HL Deb 25 October 1967 vol 285 cc1743-62

6.52 p.m.

LORD ST. JUST rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: Whether they will introduce legislation to enable tolls to be charged for the use of motorways in order to provide the finance necessary to complete a national network of motorways. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the objection to tolls has, I think, been breached in putting tolls on bridges and tunnels, the principle being that if you want to travel fast, whether under or over the water, you must pay for it.

Perhaps I may, for a few minutes, whirl your Lordships away from these shores to consider the situation in Germany and Italy, both of which countries are building, or have built, a national network of autobahns or autostradas. Germany, we know has probably got the most efficient autobahn service in the world, but as we know it was built by "slave labour"—in other words, in the days of the Hitler youth. Italy, on the other hand, is still in the process of building a national network of autostradas, and of course they do place tolls on them. France is the other country about which I should like to speak for a moment. France has a great many small auto-routes which do not have tolls on, and then suddenly one comes across an auto-route that has. But I think the principle of tolls is coming in France as they build more and more roads.

Returning to this country, from the information I have been able to collect it seems that in this country we have so far completed some 527 miles of motorways. Projected motorways, including those under construction, total about 1,300 miles. I turn next to the cost of building a motorway. This varies from about £500,000 to over £1 million a mile, dependent on the terrain. These figures, of course, include the cost of tunnels and major bridges. But it is "some figure", and it gives an idea of the vast sum of money that is needed to complete a national network. On the plans of future motorways, there does not seem to be, from the plans I have been able to see, a motorway scheduled from Kent, through Sussex and Hampshire and down to Dorset. It has always appeared to me that there was a great necessity for an East—West motorway communication system South of London.

There is one other important point connected with this. As more and more cars come on to the roads it seems to me that a ring motorway will become necessary. I dislike referring to other countries all the time, because comparisons are not always good, but in this regard I think Berlin is a good example, because it has a ring motorway built 20 miles outside the centre of the City, to link together all the motorways, North, South, East and West; and I think that in the end this country will have to adopt that system. Let me turn to a few more figures which have been compiled for me by the A.A. In 1965 there were some 570,000 more cars on the road than in 1964; in 1966 there were 346,000 more than in 1965, and the A.A. now state that there are at the present time some 14 million vehicles on the roads of this country. This gives us some idea of what we are going to have to face in the future.

Turning to the tolls themselves, I should have thought it quite unnecessary to toll motorways already completed. In fact I think this really covers only the M.1, because this is virtually as near completion as any of them. For myself, I believe that the form of toll and operation which is the easiest to install and the quickest for cars to use is the French system. I saw this working not long ago. Under this system you go into a gate, you throw a certain sum of money into a basket, whereupon the lights change from red to green and away you go.

I remember that some time ago, when I asked a Starred Question in your Lordships' House about tolls on motorways it was said that one of the difficulties is the manning of entrances day and night, and that it would involve the employment of an enormous number of people. Personally, I feel that this would be unnecessary. I do not think one wants to go into too many details, but I should have thought that every 50 miles one would have a toll point, and if people wished to proceed further for another 50 miles they would pay the further toll. It is just bad luck if you happen to leave the motorway at the first branch off, say after 10 miles. I think the system could be kept quite simple. We have another great advantage in this country. We have a first-class system of "A" roads, major roads and minor roads, and if we can get a national network of motorways completed we shall have a system of roads comparable to those anywhere in the world.

In conclusion, I should like to thank all noble Lords who are to take part in this debate, and also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who is to reply for the Government. I am not very hopeful of the reply I shall receive to my Question, due mainly to a statement which appeared in the Press just before the Summer Recess, when it was announced that the Government were considering putting tolls on motorways. There was a meeting of the Cabinet that night, and this statement was denied the next day. So I have a feeling that this was probably a Cabinet decision. Nevertheless, I feel that this Question is worth asking.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, a lot of talk is taking place among the various interested sides of road development with regard to the introduction of tolls, as to whether tolls may not increase the road mileage that is so necessary to meet modern day traffic. This is a debatable point. Our present roads programme, particularly for motorways, was devised first in 1958ߝ59, when some 8½ miles of motorway were built. The programme then aimed at providing 1,250 miles of motorways by the early 1970s. I feel that probably, seeing that only some 523 miles have been built, this is one of the things which bring about this cry, "Cannot we introduce tolls in order to get more roads built, and motorways in particular?". If we look back at this programme and see an expansion of only some 53 miles a year, taking the average over this period of time, we see that it will be very late indeed in the 1970s before the 1,250 miles first envisaged some nine years ago will be built. This, of course, throws the programme entirely "haywire".

