factories really get busy, and those cars begin to come out in large numbers, what then'? I wonder what the Government's idea is? I wonder what they think is going to happen? They must have some idea, but we have not yet been told what it is. I am glad to think that one of the noble Lords who is to reply to this debate, by reason of experience, is one of the most experienced Members of your Lordships' House on the subject of roads, road accidents, and everything connected with roads—I refer to a former member of the Alness Committee, the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead. We who know anything about roads know the value of the Alness Report, and the subsequent Reports which have been issued from time to time have in no way detracted from the extreme importance of the deliberations of the Alness Committee. I am hopeful that the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, will be able to give us some hope with regard to some of these things.
It has already been stated that traffic density on our roads is the greatest in the world. It is roughly three times that of France, and is increasing steadily. Then again, there has been an enormous increase in agricultural traffic, and that 88 increase is still going on. There are also new housing estates, new towns and new factories. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, gave us some particulars about what it means to run a factory. There is another circumstance to which reference has not been made. There are over 3,000 weak bridges on our roads, of which over 1,700 are on trunk roads or Class A roads. What on earth are the Ministry of Transport going to do about that? It means that at the present moment if a heavy load has to go by road—and enormous loads are going by road, be they transformers, ships' propellers or the enormous things called, I think, cracking towers, used for the production of petrol—as a result of the weak bridges, the low bridges, or the general inadequacy of the roads, they have to go 100 to 150 miles round in order to get to their destination which may be only a few miles away. Only a few days ago, one of these heavy loads had to go from Rochester to the other side of the river, and it had to go all round Bromley, then up to Hendon, and then come back again somehow to the London Docks to get there.
The Ministry of Transport have told us nothing about another problem. There are 108 level crossings across trunk roads in this country. There is a proposal on the part of the Ministry of Transport to remove one of them, but 107 will still remain, according to my elementary mathematics. What on earth is the Minister going to do? In the Lancashire area, the level crossings are closed for about twenty minutes in every hour, and the hold-ups in consequence are colossal, but nothing seems to be done. Then again, on our trunk roads, 1,465 miles are restricted roads under the 30 m.p.h. limit. Is that not in itself a commentary on the adequacy or otherwise of our trunk roads? It does not seem to me that the Government realise that the roads are one of our most vital items of capital equipment. They seem to think that their duty to the nation is fulfilled by scattering traffic lights and roundabouts—very often of poor design and inadequate radius—pedestrian crossings, cycle tracks and footpaths all over the country. On the Watford by-pass, the Ministry constructed a roundabout which was so small that a lorry and trailer could not possibly get round without going 89 over the grass. I believe that roundabout has been improved now, but no doubt it was originally put down with the Minister's approval. It shows what can happen. Things like traffic lights, roundabouts, and so on, are merely palliatives and are no answer to the modern conditions of traffic. And it is not what is being done abroad, as everybody knows.
As regards London, we have been told about Kingsway. What about the Kings-way tunnel? It is vacant, and nobody is using it at the present time. Could not some use be found for it? Again, when we consider London, with a little bit of vision and looking ahead, what would be the effect of an under-pass, a tunnel, at Oxford Circus and similar road intersections? Would that not do a considerable amount to relieve traffic congestion at such points. What about a fly-over system at Shepherds Bush, and at the Junction of Hanger Lane and Western Avenue and the Great North Way and the North Circular Road? What about the arcading of streets? Is nothing being done to encourage that, or to encourage the construction of elevated roads? We shall have to come to these things, and meanwhile the present state of congestion goes on. What about treating the Great West Road and the Western Avenue as, for instance, Paris has treated the Autoroute de L'ouest? There is a great motor road where no line of traffic ever crosses another. What about something done on those lines?
Again, go to the lower Thames. the Dartford-Purfleet Tunnel. We are spending £10,000 a year to keep that vacant. Does that not speak for itself? Either blow it up or make it into a tunnel, but do not go on wasting money like that. Italy, Germany, France, the United States and Belgium, have shown the world what motor roads can do, and that method is being followed by Yugoslavia, Austria, Japan, Sweden, Canada and Equador. Perhaps it is better to be defeated in war. Perhaps if we had beer defeated in the last war by now we should have had a fine system of motorways. It seems an extraordinary thing to he told that all these other countries can have these things and we cannot afford them in this country. I suggest that this means that we are trying to increase our production and compete with other countries by using a second, or third-rate road system.
90 In the teeth of the need, how can we possibly go on in this way?
Reference has been made to what the motor world is paying in taxation. As we all know, it is about £1 million per day. It has been estimated that the requirements of a modern motorway—I could. give your Lordships many figures, but I do not wish to inflict them upon you—would mean a considerable amount in tonnage of steel, cement, stone, sand, and bitumen, and also machinery. In this country we have a tremendous amount of machinery which was purchased for the laying down of airfields and paid for with dollars, and which is idle and doing nothing at the present time. Surely, we could make use of that.
I should like to turn now to the question of a road loan and toll roads. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, did not find it possible to support the idea of a road loan or toll roads. It seems to me that, as things are going now, if we are going to wait for the Exchequer to provide us with the roads which this courtry must have, we must have either a loan or toll roads, or perhaps a little of both. The toll roads which have been laid down in America, as has already been said by my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, have been paying an enormous revenue. The Pennsylvania turnpike is paying £5,749 per year, and the New Jersey turnpike, £3,340; and New York has laid out a toll road which is going to bring in an estimated return of £8,899 a year. If we could have a loan for the purpose of the construction of roads, which could be administered by a big board and which would not be subject to a change of Government or perhaps the demands of a needy Chancellor of the Exchequer, road construction and road improvement in this country would be properly financed. It seems to me that if a road could be administered as a toll road it would bring in a certain return to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and would enable the enterprise to be much more of an economic proposition in other ways.
I do not want to take up too much of your Lordships' time but I wanted to put these few arguments before you. I submit that we have a right to a considered long-term policy with regard to roads instead of the rather hand-to-mouth policy pursued at present. If we had a 91 £500 million programme to cover a period of about ten years, road construction could go forward in accordance with the needs of the country as we know them to-day. I am certain that it will be no use for anyone who is replying to this debate to say, in effect, "Well, there it is: nothing can be done." It can be done and it must be done; and if the present Government do not do it there will certainly be a considerable demand at the next Election for something to be done and there will also be some difficult questions to answer. I hope the Government will give careful attention to the points which have been put forward to-day by myself and by other noble Lords who have spoken.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, in his interesting opening speech, confined himself mainly to discussing and suggesting new methods of financing better roads, such as tolls, loans, and so forth. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, also said something about that. All these aspects of our problem will be fully dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. when he comes to wind up this debate, and I propose, with your Lordships' permission. to concern myself in my remarks only with the question of safety on the roads. I thought, if I may say so, that we had a very fine speech from the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York—as indeed we have on many previous occasions. I sincerely hope that in the course of my observations he will find some, at least, of his objections sympathetically, if not fully, answered.
I would emphasise, first of all, that the last thing I want is to be thought to display any complacency in the matter of road accidents. I have sometimes thought certain Members of your Lordships' House felt that those who were called upon to answer these questions were almost completely without interest in the matter. That, of course, is certainly not true. I personally have always admired all the Members of your Lordships' House who form part of a very well organised and efficient body who have for years been selflessly concerning themselves with the horrible carnage on the 92 roads. I had a rather alarming interview with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, yesterday, but he has been so pleasant to me to-day that I shall certainly remove from my brief some observations that I had intended to make. I think it would be rather difficult for me to answer Lord Howe because, starved as I am of modern travel, he took me on a very rapid tour, starting from Scotland, which is perhaps the province of my noble friend Lord Selkirk more than mine, and I really shall not attempt to answer the questions. I will, however, find out the answers later and acquaint the noble Earl with them.
I think that all sensible people nowadays realise that accidents are due to a combination of circumstances. There was a time, well within your Lordships' recollection, when the wicked motorist, almost like a figure in Victorian melodrama, was automatically the "villain of the piece." Nowadays, I think, we realise that speed, as such, in a modern vehicle is not necessarily dangerous. I had understood that at this point the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, was going to raise the question of the alcoholic motorist. Perhaps I may point out that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will answer the point if it is raised.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
Lord Selkirk will deal with the matter. We can derive only very bleak comfort from statistics in this matter and it is because I am particularly anxious to be honest with your Lordships that I propose to quote these rather appalling figures. In 1953, 226,500 people were killed or injured on the roads. Except for 1952, when road casualties fell by about 4 per cent., perhaps largely because of the new policy relating to zebra crossings, casualties have shown a steady increase. In 1953, there were 28 per cent, more than in 1949 and only 3 per cent. less than the worst year on record, which was 1934. December, 1953, moreover, was the worst December for which we have any records. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will not think I am endeavouring to conceal any of these harsh facts; every word which the most reverend Primate said is, I am afraid, true.
On the other hand, it is perhaps permissible to note certain factors which may help to put the question in a slightly 93 more favourable perspective. The population has increased by some 4 million in the last ten years, and the number of motor vehicles licensed is to-day more than twice what it was in 1934. The number of vehicles licensed is, of course, not altogether a reliable guide to the density of the actual traffic on the roads, but a pilot census taken in August, 1953, suggests that actual traffic may have in-creased by nearly 25 per cent. since 1938. Nevertheless, road casualties for every 10,000 mechanically propelled vehicles have fallen from 816 in 1930 to 429 in 1953. Moreover, the rates per 100,000 inhabitants of deaths caused by motor traffic accidents in England and Wales are only about half what they are in the United States and Canada.
I give these figures for what they a re worth: I am not saying there is anything particularly encouraging in them. Bat when we considered these matters when the situation appeared so terrible, in 1938 and 1939, every member of the Alness Committee was agreed as to the apathy with which these ghastly figures were regarded by the public. In a debate on the roads in another place, someone—I cannot remember which Member of Parliament it was, but the question was answered by Mr. Hugh Molson—asked why these appalling figures were so supinely regarded by the British public. He said that if this kind of thing happened on British railways, or in B.O.A.C. or B.E.A., the British public would rise in its wrath. And I believe that is true. Mr. Molson said—and this is the only explanation I have ever heard given—that while the driver of an express tram is a highly qualified and highly trained man, who is responsible for the lives of a thousand people, or however many there may be on the train; and while the commander of au aircraft is similarly trained, when it comes to roads, although the tests are better than they were before, there are none the less millions of people who can take out licences, So that may be the answer. But. the hard fact of the matter remains that we get nearly 250,000 road casualties every year, and the number is tending to increase.
In these circumstances, it seems clear that there are limits to what the Government can do to reduce road accidents, since the cause of accidents, as I think everyone now agrees, depends to a considerable extent upon personal behaviour.
94 This does not mean, of course, that more should not be done by the Government—indeed, I can assure your Lordships that they intend to do a great deal more. But a very great effort is required on the part of the Government to reduce accidents, while a very small general improvement in behaviour would result in a great reduction in road accidents. I shall try to tell your Lordships, as briefly as I can, the measures we have in mind for combating this horrible disease. Human nature being what it is—and this is my own opinion, rather than that of anyone else—I say that segregation of traffic, with foolproof roads. cycle tracks, pedestrian paths, fly-over bridges, modern non-skid surfaces and all the rest of it, must remain the most desirable of all panaceas, alas! a hideously expensive one, for this ill. I do not think I. am far off the mark in saying that a modern dual carriageway road, with all these extra things to which I have referred, costs something like £200,000 sterling per mile, which gives one some indication of what problems the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to cope with when he is confronted with wild demands for a wholesale extension of the roads.
I shall also hope to convince your Lordships that we are strongly interested, apart from these radical things, in collateral measures. Youth, with its marvellous aptitudes, offers great opportunities for the formation in childhood of strong habits of self-preservation. I am sure that the most reverent Primate will agree with me there. Of course, we should concentrate on the young One of your Lordships said, I think (I may be wrong), that the young are very dangerous at the wheel and that the young consider the old become progressively more incompetent. It is not for me to say which is right. But, so far as road safety education goes, I must give your Lordships the facts. Since 1946, a continuous road safety education campaign has been carried on, the main cost of which has been borne by the Ministry of Transport, through the Road Fund—although some of your Lordships may well doubt that there is much left out of it. Since the initiation of this campaign, practically £3 million has been paid. by way of grants to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and to local road safety committees, of which there are about a 95 thousand, spread all over Great Britain. These committees obtain a 50 per cent. grant towards approved activities. The direct use by the Ministry of Press advertisement and posters has been discontinued and, so far as the Central Government are concerned, the present method is to create news through ministerial speeches, statements of policy, and so on, which are recorded in the news columns of the newspapers and on the wireless. The Government intend to continue this policy of road safety education, which has been one of the main weapons against road accidents in the last ten years.
