§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The management of the roads in Britain has throughout our history been local. Lords of the manor, religious communities, parishes, turnpike trusts, rural and urban districts, and, more recently, larger units, have in turn discharged this function. While with the expansion of the geographical range of mobility the tendency has been to widen the areas of administration, it still remains the case that until the introduction of this Bill no proposal had been formally brought to Parliament to establish a Department of State as a central highway authority. But the cost of the roads in Britain, contrasted with the management, once met in kind as a feudal servitude, next out of tolls or rates, has latterly been furnished in increasing measure by subventions from Exchequer funds. The allocation of taxes for this purpose, a principle first adopted in 1909, is an avowal of the national interest in communications. Recognised arrangements have been evolved—and my Ministry was appointed to facilitate them—whereby in return for our assistance towards expenditure some pressure can be exerted in favour of better canons of construction and upkeep.
The roads have been classified, censuses of traffic upon them are periodically taken, and contributions are graduated according to their importance. A distinction has come clearly to be drawn between roads intended for through passage and roads mainly serving the needs of a neighbourhood. Over the classified roads in counties—these are in the through passage category—we are able to keep a constant supervision by paying our share only for such approved works as the authorities are willing to do. These, let me emphasise, are not necessarily works which would fulfil all we would desire to be done. On the other hand, towards the maintenance and 1950 minor improvement of unclassified rural roads and classified roads in county boroughs, both of which fall in the neighbourhood category, we pay annually a lump sum which is merged in the block grant and which is used within the discretion of the authorities.
In the process of evolving these arrangements certain through routes—the nervous system, as it were, of the body economic of this country—have been thrown into relief and have come to be known unofficially as trunk roads. So vital are they as avenues of intercourse that the State has been at pains to promote their perfection, with what degree of success I shall presently describe. It bears in this endeavour in some cases as much as 85 per cent. of the cost. With modern developments in the means of conveyance and the progressive growth in the volume and range of traffic—motor vehicles alone have increased at the rate of 450 net a day ever since I became Minister of Transport—it has not been within the capacity of all highway authorities to make these roads meet the demands ever more insistently placed upon them. The shortcoming arises not only because some authorities are poor, whereas others are rich, not only because varying degrees of enterprise and foresight are shown in different places and at different times, but because the multiplicity of authorities controlling contiguous stretches of what, after all, may be the same line of communication, is in itself an obstacle in the way of uniformity.
Discrepancies of practice are well-known causes of inconvenience, irritation and even of danger. Let me give some illustrations to the House. On the 110 miles of the London to Birmingham road there are 23 different types of road surfaces. On the Bristol road, 120 miles in length, the width of the carriageway changes 19 times, varying between a maximum of 40 feet and a minimum of 20 feet. The Liverpool-East Lancashire road is throughout its length provided with roundabouts at all important junctions, and is adequately signposted throughout, while on other roads of equally high traffic importance, such as the Brighton and Folkestone roads, there are few or none of these conveniences. The Fish-guard road, starting in Middlesex with dual carriageways, cycle tracks and verges, and space available for further, 1951 improvements, in Buckinghamshire becomes a single 30 feet carriageway, suddenly contracting one-third of the way through the county to 20 feet, expanding to 30 feet for part of its length in Oxfordshire, and then again contracting to 20 feet. A rough approximation shows that the traveller from Berwick-on-Tweed to the Metropolis by the direct route, controlled by 28 separate councils, would find that on two-thirds of his journey, 190 miles out of 316, he was on a road where a stationary vehicle would reduce the carriageway to a single line of traffic, and this on one of the most important and historic roads in the country.
It is, perhaps, worth while putting these descriptions on record, in order that some chronicler in the future, looking back on the conditions which then prevailed on the principal roads of Britain, may take satisfaction, let us hope, in the progress attained; although, of course, it is right that we, looking back 15 years ago to the dust, mud, and uneven standards of maintenance, must recognise the achievement of the present authorities. Such anomalies suggest that just as in 1929, by the Measure which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer then presented, it was found expedient to transfer certain highways from the small district council to the larger county, a further step towards unification is opportune to-day.
Bodies representative of various classes of road users have, I have been made aware, from time to time formulated proposals for more completely centralising the administration of the principal roads, and have canvassed the idea of replacing by an entirely new authority the existing highway authorities; but in June of this year a sub-committee of the County Councils' Association itself, after deliberation, reached the conclusion—I give the words of the Resolution:That the construction, improvement and maintenance of certain roads of major importance should become the financial resos-insibility of the Ministry of Transport, the work thereon being carried out by the highway authorities as agents.As government in this country proceeds rather by persuasion and agreement than by catastrophic reforms, however theoretically justifiable they may be, His Majesty's Government, who had already been considering the matter, welcomed this responsible initiative. Finding them- 1952 selves more in accord with the lines on which the county councils appeared to be thinking they at once announced their proposals in Parliament, so that they might be in a position to invite the local authorities to co-operate with them in working out a detailed scheme. If we have not entirely met the views of certain of the county councils in the method of transfer, His Majesty's Government may, I think, feel some gratification that a transition from a custom long-rooted in the past, whereunder the administration of the King's highways has always been a local function—a tradition which they would have been reluctant brusquely to disturb—is likely to be accomplished with the good will and co-operation of local government.
I will now pass to the details of the Bill. As the title makes plain, this Bill effects no substantive change in the highway law, but merely a change in the highway authority, and all that follows from that change is consequential adjustment. I stress this because the present law is contained in a number of Local Government, Public Health, Road Traffic and other Acts, and an appreciation of the extent and relativity of these powers is not always easy. Consolidation will shortly be. required, and this will be the time to clarify the law and remove some of the present anomalies. In the meantime, in order that the benefits of this Measure may not be delayed, and that its passage may be simplified, we have contented ourselves with taking over, with the appropriate adaptations only, the law as it now stands.