We know that the county surveyors, in a close examination of the problem of traffic, visualise that by the 1980s there should be at least another 1,700 miles of motorways or improvement to "A" roads. That makes a mileage of 2,700. At the present rate of progress it is not possible to see anything like this achievement taking place. Unless there is considerable speeding up, it will be near the end of the century before we begin to meet the needs of the motor car in this modern age, with its continuous growth.

A look at the graph of motorway construction during these years indicates a rather deplorable sight. We find that no Government up to now has given transport needs a sufficient priority in its scheme of things. We see the road programme from 1959 onwards. In 1960, some 85 miles of new roads were built, dropping down in 1962 to 20 miles; we see a spurt taking place in 1964 to 88 miles; we see it dropping in 1966 to 30 miles. But we are pleased to see that in 1967, up to the present day, some 70 miles are being built, and in this fiscal year, which goes to April next year, we already see some 63 miles being completed. This indicates that a real step forward is taking place. I would urge the Government to ensure that, no matter what the vicissitudes may be—the motor car is here to stay; we have to live with it—there shall not be any further restriction in the road-building programme.

The Government must realise the importance of this, and I am sure from what they are now doing that they do realise it. However, with the usual caution of the Treasury, they have refused to give firm promises for a continually rising road construction programme, saying that this development will depend upon the level of public expenditure. It is natural; one can appreciate that point of view. But again I feel that the Government and the present Minister of Transport—and I am sure she will, knowing the tenacity of this particular lady—will insist on a much higher priority being given to these transport requirements. I share her view that one of the reasons for such heavy congestion on our roads is that there is so much heavy goods traffic; and I share her view that as much as possible of this heavy goods traffic should be diverted to rail, instead of cluttering up our roads in the way it does to-day, particularly when it gets into our cities and towns.

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord St. Just, who suggested that we should institute road tolls, or with anything like the pricing system suggested even by Mr. Snead's Report. I do not like this idea that the person who is going to use the road should be the person who can adequately pay for the tolls or the parking of his car. I think this is a social obligation in accordance with the needs of our day and generation, although I have some sympathy with Lord St. Just and others who might propose these tolls with the desire to get some improvement in the present road construction programme. I am told that the current revenue from motor taxation is approximately £1,200 million a year, out of which only some £360 million is ploughed back into our roads. I am the last person in the world to suggest that any given tax should be devoted to a given project—I think that is an entirely wrong system. But, on the other hand, with such heavy taxation I think the motorist is entitled to more. The receipts from motor taxation equal three and a half times the expenditure on our road services to-day. Without agreeing with many of the motoring associations who say that the motor-car taxation should be utilised for road development, I think that much greater expenditure on roads must receive higher priority than it has been doing recently.

The noble Lord, Lord St. Just, mentioned that the objection to tolls is being breached. Yes—very much to my regret. One knows that the Forth Bridge, the Severn Bridge, the Tyne Tunnel, and others, have been made possible only because the people concerned in the area agreed with tolls. I took some part in the Tyne Tunnel project for many years, and I know the hostility that was there in the whole area to the additional cost that is imposed on moving traffic through the Tyne Tunnel. This was objected to, but ultimately they had to agree to the previous Government's insistence that there should be a toll. In my opinion to introduce tolls would take us back many decades. We ended tolls in this system once, and the suggestion that we should go back to tolls reminds me of Gilpin's ride of so many decades ago. I do not think we ought to go back at all to that system.

On the other hand, I feel that we ought to speed up the road programme in order to meet present-day congestion. As I have indicated, I am certain that the present Minister of Transport is well aware of this, by virtue of the programme that she is now pressing through. I sincerely hope that she may be able to influence her colleagues in the Cabinet to seek, if necessary, amending legislation to do away with the famous 31 steps involved in any road project. These 31 steps are pretty well known. They concern the length of time involved. I am certain that the safeguards can be maintained even with a considerable curtailment of the 31 steps in the procedure before one road is planned and before the first sod can be turned towards its development. This is a factor that increases considerably the length of time taken before a road programme can be put into operation. I make no apology for mentioning this matter: it is a pet subject of mine and one that I have mentioned on several occasions.