I should like now to say a few words on road improvements. It has not been possible in the last few years—I frankly admit it—to spend as much money as we should have wished on roads; but, nevertheless, from such resources as have been available a good deal has been spent on trying to improve places where accidents occur too frequently, places that are known as "black spots" For example, in 1952–53 and in 1953–54, when, I must remind your Lordships, extremely little money was available for road improvements, the Exchequer contributed some £2,250,000 towards a total expenditure of some £3 million for improving black spots, and from the increasing allocation for roads in the new road programme beginning in the next financial year the removal of those black spots will be given high priority. With regard to legislation and enforcement, I should like to say something about the police. On the enforcement side of road safety, a number of extremely important points arise. The Minister is in close touch with the Home Secretary to sec what can be done to increase the number of mobile police to enforce the road traffic law. There can be no doubt whatever, as the result of observation, that the presence of uniformed policemen on the roads, whether in the form of mobile patrols or otherwise, makes a considerable contribution to road safety. Discussions are now going on with the local authorities' associations, and with chief officers of police, to see whether a satisfactory scheme can be evolved which, notwithstanding the present difficulties of police manpower, which have always to be borne in mind, 96 will result in more police vehicles being put on the roads for the work of enforcing these traffic laws.
Now I should like to say a few words about the new Road Traffic Bill, which it is intended to introduce as soon as possible—though it may not be possible, I should warn your Lordships, before the 1954–55 Session. The Bill will amend the Road Traffic Acts and contain a number of provisions designed to promote road safety. It is obviously impossible for me or my noble friend, Lord Selkirk, at this stage of the proceedings, to reveal the contents of the Bill in any detail, but it may be useful to quote the words of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport in another place recently when he said, in answer to a question:.My right honourable friend knows the amount of consultation necessary to make this a generally acceptable proposal. It is bound to be controversial. It will not, I hope, be controversial along limited Party political lines, but it is bound to be controversial and I personally prefer to try to get the difficulties out of the way as far as possible before I present the Bill to the House.I think I cannot go any further than that. May I say a few words now about a matter which I regard as of extreme importance; that is, vehicle lighting regulations. I am afraid that this matter has taken a long time, but the problem is not yet completely solved. A Bill was passed last Session which will increase the requirements for rear lights and reflectors on vehicles. This was in another place a Private Member's Bill introduced by Colonel Harrison, but the Government gave strong support to the Bill when it was being prepared. When the provisions come fully into force, the improvement in rear lights on vehicles will undoubtedly mean a reduction in the number of particularly nasty accidents caused by vehicles running into one another at night.
My Lords, I have only one more thing to say, on the subject of a Royal Commission. I would ask your Lordships on all sides of the House to agree with me about this. From time to time suggestions are made that, in view of the increasing seriousness of road accidents, a Royal Commission should be held to investigate them. This suggestion is strongly pressed by, for example, the powerful Pedestrians' Association, whose President is a very distinguished jurist, Dr. Goodhart, the Master of University 97 College, Oxford. The reply might be—it is the reply that I would make —that what is required at present is action rather than a Commission or further Committees, of which we have had plenty. In fact, all your Lordships are asking for action to-day, and I entirely agree. Let us have it as quickly as possible. May I take your Lordships over the number of Committees which have already threshed out this problem? There was the Select Committee of the House of Lords under Lord Alness, which went into the whole question of road accidents and reported in 1939. I do not think that particular Report has ever been superseded. At the end of the war the predecessor of the present Departmental Committee on Road Safety reviewed the Alness Report and issued two further Reports, an Interim one in 1944 and the Final one in 1947. These Reports endorsed a large number of the recommendations of the Alness Committee, and it may be expected that those recommendations of the Departmental Committee which the Government have decided to accept, and which require legislation, will undoubtedly form part of the forthcoming Road Traffic Bill.
There is also now in being a standing National Committee of Road Safety under the chairmanship of one of the Joint. Parliamentary Secretaries of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, Mr. Hugh Molson, to whom I referred a few moments ago. It is widely representative of local authorities, the police, road user organisations, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and Government Departments—in fact, almost all the bodies concerned with road accidents. This Committee has produced a number of reports, including reports on the Highway Code and accidents to motor cyclists, and is about to issue a report on massed-start cycle racing, which I understand is thought to be dangerous. This body is always available to deal with questions, either on its own initiative or on instructions from the Minister. My Lords, I would say that if the Government wished to delay all important action on road safety for at least two years, they could hardly do better than agree to the appointment of a Royal Commission; but they do not want to do that In regard to the High- 98 way Code,, I should say that a new version of the Highway Code, approved by the Departmental Committee on Road Safety, is now nearly complete and will be ready to be submitted for statutory approval of both Houses of Parliament before long. I am afraid that this matter has taken a long time, for which apologies are made, but the Committee's comments have tad to be considered and extensive redrafting of the Code has had to be carried out.
I most humbly apologise to your Lordships for detaining you so long. I have tried 10 be as quick as. I can, but I have only scratched at the surface of the subject. I have, as I said, attempted to confine myself to the physical aspects of the prevention of road accidents. My noble friend, Lord Selkirk, who will wind up this debate, will deal with all the questions relating to the financing of road construction—such little afterthoughts as Sir Gurney Braithwaite's loan and other matters of that kind, and also, of course, the question of tolls, in which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, is interested. I am convinced that your Lordships will realise that Her Majesty's Government are not trying to avoid this most horrible problem. I can assure your Lordships personally that we regard this most sincerely as a monstrous social evil which we are longing to eradicate.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, to-day I break six years of silence—in your Lordships' House. I felt that I should add those words in case it he thought that the area of my silence has; been more extensive than in fact it has been. Nevertheless. I now enjoy a greater measure of freedom, which I hope I shall exercise with no less responsibility. I am greatly pleased that my initial re-entry into the "agitations" of your Lordships' House (to quote the words of one of the ancient Standing Orders) should be in connection with a subject with which I have been associated especially in London, first in the government of London, and secondly in the administration of most of its passenger transport. I think that, notwithstanding the many debates which have taken place on this subject, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, has served a useful purpose in once again drawing to the attention of this House, and through this House to the attention of the 99 people at large, the gathering gravity of this problem of the inadequacy and inefficiency of our road system. Most of us know that this is leading to a growing congestion which is slowing down the movement of traffic on our roads and streets to something near immobility.
I shall say nothing with regard to the important and human element of the accidents which arise from our outmoded road system. The most reverend Primate has made a powerful contribution in regard to that deplorable aspect of the matter. I would only say that it is a little unflattering, but a very grim fact, that the Queen's highways are no longer safe for the Queen's subjects. I wish to deal with the matter from the point of view of the economic waste which arises from the present inadequate system of highways—a national waste which is an avoidable waste and a waste which we cannot afford. The waste of manpower and of materials, a fair proportion of which is imported, is growing every day with the continuing growth of congestion on our roads. The total cost to the nation must be something terrifying to contemplate. As some indication, as a sort of means of measurement, the London County Council estimate that for the central area of London, congestion costs something in the region of £7 million a year; and as regards the county as a whole, the cost has been variously estimated at up to £70 million per annum. However approximate those figures are, and, indeed, must be, however much they may be written down, they are some indication of the enormity of the national cost arising from our inefficient and outmoded road system.
Reference has been made this afternoon by my noble friend, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to the statement frequently made, no doubt with justification, that we are pricing ourselves out of the world's markets. What we are doing is to transport ourselves out of the world's markets. We are seeking everywhere, and properly so, increased production on the one hand, and we are wasting it on the other. We ask for more efficiency in our factories, and we see our roads daily becoming less and less efficient. As Lord Lucas of Chilworth has indicated, roads must now, from an economic point of view, be regarded as a projection, as it were, of the production lines of the factories, and of the ways of distribution.
100 The problem of traffic congestion is no new one. It has been with us for thirty years or more, and for thirty years we have refused resolutely to deal with it. We have been able, happily, to stave off the approach of something nearing stagnation on our roads and streets by the adoption of quite a number of diverse but useful devices and expedients, such as traffic lights, roundabouts, one-way working, unilateral parking, and no-waiting. These have been admirable reliefs, but the tragedy of it is that the benefit of those reliefs has been overtaken by the growth of traffic. And those reliefs cannot be repeated. Their contribution to the reduction of congestion is exhausted. We can no longer look to them as alternatives and substitutes for a thorough scheme of road improvement and road reconstruction. The position was bad enough, in all conscience, before the war, but, as has been indicated this afternoon, it is infinitely worse now. There has been a 40 per cent. increase in the number of vehicles on the roads since before the war. In London alone, the number of vehicles licensed has gone up by 27 per cent. What a pity, and what a commentary upon our lack of wisdom in deferring so many needed road improvements between the wars, when there was no shortage of materials, when there was no shortage of labour, when there were hundreds of thousands of the citizens of this country unemployed! It is the case that the deferment of necessary projects is seldom economical; it is more often the reverse. We must now face the situation that these improvements will cost us something like three times as much as they would have done had they been carried out between the wars. Now we can no longer defer, because this problem is gnawing at the very vitals of our nation.
I should like now to turn to the position in London with which I am more directly acquainted. I am not speaking only as a "former boss of London" to use the infelicitous terms employed by the Minister in another place recently. I am seeking no undue priority for London. I am giving certain facts as regards London as a quantitative example of what the general problem is. But let us not forget this—London is the capital of the Commonwealth. It is the largest unitary production and distribution area 101 in this country. It is the largest port in this country, and one of the largest ports in the world. There are 28,000 separate factories in the County of London alone. So London cannot be overlooked. The conditions which prevail in London are more or less typical of those to be found in most big cities and most built-up towns. The degree of acuteness may be different, but we are all sufferers from this failure to provide and maintain an up-to-date road system. According to the Police Census of 1952, the traffic of Greater London had increased by 6 per cent. over that in 1939. But in the central area of London, namely, the City and the West End— and this is where we find the real congestion—the number of vehicles entering and leaving had increased between those two dates by no less than 13 per cent.
It may interest your Lordships to have a break-down of that 13 per cent. because it does materially affect the scale of the problem. Commercial vehicles increased by 35 per cent., taxi-cabs by 8 per cent., other vehicles, namely, motor-cycles and auto-cycles, by 9 per cent., and private cars by 10 per cent. In that connection, I should mention that the number of private cars registered in London increased between 1952, when this census was taken, and September of last year by no less than 10 per cent. Off-set against those figures of increases, there was a decrease in public vehicles entering and leaving the central area of 9 per cent. Those public vehicles were mainly buses.
I should like to say a word or two about buses. There is much misconception and misunderstanding as to the impact of buses on congestion in the inner areas of London. It is generally assumed that buses are mainly responsible for this congestion. That is not the case. The number of buses operating in the inner areas of London has decreased, while, at the same time, congestion has become worse. It follows that as decentralisation of population takes place, whether as the result of the building of new towns or of the building of large new housing estates, the volume of bus services necessary in the centre of London diminishes and the volume necessary outside, in the outer suburbs, increases. And that has been the case. Between 1939 and 1952 the number of buses in the central area of London went down by 12 per cent. the inner suburbs it went down by 1.5 102 per cent. But in the outer suburbs it went up by 19 per cent. Now it is the case that, measured per passenger, the bus is much more economical of road space than the private car. On the basis of the present-day average of twenty passengers per bus compared with the average of 1¾ passengers per private car (which is based upon very long observation), the bus occupies less than one-quarter of the road space per passenger that the private car does.
It has been suggested that that very substantial advantage is materially offset by the difference in speed. Well, as regards the outer suburbs there may be some materiality in that paint. But there is very little, if, indeed, any, in it in the congested central areas, because there the private car cannot, physically, go much. faster, if, indeed, any faster at all, than the bus. But even if it were possible to reduce substantially the number of buses operating in the central area, there are no grounds for assuming that the fluidity of traffic would he much improved. That is the view which we had generally formed in London Transport, and it has the advantage of some support from a test which was made in 1950. Your Lordships may recall that in September of that year there was a partial bus strike in London, and the Road Research Laboratory were good enough to take some tests in certain streets in the City and. West End. Those tests showed that although the number of buses had been reduced by something like 60 per cent. from normal, other vehicles quickly took their place, and the overall speed of traffic remained about the same.