By the first Clause the Minister of Transport becomes the highway authority over the 4,500 miles of trunk roads which are described in the Schedule and which are at present under the control of 84 different county councils. I have already indicated the significance of these trunk roads in our nexus of communications, and I would add that all the principal ports of the country are connected with them. Few points in Great Britain are more than 30 miles distant from one or other of them. On a journey exceeding 100 miles the normal route would take the traveller for at least half his way along a trunk road. If, by some miracle, all the roads of Britain were destroyed and the towns retained their present location, it is these routes, indispensable alike in peace and war, which we should find it a 1953 prime necessity to restore. The system must be regarded as a whole as, in the words of the Preamble:The national system of routes for through trafficnot necessarily dense traffic. We have been careful to preserve the integrity of the system, and, that the Minister may be free from any pressure to depart from the principles on which these roads have been selected, we have left the formal procedure of Act of Parliament to be invoked before any addition can be made. The proper occasion for a review, which involves financial readjustment, will be towards the end of each fixed grant period, when amendments to the Schedule can, in connection with the legislation then required, be, if necessary, undertaken. This prohibition on adding to the list does not exclude the power of the Minister to construct a new road or improve an existing road in substitution for any part of a trunk road, and indeed this power is specifically mentioned in Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 of the Bill in order to encourage the provision of by-passes and diversions.
No roads within the County of London and county boroughs are included, as the House will see from the terms of Clause 2. Such roads, as I have already explained, are block granted on the grounds that they are primarily of local importance, and there is therefore neither the same opportunity nor the same need for effective central control. We are dealing in this Bill with through routes, and the continuation of these is best secured by by-passes outside the urban areas. Clause 3 transfers from the present highway authorities to the Minister, with the necessary modifications, all the appropriate functions now discharged by them in relation to roads which will become trunk roads. It is, however, our intention, as will be allowed by Clauses 5 and 6, to enter into agency agreements with the councils, whose skill and experience are already available to do most of the work required. The officers who will carry out the work will, as heretofore, be the servants of the councils.
One of the functions of local authorities is the administration of the Ribbon Development Act. Part of the powers conferred by that Act are exercisable for the protection of the road, and part for the preservation of amenities. It is pro- 1954 posed under Clause 4, as a matter of convenience, that both functions should continue to remain with the local authority, but the Minister will reimburse them for any compensation that becomes payable as a result of conditions that he has required. The basis for the transfer is, as laid down in Clause 7, that the Minister should take over the road and all properties and liabilities attaching to it as from 1st April next—in Scotland 16th May. What has been incurred in the past, including loan charges, is with the authority; what is to be incurred is with the State. We are not buying these roads. We are, in relief of the local authorities, taking over all obligations for future expenditure upon them. I have, however, assured the authorities, and I ought to give the same assurance to the House, that we will undertake to pay to any authority from whom land, not forming part of a highway, is acquired, the percentage of the cost that would have been payable by way of grant had the land been thrown info the highway immediately prior to the appointed day.
What is the measure of the liability of which the local authorities are to be relieved and which the State will now assume? It is impossible to say with accuracy. The present cost of maintenance and minor improvements of trunk roads is over £1,500,000 a year, of which 60 per cent. has hitherto been provided from the Road Fund. The State will henceforward pay the whole. At present trunk road improvement schemes, estimated to cost over £6,000,000, have been approved for grant, and schemes costing another £12,060,000 have been submitted. All improvement schemes will henceforward be at the charge of the State. What further sums will have to be expended will depend upon what our survey of the routes discloses. They may be considerable, for we intend to modernise them. Local authorities are, of course, aware that regard will be had to the transfer, in the negotiations on the general Exchequer contributions for the next fixed-grant period under the Local Government Act, 1929. The negotiations are now proceeding. In order that the local authorities may reap the full benefit of this transfer, I make it plain that it is not the intention of the Government to reduce the rates of grant in respect of the maintenance of roads which are not 1955 transferred, nor is it the intention of the Government to curtail the five-year programme in course of execution, and in respect of which the submissions now amount to over £140,000,000.
I imagine that the House will desire to know the principles on which we intend to proceed in the reconstruction and layout of these roads. They must be designed so as to permit the utmost fluidity of traffic consistent with the requirements of public safety. Carriageways must be of such width as will allow for the maximum number of vehicles likely to come upon them, and they should be subdivided so that traffic proceeding in one direction shall do so on its own track. They should be kept free of obstruction due to standing vehicles, and where development is proceeding, means of entrance to the main route should be strictly controlled. The provision of footpaths, now so often lacking or ill-maintained, should be regarded as an essential feature of design. Cycle tracks should be provided, so that cyclists can pursue their way free of the liability of collision with more powerful vehicles. Carriageways should be superelevated at bends, and the cross-fall reduced to a minimum. Road junctions cannot be eliminated, but they should be so laid out as to give ample vision to drivers of oncoming vehicles. In certain cases, where the traffic is heavy, fly-over junctions which, in this Bill, we take express power to construct, will be designed to obviate the necessity of streams of vehicles crossing on the level, while at the less crowded junctions, roundabouts should be laid out or traffic signals installed.
Greater uniformity of surfacing should be achieved in materials which reduce the likelihood of skidding to a minimum. Whether it is necessary that traffic facilities should be given by the construction of an entirely new route or by the improvement of an existing one, is obviously a question which will depend upon engineering and economic considerations, but, in any event, long-distance traffic should be conducted round and not through the streets in built-up areas. There are other matters, apart from those of construction, which demand the application of a steady and enlightened policy. Traffic warning and direction signs should be not only of standard pattern, but sited on consistent principles throughout the 1956 country. Facilities for crossing the main stream of traffic should be given to pedestrians. Roads should be adequately and uniformly lighted, where traffic conditions demand. Equally important is it to ensure that they should be laid out and constructed with considerate regard for the amenities of the country through which they pass. Every effort should be made to beautify them by the planting of trees and shrubs, and the shrubs and verges should afterwards be carefully tended. We should endeavour to ensure that the road will enhance, and not detract from, the natural character of the countryside.
