HL Deb 17 November 1965 vol 270 cc584-93

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to intervene to repeat a Statement which is being made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Aviation in another place, on the future of the Spey engine for the Phantom aircraft.

My Lords, the House will recall that the decision to adopt this aircraft for the Royal Navy was taken last year by the previous Administration, following failure to achieve a version of the P.1154 which would have been acceptable to both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. At the time the engine had not been sufficiently defined for reliable estimates to be produced, and the cost assumptions which were then used have proved to be too low. When we took office, we became aware that the P.1154 would not meet the Royal Air Force timescale for a Hunter replacement, and also, in view of the urgent need to contain the size of the Defence Budget, we decided to order the Spey-engined Phantom for the Royal Air Force as well.

The costs of developing and producing the version of the Spey required for the Phantom have increased substantially above the 1964 assumptions, and we have therefore found it necessary to carry out a most intensive examination of comparative cost and performance between Phantom aircraft with the Spey and aircraft with the existing American engine. Although the aircraft with the American engine is adequate for Naval and Royal Air Force requirements, the Spey offers a greatly enhanced performance and a greater potential for future improvement. In addition, Rolls Royce have been prepared to negotiate guarantees on costs, performance and timescale much firmer than have been achieved in the past. Against the greater cost of the Spey, these considerations might not in themselves have justified its adoption. But we must also take into account the very great economic, technological and industrial advantages of going ahead with the development and production of this very advanced engine, with its big export potential. In the Government's view, these considerations are decisive. I am, therefore, glad to inform the House that we have decided to continue with existing plans for the installation of the Spey in the Phantom.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating this Statement. The House and the country will receive it with some relief, and will be glad to discover that the assurances given by the Prime Minister on February 2 and the Minister of Aviation on August 4 last have not been withdrawn, although it seems clear from the Statement that it took some considerable political soul-searching before it was decided that they should be implemented. It comes as a great relief that the Government have not decided upon the emasculation of the aero-engine industry as well as the airframe industry of this country.

I should like to ask the noble Lord two questions, which I hope he will be able to answer. The first is, how many of these engines is it expected will be ordered—that is, both for the Royal Navy and for the Royal Air Force? Secondly, what other equipment will be British, again in pursuance of the assurances given, in particular by the Prime Minister on February 2?


My Lords, it is not the practice, as the noble Lord well knows, to disclose numbers of aircraft, and therefore of engines to be ordered, or information of that kind. The question about other equipment does not arise directly out of this Statement. I would, however, say to the noble Lord that we are proceeding on the basis which I announced in the House previously—certain criteria and the 20 per cent. advantage. If the noble Lord would like to pursue that on another occasion, I should be glad to deal with it.


My Lords, is there any basis for the comment in the Daily Express this morning, to the effect that there would be 800 Spey engines ordered, costing £175,000 each, including spares, to be fitted to 300 Phantom aircraft in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy?


My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord does not in fact expect me to comment on that. But it was a good try.




3.50 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, as I listened with intense interest to the gracious Speech from the Throne and read the White Paper following it, I could not help thinking what a wide field it gave for the analytical, the enquiring, and sometimes perhaps the critical mind. I have come to the conclusion—a conclusion I have held for a long time—that in spite of all the matters of moment and interest set out in the gracious Speech and reflected in speeches of noble Lords on all sides of the House, we are faced with one overwhelming problem. That is to earn our daily bread so that we may pay our way by our own efforts, not on borrowed money, and increase our productivity. This is paramount, and, in my view, calls for a difference in emphasis on the part of Her Majesty's Government.

I am not so worried about their incomes and wages policies. I myself have never thought that there should be restraint of either wages or incomes as a general principle. I think the emphasis is wrong. The main emphasis—and this is where I thoroughly agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer—should be on productivity. That is the only thing that matters. We in this country are not going to come out of these dire straits to-day by policies of restraint and restriction. We shall do so only by expansion, by increasing our ability to earn our daily bread.