May I say a word or two with regard to costs? I have already referred to the L.C.C. figures, but as is now generally known, London Transport estimate that if the speed of the Central London buses could be increased by one mile an hour, they would save something like £2 million a year. And there are other savings which could be effected by a freer movement of traffic. Congestion leads to many unnecesary stops and. starts. London Transport estimate—and the estimate has been carefully made—that every time a bus decelerates from 20 m.p.h. to stop, and accelerates from stop to 20 m.p.h., it costs over one farthing for fuel alone. There are 8.000 oil buses plying in Greater London. and if we contemplate 103 the myriads of stops and starts, a large number of them unnecessary, we get some indication of the cost; and that figure does not include the not inconsiderable unnecessary wear upon tyres, in particular, and on the wearing parts of vehicles in general. That loss or cost (whichever word one is pleased to use) is borne not only by buses, but by all vehicular traffic which uses the roads in congested areas. because it, too, has to stop and start unnecessarily.
Probably the most fruitful field for reducing the cost of passenger transport would be in the field of economies to be effected by road improvements. That is the case not only as regards London: I believe it to be the case as regards the whole country. But in London, the position since the war is most disturbing. Leaving aside the exceptional improvement which was occasioned by the Festival of Britain, normal street improvement in London has practically ceased. Apart from special projects, to one of which I have referred, since the war the average road grant for normal street improvements received by the L.C.C., which is the major improvement authority of London, has been no more than £13,000 per annum: and I believe that now it is even less than that paltry sum. In another place, the Minister said that the highway system of this country had been largely starved of development over the past fourteen years. So far as London, the Capital city of the Commonwealth, is concerned, the figure I have given indicates that it is starvation with refinement.
What is to be done? I think that every fair-minded person is driven to the feeling, I hope without political or Party bias. that the programme which has been submitted by the Government is utterly inadequate to meet the present needs of the situation. Unless something drastic is done. and done very soon, we may reach the state of traffic immobility and near-chaos which is to be found in many American cities. We may be compelled to ask the question which is frequently heard in those cities. "Shall we walk or have we time to take a taxi?" That may well be the position in London at a not too distant time, especially when we bear in mind that the L.C.C. estimate that there is likely to be a 50 per cent. increase in traffic in the county over the next twenty years
104 The noble Earl, Lord Howe. has referred to the coming of the "people's car," and to the effect that that will have on the road user and road inadequacy. In their Development Plan the L.C.C. had a twenty-year improvement programme, estimated to cost £90 million. This programme was not regarded as completely adequate to meet existing and contemplated needs, but it was felt that it would be a balanced contribution. Here, if I may, I should like to interpose a few remarks to put the figure of £90 million in proper perspective. It is the case with improvement in built-up, in-town areas that nearly 75 per cent. of the total expenditure on the improvement is in respect of the acquisition of property. Therefore it must not be assumed that a figure of £90 million for the total cost reflects an equivalent draft on materials and labour. In fact, the draft on materials and labour in respect of in-town street improvements is estimated to be from 20 to 25 per cent. That is an important aspect of in-town figures which should be borne in mind.
Contrast this plan for the County of London alone, with the programme for the whole country which the Government have authorised—not to be spent—of £50 million over the next three years. It is noteworthy that the list of projects in the Government's programme does not include a single one of the schemes scheduled by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee as being first priorities in the inner area of London. There is no word about the Hyde Park—Park Lane—Marble Arch scheme. yet 67,000 vehicles a day pass Hyde Park Corner, and 45,000 pass Marble Arch. The London Home Traffic Advisory Committee put that improvement at the top of the list of their first priorities; but there is not a word in regard to that in the Government's proposals.
Then we come to St. Giles's Circus. The London County Council regard this scheme as having priority even over Hyde Park. At St. Giles's Circus 27,000 vehicles pass each day. But there again there is no mention of it in the Government's proposals. I should like to refer to a third illustration—namely, the Notting Hill Gate widening. This bottleneck has been a trouble for the last forty years. Property was acquired thirty-five years 105 ago in respect of part of the scheme. I believe that it was the first "as and when scheme": the property was acquired as and when there was a change of ownership, or when a lease fell in. Seventy-five per cent. of the property has been acquired. Preliminary work was started by London Transport to amalgamate their two stations. Apart from the great value to traffic that this improvement scheme would create, if it were effected now it would save abortive expenditure by London Transport on the renewal of obsolete lifts at one of the stations. This is more waste.
The Middlesex County Council have major schemes which were formulated and planned before the war. They, too, have acquired a good deal of the necessary land. The total cost of these schemes is about £1,750,000. They are held up. But what is much more difficult to approve is that the ban on capital expenditure may well lead the Middlesex County. Council to spend money on reconstruction works on roads which they know will have to be re-positioned later. That is waste indeed. And, would you believe it, my Lords, the sum involved, for which approval cannot be secured, is no more than £500,000 ! I give those examples as illustrating the position which exists in Greater London generally, because they are typical in some respects of the position in the country as a whole.
In my view, what is wanted is not an excessively modest list of a few projects to be approved over three years. This is a long-term problem: it has been left so long that it has become so extended that one can hardly see the end of it; and the longer it is left the more extended it will become. This is not a problem for a short-term programme, or for short-term consideration. What is needed is not one programme but a series of comprehensive programmes, properly phased, for execution over the next twenty or, it may be, thirty years. I should like to emphasise the importance of the proper balance and phasing of such programmes and projects. We must avoid the experience of America, where, although millions of dollars have been spent on building parkways, speedways, throughways and all sorts of ways, very little money—in some cities hardly any at all—has been spent on removing the physical congestion in the centre of the cities. The result is that every morning thousands of cars 106 using these speedways, no doubt with joy, are delivered into the central areas of the city where they reach a state of almost complete immobility: you feel yourself fortunate if you calculate that you are moving at anything above one mile an hour. I remember that when I was in Chicago in 1948 I saw one great car park in which there were over 5,000 cars. Most of those cars would seek to get out of Chicago through the celebrated congested area called The Loop. They did get out, but their owners could have walked out much more quickly.
We must remember that better facilities beget new traffic. If we do improve the main roads, or build new ones, this improvement must be timed to coincide with improvements in the built-up inner areas, otherwise the benefits will be nullified and the problem in the inner areas of the cities and towns will be exacerbated. I know the attraction to county surveyors—of whom I would utter no word of criticism; they do a grand job of work for their respective counties, both on roads and elsewhere—of the relative speed with which they can carry through road improvements. They are not obstructed; they are not delayed by all the multiple complications of acquiring property, demolishing it, and so on. The county surveyor can put a road in green fields and say, "There, I have done it." It is an admirable thing to have done, but the value of that road is much reduced unless at the same time the streets in the cities and towns through which the additional traffic will go have been improved. When I asked in America why out-city improvements were lavishly supported, and in-city improvement; were not, I was told that it was due, perhaps (it was not said affirmatively), to the influence of the Cement Lobby at Washington, in association with the Automotive Lobby in Washington. I give that explanation for information.
I would also point out that in any scheme or programme of road improvements we must have regard to the use to which the roads are to be put. Somehow, by provision or otherwise, we must keep the roads free for the passage of traffic, and not for the parking of vehicles. On the assumpition, which all experience proves to be correct, that better facilities beget new traffic, we must be careful, even with our in-town improvements, to see 107 that, concurrently with, and in some cases perhaps in advance of, the street improvements, something is done to provide for off-street parking; otherwise the increase in the number of vehicles will completely nullify the value of the road improvement upon which money has been spent.
I should like to say, in conclusion, that I do not share the view of my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth (I am sorry he is not here) with regard to a loan. I believe that the proposal to finance comprehensive long-term programmes of road improvement by way of loan has much to commend it. After all, the local authorities provide their contribution, which can be up to 25 per cent.—or, indeed, more—by way of loan, and they service the loan on their budgets each year. One of the great advantages of a loan would be that it would take the consideration of the expenditure out of the frustrations, the limitations, complexities and competitions of budgetary finance, and all that would have to be borne would be the service of the debt. It may well be, of course, that there would be calls upon material and labour which would have to be met at the expense of other sectors of the economy. I admit that. The test is whether that withdrawal would be less harmful to the economy of the nation than the inefficiency and inadequacy of our roads—and that can be established. It is a case of which is the better investment. My submission, with respect, is that the better investment would be money spent, carefully and wisely but energetically, and I hope reasonably speedily, on improving the system of roads which, by common consent, is now so inadequate as to be one of the most inefficient elements in the economy of the nation.
§ 5.41 p.m.
LORD STRATHEDEN AND CAMPBELL
My Lords, I wish for a few moments to descend the scale of roads, from the great trunk roads which your Lordships have been discussing up to now to the more lowly but none the less important links in the road system. The two aspects which I should like to bring out certainly apply to Scotland, and I am not sure how far they apply to the rest of the Kingdom. Starting from the bottom is the unclassified road, which 108 is none the less important because it carries the food on its first stage from the field to the table. These roads were constructed for practically no traffic at all, or for very light traffic indeed, and now they have to carry the heaviest lorries taking produce from the farms and bringing fertilisers and other heavy substances back. The roads are maintained entirely from the rates. They are, of course, all in the landward areas and, therefore, areas of very low rateable value. The result of this is that they can receive only patching, and they are breaking up comparatively quickly. These roads were classified in 1946, and I would suggest that the time has possibly come for a reclassification and possibly up-grading of these roads.
Another, and even more important subject, is the problem of planning. I realise the difficulties of forecasting what money will be available, but it is extremely difficult for the county engineer to plan economically, either as regards his staff or the material and plant which he will require, when he has such short notice as to what he will be allowed to spend. That is especially the case in improvements which, I am glad to say, have at last been allowed, for the first time, in the district which I know. For the first time since the war an improvement to a road, as distinct from mere maintenance, has been sanctioned. That was sanctioned only five days ago, and the work was to be done in the current year. That may make for great waste. It is possible that the section of road to be not only reconstructed but re-aligned may have been resurfaced only a year or two ago, and the whole of that money will be wasted owing to the re-alignment. If it is possible for some forecast of improvements to be made, I would suggest that the period should be, if possible, five and certainly two or three years. I do not go quite so far as the noble Lord opposite, who suggested twenty years. On the scale upon which he is talking that would be desirable, but in the somewhat lowlier scale with which I am dealing, a programme forecast for even five years would be a tremendous advantage, both to good planning and to economy in the maintaining of our road system. If Her Majesty's Government can give consideration to those two small points, it would be of great help in the country districts.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Calverley for allowing me to rise now in his place. Unfortunately, I have to leave the House shortly, and I wanted to say a few words on this subject. I hope the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will not think my leaving is discourteous. I have listened with considerable attention to many of the speeches that have been made, and I realise that in a debate of this kind one sees exactly the same "road faces" that one always sees in a debate on the roads. I have listened to other debates where one sees faces of different kinds—the "agricultural faces" and, on other occasions, the "housing faces" All these various types of claimants are making claims upon the use of the land of this country, and their claims are not always consistent with one another. I feel that, while every speaker to-clay has made out an excellent case for a large number of additional roads, a little warning as to where we are going is necessary. The extreme case was put by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, who asked that over a period of years we should spend £800 million on roads. My noble friend Lord Latham wisely made a number of conditions as to how the money should be spent and what kind of safeguards we ought to introduce.
But nobody who has spoken so far has had any regard to what would be the effect of this large-scale expenditure on certain sections of the economy of this country. I want to mention one in particular, and that is agriculture. Your: Lordships know that every time anybody wants to seize an acre of land for almost any purpose, the agriculturists put up a screen. I have calculated what: would be the effect on agriculture of spending £800 million on roads, and the best calculation I can make is that it would involve us in a loss of about one million acres of land. That is a substantial proportion of the total agricultural land of this country. I will not vouch for the accuracy of my figures, because we have not the schemes in front of us and we cannot say. Speaking broadly, however, I base myself on the loss of land that is involved in road schemes generally, and I do not think that I am far out. But that is not taking into account another factor: the loss to agriculture resulting from severance, 110 which would undoubtedly ensue in many cases. We are an increasing population on this island, and that increasing population has got to be housed, which means an increasing demand for land for housing. As your Lordships know, we are about to embark upon slum clearance and improvement schemes, all of which involve a greater use of land. We need land for defence purpose and for almost all other purposes which come to your Lordships' notice from time to time.