It must not be assumed that the proposals now before Parliament will immediately produce a road system such as I have described. Unfortunately, in these matters, there is the inevitable procedure which must intervene between the conception of an intention and its fulfilment. There are plans to be drawn, and property to be acquired; there are contracts to be let, the materials to be assembled and the labour to be engaged —and I hope in this connection to be of assistance to the men from Instructional Centres. In the case of improvements of existing roads, there is the necessary provision for the passage of traffic during the period of reconstruction, and there is the finance, which has now to be provided by Parliament, taking into account the relative importance of the other needs of the community. Would it were otherwise, and that we could at one stroke remove all the present obstacles. The Bill, however does for the first time give us the power to take a comprehensive view, and for the first time does it give us the opportunity for centrally directed action. When the Bill is passed, it will enable the lessons of modern research to be consistently applied, and, within a measurable time, offer a prospect of our trunk roads being regarded as models on which the rest of the road system can be based. If, as the result of having a Minister directly responsible for an important section of our highways, Parliament should take a more direct interest in watching and stimulating their development and modernisation, no Minister of Transport will regret it.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
The views of hon. Members of all parties in the House will inevitably be influenced 1957 by the interests of the area which they represent in the House. I cannot pretend to speak on behalf of each one of my hon. Friends, and I have no doubt that the Minister will find varying shades of opinion among his own supporters. There is a difference of financial interest in this matter between the counties and the county and metropolitan boroughs. Those of us who represent borough constituencies will have to ask some questions and require some satisfaction with regard to the finance of the Bill, on which, I am bound to say, the Minister has been shamefully lacking in giving information to the House. We are really buying a pig in a, poke, so far as the finance is concerned. There is nothing explicit as to where the money is coming from or whose money it is going to be.
I am amazed that a Minister in a, National Government, which usually prides itself on its financial explicitness, openness and preciseness, has brought a Bill to the House with a total liability on Revenue Account of about £660,000 a year, with no estimate as to the cost of improvements—I agree as to the difficulties in giving it—and no precise information as to how the money will be provided. That may be financial administration under National Government; it would not be regarded as good financial administration by any properly conducted local authority in Great Britain. I suggest that this is not a businesslike way of handling the House of Commons. If the Minister wants expenditure which may well be in the region of £1,000,000 or more a year, the House of Commons is entitled to be told where the money is coming from, how it is to be provided and who is going to get it, in the way of local authorities and others, and whether and to what extent the financial interests in other local authorities are to be prejudiced by it.
We do not know, and the Minister has not told us, whether the money which is going to the counties out of the Road Fund, is to go to the financial prejudice of road schemes in the boroughs. It looks as though that might be so, but we are not told. Really, of all the muddled ways of presenting the finance of a Measure of this kind to the House of Commons I have never known anything more disgraceful that I can remember. 1958 It must not be taken that the local authorities, even the county councils, are going unanimously to bless the Bill. The County Councils' Association has said—I have heard of the doctrine before—that the State should provide 100 per cent. of the cost of trunk road construction, maintenance and improvement, but that the county councils should continue to do the work. In fairness to the Minister I say that 100 per cent. State grant with local control of the expenditure of it, is a doctrine to which I never felt able to accede. I think that the County Councils' Association will feel, at the end of the day, that it was rather an innocent proposition of theirs that the State should find all the money and the local authorities have the control of it. When they passed their resolution I think they were, so to speak, asking for it. It will follow inevitably, if the State provides the whole of the money, that the State will have the control, or at any rate the essentials of control. Even that we do not know. It is arguable as a point of public policy.
The Minister could, if he wished, make the county councils his agents. He could control them fairly meticulously, and substantially save expenditure. It could be done, and probably the county councils will argue that case as far as they possibly can. Even on this important point of administrative principle there is nothing in the Minister's statement, and nothing in the Bill. The Minister takes power to delegate the work to the county council. He takes powers compulsorily to delegate, during the first two years, and he has a permissive power as to delegation thereafter. I should have thought that the Government could have made up their minds whether they were going to delegate or not after the two years, but they have not. They do not say so in the Bill. In the course of the speech of the Minister, it was not clear to me that he was going to administer these roads directly after the two years. This is a point upon which it should be possible for the Government to make up their minds.
The County Council of the West Riding of Yorkshire has sent a letter to certain hon. Members, asking them to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, and they say that the county councils of the North and East Ridings of York- 1959 shire agree with them. The London County Council has written to the Minister of Health reserving its full right of financial argument when the block grant discussions come along. A good deal is left unclear by the provisions of the Bill, and as a consequence, hon. Members, who represent constituencies of varying types of local authority, are in the gravest doubt how their local authority finance will be affected, one way or the other. Consequently, nobody can give a clear or explicit opinion either for or against this Bill at the present time.
One thing that the Minister said made me doubt whether the Bill ought to be charged on the Road Fund of the Ministry of Transport, or whether it ought not to come on the Votes of the War Office. I am bound to say that, when the Bill was announced, I wondered why the Government had been suddenly converted to nationalisation of the trunk roads. Now it seems to be pretty clear. The Minister has told us that these roads go to the ports of the country, and that in time of war there might be very great difficulties in connection with the traffic on the trunk roads. I will not say that he is wrong. Heaven forbid that I should be involved in a debate this afternoon—and I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you would not permit me to be—on armaments policy, and expect the Minister of Transport to reply; but I do think that this sudden conversion of the Government to the principle of taking over the liabilities of the county councils may well be determined by military considerations much more than by considerations of transport.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I am not saying it should not; I made that specific reservation. I did not say at all that it should not. It may be a very sensible precaution to take; I do not argue the point; but, if that be so, is there not a great deal to be said for charging the money on the Votes of the War Office rather than on funds which may involve prejudice to the local authorities so far as the Road Fund's disbursements are concerned?
The Minister has assumed, and the Government seem to assume, that if these trunk roads become national 1960 properties we shall be in for an era of unchecked progress—large-scale reconstruction, big widenings, and big developments in the trunk road system of the country. I say to the House that it ought to be cautious about accepting that view. There were times, when reactionary Tory Governments were in office, when they were deliberately discouraging expenditure from the Road Fund, conserving it in every way they could, in order that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and, later, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, might, in agreement with the Minister of Transport, raid it for general purposes of budgetary need. The Government policy, so far as Conservative Governments are concerned, has been, ever since the War, up and down and on and off in regard to highway expenditure. At one moment they might be progressing, and even begging the local authorities to do things for the sake of relieving unemployment; but at another moment—and there have been more moments than one—a Conservative Government has restricted disbursements out of the Road Fund and has positively discouraged local authorities from carrying through important highway improvements. If it had not been that highway maintenance was a function of the local authorities, it is probable that some of the big improvements which have been made in a large number of areas would not have been made at all.