There are many things that can be said, but in view of this late hour and the lateness of the sitting last night, I have been requested to be rather brief. However, I should like to make a passing reference towards easing our road congestion. I think that more and more attention must be paid to providing adequate multi-storey car parks, or parking on the periphery of our towns and cities. We build these wonderful motorways, but when the traffic arrives at its destination we see continuous congestion.

Every one of us has had considerable experience of this. A little while go I was in a city that I do not know well, and, instead of parking on the periphery—as I ought to have done, and as I shall do now that I know the town better—I found myself going round the city for nearly an hour before I could find a parking place. This simply adds to the congestion. Urgent priority is needed for establishing these parking places. I also think that in developing our road programme we should look ahead, as the noble Lord, Lord St. Just rightly pointed out, and in building many of these motorways we should provide access roads for the traffic to get to the docks or to other industrial areas. Some time ago I took part in a trip organised by the Roads Campaign Council, and I followed traffic loaded at Birmingham coming down to London docks, and I followed traffic loaded at Düsseldorf and going to the ports of Europe. I found that the traffic from Düsseldorf to Rotterdam carried 20 per cent. more in mileage in 20 per cent. less time. That is a feature which exists there. It is something we must take note of.

I think that this question of tolls embraces the whole of the road programme, and I certainly hope that my noble friend, when he replies, will say quite frankly that we are prepared to concentrate on increasing and developing the road programme, but that we shall not entertain the idea of imposing any tolls.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, may I start by congratulating my noble friend on introducing this interesting topic to us this evening and for doing it in such a lucid and interesting way. The idea of tolls for motorways is an interesting one; it has been discussed a great deal in this country. I personally have never been against it in principle and, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, I have felt that tolls for special purposes were probably rightly charged. But whether we may agree or disagree on the principle of tolls, I am with the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, and with my noble friend, about the urgent need for increased funds for building motorways. It is that point that really starts this debate and gives point to it. Inter-city motorways are one of the few 100 per cent. necessities upon which everyone can agree. The solutions in towns are far more complex, but on this we can all agree; that inter-city motorways provide fast, safe travel, both for freight and private cars, between towns and especially to the ports.

The fact is that at the present time Great Britain is in the unenviable position of being absolutely bottom of the league among the advanced countries for the building of motorways. I have here a table which indicates how we stand in relation to the United States, which is at the top of the league, with 216 miles of motorways per million of population. Great Britain stands at the bottom with 22, one-tenth only; and countries like Italy and Germany, which the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, has mentioned, are up in the sixties and seventies. The fact is that we naturally cannot expect to match the United States in road building; we have not their resources, nor have we their space. But we can expect to match the other European countries, and we are, year by year, falling further behind in the equipment of our country with this modern method of moving road vehicles rapidly and safely. After all, if it is good value in these countries in Europe with no more resources than we have, and in some cases less, to build more road motorways, it is surely good value for Great Britain to do so as well.

To illustrate my point I should like to make one statistical reference—to Professor Morgan's figure that two years ago road congestion was costing over £1,000 million per annum in this country and was increasing at the rate of 14 per cent. per annum. The fact is that our existing trunk road system is a 19th century system with its single carriage ways, and whenever any of us go to America we must be struck by the fearful inadequacy of our trunk road system. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord St. Just that our secondary road system is excellent, second to none; but our trunk road system really is a 19th century system trying to cope with a 20th century job.

The scale of our motorway programme has already been referred to as the one mounted originally by a Conservative Government about eight or nine years ago, of about 1,200 miles. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, that it is going very slowly, and although we are told that it is going to be finished by some date in the early 1970's, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will be able to tell us what date, and I hope that it will be rather earlier than I suspect it will be. But what we should really like to hear is what plans the Government have for the next phase. I refer also, with approval, to the county surveyors' programme of 1,700 miles which should be added to the existing 1,200 miles which is in the pipeline. This would really give us a basic network of motorways in this country. That is what the Government should now be preparing for and speeding up the programme in order to begin to work upon it. Even when this is completed, we shall still have under 3,000 miles of motorways in this country, less than the Germans and the Italians are aiming for in their present current programmes.