I would say to those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate that it is impossible for all these claimants to land to be fully satisfied. We must have regard to the conflicting claims. There was a time, when the Ministry of Town and Country Planning was really functioning, when it was the duty of the Minister to have regard to these conflicting claims for the use of land and to resolve them in the public interest to the best of his ability. I do not say that that is riot the position to-day; but it is a little unfortunate that the functions of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning have become so submerged that even the title has gone, and the Minister's duties have become merged into the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I imagine he still has these duties conferred upon him by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning Act, 1943. That being the case, white I believe we have got to consider an extension of our road system—and it is a very proper claim to be made—I am convinced that we cannot meet it in what I think is the extreme form in which the claim has been made by some who spoke in this debate to-day. They seemed to me to speak as if the claims on our land for roads was the only claim that should be considered at all, regardless of any others. I do not wish to take part in a general discussion, but I felt it my duty just to make this general caveat, because it is quite obvious (though I do not know what the noble Earl is going to say) that these claims cannot possibly be met in the extreme form in which some noble Lords have suggested by the manner in which they put their cases.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
My Lords, with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, and his appeal to us to keep off the subject of safety, I was 111 very pleased to hear the most reverend Primate when he reinforced the point that so many of us feel: that if we have to debate the subjects of roads at all, those of us who are interested in road safety must bring that subject up here, and, indeed, in any other assembly where we can rouse public interest in the matter. The most reverend Primate quoted a report from a body in the West Riding. I have the honour to be "utility" President of the sixty-nine public authorities in federation in the West Riding, covering a great population; and I should like to draw your Lordships' notice to something which the chairman of our general purposes committee said in a report. He said that Mr. George Scott, Chief Constable of Sheffield, had stated:The most outstanding fault is excessive speed, and many experienced drivers have told me they are appalled by the high speed of overtaking vehicles on dark roads.When the A.1 road was mentioned I was much interested, because nearly 100 miles of that road go through the West Riding into the North Riding. I have a certain amount of sympathy with Lord Brabazon of Tara in his remark that we must have, and the sooner the better, a long-term policy. I have been reading day by day reports of what is happening, especially at night, on the Great North Road in Yorkshire; and, frankly, I am surprised that we do not have more accidents through the amount of cutting out, not only on dark nights but in daylight as well. Cutting out is becoming increasingly one of the more deadly sins. It is not confined simply to the north of England. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to quote from the Chief Constable of Warwickshire—a county area. This is what he says:It is as if, when decent men and women take possession of a car, they themselves become possessed of a devil. He who drives at 40 miles per hour in a built-up area, or who ignores a traffic sign, shows an utter disregard of his fellows. …" and so on.
But I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that most of these accidents occur in built-up areas. When I listened to the last debate, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, he admitted that he had broken the eleventh commandment by driving over 30 miles an hour in a built-up area. I was rather sorry he had not been found out. He went 112 on to accuse your Lordships of having committed the same mistake. I do not know whether that is so or not, but the point is that if I do wrong it does not follow that I have to try to get other people to do so. For a minute or two I should like to speak on built-up areas. I will take the budget of one county borough, with 300,000 inhabitants. These are the figures for the coming financial year, which starts on April 1. As a short-term policy, my own city of Bradford is going to spend £127,000 in re-carpeting pedestrian crossings, and on traffic lights, and so on. They did not wait forty-four years, as one noble Lord suggested they might. We are to spend £127,000—and the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, and his Department are going to give us the magnificent sum of £6,700, crumbs from the Treasury table, proving that the Ministry of Transport is practically the Cinderella of the services so far as this country is concerned. Our rates are 25s. in the pound, so even if a penny rate brought in £8,000, if we have to spend £127,000 it will mean an increase of about ls. 5d. in the pound on the rates. And Her Majesty's Government come along with £6,700! I have a word for it, but I do not wish to distress your Lordships' feelings. I will say it is "microscopical." That is all I want to say about it.
For a long-term policy—that is, in the next two or three years—Bradford are going to spend £141,600, again in trying to remedy what are called the "black spots." The noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead—or is it the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk?: if it is, I am sorry he has to come forward in this spirit—offers us £26,000; altogether £32,000 or £33.000 towards trying to reduce the casualty rate from 220,000 to about 180,000, as we hope to do. The appropriate committee in my day was the watch committee, because the police had the matter under control then. I wish that we could get back under the Home Office and not be put off with this most obstinate new Ministry which has not celebrated its silver jubilee. All they can say is "No, no" with the obstinacy of a Russian statesman.
In some of our county boroughs, and in the county areas as well, there is an increasing sense of frustration. Sheffield has made representations to the Minister 113 with regard to the defining of built-up areas. Leeds has followed suit and has been refused. Bradford has been refused. The West Riding County Council refused—and this was 'brought to the notice of the Minister—in regard to the road which comes from Manchester over the Pennines towards the West Riding. It is decontrolled when it approaches a place called The Triangle, which is a suburb of Sowerby Bridge. Your Lordships may say that this is a trivial matter, but this road is decontrolled. It comes into the township and is controlled for about 800 or 900 yards, then it is decontrolled, and then controlled again. A stranger may break the law unwittingly, without wanting to do so, because he does not know where he is.
These seventy public authorities are expected to go on with their great work. We need the co-operation of the West Riding police and the police of every other county borough and area. I have been specially asked to come from Yorkshire, where there is nearly a foot of snow today, to put this point before your Lordships' House. There is a sense of frustration. I will not hide behind and blame a bureaucrat who cannot reply to me in this House and say, "It is not my fault; it is the Minister's," so I will leave it at that. That is what is happening. The principal officer of the West 'Riding County Council told me three days ago: "They are simply tinkering with this problem of trying to make black spots a little whiter." I was rather amused When the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was making his speech, to remember that when he was in office I made him a present of 116 beautifully mounted photographs of black spots. He had never seen them before. I hope he went through them. I got them back. I was speaking to the surveyor of the West Riding County Council the other day, and I said: "How many black spots have you got? Have you reduced that 116?" He said: "Very little." Again, the grant to such an important body as the West Riding County Council is really "microscopical"; in fact, it is worse.
I want to emphasise that we public bodies are trying to knock down a brick wall and we do not get much "forrader." I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, when he was speaking, 114 rather suggested that the money they give to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents was to be cut down. If they do that, they will make a mistake. Certainly it would not do any harm if we had the "Black widow" on the hoardings again. For the comfort of my noble friend, Lord Mathers, I may tell him that I believe that there is to he a poster called "One for the road." I am told it is rather a good one, and I am hoping so. If the Ministry get on with it, I will give them credit, instead of criticising them even more.
Another point I want to emphasise is that of traffic lights. Before the war a set of traffic lights cost about £697. To-day, according to figures which have been supplied to me only to-day, the figure is nearer £2,000. Therefore, I am hoping that the noble Earl, if he can get the ear of the Minister of Transport—I was hoping he would be sitting opposite listening to me, but he is not—will consider trying what I think is happening in Berlin, where they have not as much money as we have. They have a signal which they can draw across the road. It comes from the stanchions on which are the lamps which illuminate the place. It gives a rotating green signal for about twenty seconds, then a rotating red for twenty seconds, and that slows down the traffic at semi-important places. I can speak most feelingly of such places near where I live, and I draw that method to the notice of the Minister.
The most reverend Primate referred to penalties. If we turn to the 1930 Act, Section 6, we find mentioned the suspension of a licence for a month. That is the extent of the law passed in 1930. It does not say that you shall impose suspension of a licence for a month, but that you may do so after a second offence for the misdemeanour of driving without due care and attention, or, more serious still, to the danger of the public. I draw the attention of the appropriate authority—I think the Lord Chancellor's Department—to the fact that too many benches of magistrates are perhaps not aware of Section 6 of the 1930 Act, whereby they can suspend a licence. To deprive a wealthy person of his car for a month is sometimes better than fining him. I thought the most reverend Primate, in a speech he made on a previous occasion—to-day he has repented—was most unfair 115 when he suggested the confiscation of the car. He has withdrawn that suggestion to-day, but on that occasion I was rather horrified. However, I think we ought to implement this power of suspension after the first or second offence. The most reverend Primate drew attention to one case where a person had been let off most lightly. Under Section 29 of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1949, the case could have been referred to quarter sessions or even to the Assizes, where the presiding judge could have increased the penalty.
My Lords, those of us who are putting in some hard work on road safety would like a long-term policy. I was delighted when, in another place, the honourable gentleman, Sir Gurney Braithwaite, speaking, as it were, no longer as a gamekeeper but rather as a poacher, suggested raising a loan of £500 million in the City. I believe he could. But what is essential is that we should not have a mean, microscopic £2 million or £3 million a year to spend on a long-term policy; it must be nearer £30 million or £40 million. I do not want to be too grandiose, but I believe that we have to spend something of that sort, because what is happening at present is that we are tinkering with the problem. We must keep together the noble army of policemen, teachers and children who are concerned in this problem. The accident rate is bad at ages from one to five; it drops at ages from five to twelve. A child of five taught me my road drill. It is amazing how careful these children are. Nowadays, it is a case of writing off the parents as bad debts, because we are deteriorating into a generation of jay walkers. I do not think I need go through the seven stages of man, because other noble Lords want to speak; but I express my greatest disappointment at the Government for their coming forward this afternoon with these mean offerings to already overburdened public authorities such as the county boroughs and the great county councils of this country.
§ 6.15 p.m.
My Lords, I do not think anyone will expect me to go into the question of the inadequacy of our roads: that has been proved up to the hilt. Nor do I think I shall be expected to go into the question of what 116 should be done about it; that aspect also, I think, has been fully covered. But the question of how it is to be done needs a little sorting out. At the present moment we have a Minister of Transport who is as keen as anybody else to settle this road question, but, like everybody else for many years past, he has come up against the problem of promise and performance. Yesterday, Mr. Hugh Molson made an interesting statement at a luncheon in London, which I think puts the whole situation rather neatly. He said this:There has been criticism of the scale of our proposed road programme. This is partly due to misunderstanding of the difference between commitments and payments. Large-scale road-works may take a year or more to plan, and several years to carry out. The final instalment of payment will not be made until some time after the work has been completed. Commitment is the Ministry of Transport's promise to make its full contribution to a scheme, and the sum committed will therefore be spent over a number of years, and the first payment will not usually be made at once.Moreover, although the amount is committed, the rate of expenditure is not under the control of the Minister but is under the control of the Treasury. That at once brings us to the question, should we not find a better method so far as the construction of new road-works is concerned? Must it be limited to what the Treasury can find?
To give an idea of the position at the moment, although £50 million is to be committed in the years 1954, 1955 and 1956, the actual expenditure, apart from the commitment, is, in 1954–55 £1,750,000, in 1955, £4,500,000, and in 1956–57, £9,500,000—that is a total of £15,750,000, out of £50 million committed. Therefore, it is obvious that we have got to get away from this old system into something which will enable us to commit our money at a really fast rate, otherwise we shall merely crawl along, and nothing will be done for years and years. So let, us get away from the fact that £293 million a year is contributed by the vehicle-owning population of this country. Let us forget that. If we are over-taxed, let us fight for a reduction in tax. But let us not at the same time say to the Government: "You have got to produce the money out of taxation to pay for the roads."
As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, has said, there are two alternative 117 methods: one is to raise a road fund, which would he guaranteed and serviced by the Treasury; the other is toll roads or toll bridges, or toll roads and toll bridges. I know that it seems absurd to say that vehicle owners should pay tolls on top of what they are already paying in the way of taxation. I cannot help wondering what the 'businessman, the fleet owner, will say if someone goes to him and says, "I will build you a toll road from London to Birmingham; the toll shall be fixed at a certain figure, and if you work that out you will find that every journey your vehicles make will still show you a profit after the payment of toll."
I have some interesting figures here with respect to a toll road from London to Birmingham. The cost of such a road would be, roughly speaking, £200,000 a mile. The cost of maintaining it after it was built would be approximately £1,800 a mile. Then you would have to provide a toll collecting staff at accesses, which are suggested to be every six miles. You would also have to provide an interest and sinking fund at 4.63 per cent. per annum. The question is, how are you going to do it? Assuming that half of the existing main-route traffic used that toll road, there would be 4,000 vehicles a day travelling upon it. A toll of £1 for every five-ton lorry going the full distance, and of 7s. for a small or medium-sized car, would provide all the capital needed—and that takes into account only half the traffic which at the moment is using the main route. I am inclined to think that a lorry owner would cheerfully pay the £1 toll to save journey time of nearly 60 per cent. on his present figures. And I am sure that the majority of private car owners would pay their seven "bob," both to get to their destination more quickly and to save themselves the annoyance of travelling on existing roads.