In the county of Glamorgan, for example, where the late Colonel Watts-Morgan was one of the most go-ahead road improvement men I ever knew, important inter-valley roads were made as a result of the initiative and enterprise of the Labour majority on the Glamorgan County Council; but if they had been under the State, and if a Tory Government had been in office at the time, it is probable that those improvements would never have been made. They pressed and they urged, for Colonel Watts-Morgan was one of the most persuasive men I ever knew, to get grants out of the Road Fund, and I had the utmost difficulty in preventing him from trying to negotiate them when he sat on the second bench opposite and I was Minister of Transport. He was very enterprising, and they went ahead. I warn the House that some of the improvements which 1961 have been made during the post-war epoch by the enterprise and push and go of popularly elected authorities would not have been made if Conservative Governments had had entire charge of the job.
The Minister has given us a lot of phrases this afternoon which I am sure he hopes will be headlines in the morning—and they will be very good ones. That is all very well, but supposing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in making up his Budget next year, finds that he needs x millions for armaments, that he is afraid of imposing additional taxation on the country beyond a certain point, and that he has got to save money, is it excluded from the bounds of possibility, is it not, indeed, likely, that that he may save money by cutting down the Minister of Transport's activities in regard to trunk roads in order to relieve his financial embarrassments elsewhere? Therefore, I think that those who hail this Bill as necessarily being a Bill that is going to bring vigorous, uninterrupted, progressive modernisation of the trunk roads of the country under Tory Governments, should put a restriction upon their enthusiasm and their approval, because I very much doubt whether in fact that will be the case.
I would remind the House that even under the present Government, in periods when the Press has been regularly fed with the energetic activities of the Government in the realm of highway construction, and their desire to make highway improvements on a big scale, some urgently needed highway improvements which have been put up have been rejected or destroyed by Parliamentary opposition in Committee since this Government has been in office. There was the Humber Bridge Bill. That Bill was pretty well through under the Labour Government. It was a difficult job, but it was pretty well through, if not entirely through, when the Labour Government fell. It was urgently necessary. If the map which has been issued were a complete map instead of merely a diagram—a misleading diagram—it would show certain points where bridge communication is necessary, and the Humber is one of them. What happened? Directly the National Government came into office they killed the scheme, refused the grant, and told Kingston-upon-Hull that it could not go forward.
1962 Then there was the Severn Bridge, between South Wales and the other side of the Bristol Channel—a work that would have been a great advantage to the depressed area of South Wales. The scheme was destroyed, but I venture to say that, if the Government had been really enthusiastic about it, and had wanted it done, that probably would not have been the case. [Interruption.] There are good ways and bad ways of handling Private Bills, and I am not at all sure that, if the Government had taken enough trouble about it in perfectly legitimate ways, that Bill could not have gone through. If it was not done by the Government, it was done by a Committee of this House. There is a Tory majority in this House, and the Tory majority evidently do not want that bridge over the Severn. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear !"] Very well. If they do not want the local authorities to do it, presumably they will not want the Ministry of Transport to do it.
I am only saying these things for the purpose of calling attention to the fact that we must not assume that this Bill necessarily opens out an era of unrestricted progress in road construction. There are places in Scotland also where improvements have been asked for, and where a large number of schemes have been put up for bridges with assistance from the local authorities, and I suggest that, in view of this experience, it will be very unwise to assume that the Government will necessarily be progressive, or that the county councils have necessarily been lax in carrying out their duties. Although I quite agree that in a number of cases county councils with Tory majorities have not adequately discharged their highway functions, it would be wrong to make that charge against all the county councils. I think that in the greater number of cases the county councils have discharged their duties reasonably well—even Tory county councils. Many of them have been go-ahead in highway construction. I would mention as examples Middlesex and Surrey, and there are others at greater distances from London which have been go-ahead in highway construction and maintenance.
The cost of maintenance which is being taken over is 666,000 a year, plus the undefined cost of future improvements, plus—the Minister will correct me if I 1963 am wrong, because the Sub-section is not quite clear to my mind—plus, possibly, the cost of lighting these trunk roads, plus the cost of administration, which is estimated to be £50,000 a year, together with any addition to the engineering staff of the Ministry of Transport. It is perfectly clear that the sum involved annually, if the job is even modestly well done, will not be less than £1,000,000 a year.
This money is to come out of the Road Fund. Part of it may come out of money to be voted by Parliament. The Subsection which deals with the finance is not at all clear as to how much will come out of the one and how much out of the other; it is left for administrative arrangement, as far as I can tell, between the Minister of Transport and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But, if this money is to come out of the Road Fund, is it not the case that to that extent the money available in the Road Fund for the county and metropolitan boroughs must be diminished by the amount taken from the Road Fund for the 100 per cent. which is to be taken over of the cost of the trunk roads in the counties? If that be so, we ought to be told it explicitly, because then the boroughs will know that their financial interests are imperilled; and, while they may not object to 100 per cent. of the cost of trunk roads being taken over by the Government, and may wish their county council brethren good luck in their enterprise, they may nevertheless ask for guarantees and recompense to protect the financial interests of the boroughs, which on the face of it may be imperilled.
I am not sure that the boroughs themselves, in many cases at any rate, have not a case for asking for 100 per cent. of the cost of their principal roads to be taken over as well. In the case, for instance, of those boroughs in South-East Lancashire where the roads run almost through built-up territory, many of them county boroughs, it is not an unreasonable proposition for them to say that the traffic that comes to them is not necessarily any less national traffic than is the traffic that runs over the trunk roads in the administrative counties. I put in that word of reservation because it will be a legitimate point for them to make. If, on the other hand, the formula under the 1964 block grant is to be so modified that county councils outside London will not get so much as they had before, then it is only fair that they should know, and the House ought to know.