Let me turn to the question of finance for the programme. In a word, I would say that a road pricing system, which is what motorway tolls would involve, would be acceptable, in my judgment, only if it replaced an equivalent part of the existing taxation lying on the backs of road users. If it did, I myself would be prepared to accept it. The International Road Federation in their last Report told us that road users in this country are easily the highest taxed in Europe and we have the lowest motorway programme. This Government have the distinction of increasing total taxation on road users from £777 million in 1964 to a figure of £1,155 million in 1967, £45 million less than the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, said, but still a most formidable sum. This is an increase of £378 million—nearly 50 per cent. increase in the three years noble Lords opposite have been governing the country. At the same time last year, in 1966, there was actually a decrease in the total spending—I agree that it was a decrease of only £2 million; nevertheless there was a decrease in the total expenditure on roads from 1965 to 1966. In the face of such enormous extra taxation, only about a third or a half of which is spent on roads, road users cannot, in my judgment, be asked to pay further for the privilege of taking their vehicles on the road, whether it is a motorway or any other road.

I should like to make a small technical point to my noble friend Lord St. Just. Despite his interesting reference to the French system, I do not myself think that in a densely developed country like ours, where exits and entrances are needed more often than every 50 miles, it would be convenient to have all the exits and entrances controlled. This struck me particularly in Los Angeles where they have a most elaborate system of freeways. If they were all controlled it would wreck the whole movement of traffic, and this would be a serious technical point to overcome if tolls were going to be charged. As a method of new finance to accelerate the building of motorways I feel that tolls are an interesting and possible idea, but are only acceptable if they replace part of the present excessive taxation. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in his reply will have some better news for us about the rate of the Government's plans for increasing the motorway building and allocating for the purpose a larger share of the taxation which road users now pay.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord's request for the Government to consider road tolls. When the noble Lord comes to reply, could we be told whether the Government target still stays somewhere about 1,300 miles by the early 1970s, and, if that is so, will the provision of these extra miles close the existing missing links, of which there are quite a few, on the M.1, 2, 3, 4, 5 et cetera? It seems to me that if this is done by 1970, there will be a very large motorway organisation.

Many years ago local authorities were charged with maintaining the section of the King's highway which went through their territory. This system has gone on and on, and it is right to say that to-day more than a thousand authorities, from the Ministry to urban district councils, are concerned with roads. It is probably right that the local roads and the unclassified roads should remain within this sphere of control, but I wonder whether it would be practical politics, once we get this great 1,300 miles, to allow this organisation to remain among this conglomeration of authorities with all their individual likes, views, interests and everything else.

Would it not be more sensible to consider placing it in a national corporation on a commercial basis, a corporation which would be concerned in time to make itself viable, which possibly would meet the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, about relieving the Exchequer and in turn the taxpayer on the cost of these roads? National organisations sell to whoever wants to buy their product. The gas authority sell their gas, the electricity authority sell their electricity, railways sell their railway tickets, air corporations sell their air tickets, and those who want them buy them. What would an authority owning this road network sell? Apart from its ancillary services of restaurants and petrol stations, it would be selling road space. How would it do this? Probably the best way would be by tolls, and it would probably be done on a basis of distance involving sections of road.

The noble Lord has mentioned that there might be automatic light controls every 50 miles or so. In Italy they have sections which are much shorter than that and there is no difficulty in the way of congestion. If one takes a busy road such as that which runs between Florence and Viareggio, which is jammed all the time, there is no hold-up because one gets on or off at intersections, without requiring special people to control them. One gets off the motor road in that way. I suggest that if this is done, such a large organisation will be involved in the through motorways that they would best be put into a commercial corporation and be run as other commercial Government corporations, and the tolls could pay for them. It would have the great advantage that those people who wanted to use the roads for commercial or other reasons would pay for what they got. In other words you would "pay your money and take your choice", and the choice would not be obligatory, which is a very important consideration.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to support my noble friend Lord St. Just, I am aware that opinions are very divided on this subject. The motorist, who is already overburdened by taxation of every sort, might be forgiven for expecting to be given motorways without tolls on them. However, the building of motorways has been so pathetically slow that it is not keeping pace with the increase in traffic each year, and without tolls, and therefore the speeding up of the programme, I see no hope of our ever getting any adequate roads. The charge for using a motorway is likely to be in the region of 1½d. a mile. Against this one has to set the saving in wear and tear of the motor vehicle and also the time element. The great attraction of the toll road is that if you object you do not have to go on it, whereas you have to pay your £17 10s. 0d. for your road licence and 3s. 7d. a gallon for petrol. You can go on the old roads if you do not wish to use the new. The purpose of collecting a toll is, of course, so that the road programme should be expanded. We want to be careful that the same thing does not happen as has happened with parking meters. Motorists, who contributed hundreds of thousands of pounds, were told that they were going to get off-street parking spaces, and they have got absolutely nothing. All they have had are a lot of yellow tickets. We should need safeguards to see that the money is protected.