I am not at all sure, however, what would be the answer from the country if it were suggested that a scheme of this sort should be put into operation. I think that steps should be taken to find out what the answer to a proposal for toll roads would be. I do not know whether it is a good idea or a bad one. But I certainly have this in my mind: that unless we can provide some scheme that is going to produce money other than 118 directly out of the Treasury pocket, we are not going to get it. I also have a distinct idea that if the Treasury people can see themselves getting a little bit back in the palms of their hands, they are likely to sanction a scheme much more quickly than if they can see no prospect of anything canting back. The financial position has to be worked out, either on the basis of a loan or on the basis of tolls, or both side by side. I can see no reason at all why we should not have this. Something has got to be done to provide new roads, and the sooner it is done the better, because we cannot allow any more delay.
§ 6.25 p.m.
LORD DOUGLAS OF BAR- LOCH
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken has certainly introduced into the debate an interesting topic of speculation regarding the possibility of building toll roads. I have not looked into this, but it occurs to me that if any body of men have sufficient faith in the possibility of making a toll road pay there is nothing to prevent them from doing what the railway companies did in days gone by—that is, promote a Private Bill for the purpose. Then they can adventure their money on carrying out the idea, and see whether their speculation is profitable or otherwise. With regard to the other suggestion for financing road improvement which has been thrown out during the course of this debate, namely, the raising of a loan of some hundreds of millions of pounds for the purpose, that, of course, could be done. The attraction of it, from the point of view of those who are anxious to see road improvement, is that if it were once done the money would presumably be finally committed to that particular purpose. So far as the economy of the country as a whole is concerned, it would not make an atom of difference because the resources of labour and of capital which would have to be devoted, year by year, to road construction and improvement would be diverted from other purposes, no matter whether the financing was by means of loan or by means of taxation. So far as national economy as a whole is concerned. it would make not the slightest difference.
It is natural that, in the course of this discussion, though it is mainly directed to the economics of our road system, 119 there should be discussion of the alarming problem of road accidents. It is inevitable that that matter should be referred to, because it is not only a human loss, in terms of suffering and bereavement, but it is also an economic loss, in terms of loss of working days of those who are injured or of the shortening of life of those who are killed. And there are the incidental concomitants which are involved in it—the enormous expense of insurance, of litigation and so on, which arises out of road accidents. These are tangible economic losses which are part of the problem which we are discussing to-day.
The noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, made a comparison between the skill of the driver of the motor vehicle and the skill of the engine driver upon the railways. It may be that the one is more skilful than the other; but that is not an explanation of road accidents. If the driver of a railway train were running his vehicle along a thoroughfare which was being used by men, women and children, cyclists. perambulators and I do not know what else. the accidents upon the railways would be very different indeed from what they are. The comparison is fallacious. It is now no longer possible to contemplate that motor vehicles should be kept entirely to roads which they use, and nobody else. It is possible that we could have special motor roads covering long distances, as has been done in many countries, but we cannot divorce motor vehicles from the general road system. One of the great advantages of motor transport is that it is a means of carrying persons and goods from door to door, and that advantage will now never be surrendered. Motor vehicles cannot be relegated to the position of trains running on railway lines.
In this connection, I want to draw special attention to the urban problem because, as I say, although no doubt something can be done with regard to segregating traffic on trunk roads, it is far more difficult in cities and towns to do anything of that kind. What is happening with the growth of motor traffic is that more and more ingenuity is being devoted to going through by-streets to avoid the traffic congestion, with the result that streets built in the age of the horse and cart for a totally different purpose are now being used by motor 120 vehicles This is one of the causes of accidents. I want to refer particularly to the case of London, with which I am acquainted. This problem of motor traffic in London is growing more and more acute, not only because there are more vehicles upon the streets but because they do not all emanate from London and are going to and from other places.
Before the war, the L.C.C. were engaged upon schemes of road improvement. For a short time I was Chairman of the Highways Committee of the L.C.C., and the last task which I had to perform there was to negotiate with the Ministry of Transport permission for the creation of a roundabout at the northern abutment of Waterloo Bridge, at the crossing of the Strand and Wellington Street, a project which, if my memory serves me correctly, was going to cost about £2 million, to which the Minister of Transport, after negotiation, agreed to contribute 75 per cent. That is one single illustration of the needs of traffic improvement in London, and of the enormous amount of money which is involved in it, a very large part of it, as my noble friend Lord Latham correctly said, being compensation for property, and not the cost of the actual road works. Practically nothing at all has been done in London in the way of road improvement since 1939. The County of London Plan contemplated the creation of ring road systems and radial roads to deal with major traffic problems, and particularly with the problem of traffic which, for one reason or another, had to pass through London. Nothing concrete has been done with regard to that, although parts of those proposals were included in the County of London Development Plan.
Let me draw attention to the financial position of London in this matter. Up to 1929, the metropolitan borough councils, as highway authorities in London, received grants on a percentage basis from the Ministry of Transport in respect of maintenance of Class I and Class II roads. In 1929, those and other percentage grants were abolished, and there was introduced a block grant system, which was computed according to a formula, one of the elements of which was the mileage of road. So far as I am aware, no local authority in London ever agreed that that was compensation for the grants 121 which they had previously been receiving from the Ministry of Transport. Now the position has become a great deal worse, because the Local Government Act, 1948, abolished the block grants and introduced equalisation grants. The consequence is that London gets no financial aid at all from the Central Government to cope with this problem, which of course is not entirely a London problem but deals largely with through traffic which emanates from other parts of the country.
More than that, although in counties other than London the Minister of Transport has taken over a number of roads and classified them as trunk roads, and they have become the responsibility of the Central Government, nothing of that kind has been done in London. London has been treated extremely unfairly in this respect. There cannot be the slightest doubt that on any proper interpretation a number of the principal roads in London are trunk roads and ought to be taken over by the Ministry of Transport, which should be responsible for them. In any case, I think it is extremely deplorable that not a single project mentioned in the announcement which the Minister made recently has any reference to the needs of London, which contains a large proportion of the population and industry of this country and whose road system is a vital part of the road system of the whole country. I hope that this matter will be looked at with the closest attention, and that some steps will be taken to deal with the traffic problem in London. For if it is not dealt with, we shall certainly soon reach the stage at which traffic will hardly move at all. That may conceivably reduce the number of road accidents—I do not know whether it will or not—but it will certainly increase the amount of economic loss which is already being endured.
§ 6.40 p.m.
My Lords, it is unfortunate that many Scottish Peers who would have liked to be present to-day have been unable to come. As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said at the beginning of the debate, it is impossible to cover all the subjects in one day. I should like to suggest that your Lordships should find time to have a debate on Scottish roads. My noble friend Lord Elgin has twice had a Motion down, but at the request of the Govern- 122 ment has postponed it. I feel that it would be an advantage if his Motion were to be restored. We in Scotland are glad that progress is being made on the Glasgow-Stirling road, and on the Perth-Inverness road. I will not say anything about the Forth road bridge, because my noble friend Lord Mathers will have something to say about that, but I should like to take Lord Brabazon's story further up the Great North Road, where it gets to Edinburgh, and say a word or two about the Queensferry.
There are two boats operating across there at present, with. a third in the summer. Three operate no more quickly than two, because it takes half an hour to work a boat, and getting on and off is a slow business. One would have thought that a better solution would be a pontoon; that is to say, a boat that traffic goes on at one end and off at the other. I suppose that that idea has been considered and found to be inadequate. On January 27, Mr. Lennox-Boyd, in answer to a question by Major Anstruther-Gray, said that the Government's plan was for an additional boat, making four boats, which would mean a double service, and an improvement to the piers. That double service would be working both sides of the piers. If you get a strong wind blowing clown the West, which is the prevailing wind, it would not be possible to use both sides, and an additional pier would be necessary to protect the boat. On February 3, Mr. Lennox-Boyd, in reply to a question, said that substantial improvements could not be made until the Government received a report on the possibility of a road under the Forth railway bridge. I trust that they will not tinker about with an old bridge like that. It was built for a railway, and I should think it would be dangerous to put a road underneath it—there might be another accident like that to the Tay Bridge. In a further reply on the question, Mr. Lennox-Boyd said that the Government were getting on with the preliminary work with regard to this ferry. I do not like the word "preliminary." Surely, they should go ahead with this plan. This is the most direct route from Edinburgh to the North. The Government say that it will cost £250,000. Surely, they should go ahead and get their ferries ordered, and not delay while they make inquiries about an additional road over the Forth. With that amount of expenditure, they 123 would be justified in giving the orders now and not having further delay.
I should like to emphasise the fundamental fact that county councils have so much to finance in their social service of all sorts that they cannot find the money necessary for road improvements of all classes. I need not say more about that, because sufficient has already been said to-day to emphasise the fact. I would support what my noble friend Lord Stratheden said about unclassified roads. Previously these roads had practically no traffic on them other than farm carts; but to-day they have all sorts of motors using them. I would ask my noble friend Lord Selkirk to remember (it might help him with his argument to get them graded) that these vehicles are bringing in revenue to the Minister; and the Minister has no share in the cost of these roads, the whole of which the county council bear. As all sorts of traffic is now using the roads, there is a fair argument for upgrading them. There is still in the northern counties the crofter county scheme. Before the Government deal with the question of upgrading the unclassified roads I think it is important that this scheme should be completed. After that I feel there is a good case for reconsidering the whole question, and for some of the Class II and Class III roads to be upgraded. I do urge, however, that before anything is done the local authorities should be consulted. The circumstances are different in every county, and what suits some does not suit all. The cost in Scotland (I have the figures for the county of Inverness), taking £100 as the basic figure in 1938, was £250 in 1952; and in 1953 the figure had risen to £270, which is nearly three times as much. Salaries, too, have trebled, and I feel that that is also reason for helping the county councils with the reclassification of the roads.
To get back to the road from Edinburgh to the North, the alternative means of getting over the Forth is the Kincardine bridge. That is a wonderful bridge: it was opened by my noble friend Lord Elgin a few years ago, and is now carrying a rapidly increasing volume of traffic. What about the roads approaching that bridge? The position is that there is a Class 1 bridge with Class III roads approaching it. I can speak as to the road north of the Kincardine bridge. Our census—it 124 sounds small compared with some that have been given to-day—is that 3,500 heavy vehicles use it weekly. The surface of the road is not fit to bear this traffic. The present cost of maintaining these roads is about £8,000 a year. An estimate has been made of the cost to put this road into the necessary order, and it amounts to £48,000. That again is too much for the county councils to tackle. The counties of Clackmannan and Fife are anxious that this road should be upgraded to a trunk road; and on Monday the Perth County Council agreed to support them in their appeal. I should like to express to my noble friend Lord Selkirk the hope that he will give this matter his favourable consideration when it comes before him.
There is only one other thing I should like to say—it has been mentioned already by the noble Lord, Lord Latham —and that is on the question of lay-bys. In Scotland we are very much behind in their construction. The noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, said that to build a road to-day costs £200,000 a mile. To me, that sounds an astounding figure, but I am sure it costs a large sum. It seems to me foolish to spend a vast sum on a fast road—and trunk roads and first-class roads are fast roads—and then allow cars to park where they will along them. On most of these trunk roads, as my noble friend Lord Howe has said, there are stretches probably not more than 18 ft. to 20 ft. wide, where three cars cannot go abreast. Therefore, if you have one car parked at the side of the road, you turn your wide road into one-way traffic. We find that going on mile after mile. The traffic is held up, and not only is it costly, because of the delay, and also in time and petrol, but it is a great danger. There are a large number of accidents, particularly in the winter in Scotland when the roads get icy, because cars have suddenly to pull up in the mist. I have seen as many as four cars, following one behind another, crash into one parked lorry. I think we should have these lay-bys and, as time goes on, make it illegal for any car to park on any of our fast roads. We must make it possible for them to have somewhere to park alongside.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, I do not propose to follow to any extent the noble 125 Lord who has just sat down, but I wish to take the opportunity, as the last speaker from this side, to emphasise, endorse and endeavour to further the claim that he has made—that in the not distant future there should be a Scottish debate on roads, separately considering Scottish roads. I am glad that Scottish voices have been raised this afternoon in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, speaking, as it were, for the Highlands, and the noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, speaking for the Border country which I know better, having been born within ten miles or so of Hartrigge, whore Lord Stratheden and Campbell lives.