In the second place, we ought to know whether the money thus saved will be transferred from the general Exchequer contribution and credited to the Road Fund. Finally, we ought to know, either from the Minister of Transport or from the representatives of the Ministry of Health, whether the revisions in the block grant are to be of such a character that the whole of the local authorities, boroughs and counties, have to make a sacrifice in order to recompense the Road Fund for this money which is now to be a new charge upon it, because in that case it will mean that the boroughs may have something to say about making a contribution towards the relief of administrative counties while themselves getting no advantage at all. Those are the queries on financial points that I wish to make.
It is impossible for anyone to give a collective, definite opinion on behalf of any political party as to the Bill. Members will, quite properly, take into account the local situation, the financial interests, and the various types of local authority in their constituencies. Consequently, in view of the points that I have raised, we must reserve our complete freedom to raise in Committee various points which seem to us appropriate. There is, of course, a great deal to be said for the principle that big trunk roads which are really national in character should be taken over by the State. Nevertheless, I always regret a power which local government has held for many years passing into the hands of the State. It is important that that process should not be carried too far, otherwise the powers of local authorities become so small that we shall not command the necessary ability to serve upon them, because it would not be attractive.
It is interesting and curious that here is a Bill to give the county councils 100 per cent. cost of their trunk roads, and the same Government that does that has so far imposed upon the London County Council 100 per cent. ratepayers' charge for Waterloo Bridge. It is a, monstrous injustice and politically 1965 a foolish thing to do, as they will know before many months have passed. It is curious that the county councils that are mainly Tory are to have 100 per cent. of their trunk roads cost 'and the London County Council, which has a Labour majority, is not to get one penny towards what is a trunk road job if ever there was one.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that the decision was arrived at when there was a Tory County Council. It was only repeated when the present council came into power.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I agree that we forced the issue; nevertheless it is the case that the House of Commons this Session approved that Money Bill, and it is still the case, nevertheless, that the council has up to this moment been penalised by refusal of the grant. In my judgment when the Government throws to the provincial county councils mostly with Tory majorities a 100 per cent. grant and even now, after the House of Commons has approved that Money Bill, denies London a penny on that bridge, it is guilty of political partisanship in the dispensation of public moneys and grants. We do not propose to oppose the Second Reading. My hon. Friends must be free, as I hope hon. Members opposite will be, to put before the House any points that they are asked to put by local authorities whom they represent. The Bill marks an important development in highway administration and an important change in the control and management of trunk roads. It is, therefore, a Bill of some substance and significance and we must reserve our complete freedom to raise what points we like in Committee.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. TURTON
It is not my intention to move the Amendment on the Paper in my name. I understand that Mr. Speaker does not desire me to do so as I shall have opportunities of expressing the sentiments contained in it in Committee. The Minister gave a very clear outline of what he intended to do in his new capacity as road authority, and that is one side of the question. The other is that the taxpayer is going to pay money that is at present being paid by certain ratepayers, and certain ratepayers, while they have to pay for their roads, are 1966 going to have to shoulder the burden of other ratepayers. For that reason, although my primary objection to the Bill may be said to be a local question, it is really the heart of our consideration of the Bill. The Minister is most able, energetic and enthusiastic. He will be a very good road administrator, but the whole question depends on whether he is taking over the right or the wrong roads, and it is for the House to consider the necessary elements for the choice of certain roads.
I will submit what I regard as certain essentials in the taking over of certain roads. First comes the question of unification of road policy. At present a road goes through a number of different highway authorities' areas. By taking it over my right hon. Friend will be able to unify policy and break down any divergencies in the present administration. My second condition—the Minister rather fought shy of it—is density of traffic. I cannot understand how he can leave that out in the consideration of the question. Last week 164 people were killed on the roads, and week by week we have that high death rate. That takes place where traffic is densest, and I think it most important that the roads included in the Bill should be those where there is dense traffic. My third consideration is the question whether the areas in the route of the roads have any share in the traffic upon them—whether it is through traffic or stopping traffic serving the different areas on the road. My fourth stipulation—again the Minister seems to have overlooked it—is the poverty of the area that the road goes through. Here is an opportunity to include certain roads in the Special Areas. Where you have a number of people unemployed, it follows that fewer of them use motor cars and, if there is an important road in a Special Area, clearly it is a through road. My last point is facilitating road improvements. By taking over certain roads it may well be that you can improve them more easily. That is a different point from my first—the unification of road policy.
When we take those five desiderata and apply them to this Bill, I am afraid it does not come very well out of it. On the map that has been supplied to us there are large blocks which have none of these trunk roads upon them. Some of them are in Scotland. I make no 1967 complaint of that. In Scotland there are fewer trunk roads. But there is one particularly large gap in the map. The whole of the East of Yorkshire is excluded from the Bill. There is no trunk road between Middlesbrough and Hull. I want the House to consider that area in comparison with others. I notice that the roads from London to Brighton and from London to Dover are included. That is because they cater at week-ends for holiday traffic. We also have our week-end roads in the North. The first and foremost is the road from Leeds to Scarborough. Scarborough is to the North what Brighton is to the South. That vital road is omitted from the Bill. We must test that road by the five considerations that I have mentioned. The Leeds to Scarborough road goes through the area of the West Riding County Council, through York City, through the area of the North Riding County Council, through the area of the East Riding Council, and finishes up in the North Riding Council. It goes through four different areas, of which two have absolutely no concern in it.
York City has no interest in the traffic that goes along it. It obstructs traffic and makes York impossible at certain times of the day. The East Riding is a very poor area. It is very poor agricultural land. I do not represent the East Riding, so I can say that. It has to hear the very heavy cost of this road, although it has not the slightest interest in the traffic. It is all through traffic. I made some inquiry from the Minister as to the relative density of the traffic en this road compared with some of the greatest roads. I thought that I had better set my standard high, so I compared it with the Great North Road which, at Scotch Corner, in the last traffic census at Catterick Bridge, had a maximum of 4,400 motor vehicles and 4,800 vehicles, including pedal cycles, a day on the road. The traffic density at York on the Leeds-Scarborough Road was 8,600 motor vehicles, and the total 17,000 vehicles, including pedal cycles. That is what I found—four times the number than on road No. Al. At Malton the peak density was 6,900 motor vehicles, and the total 9,600 vehicles, double that upon the Great North Road.