Good roads are the greatest possible aid to safety, and statistics show that motorways have far fewer fatalities than the roads which they replace. It is sometimes difficult to understand this, because a motorway death is a headline news item, whereas if you fall out of your bath and break your neck it is probably not mentioned at all. Far too much prominence is given to any accident on a motorway, which is quite wrong. Motorways obviously increase the business efficiency of the country, and it may be necessary to pay out in order to get the benefits of that increased efficiency. It has always seemed strange to me that far smaller and poorer countries than ours have a very fine system of motor roads, while we are always told that we are unable to afford it. If this is really so, then I think we shall inevitably have to have toll roads, though I still believe that we ought to be given them for nothing. I should like to support my noble friend.

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord St. Just, for raising this very interesting question, although, if I may say so with respect, I do not think the solution which the noble Lord has put forward in his Unstarred Question is necessarily the right one. But I agree it is one that should be examined closely and ventilated, and I was very interested in everything that he had to say.

The noble Lord mentioned France—a country which I think he probably knows very well and for which he has a great affection, as indeed I have myself. I have never been on a toll road in France, but I was once charged a very large sum for crossing that beautiful suspension bridge at Tancarville, although I think the ferries over the Seine are free. But I submit that the conditions in France are quite different, because the density of the population is much lower, the country is much larger, and there is not nearly the number of vehicles on the roads which we find in this country. Indeed, it is one of the joys of spending foreign holidays there. One must say, in passing, how disappointed one is (although this is not the subject of the debate) that the travel allowance has not been increased.

The noble Lord, Lord St. Just, did not mention the United States. Outside the great cities the density of traffic there is more comparable to that in this counttry. I remember that two years ago I was staying in New York, but spent a Sunday in Connecticut. We drove back on Sunday evening at the time of the holiday traffic when most people were returning to New York, and we were delayed very considerably—I think for half an hour or even longer—at one of the tolls. I think the trouble is that the traffic will bank up on these motorways whatever one has. One tries to have a standard coin, and one tries to have a man ready to take it with as little delay as possible; but there is still a slowing up which can mean that the traffic will bank up. One can envisage hundreds and hundreds of cars stretching for miles and miles trying to get through, as happened on that Sunday night outside New York. For that reason I submit that the noble Lord's suggestion is not really a solution.

On the other hand, I agree with everything that previous speakers in this debate have said about the importance of increasing and completing this great motorway project. It is a matter of great disappointment that, perhaps due to economic necessity and the freeze, this has been slowed down. It is very depressing after motoring in Europe, particularly in France—if I may mention that wonderful country again—and finding the great projects that are going on everywhere, the magnificent roads that are being built, to come here and find the stagnation. After all, roads and motorways are not a luxury which we can do without. They are part of the whole economy. And we cannot get the economy of this country going; we cannot get this country modernised; we cannot get this country really brought up to the standard of the mid-1960s, unless we see that the people of this country are able to travel easily and quickly, and with as little delay as possible, along Her Majesty's highways.

7.35 p.m.


My Lords, having listened to the very interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord St. Just, and the almost equally interesting speeches of all the other noble Lords who have taken part, I am afraid I must make it clear right from the outset that my right honourable friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of Transport have no plans for introducing tolls on motorways. But I am glad to say that they have every intention of completing at least the first 1,000 miles—and I would point out that the only commitment which has ever been given is 1,000 miles of motorways—without them by the early 1970s (I will not be more precise than that, to the regret of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford) and this will constitute the main national motorway network. As has been said, there are some 500 miles of motorway now being used by traffic in England, Scotland and Wales; there are a further 150 miles under construction, and planning of the remaining lengths is at various stages of advancement.