I intend to concentrate my remarks this afternoon on one aspect on which I consider that Government policy is wrong and where it will have the direst effects. It is no good the Government belabouring industry to modernise its plant and equipment, to bring in automation, and so on, when one of the cruellest blows they have struck at industry is to curtail one of its vital lines of communication—the construction of new roads.

I sometimes wonder whether the Government really appreciate the make-up of British industry. I will take as an example one of this country's great industries, the motor industry, an industry of which I happen to know something, having spent my life in it. It is an industry which, directly and indirectly, fills the stomachs and clothes the backs of 28 per cent. of the population of this country. The manufacture of its products is not centred in the assembly plants of Birmingham, Coventry, Dagenham, Oxford and Luton, but is spread over 600 ancillary suppliers. All these supplies have to be channelled through to these centres, mostly by road. And what is true of the motor industry is true of every other industry. The products of British industry are not manufactured in one central spot, and it is the Government's policy—a policy with which I entirely agree—to diversify, to decentralise to those areas where employment is so badly needed.

The one great disadvantage which always faces the producer of the article is the distance these sources of supply are from his assembly plant and the lack of communications to them. Therefore, the road programme should be accelerated and increased rather than cut down. One of the biggest areas one finds around any factory in the Midlands—and the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, who lived a good part of her life in Coventry will bear me out—is not the factory building, but the car park for the employees' motor cars. The motor car is the one method of going backwards and forwards. For a considerable part of my life I lived not far from the great plant at Cowley, and some of the employees at Cowley, of whom there are 25,000 to 30,000, lived thirty miles away. The only way they could get to their work was in their motor cars.

So this process goes on. At present there are 13 million vehicles on the roads of this country, and the experts tell us that by 1970 the number will increase to 25 million. Even the National Plan does not deny that. What are they going to use for roads? The road programme of this country in that time should be trebled and quadrupled. Even the Minister, in a public speech opening one of these new highways, said this: We cannot let up; we all know that more investment in roads is needed. It is up to all of us to demonstrate that the investment would give the country a maximum rate of return on its money". I know of no capital investment which the Government can make which would bring greater dividends in the way of productivity.

There is another problem involved here, a problem which has been highlighted by the events of the last two or three weeks. It is no good building motorways—roads which, in essence, are built for high speeds, with no speed limits; that is why they are built—unless one is going to bring on to them some degree of discipline. The high speeds which are encouraged by the design of these roads can be carried out with safety only if there is proper enforcement of the law. Every mile of motorway that is built in this country must take into consideration the question of the number of police which has to be added to the force. It is no good letting people loose on the roads of this country at these very high speeds, and then going to bed and thinking, "They are all God-fearing citizens, and will not do anything silly". What in fact do we do? All over the country we put up speed limit signs and then go to our beds thinking that they are all being honoured.

I suggest to the Government—and I address my remarks principally to the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack; I know he will not mind my saying that upon his shoulders rests responsibility for the due enforcement and honouring of the law of this country—that there is no law which has been brought into such disrepute as the road traffic law. It is absolutely in disrepute and the police are making no efforts to enforce it. It is no good being mealy-mouthed about this. The Ministry of Transport have told your Lordships for years, "It is not our responsibility to enforce the law". The Home Office have said, "We cannot instruct the police. It is their responsibility". So when we get the state of affairs which exists on the roads of this country to-day, upon whose shoulders should the blame be put? I am going to tell the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that if there had been a modicum of anticipatory intelligence used by the Staffordshire Police and the Lancashire Police, those tragic pileups on the M.6 would never have happened.