I submit that clearly there has not been consideration of these roads on the ground 1968 of traffic density. I noticed that that was missing from the speech of the Minister. If you look at the roads with a knowledge of England it will be forced home upon you. I have often travelled on the Penrith to Scotch Corner Road. Nobody would call that a dense traffic road. The traffic is very remote—few and far between. Although it may be called a through traffic road—any road is a through traffic road if there are people going upon it—it does not really serve a large volume of through traffic. A good deal of the traffic is stopping traffic. Yet that road is included, and the main artery which really goes across England (because the Leeds-Scarborough Road is a trunk road when it is continued from Leeds to Preston) has been left out of the Bill by the Minister, as far as I can understand, for no good reason at all.
I would like to finish by dealing with the vital question of whether the taking over of this road will facilitate road improvement. That is my real reason for going into the full details of this question. The Leeds-Scarborough Road is an example of the present highway law being insufficient to meet the needs of traffic. Last Summer I invited my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to come to Yorkshire and to Malton at a week-end and to see what the traffic was like. Owing to our holiday engagements he could not come. If he had accepted my invitation, without question this road would have been in the Bill. It takes an hour to get through Malton on Sunday afternoon in summer. Why? Because you cannot by-pass it.
In 1929 they made a suggestion—I expect the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) duly considered it—for bypassing Malton to the South through the East Riding. It was a scheme that would have cost £97,000, and was on the face of it an economic scheme, with one bridge. The East Riding said, "why should we have to pay a penny towards by-passing Malton when all this traffic is West Riding or North Riding traffic?" That scheme failed. To-day we are forced to be considering a scheme which is two miles longer, at a cost of some £250,000, with four bridges instead of one. That will destroy the whole value of the town of Malton and stop its development. If you took over this particular road you would be able to run 1969 that bridge through the East Riding at half the cost. It would save the Government a good deal of money and you would have a road that would allow both Malton and Norton to develop.
I will ask the Minister at a later stage to consider the roads he has put into the Bill and to see that Parliament goes through them with care. I believe that there are some roads included in this Bill that should not be in a. trunk road Bill. Why should the London to Brighton Road be in a Trunk Roads Bill? There is no poverty in Brighton. It goes through relatively few highway areas, and it is a road serving local traffic to a great extent. These roads in the North are not in the same category as the London to Brighton road, because they are really through roads. They are roads dense in traffic, going through the areas of different authorities.
In Clause 2 of the Bill there is a most surprising exception to the Trunk Roads Bill. It excepts all county boroughs from the advantages of the Bill, and I notice that the Minister, when he was making his speech, said that here "we were dealing with through roads and that county boroughs should be served by bypasses outside urban areas." I do not know if that is the policy of the Minister to-day, but the York Corporation have been fighting the Ministry for six months because they want to have a ring road round York, and the Minister has told them that it has to be in the area of York City and not in the area of the authority outside. If that is so, if ever the Minister takes over the Leeds-Scarborough Road he will still be leaving York to hold the baby which is not the slightest concern of York but of Leeds and Scarborough. I suggest that at a later stage we should reconsider Clause 2 and leave out ring roads from the exception to Clause 2.
The Minister said that what he had written he had written for five years and that he would put additional roads into the Bill at the next quinquennial period. If we are to be so hard and fast in that matter and we do not put in certain roads to-day, cannot we give the Minister power to add certain roads if the traffic becomes more dense at any time? Road traffic is a flexible quantity. The traffic constantly increases its circulation in one direction owing to industry coming 1970 in the direction in which before it had not circulated. The Minister of Transport, if he is to be a modern Minister and not merely like the old Way-Wardens of our grandfathers' day, ought to have power to add trunk roads if he is convinced by Members in charge of areas which they serve that they should be included. I hope that we shall not pass this Bill without putting in some power to make additions. At the present time a particular area can be forced to spend money on roads which are really not its concern. A few years ago an Act of Parliament gave power to the Minister to allocate road improvements to another area, if it was felt that the value of the road improvements belonged to the other area rather than to the area where the road improvements took place. That has been found to be of no value at all. Although you can allocate the cost of road improvement, you cannot allocate the cost of road maintenance. In the particular case at Malton the East Riding said that it was no good the North Riding and the Ministry paying the full cost of the by-pass because they would have to keep it up afterwards and had not the money to do so. The Minister should consider whether the time has not come when he should be able to allocate maintenance cost of trunk roads which he does not take over, as well as the cost of improvements.
My last suggestion is that under the Bill the Minister agrees to pay 100 per cent. of the cost of these trunk roads and to take them over without considering whether some of the traffic is not local traffic. I should like to see provided in the Bill that the Minister and the local authorities should have power to agree that the local authorities whose roads are being taken over should make some contribution towards the cost of their local traffic.
To go back to the London and Brighton Road, which goes through a very rich area the whole way, it is really ridiculous that people on that road should not make some contribution towards the cost of their local traffic. Why should the taxpayers of Yorkshire or the Special Areas have to pay for the London to Brighton road when in my case, and I expect in the case of many other hon. Members, the Minister is not taking over any of the roads, or, if he is taking over some of them, it is only for a very few 1971 miles? We must have a certain amount of justice in this matter, and I do not believe that we are getting it. I was so impressed with the fact that the Bill as drawn is not just, that I carefully went through all the roads that were included. Drawing the usual line one usually draws on the map of England—the line between the Mersey and the Humber—I found that, excluding all roads which serve both the North and South, 17 roads were entirely south of that line and only rune entirely north of that line. I did pray that we might have had a Scotsman or a Yorkshireman as Minister of Transport, as we have for agriculture, because in this Bill the South of England is getting the advantage. The North, which, owing to the poverty of agriculture and of the heavy industries, has suffered far greater rate losses than the South of England, is, under this Bill having to pay now for South of England roads.