I am not going to speak for long, but I wish to deal with one matter which came to my attention. In the last issue of the Spectator of February 26, there was an article headed "Sidelight" by Compton Mackenzie. I suppose it should have been Sir Compton Mackenzie, because I am assuming it is the famous author who was recently knighted. He was dealing with a letter which Queen Victoria caused to be written to the managers of the railways having headquarters in London. Apparently she was celebrating the New Year, because the letter is said to have been dated January 1, 1865. That is a long time ago, and she was drawing attention to the fact that many accidents had taken place on the railways at that time. Sir Compton Mackenzie hangs on to that statement in that particular letter and makes reference to it in the article, which I think is misleading and could be harmful, to a certain extent, by causing further congestion on the roads, because he wants to denigrate the railways of this country. I will read only one part of a aragraph—I do not want to read too much—because as a railwayman I feel I should make an emphatic protest against the possibility of harm to railway interests as a result of this article. The author says:Railway accidents gradually diminished during the next twenty years, and by 1884 they were sufficiently rare net to be given a place to themselves in the Index of the Annual Register; they were now grouped with fires and explosions in mines under the general heading Accidents.' There have been serious railway accidents from time to time during this century, but I must confess to being startled by the figures given by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for 1946 to 1952 which reveal that there was a total of 8,773 accidents in which 495 people were killed and 6,273 injured.126 That is collating the figures for seven years. There is no doubt where the figures came from, because they are published in the report to the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation upon the accidents which occurred on the-railways of Great Britain during the year 1952. It is the report of Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson, the Chief Inspecting Officer of British Railways.
I will not enlarge upon that, but I take the figure of 495 people killed. The whole tone of the article seems to indicate that these figures relate to passengers in railway trains. A little examination of the figures will show that in those seven years there were 331 passengers killed in train accidents in Great Britain. It is notable that in the last year of all, 1952, 108 passengers—the largest number of passengers we have had killed in a railway accident for many years—out of the 331 were accounted for by the Harrow and Wealdstone double collision on October 8, 1952. When the figures for 1952 are examined, it will be found that in that year 111 passengers carried by British Railways trains were killed. That means that, apart from the Harrow and Wealdstone accident, only three passengers were killed on the railways in 1952.
What does that mean? In the seven years ending 1952, 180,000 million passenger miles were run. It means one passenger fatality for over 35 million passenger journeys, or, alternatively, about one passenger fatality for every 544 million passenger miles. It seems to me that my old pride as a railwayman, of believing that you were in the safest place in the world if you were in a railway train, is justified by the figures I have quoted, and certainly the whole tone of Sir Compton Mackenzie's article is misleading. if he wished to be logical, he could write another article about the danger of going to bed, because he could prove by statistics that most people die in their beds—so, therefore, do not go to bed. I hope the implied suggestion that is contained in this article, that people should not travel by British railways because of the danger of accidents and the possibility of being killed, is completely disposed of.
I think that the whole article is unworthy of the author of Whisky Galore notwithstanding the fact that he 127 has come to be a citizen of Edinburgh, in which I live. We welcomed him in that city, and I hope that soon he will mend his ways in the light of the criticism that I have found it necessary to make of his article. He indicates in his statement that the position was safer in Queen Victoria's time. I have taken the trouble to obtain the statistics for 1860, 1861 and 1862; and adding the figures for those three years together I find that there were 88 people killed on British railways. Taking 1950, 1951 and 1952 together, even including the 108 of the Harrow and Wealdstone accident, the total is 165. Actually, the proper comparison is that in Victorian times there was one passenger killed in every 10 million, whereas in the 1952 period one passenger was killed in every 35 million. The mileage, of course, has increased considerably during that time, and so has the number of passengers—which lowers the impact of the figures.
Having disposed of that matter, I come to the main theme of the debate, the inadequacy of the road system. I claim that the roads would be more adequate if more care were taken by those who use them. My noble friend, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, had much to say about congestion, and about abnormal loads causing congestion on the roads. The railways have equipped themselves very well indeed for conveying these big loads, and it seems to me that it is upon the railways that those great loads should be carried. It has been indicated that where they are too big for the bridges under which they have to pass they can be reduced to more manageable proportions. I think that that is very largely true, for railway bridges are, in the main, at least as adequate for the passage of traffic as are road bridges.
It is the use of the roads that matters; and I was glad to hear the fine contribution made to this debate by the most reverend Primate. I thought the excellent contribution which he made was most certainly one that should be heeded. I was glad to hear him say that this is not merely a problem of economics but that it is also a moral problem. That is where I take my stand: that it is necessary for us to impose moral sanctions upon those who use the roads. I am certain that in the statistics the figures given of those who are under the in- 128 fluence of drink and are involved in road accidents are derisory. These figures are compiled in the most difficult circumstances. The police hardly dare bring a charge of drunkenness without being absolutely certain that they can prove it up to the hilt. And then, even when they do seem to prove it, an appeal is asked for; and, away from the actual scene and circumstances of the accident and under the presidency of someone who has not had the first-hand knowledge of what had actually happened, frequently the charge is set aside instead of being maintained.
I look upon the drinking motorist as a menace on the roads. Some speakers have said already in this debate to-day that he has a very great responsibility, for he is in charge of a deadly instrument—particularly deadly if it gets out of his control. It seems to me that it should be laid down that there is a moral obligation upon everyone who has driven on We roads of this country to pay heed to the demand: "If you drive, don't drink; and if you drink, don't drive." I am certain that if that maxim were heeded more than it is, there would be many fewer accidents on the roads of this country. There would be much less expense to the hospitals and other organisations that are affected by accidents of that kind.
While I am not a vindictive person in any way, I say that we should be more severe in the punishment of those who are convicted on more than one occasion of driving to the danger of the public. Then, it is very difficult to get accurate evidence on which to secure a conviction. I have made reference to that already. We have boggled at the idea of taking a blood test from people; it would be against the law; it would be looked upon as an assault if a needle were to be put into someone and a sample of his blood taken when he was brought in after having caused an accident on the road. But I urge upon Her Majesty's Government that they should consider the possibility of bringing into operation or, at any rate, testing in the first place, a nevi instrument that is in use in New York and a number of other cities in the United States, and also in Toronto—that is the latest information I have—called "the alcometer," a meter which indicates the quantity of alcohol in the breath of the person. It does not call for the taking of a blood test. A person who is 129 suspected of being under the influence of drink is called upon to blow through a tube into a plastic balloon; that air is kept and analysed, arid it can be shown with absolute accuracy what is the amount of alcohol in the blood. All that is needed is to have a standard beyond which people should not he in charge of a vehicle.
Someone may say, "What about pedestrians who cause accidents?" My answer would be that if a pedestrian is suspected of being under the influence of drink, let him be tested, too; let him he put through the same test. It is absolutely necessary that we should have a stricter control over those who are responsible for accidents, and I commend that idea most warmly to the noble Earl who is to reply. I hope he may be able to say something favourable about it—at least, that what I have suggested will be considered. The noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, indicated that the new road code will shortly be available to us. May I ask whether the noble Earl who is to reply to the debate can be more precise, and give us a more definite indication as to when the road code will be coming out? I hope that there, as in the previous road code, there will be a clear indication that drinking is an absolute menace to anyone who is thinking of driving a car or any other vehicle.
I cannot allow myself to sit down without making some reference to the long projected Forth road bridge. I lived with this problem for quite a number of years, because for sixteen and a half years I was Member of Parliament for the county in which the southern end of the Forth road bridge will come. I am not going to make a long story of this, but many preliminary considerations have been given to this Forth road bridge. As I understand it (I hope that I am right in what I say), the approaches have been decided upon, and the exact location of the bridge itself has been decided upon, by the taking of borings in the bed of the river and on the banks of the Forth. It seems to me that the time has come for us to see actual progress made in the provision of that bridge. It is claimed that it is too expensive a thing for us to afford, and yet the argument that was used years ago about the provision of the bridge was—I will put it in a paradoxical way—that we were not sufficiently "hard up" to enable us to go on 130 with the building of the bridge. That is actually what the attitude of that day meant. It was that this would be one of the big projects that we should use if we landed in a position of severe unemployment. That is the position. It seems to me that that is rather a "cock-eyed" way of looking at things.
I know how difficult it is to get money out of the hard stone of the British Treasury(I make no Party reference in this), but the approaches have got to be made. Only a few minutes ago we heard the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, say how the Kincardine bridge is hampered to-day because of the lack of adequate approach roads. Yet the proposal being advanced now is that the bridge should be given greater priority than it has at the present time, that the bridge should be erected, but that the approach roads should not be proceeded with because they represent an addition of a considerable amount to the cost of the bridge. That amount, however, is very much less than the cost of the bridge itself, and my suggestion is that those approach roads should be gone on with. I know that there may be some criticism from those who own the land through which the new roads will be driven, but I think that if the landowners know that this great project for Scotland is at last to be given clear signs of being approved and proceeded with, that will be some compensation to them. The idea that the road approaches should be left out in the meantime has been criticised by the county authority, the West Lothian County Council. In my view, in the light of the experience with the Kincardine bridge, there is justification for the county council's attitude, an attitude with which I agree. I hope that the noble Earl who is to reply to the debate will be able to give me some measure of comfort over the matters that I have ventured to indicate to your Lordships' House as being necessary in the near future.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, following the interesting speech which we have just heard from the noble Lord. Lord Mathers, I, too, hope that the Government will in the near future give serious consideration to this Forth road bridge project. Your Lordships may wonder why an Englishman dares to enter into a Scottish debate on that subject, but 131 I had the pleasure a few years ago of sitting in Edinburgh for two weeks on a Joint Select Committee on the General Powers Bill promoted by the Fife County Council. I know the great developments that are going to take place in the county of Fife, big coal projects and so on. So this new bridge is something we have to bear in mind. I know that Scotsmen feel strongly that this question should have serious consideration in the next few years
I shall address your Lordships for only a few moments, and first I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, for putting down this Motion and so giving us an opportunity once more of discussing this all-important topic. I should also like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on announcing the £50 million scheme of road works, because it is a great advance. Last year, when we were debating the subject, the noble Viscount, Lord Leathers said that with great difficulty he had extracted another £1 million from the Treasury for further clearance of black spots. To-day, we are debating this new programme of £50 million. I welcome the amount which has been provided; I think it will go some way. But, of course, I should like to see a great deal more.
There has been some criticism that London is not to get much of this money. The Cromwell Road extension, I understand, will cost £3½ million, of which £2½ million is in the County of London. That is going on in the programme for 1954–55. Then there is the Dartford—Purfleet tunnel which is to start in 1955–56 and which will relieve tremendously the congestion in the middle of London. That will cost £10 million, of which £1 million has already been spent. Then Glasgow is going to get its tunnel under the Clyde, costing £3 million; and so on. These tunnels are expensive and I am one of those people who think we ought seriously to consider placing a toll on them. The toll works satisfactorily on the Mersey Tunnel, and as these new tunnels will cost about £13 million, out of the £50 million expenditure, I think serious consideration should be given to tolls on tunnels. The bridge programme so far announced is very little. There is the Conway Bridge, which is to cost £500,000; the Cavendish Bridge, over A.5, another £500,000. These are not big items, but the tunnels are.
132 However, the point I want to raise particularly is how further programmes can be financed in the future. None of us wants to see taxation rise higher than it is at the moment. At present. the Government are extracting a very large sum of money from road taxation—something like £270 million a year—and are putting back only something like £34 million annually. My noble friend Lord Teynham and myself, in your Lordships' House last July, put forward a serious proposal for a road loan, but we were much more modest in our ideas than the proposal recently put forward in another place. We suggested that a road loan of perhaps £150 million should be raised by Her Majesty's Government over a period of ten years—a twenty-year loan which would run out over twenty-eight years, so the service of the loan would have to continue for about twenty-eight years. On the figures which I submitted to your Lordships last July, the service of the loan, working it out on a 4 per cent. basis, would cost about £11½ million a year. That is a large slice out of the £34 million which Parliament allocates annually to the Road Fund. However, if it cannot be done in that way—and perhaps it is not possible—I am greatly attracted by the idea put forward in another place, that perhaps some under-the-line expenditure could be given to the Ministry of Transport, in the form of loans such as are given to local authorities for housing, drainage and water supply.