There is plenty of law. The Road Traffic Act 1960, Section 54, gives the police the authority to close any road they think fit, at any time, for any circumstances. Section 14 of the same Act makes it a penal offence for anybody to disregard the instructions of the police in that regard. Section 117 of the Highways Act 1959 makes it an offence to remove or damage any sign that is put up by the police. Yet we have the pitiable example of a chief of police giving an interview to a TV reporter on the verge of the M.4, bewailing the fact that he "put the bollards out, and they came and took them away and drove on. What am I to do? The only thing I can rely upon", he went on to say, "is some good sense on the part of the motorist". If every motorist on the roads of this country had good sense that man would be out of a job. They do not have good sense.

There is plenty of law, if your Lordships will study it. The Road Traffic Act has been my "Bible" for years. But what have I been doing? I have asked about this many times. I have asked the police and they have some very good answers. The best answer they have is, "What is the good? We take all our officers' time and we prosecute. We take these people to court and then what do they get? They get a derisory penalty which is no deterrent whatsoever. They can pay any fine out of the loose cash which they have in their pocket". In only 3 per cent. of the convictions for offences against the Road Traffic Acts of this country which carry a suspension of licence is a suspension given.

The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack will get into the queue and say, "I cannot tell the magistrates how to do the job". What are we to do? We cannot go on. We have killed on the roads of this country 8,000 people this year. It will be 10,000 next year. What are we going to do? It is no good saying, "It is not the responsibility of this Department or that one". It is the responsibility of Parliament. Parliament and your Lordships have sat with great attention and have passed laws, and the noble and learned Lord has appointed magistrates who have never looked at a Road Traffic Act in their lives.

Through the invitation of the noble Lord who happens to be the Chairman of the Magistrates' Association, I have addressed meetings of magistrates up and down the country. I can assure your Lordships that my language then has been even stronger than that which I am using this afternoon. What has been the invariable response? I have challenged them on the Amendment about drunken driving to which your Lordships gave so much attention, and asked how many had read it, and I have never yet had one man or woman get off their seat to say that they have. Then, afterwards, they come up to me and say, "Yes, we agree with you. We have got to be more strict. But it isn't my fault. My trouble is that I cannot convince my colleagues on the Bench". How long can we go on like this? What are we going to do?

Yet when we come to the tragedy of the last three or four weeks, the only solution that some of our experts have to stop the carnage on the roads caused through fog is to put on another speed limit. The police cannot enforce the existing limits when the sun is in the heavens and the sky is blue. How they expect to enforce a 20 miles an hour limit when the visibility on one of these motorways is 5 yards, or a 70 miles an hour limit over the whole of the country, is past my comprehension. The 50 miles an hour limit last summer was the biggest farce I know.

If your Lordships want a good example of road hooliganism, drive a motor car from the end of Cromwell Road, over the Hammersmith Flyover to the end of the elevated road where the 50 miles an hour limit applies. There are three speed limits there: there are limits of 30, 40 and 50 miles an hour. If you are law-abiding and you drive your motor car at 30 miles an hour or 40 miles an hour you are blasted off the highway by the raucous sounds of the hooligans who are wanting, or demanding, to pass at 60. You pull over to let them pass, and you are then blasted on the other side by another set of hooligans doing an equal speed who want to pass you on the wrong side. If it were not tragic I agree that it would be funny. You see this every day. But there is one thing which you do not see, and that is a police patrol officer. I have not seen one in five weekends.

The other day a man was prosecuted for driving a motor car at approximately 60 miles an hour over the Hammersmith Flyover. Something went wrong, and he went over on the other side and killed two women. The learned judge fined him £1,500 and, I think, suspended his licence for five years. I commend the learned judge. But the driver did not get that penalty for driving dangerously: he got that penalty because, through a trick of fate, he killed two people. My Lords, sixty miles an hour over the Hammersmith Flyover is the normal speed. I put this to the noble and learned Lord: does he not think that it would be a good idea to have some disciplinary action before people are killed, instead of afterwards? Is that too much to ask? But you never get a prosecution to-day unless there has been an accident.




Very few. Very well; the noble Lord says, "No".


I do say, "No".