I very much regret that if this Bill goes through in the form in which it is at present, doing an injustice to the interests of Yorkshire and the North of England, I shall not be in the same Lobby as the Minister of Transport on the Third Reading of the Bill. Until we have had the Committee stage and seen what improvement can be made, and until I have heard what action the Minister is prepared to take to assist the great trunk road in the North of England from Preston through Leeds to Scarborough—although I shall give my vote for the Second Reading—I must warn the Minister, unless something is done for the North of England, my attitude will be to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. ERNEST EVANS
I should like to express my very sincere congratulations to the Minister of Transport on the fact that he has successfully and safely negotiated the pedestrian crossings which have led him safely to the sure and secret precincts of the Cabinet Chamber. I say that with great sincerity, and I know that he will accept it from an old colleague and friend. He will not misunderstand me if I say that the pleasure would have been increased if I could have felt that his admission to the Cabinet was due in some part to the importance with which the Government regard the Ministry of which he is the 1972 head. But I am afraid that my right hon. Friend's promotion is due more to his personality than to his policy.
I remember when the Ministry of Transport was established. It was intended to be, and it should be, one of the most important Departments in the State. It is a Department which deals with the amenities of life, which affects trade and commerce and which is concerned with the life of the population. But the history of the Ministry of Transport has been very chequered. To-day, the Ministry of Transport annoys some people, and in so far as those persons ought to be annoyed, and there are many of them about, that is to its credit. It is a Ministry which amuses some people. A strong Ministry can afford to put up with a little sense of amusement on the part of the public, but there ought perhaps to be a built-up area for comic gags. The Ministry also amazes others, myself included. For that I blame not the Ministry but the Government, because the Government are not giving to the Ministry the importance that ought to attach to it in the life of the country. I will take this Bill as an example.
My right hon. Friend is proud of the Bill, but the measure of his pride in the Bill is the measure of the lack of importance that his colleagues attach to his Ministry. I will tell him why. What is it that the Bill proposes to do? He has told us that he is very proud of the fact that he is going to take over from the local authorities the liability for 4,500 miles of roads which, in the Memorandum submitted to us, constitute the national system of routes for through traffic in Great Britain. There will be many people who will be glad to know, for the first time, that in the idea of the Government there is a national system of routes in this country. That will be a great surprise to many people. If there is a national system of routes, let it also be a rational one.
Let us look at some of the provisions of the Bill, following on, the complaints which have already been addressed to the Minister by the hon. Member who has just spoken. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition said that hon. Members would speak from the point of view of their own constituencies and their own interests. My constituency has not very much direct concern in this 1973 Bill, and therefore I am not speaking strictly for a community but from the point of view of the ordinary pedestrian who hopes to be able to pursue his daily round with some degree of safety and without running too great a risk of losing his life whenever he steps from the sidewalk. Let us look at the Bill from the point of view of the standard which the Minister has presented to the House as being a demonstration of the great importance which the National Government attach to a national system of routes for direct traffic in this country. The mileage is 4,500. If my right hon. Friend travels ten times to his constituency in a year, and I am sure that he will do that, because he is very active in looking after his constituents, he will cover a distance representing the whole of the national routes for through traffic provided for in this Bill.
He proposes to control 4,500 miles out of a total mileage of 178,500, and he feels it necessary to come down and take pride in the fact that he is taking control of those 4,500 miles. What is his justification for fixing on the 4,500 miles? The hon. Member who spoke last has made certain criticisms in regard to some routes which he thinks ought to be included and some which ought to be excluded. On what basis has the right hon. Gentleman fixed this particular system of national through traffic? There is a through system of traffic between, say, London, Folkestone, Brighton, Wigan, and other similar places of amusement. What else is there? The right hon. Gentleman says that these particular routes provide a system of through traffic to the ports of the country. Do they? It provides a national system of through traffic to Llanfair, but it does not provide a national through traffic to Liverpool. It provides a system of through traffic from Chester to Cerrigydruidion, but it does not provide a national system from London to Cardiff, Newport or Swansea. You cannot get to one of those places in the Schedule of the Bill unless you care to go 60 or 70 miles outside of the direct route from London to Newport, Cardiff or Swansea. You will not in this Schedule be able to get a national system of through traffic to those ports.
When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the ports, I would ask whether the Bill is to be considered as part of the 1974 Government's policy of providing for the defence of the country. Has he been consulted in connection with this Bill by the War Office, the Air Ministry or the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence Services, in relation to this provision for the creation of a national system of through traffic routes? That is a very important matter. It is one of the most vital things in the defence of the country. The Government are urging upon us from day to day the great danger which exists in a great city like London from possible air raids. Has the right hon. Gentleman been consulted by his colleagues in regard to providing an outlet from London in the case of an emergency of that sort arising? If it should happen, which God forbid, that the population of London were placed in the position of having to try to get out of London quickly, what is there in this Bill or in any other Bill or any other part of the Government's programme which would facilitate civilians in getting away in the event of a national emergency?