I think we have got to face this problem on the basis that we shall not be able to accomplish anything, or at best only a very small amount, out of income. As the next generation will benefit a good deal by these long-term projects, I think they should pay some portion of the cost. I informed my noble friend Lord Birkenhead that I intended raising this question when the matter was debated last July, and the day before that debate my noble friend Lord Teynham and I told the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, as he then was, that we were going to raise it. In the course of the debate (I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 183. col. 419), the noble Lord said:At first. I was not greatly attracted to the: idea, because I felt that in thinking about putting this business to posterity rather than financing it ourselves we were doing so at a time when our roads had been deprived of 133 road expenditure assigned to them for some years. I think, nevertheless, that all this will have to be looked into with great care, and I am obliged to Lord Teynham for making the suggestion.Naturally we have not had any answer to that comment, except that I think it was more or less turned down in another place. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will again look at this question of a loan, and will also see whether they cannot get some revenue from tolls from the new bridges which may have to be built and also from the new tunnels. Without something of that nature I do not see how, out of the revenue which Parliament allocates every year from the Consolidated Fund, we can finance these big schemes over and above what Her Majesty's Government have already announced. I beg to, support the Motion.
§ 7.23 p.m.
My Lords, I shall be only a few moments at this time of the night and I shall mention railways only once. I am going to devote myself to the terms of my noble friend's Motion, which I heartily support. I think your Lordships will agree that he made out a very good case, as have those who have followed him, on the economics of the matter and why it is a question not of our being unable to afford to do this, but rather that we cannot afford not to do it. If one is running a business and one needs to make the business progressive and competitive, one has to get special machinery, and one seeks ways and means of financing that capital expenditure; one does not retain old machines and become uncompetitive. What we are doing to-day is to retain old machines in the shape of inadequate roads.
I have two small points to raise in connection with the debate in another place on February 15 last. In this debate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, Mr. Hugh Molson, brought out two reasons why the Government could not accelerate road plans. Those two reasons have been brought out again and again, and I do not think they are justified. He said in that debate (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 52.3 (No. 54), col. 1663):After fifteen years of economy on the roads we have not the surveyors and engineers necessary to carry out any sudden expansion of new construction." 134 He also said (col. 1664): "… I think that it will be realised that even in the case of mechanisation some of the engineering firms which produce heavy machinery required for road construction have at present large export markets, and we should hesitate to divert large amounts of machinery from people who export, even for work on something as important as roads.My Lords, I ant glad to think he agrees that roads are important.
But I do not believe that his statements are justified or in accordance with fact. and I think that if they go unchallenged they will be a red herring which may obscure the fact that such restrictions are not justified, and the statements may be brought up again and again. My reason for saying that is that I think there is no such thing as the alleged shortage of civil engineers, technicians and surveyors. There is no reason to believe that our present civil engineers, technicians and others could not get on with the job if they were given it. I believe there is about £150 million worth of plans already prepared for which contracts, could be let within a short time, and all of which could be started off quite quickly without any great demand on the existing number of civil engineers. There are large firms of civil engineers who find they would be able to cope with any of this work should it arise in the near future, because the hydro-electric schemes are coming to an end, airfield work is slackening off, very little civil engineering work on docks and the railways is currently taking place, and the demand on the industry in connection with opencast mining is dwindling away. Further, your Lordships may recollect that civil engineers were able to cope very quickly and satisfactorily with the £40 million worth of sea defence work round our coasts, and that also is finished.
In regard to the availability of machinery, I would call your Lordships' attention to an article in the Financial Times of Monday, February 22, written by Sir George Burt, who is president of the Federation of Civil Engineering Constructors. With your Lordships' permission, I will read the opening paragraph, in which he says:The civil engineering industry has immediately available the necessary skilled and experienced personnel and the latest types of plant to undertake this task (that is, improving road communications) and is ready and waiting 135 for the signal to go ahead. Never before has the civil engineering industry been so well equipped and prepared to carry out road construction work on a large scale.That is why I wish to challenge those two statements which were made in another place the other day. I could give your Lordships many details about the availability of material and of specialised machines, but the hour is late and your Lordships can find those details in articles if you wish so to do.
I should like to add just one or two more words, and they are in connection with something which my noble friend, Lord Birkenhead, said in the course of his speech. He was talking about safety on the roads as compared with safety on the railways and in the air. I think, if I recollect him fairly accurately, that he said that Mr. Molson had stated that the reason why travelling by trains was safer than travelling on the road was because an engine driver was a highly-skilled and trained person. And the noble Earl said that the same description applied to the commander of an aircraft. What the noble Earl did not add—and I feel he should have done—was that trains run on rails. They go along a set way over which the public is not allowed to trespass. The engine driver has to stop and start at a given signal. If we had segregation of roads, as Lord Birkenhead afterwards said he advocated, we should find a different standard of efficiency. As to air travel, the separation of aircraft, the landing patterns and taking off patterns, all keep aircraft away from each other. I should like to finish as I started, and again say that, for economic reasons, for the sake of our industry in this country and for the prevention of accidents, we cannot afford not to get on with our road construction.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ THE PAYMASTER GENERAL (THE EARL OF SELKIRK)
My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, must have satisfied himself that he has touched upon a subject of very real interest to your Lordships this afternoon. I am not going to suggest for one moment that I differ substantially from the case which he has presented. I think Her Majesty's Government do agree, in fact, that the road system to-day is not adequate to the vehicles presenting them- 136 selves on the roads. Even if they had been in any doubt at the time when they took office, your Lordships would soon have removed any sense of delusion. Nor do we doubt in any way the importance of an adequate road system. I do not propose to argue the details of points which have been raised. What I should like particularly to do is to put in proportion this vast system, which affects every man and woman in this country—on the one hand from the point of view of recreation and entertainment, on the other hand, from the point of view of personal safety. In between, there are a great variety of economic factors which are of very real importance to our people.
This is a subject over which personal emotions are roused to a high degree. We have to recognise that there are people who regard motorists as a form of criminal, while there are others who are passionately devoted to some particular scheme which they believe will be of lasting and real significance to the health and economy of the particular area in which they are interested. Moreover, we are dealing here with astronomical figures—for they are astronomical when we come to examine them—and dealing with considerations which may involve personal liberty. If segregation of traffic means anything, it means that were it imposed it would become illegal for a man to walk upon the public street. If found walking there, he could be arrested. That is what segregation, fully developed, would mean. I suggest that this is a matter which has to be considered with extreme care. The arguments which have been put forward for improvement in our road system have been based on economics and safety. The noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, who speaks with more authority than I do on the subject of safety, has dealt substantially with that subject. I will say only that whilst, fortunately, both these objectives have similar requirements, the requirements are not necessarily identical. Indeed, the most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of York, made that point.
When we are advocating improvements we can do so in two ways. We can take the broad point made by Lord Brabazon of Tara, that we are not to-day devoting enough of our national resources to road development, and that it is essential for our economy that greater capital re- 137 sources should be devoted to this purpose. Alternatively, we can take the other line—in some sense it overlaps—and say that, granted the volume of resources to be devoted to road development, we think the priorities which the Minister has selected are wrong, and we put our emphasis on any part of the country—it may be the upper Thames, the Severn, the Clyde, the Forth, the Tyne, the Humber or the lower Thames, according to our preference. The noble Lord, Lord Latham, whom we are delighted to hear speaking again in your Lordships' House, indicated certain other priorities which he would like to have emphasised in London. If I may say so with great respect, I think he was less than generous in not including the Cromwell Road extension and the Dartford—Purfleet tunnel which, if not precisely in London, are certainly within the London conurbation.
I know that these different schemes arouse a deep sense of the strongest local patriotism. Indeed, it was noticeable that when the Minister made his original statement in another place at the beginning of December, it immediately provoked a most violent expression of English nationalism, so that the Minister had to avow that his Scottish ancestry had not unduly biased him in his decision. Of course, if noble Lords wish to have a day devoted to debate on Scottish roads, I am sure there will be no difficulty in making the necessary arrangements. But I can say this: if anyone wants to change priorities, I think the first thing is to see which one of the existing schemes proposed for the next three years should he struck out—whether it should be developments in South Wales, one of the Lancashire proposals, or one of the proposals for London or the Great North Road. And in this connection I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who has now left the Chamber, that we are spending £750,000 on the Great North Road. In view of what the Minister has done, I think it will not be easy to argue that priorities which he has selected should be displaced. He has laid the emphasis on two aspects of this question—one, the relief of industrial congestion, and the other, the improvement of black spots. Those are the two things to which he is directing most of the money which has been made available.
138 Now let me deal with one or two points which have been raised in the course of the debate. Lord Kinnaird asked about the Highlands I think he is aware that the Minister has said that he intends to maintain the increased expenditure on the Highlands which has already been announced—that is, roughly speaking, £1 million over three years. Lord Stratheden asked about the upgrading of roads. That is a matter upon which the local authority can apply to the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation when the roads qualify for such upgrading by reason of their through traffic. Lord Kinnaird and Lord Mathers both mentioned the Forth road bridge. I should like to say to them that. while they may have no confidence in having a road bridge in connection with the existing railway bridge, they might do well to await the report by technicians which should be available in the course of the next few weeks—possibly in less. So whether there is anything in this project or not we should learn in a very short time. I do not propose to go further into the subject. I certainly do not agree that a Forth road bridge is a thing to be developed only in time of recession, and I would point out to Lord Mathers that the cost, £13½ million, would take up virtually the whole grant. for the United Kingdom for new developments for the space of twelve months—that is, on the basis on which we propose to work in the course of carrying out our programme. This would be asking a lot. I do not say that it cannot be done, but it would take a big slice out of what it has been found possible to make available. The noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, also raised the question of Kincardine Bridge. I wonder whether he is right about that. My information is that the bridge and the approach roads leading to it are already trunk roads.
Not the roads to Kinross through Clackmannan and Fife; they are certainly not trunk roads. That is what we are asking for.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
The noble Lords must not press me too much. I k now that the bridge itself is reckoned as part of the trunk road system.
The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, asked about the new Highway Code. I do not want to make any very definite promises about that. My right honourable friend 139 hopes that it will be available for both Houses of Parliament to consider well before the Summer Recess. I hope that I am making that a conservative expression of hope—I do not want to go further at the moment. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, mentioned the question of bridges. I do not want to say much about that matter, but it must be borne in mind that vehicles on our roads probably carry a heavier single load than vehicles in any other country in the world. The reason why the Ardrossan Bridge collapsed was that a bridge intended to carry five tons collapsed under a load of 100 tons. Of course that sort of thing has been going on a good many years and where the position is at all serious it is being tackled.
The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, mentioned alcoholism. I am informed that out of 250,000 cases of motor accidents, only 400 involved motorists found to be under the influence of drink: though I will not disagree with the noble Lord that in certain circumstances the statistics may not be wholly accurate. With regard to the suggestion of the alcohol meter, my information is that the alcohol content in the breath has to be very high in order to obtain a reading with certainty. But we have little experience of the instrument in this country. I do not think the noble Lord pressed very hard his other suggestion of blood testing. We are not enamoured of blood testing, and certainly not of compulsory blood testing. This matter was discussed recently under the auspices of the Economic Council of Europe, and the countries which pressed strongly for this form of testing were, by a singular coincidence, the countries where chronic alcoholism was highest. We do not think it desirable to take this course, for various reasons, one of which is that it is not an extremely reliable method. Meanwhile, Professor Drew and his team of assistants at Bristol University are examining this whole question.
If I may now turn to the economic side of this question, I think we should recognise frankly that we are the oldest industrial country, with all that that means including the congestion of population. Many of our problems arise from the fact that we started first. Often it is much easier to start with a blank programme, 140 so that one can lay out plans to meet modern requirements. For instance, we can think of cities like Paris and Berlin. which are beautifully laid out: but of course they were laid out by men possessing dictatorial powers. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, was correct in saying that we have had no rational layout in the centre of London since Kings-way was laid out in 1903. We have always had to reconcile Parliamentary demo-cracy—its proper insistence on individual liberty and individual rights—with the sweeping requirements of long-term planning. Of course, we have struggled with this problem for a long time, and we have had a number of profound and interesting reports on the subject of planning. We have had a good deal of legislation about it over a number of years. But I think this is a sphere where the best is often the enemy of the good. After the war, a fair number of grandiose schemes costing fabulous sums of money were put forward—I knew some of them in the big towns with which I was familiar. The majority of them have proved impossible to execute in any reasonable time, and in some cases nothing whatever has been done. We hope that here we are putting forward a plan which really will be carried out, not something which will remain on blue prints. That is what my right honourable friend has in mind.