I may say in passing, having recently taken over responsibility for roadworks in Scotland, that one of the things which appals me is the time it takes from the first idea until there is even a start on making the roads—the 31 steps. We have our equivalent in Scotland. Having regard to the fact that this Government entered into office some three years ago, if progress up to this point is not as fast as it ought to have been, it cannot up to the present be laid at the door of Her Majesty's Government. But I do not say that in criticism, because references to what is being done by other countries must take into consideration what other countries are doing in other directions. This is only part of what has to be done out of our national resources. However, I shall come back to that. We are completely confident that the network commitment will be completed on time.

To come to the question of imposing tolls on motorways, of course this is not a new proposal and it recurs from time to time. Tolling motorways is the practice in a few foreign countries, though not in most of them; and one naturally asks, as noble Lords have done, whether there might not be some advantage for us in adopting the same practice. Successive Governments have therefore reviewed this idea from time to time, and the present Government are also keeping the possibility under review, in case at some future time the balance of advantage should shift from what it appears to be at present. But up to the present the answer has always been that the imposition of tolls on motorways, for whatever purpose, would not be the right policy, for a number of reasons which I will do my best to explain.

I should say, first of all, that I take it we are discussing the tolling of whole lengths of motorway; not the imposition of a single toll at one or more strategic points, such as the Severn Bridge. It is of course accepted policy, or nearly accepted policy, that estuarial crossings of this kind, which are very expensive to provide and which save the driver a quite exceptional amount of time and distance, should be tolled. In these circumstances, the toll can be collected at comparatively little cost, either in the direct expenses of administration or in the uneconomic diversion of traffic.

A toll imposed over a whole length of motorway, however, is a very different proposition. Toll plazas would have to be built at every entrance and at every exit, and they would have to be laid out on a generous scale in order to minimise delays and queues of traffic which could possibly be dangerous as well as frustrating. I think there was a misunderstanding of what the noble Lord, Lord St. Just, said when he spoke about having a toll every 50 miles. If I understood him rightly, he was suggesting that you went through and paid for 50 miles whether you were going 50 miles or not, and that if you left before that point then your motoring was correspondingly more expensive, whereas if you proceeded beyond that point you were "clobbered" once again. I do not know how that would commend itself to the motorist, who certainly shares the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, that he is heavily taxed.

But at least some of the toll booths—and I think Lord St. Just conceded this—would have to be manned 24 hours a day. The thought occurs to me that a certain amount of vandalism goes on from time to time, and that these coin-operated toll booths, unmanned for considerable periods, might very speedily attract the attention of those who would regard them as a fairly easy way of getting money, rather than working for it. So even an unmanned toll booth would probably have to be guarded in some way so that the money went in the right direction. I do not think we could consider any toll booth which could be unmanned in the full sense of the term.

The layout of the motorways or, in particular, the complicated system of slip-roads which are necessary to enable entrance and exit to be made safely, would have to be radically adapted, and I need hardly tell your Lordships that all this would be very expensive, both in capital and in continuous running expenses. It would be very expensive, even if we were starting afresh with a clean slate—and I concede immediately that this is what the noble Lord suggested. He did not claim for one moment that this system should be applied to existing motorways. This means that the 1,000 miles are "out" so far as tolls are concerned, because the whole of it is already so far advanced in planning or otherwise that to adapt it for tolls would be very expensive and would inevitably mean a delay which would be unacceptable.

My Lords, to charge a toll of any significance on motorways would also incur cost of a different kind, and one which is perhaps even more serious. In this country there is a feasible alternative route by conventional roads to every motorway that we have, or are likely to have. It is not for me either to praise or to criticise what is done in other countries, but when we are praising what is being done by way of motorways in some of the countries to which reference has been made I think we should remember that they do not have quite the same alternatives to their motorways that we have, and that they can rely to a greater degree than we can on what is virtually captive traffic. We know, both from common sense and from the experience of some of the other countries which have tried it, that if you charge a toll on a motorway a lot of traffic will use the alternative route, if there is a route which can in any sense be regarded as a suitable alternative. The amount of traffic thus diverted might be as high as 30 or even 50 per cent. according to the rate of toll.