The noble Lord is entitled to his opinion. All the evidence I can collect is to the effect that the majority of prosecutions follow an accident; and yet the driver of every one of those vehicles in the pile-ups we have had on those highways had a prima facie case against him for dangerous driving because he was not in control of his vehicle in the circumstances in which he found himself. So I say to the noble and learned Lord quite sincerely: it is no good having these extra speed limits. The noble Lady quite rightly said just now that she deprecates passing Statutes which cannot be enforced. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, in the interesting speech that he made yesterday, said that he had great hopes as regards future recruitment to the police—an increase of 3,000 this year. We want more and more, with better equipment, more motor cars, more motorcycles, more radar. Why do we have to wait for a tragedy before we find out that all these main roads have not got electric cables along them? Has anybody ever thought about this kind of thing? Our road planners should.

So I leave my case on that there, but I want to mention one other matter—the congestion in London. I shall be within the recollection of a number of your Lordships if I take your minds hack to the Road Traffic Act 1956—that ill-fated piece of legislation which heralded the introduction of the parking meter. I fought a bitter fight from the Front Opposition Bench, and I said: "You will woe betide the day when you let out the Queen's highway for garaging motor vehicles". But oh, no! they would not listen to me. One of the prime factors in the cause of the traffic jams in London is the fact that some of the streets that have to carry a lot of traffic are bespattered on both sides of the road with parking meters—put there not with any degree of thought about traffic management but to raise money to go into the treasury of the local authority.

We were promised that all that money would go towards building off-street parking. If any of your Lordships were to walk down Jermyn Street, which is the parallel road to Piccadilly, you would find for a quarter of the length of that road parking meters on both sides of the road, and loading bays on either side in which loading and unloading is allowed all day, with a supposed twenty-minute limit. I asked one of the wardens: "What happens when he has been there for an hour?" He said: "Of course, I have no authority. I keep on giving him tickets". I asked: "What do you do?" He said: "I have to ring up the police". There are 63,000 tickets waiting somewhere, in some office in London, because the police cannot process them—63,000 prosecutions for parking offences. It was so reported in the Press, and I can only assume that that is approximately accurate. At mid-day, you cannot get down Jermyn Street. That is just an example, and it could be multiplied all over the West End of London. This is one result of having about twenty or thirty highway authorities instead of one. I thought that when we had the Greater London Council we were going to do away with all this proliferation of amateur highway engineers: but, no, we have just as many.

My Lords, how long are we going on like this? You will never cure it. There is only one cure for this traffic congestion, and that is to build off-street car-parks in various areas—I do not mind how far away you put them—and then to ban every kind of parking except for unloading or loading, which should be done in the early morning or late at night. You cannot burke this issue. You can fiddle around, you can put all sorts of speed limits on to stop this highway slaughter, you can talk about your traffic jams, but until you take the waiting vehicle off the road and shut your ears to the nonsense that is talked about banning a motorist from having a motor car unless he has got a garage—what a lot of "poppycock"!—you will never cure it. The Minister said in another place yesterday that he wants the buses to run freely. I quite agree with him. But how can you have buses running freely with double-banked parking on the kerb, and again not a policeman in sight?

I expect it will be thought I have been pretty harsh towards and critical of the police. Whom else am I going to criticise? I could criticise the Government. I suggest to the noble and learned Lord that at this time, in this age of civilisation, you cannot get away with the outmoded precept that the Government cannot tell the police what to do. That is what Goodhart said quite strongly in his Minority Report about the police. My Lords, I have spoken frankly. I hope I shall be forgiven for my harshness, but I see these things go on every day of my life and I see that the Ministry of Transport, as soon as there is a great accident, have an inquiry, the result of which is lost in the mists of time. I have never seen one of the reports yet. I hope the noble and learned Lord with—may I repeat?—his fresh mind on this subject, being the head of the British Judiciary and responsible to the people for their lives and their safety on the roads of this country, will take the initiative in order to bring some of these things to an end.