I want to emphasise that while the plan may be limited, there are further safeguards. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, seemed to cast some doubt on whether planning had stopped altogether. I can assure the noble Lord that physical planning has certainly not stopped; we are fully using the development plans. In many cases, statutory orders and schemes have not been made but the plans are there, so that we are ready to go forward when the economic health of the country permits. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin. suggested that these plans might cost one million acres of agricultural land. Whilst it is only a guess, my information is that it would be much less than that, perhaps not more than 30,000 to 40,000 acres, because much of the development is already in urban areas of one sort or another. When my noble friend Lord Leathers was speaking on this subject eighteen months ago, he emphasised that the restrictions imposed 141 on road development had to be heavy because the country's affairs were not on an even keel. It has been fairly common in this debate to throw bricks at the Treasury. But the real reason we are able to proceed with some development is the strong guidance we have had from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Because the State to-day is on a sounder footing we see the green light which, in terms of the Highway Code, means "Proceed," and not "Jam your foot on the throttle."
If I may say so with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, I think the British Road Federation have been perhaps a little less than fair to the proposals which have been made. The noble Lord said we had come to Parliament to say that we will spend £15 million in three years. That is a one-sided way of presenting the case and perhaps the noble Lord will not mind if I give the facts here. I think it is important that this should not be misunderstood. There are two things to be considered here—commitments and expenditure It is obvious that in road expenditure one cannot expend in a single year all the money that is committed. Between 1947 and 1957, the commitments run in this way: between 1947 and 1951 they were between £3 million and £4 million; in 1952 they were £3,500,000; in 1953, £6,400,000; in 1954, £19,400,000; in 1955, £17,800,000; in 1956, £12,700,000. On the other side, expenditure up to 1951 was of the order of £3 million a year; in 1952, it was £3,400,000; in 1953, £5 million; in 1954, £5 million; in 1957, £7,200,000; in 1956, £11,800,000; in 1957, £14,500,000. The noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, will see that between the current year and 1957 there will be an expenditure of about £44 million. That is rather different from the figure he gave. I suggest that when we realise that there is an additional expenditure of 13 per cent. on maintenance, we can see that we are really taking a step forward which is worth while.
There has been a good deal of criticism of our road system, but I feel it is fair to the taxpayer of the country to remind your Lordships that over the last thirty years, with the exception of the war years, expenditure on roads has never fallen below £50 million a year—that is, counting expenditure by local authorities. This 142 year the total expenditure is about £90 million, and in the coming years it will be about £100 million. If we are able to maintain that level, it will mean a national expenditure of the order of £1,000 million in ten years, which, by any calculation, is a substantial sum of money. Therefore, I suggest that it would be a mistake to say that in this. field we have committed a colossal blunder. Rather, what we have run up against is a very expensive capital investment. I should like to say that, taking the country altogether, we were probably right to accept the old alignment of roads and development rather than to go wholesale into agricultural land, which is a point made by the 'noble Lord, Lord Silkin. Taking these limits, I suggest that the road authorities have really done technically the best job that they could. It is fair to say, I think, first, that the road surfaces in this country are better than those of any other country in the world; and secondly, that we have the finest system of secondary roads of any country in the world. Anyone who is familiar with the roads in America will realise that when you get off the main trunk roads the secondary roads bear absolutely no relation to them.
I do not dispute the main contention of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, that our arterial communications, and particularly the entrances to our big towns, are far from what we should desire. I should, however, like to make the point that some of these examinations of capital expenditure that we have heard are rather misleading. For instance, the noble Lord gave us the figure of the expenditure on electricity—I believe he got the years wrong, but it does not much matter. I think it is proper to remember that, so far as electricity is concerned, we have had to give a definite priority. We know that if electricity is cut off, industry comes to a complete standstill. Therefore, electricity must be provided, and I suggest that this Government, like the Government before, are perfectly correct in giving a high priority to electricity. I would suggest, further, that to make a proper comparison we must recognise that roads are a special type of asset which you cannot depreciate or replace as you can machine tools, locomotives, or anything of that character. A road is something that you maintain and improve. Therefore, you may add the 143 depreciation which, in an ordinary business, would normally fall on to the existing equipment. Under that scheme, if we take, for instance, the actual expenditure on physical maintenance of the roads, and we add to that the new expenditure, we get a figure of about £300 million, which I suggest is more reasonably comparable to the £600 million mentioned by the noble Lord in regard to electricity during the relevant years.
I should now like to turn to what I suggest is the main problem. The main problem is budgetary. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Waleran, that at the moment there is no question of a shortage of surveyor staff; but as the programme increases, of course, that might arise. As I say, the problem we face to-day is budgetary. I suggest, with respect. that it is the ability of this Government to maintain what I would describe as a great measure of normality in life, which is persuading us to forget the burden the State is bearing at the present time. We talk about £300 million paid by the motor industry in taxes, or on motorcars, as a big figure. But that sum would not meet half the cost of the Royal Air Force. If we go back just over twenty years, we find that the taxes paid by the motor industry were three times the cost of the Royal Air Force. Another example is to take the motor industry and add to it purchase tax. Even then, you do not meet the cost of the National Health Service. I just give these examples to emphasise the burden which we are succeeding in carrying at the present moment. I say that if people feel that a larger allocation of our national resources should go into roads, then they must decide what further taxes they would like to pay, or how much they are prepared to cut off the national expenditure. Of course, if they cut off less than £20 million, that will be called a "very miserable effort."
There have been three alternatives put forward, and I should like to deal with them shortly. No one has actually suggested a road fund, but the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, mentioned among his other suggestions the allocation of certain revenues for the sole purpose of maintaining roads. Frankly, the objection to that is that it reduces the flexibility of control which the Chancellor 144 of the Exchequer can exercise. The prosperity of the road industry depends entirely on the general economic health of the country, and if the Chancellor is able to maintain that, it is necessarily of far greater importance than any allocated payments exclusively devoted to the improvement of our road system. If he does not do that: the road system cannot be a success. We must remember that, owing to the weakness of our economy, it is not so long ago that petrol was rationed; and it is only recently that one has been able to purchase any form of motor vehicle almost immediately. I feel that probably this matter would not be pressed very hard if taxes were a little lower, or alternatively, if the Chancellor could allocate more funds.
What I believe is put forward more seriously is the question of tolls. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, was quite clear that he did not mean to impose tolls on anything except a short by-pass; but the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, took it much further, and I believe the figures he gave were for the proposed London—Birmingham road. I have heard discussed the financial background of the New Jersey turnpike, and I am bound to say that it sounds most attractive. I suggest, however, that the position in America is different. The taxes on the motor trade are a good deal lower, and the general openness of the country suggests opportunities there winch we do not have. I personally would hesitate about suggesting that by-passes should be tolled, because, after all—and this is a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth—the purpose of the by-pass is to get people to use it, and you do not want to impose a toll which would discourage people from using it. We do, of course, use tolls: we use them on the Mersey Tunnel, and we have taken power to use them on the Dartford—Purfleet Tunnel; but it is right to realise that in both those cases only a small percentage of the whole capital cost will be met. I am given to understand that in the case of the Mersey Tunnel the toll will meet only the local authority charges—and that not for some time—and will not meet the central Exchequer charges at all.
I am bound to say, on the information I have, that it is doubtful how far industrialists would be willing to pay a substantial toll. I may be wrong there, but my information is that they would 145 not do so. My information, which differs from that of both the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Lord. Lord Brabazon of Tara, is that the percentage cost of road transport to productive industry is much less than he suggested. The figure which I have, which is necessarily tentative, is about 2 to 3 per cent. of productive industry. If we get a saving of 10 per cent., that would mean a saving of something under one penny in the £. It is not a big sum, and we have to measure how far it is justified to do something of this character. If anybody does put up a scheme of this sort, whether it is private enterprise or local authority, the Government will be willing to consider any such practical project. I have only explained what our experience on tolls is in the case of the Mersey Tunnel, but whether it be for the Forth Road Bridge or anything else, the Government will certainly consider it carefully.
I should like to turn for one moment to the question of a loan. I am not quite certain on what basis this should be. I should like to mention one or two of the difficulties which might arise. There is the danger. of course, of inflationary pressure arising from excessive loans. It would not increase our resources. What it would do would be to some extent to divert our resources from other productive industries. What it would amount to—and the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, acknowledged it quite frankly—would be a charge on the Treasury it would be an increase of our national debt without the possibility of ascribing to it any particular earning revenue, as you can with electricity or anything else. I suggest that, powerful as the arguments are, we must be careful not to buy our roads on the "Never-never" system. Only last week we were discussing. National Insurance, and the House was reminded that in twenty-five years' time the deficit would amount to £400 million a year. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, did not think that that was enough. Much the same arguments might be made in regard to defence. Three years ago we started an immense defence programme. The late Government might have done that on a loan, but, if they had, they would have been severely startled when they read the recent White Paper which says:It is the Government view that the continuation over a tong period of the present 146 state of cold war is now more likely than the outbreak of a major war on a particular date.That would have meant not only bearing the whole current expenditure, but the charges necessary to service the loan. One must consider how far it is an advantage to service a loan over thirty years, perhaps £27 million or £30 million a year, when, in fact, the Government, as the noble Lord will see from the recent Vote on accounts, is spending £40 million a year on road services. What the rate would be over thirty years is something which could be quite easily calculated.
I have tried to put this problem into proportion, so far as I have been able to do so. I should like to thank all the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, because it is a big problem which we have to face. The emphasis on loans and tolls has been an emphasis of continuity—something that cannot be just shut off or put on at the present time. Of course, if the economy of the country will not allow it, then it has to be shut off. But we have this assurance: the programme which the Government put forward now is welcomed on both sides of this House, as it was in another place, so that even if this country were to suffer the grievous misfortune of a change of Government, there is a reasonable chance that this programme would be carried forward We are determined that this development shall proceed, at least on the basis which has been announced.
It may be thought that, in trying to put this matter in proportion, I have over-emphasised the difficulties. I have done so because I thought the speakers seemed to skirt a little round them. We are dealing with astronomical figures, because the figure of £1 million per mile development for the Cromwell. Road is only one. We are doing this at a time when most of us would like to talk about a reduction in taxation. It is similar to other spheres of our life in which we want to improve the capital equipment available—there are many spheres of industry where we should like to do so. Basically, there is only one way in which we can do that, and that is from the savings of the people of this country. Ultimately, tat is the only way in which it can be done. We are facing a world-wide problem, and it is not a simple one. It may be worn for us because of our congested urban areas, but I think it is 147 proper to say that in the realm of safety we are facing up to these problems as well as any other country. For instance, taking the casualties per head of the population, America has twice the rate of this country; and so have Canada and Australia. The rate for Germany is about 50 per cent. higher. That suggests that motor roads by themselves are not the whole answer to road accidents. The casualty rate in America of 40,000 fatal accidents in 1952, suggests, by any comparison, that their problem is materially worse than ours.
It has not been said to-day, but some people have called the car a "lethal weapon." I have little doubt that if lethal weapons of this character were used in our factories, the factory inspectors would insist on a much higher standard of discipline than that which exists on our roads at the present time. It is one of the problems that we must face if we are going into this matter. Finally, I would say this. We have set something in motion which is worth while, and we certainly intend to maintain it. This country, if it is slow to make up its mind, once it does so has a way, in the long run, of getting what it wants. I think the opinion of this debate has been clearly expressed, and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, for raising it.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
My Lords, I was unaware, when I moved this Motion, that I was preaching to the converted. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, says that he does not differ from me. All I can say is that I am pleased that I did not move a Motion over which he differed from me, because, although he has not had experience in another place, considering that he agrees with me, he is the most arch-wriggler of any Minister that I have ever seen. Anyhow, if we have converted him to the fact that roads are a capital equipment in industry, that is something. If he will go from his place and tell his colleagues that particular fact—which they certainly have not appreciated yet—then, although this debate has been somewhat long, it will have been well worth while. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.