My Lords, we build our motorways to be used, and to be used to the full. They are intended to syphon off as much traffic as possible from the old, all-purpose roads. This is one way which my right honourable friends hope to reduce both traffic congestion and accidents. Therefore, in so far as traffic which could reasonably use a motorway declines to do so, but uses some less suitable road instead, the motorway is failing to fulfil the purpose for which it was built. It is therefore being less efficient and is producing less value for the money invested in it. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that a motorway toll is a very inefficient and a very expensive way of raising revenue compared with other means; and, on the other hand, a tolled motorway compared with a non-tolled motorway is a very poor investment of our national resources.

I do not want to weary your Lordships with statistics—I intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord St. Just, in keeping them to the minimum; and, in any event, as we do not have any experience of tolled motorways ourselves they would have to be partly conjectural—but I will quote two figures. If we had a toll of 2d., which I understand is a comparable figure, imposed on 1,000 miles of motorway, with no diversion to other routes caused by the toll we might have a total gross revenue—and may I repeat the word "gross"—of £46 million a year at present traffic volumes. This would be equivalent to the revenue which we might expect by putting an extra 2½d. on the fuel tax. In practice, of course, for the reasons that I have explained, the net toll revenue would be far less, perhaps equivalent to 1½d. on the fuel tax. So the heavily taxed motorist could not look to any measure of relief which he would consider worth while, even if we were to accept the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, that toll revenue should bring about a corresponding reduction in fuel tax.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, although I am a Southerner I would very happily accept 1½d. per gallon off petrol.


But not if it is going to be matched up by a 2d. a mile toll, surely.


Yes, I would.


As a Northerner, I just do not understand the logic of that. If we are going to hand out 3d., we prefer to get 6d. back, and not to shift 3d. from one pocket to another.

Incidentally, my Lords, I am cutting out a great deal of what I intended to say because everybody else has been brief and I want to cut down my speech as much as possible without cutting out any of the "meat." More fundamentally, perhaps, whichever way the finance is raised, motorways are not made with notes and coins of the realm: they are made with national resources of skilled labour and materials; and when we talk of the proper size of the road programme we are really talking about the proportion of our national resources which should properly be devoted to the building of roads. To raise new capital by means of toll revenue will not increase our national resources: in fact, it will reduce them by the amount needed for building toll plazas and otherwise adapting the system.

So the real problem in building roads, I suggest to your Lordships, is finding the resources to build them, which must unavoidably be at the expense of something else. If we increase the proportion of the national resources going on roads, we diminish it in other directions. Are we going to build fewer houses? Are we going to build fewer schools? Are we going to build fewer hospitals? Are we going to build fewer factories? Or are we going to vary the proportions of the national resources from one to the other, giving each at any given time the biggest share of the total which can usefully be devoted to it?

I do not suggest for one moment that the percentage of the national resources going to each of these subjects in 1967 will necessarily be the right one in 1970, or that it will be the right one in 1973. What must be decided from time to time, and over reasonable periods of years, is how these proportions will be varied so that at all times reasonable amounts are being allocated to all those things which come into top priority in the demands upon our resources. New ways of raising revenue or capital may well facilitate the transfer of resources from one sector of the economy to another but they do no more than that; and the cost of the transfer would in certain circumstances be very high.

The noble Lord, Lord St. Just, referred to the costs of building motorways. I would confirm what he said: that these vary considerably. The figures I have show that the rural two-lane motorway can be built for as little as £600,000 a mile; and that in urban conditions the cost per mile can rise to a level in excess of £2 million per mile.

So far as the future is concerned, I am unable to give any specific figures in this connection, but I can say that the views of the county surveyors have been taken into account in assessing inter-urban road needs for 1970, and some of the schemes in the Trunk Road Preparation Pool will be built as motorways additionally to the basic network. One of the things which contributes to the fact that the programme takes longer is the time and preparation of schemes—the "31 steps" to which my noble friend referred. These procedures—statutory, administrative and financial—are being reviewed. Some improvements can be made without legislation, and these are being done—for instance, eliminating double cost checking—but some changes will have to await legislation.

My Lords, this has been a most interesting discussion. As I have said, my right honourable friends do not have closed minds on the subject of tolls, but I should be leading your Lordships astray if I were to let you think for one moment that it was the subject most likely to be exciting their interests in connection with motorways in the immediate future. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It will be my pleasure to direct the attention of my right honourable friends to what has been said during this debate.