Let me turn to the finance of the Bill. This goes to the whole route of the matter. What does the Minister propose to do? He spoke very eloquently of the necessity of having footpaths, which pedestrians do not use, and making provision for the avoidance of skidding on the roads—excellent things. But what is there in this Bill which assists him to do any of those things? Take the memorandum which he has presented to us. It says:It is not possible to estimate even approximately the sum that will be required to bring the trunk roads up to modern standards over a period of years.Here we are in Great Britain, part of the greatest Empire in the world, and in 1936 the Minister of Transport introduces a Bill and provides a memorandum in which he says that even now it is not possible to estimate approximately the cost of bringing our roads up to modern standards. How long has the Ministry of Transport been in existence? What has it been doing all these years? Was it not one of its main functions to bring the roads up to modern standards? Yet we are told that even now they cannot estimate the cost of performing the elementary function for which the Ministry was established 10 years ago. The memorandum further states: 1975It is not at this stage possible to frame an estimate of the amount which will be required under this head.That is the head under which certain councils are to act as the Minister's agents. Where does my right hon. Friend spend his time? Does his Ministry expect the local authorities to come to terms with him to act as his agent unless he can give them an estimate—he need not commit himself to a final figure—of what this is likely to cost? Take the next paragraph. We go from worse to worse. It amazes me. The only expense that the Minister seems to be quite certain about—he is not quite certain but he approximates to some certainty—is the expense of his own staff. The Memorandum says:The necessary additions to the staff of the Ministry will result in an increased charge on public funds which is not expected to exceed £50,000 per annum.The right hon. Gentleman was once at the Treasury. Does he think it fair to ask the House of Commons to pass a Bill giving the Ministry powers without giving the House of Commons a chance of knowing what it is going to cost, and whether it is worth while incurring the cost? Where is he going to get the money? He has not a Road Fund left. This is one of the purposes for which the Road Fund was established. The contributions from the people who use the roads were intended to make better provision for the roads they use. The Road Fund has gone under the system of the National Government, and the right hon. Gentleman will have to go on his knees to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get every penny that he wants for the purpose of carrying out any one of the admirable objects he has outlined to-day. I doubt very much, in spite of his excellent intentions, and I know they are excellent, whether he will ever be able to carry out the plan which he has in mind, and until he can give us more assurance that he is likely to be able to do so, although I do not want to oppose the Bill, I shall watch its career in a very doubtful spirit, because I do not think it is big enough to meet the real needs of the country.
§ 5.45 p.m.
There seems to be a general desire in the House not to oppose the Bill, which is tantamount to saying that it is generally welcomed. The 1976 chief criticism so far is that it does not go far enough, and whether in all cases the right roads have been chosen. I do not think it is a case of grudging the kind of roads which may be considered of less importance, but rather that other roads of more importance should be taken into the scheme. One thing which at the moment is definite is the roads which have been decided upon and the distance. I want to make one or two inquiries regarding the nature of the roads. The first inquiry which comes to my mind is the type of surface which is to be used. Experiments have been going on for a long time on the Great West Road, and other roads, where in the middle on a perfectly straight stretch all traffic is deviated. I should like to know whether the Minister can tell us what results have come to his knowledge from these experiments.
The great difference between the trunk roads of this country and countries like America and Germany, is that their roads are going right across what is called virgin soil, whereas the roads of this country are already in existence. If you are using a modern surface such as concrete I should like to know whether any difficulty has been experienced in laying a concrete surface on the top of an already existing road. I think it is agreed that a concrete road is by far the most suitable surface when you are driving a new road right across country, but is that true also in the case of an existing road; to what extent can a turned up road surface be used as the foundation of a concrete surface? Another great difference between our roads and roads abroad is that whereas they can afford to go perfectly dead straight there are in this country bound to be corners and bends. We cannot drive roads right through and, therefore, I should like to know whether banking is to be put down, having in view the speed of modern vehicles. Up to now the banking has been so arranged as to have the crown of the road shaping down from the middle for the purposes of drainage. With the increase in speed of modern cars there is a tendency, when a car comes to a right-hand bend for the driver to fight shy of the camber on his own side of the road and get on to the crown of the road, where there is less likelihood of skidding when he is going a little faster than he should round a bend. The bends 1977 should be banked so as to make it not only possible but desirable for the driver of a motor car to keep to his own side of the road. If the banking is done properly you will eliminate a good deal of the cutting in and out which now takes place on corners, and which is perhaps one of the greatest dangers on the roads to-day. This applies not only to bends but to all straight patches as well.
When the Minister of Transport referred to dual carriage ways he omitted to say anything about lanes in these carriage ways. One of the great advantages of using concrete—I hasten to say that I have no interest in any firm which makes concrete, but I have seen the great roads in the United States of America recently —is that you lay out these lanes and the gaps which are wanted for expansion and contraction are filled with bituminous stuff, such as tar. You have a clearly marked lane within the dual carriage ways. I consider that these lanes are essential, and, in addition, I would urge the advantage of having three lanes on a road, more particularly a road where you have not room for dual carriage ways. The advantage of having three lanes is comparatively small over the advantage of having four lanes. Even if you have only three lanes you are still met with the danger of having a slow moving vehicle in each lane with a faster vehicle behind it, both of which want to get into the central lane for overtaking purposes, and you get the danger of a head-on collision.
The Minister mentioned motor vehicles and cyclists and pedestrians, but not one word have we heard about horses. However desirable it may be to ban horses from London streets and the centres of large towns, there is certainly no doubt on that point in the country. There is still need for horses. If we were at any time unfortunately at war we should need horses even more, particularly in view of what I am told is the grossly inadequate storage available for oil in the country. We shall have to conserve all cur petrol, and horses will be badly wanted. However, whether in peace or war I think some provisions should be made for them. Could not there be a grass verge for horses? Let horses have an extra lane if they are drawing carts, but where horses are being ridden could not there be another grass verge, so that there would be no necessity for them to go along 1978 the hard iron roads? I was going to say something about landscaping, but to my pleasant surprise I have been forestalled by the Minister of Transport. The right hon. Gentleman knows what I mean by landscaping, because I have given him a landscape of the latest roads in America. I do not suggest that it is possible in this country to do the same as they have done in America because the cost is so enormous.
Then there is the question of lighting. Uniformity of lighting is a good thing, but it is going to be of no use if the lighting is uniformly wrong. Here, again, there is need for experiment. I have not seen the Purley Way lighting. I am thinking of the Staines by-pass, which is a succession of extremely brilliant lights in a long straight road, right in your eyes. If a road is to be lit., it should be lit from above downwards or from the side inwards, and should not be lit in such a way that a motorist will have a long succession of brilliant lights in his eyes. That is very dangerous on a rainy night with drops of water on the windscreen. Is it not possible for these lights to be shaded except when you are within 20 or 30 yards of them when they are at a different angle to your eyes and, therefore, are not dazzling?
There is one local point with which I wish to deal, and the Minister for Transport as Member for Devonport will be able to understand me particularly well. The road to the West leads through Exeter, Plymouth, Torpoint and Liskeard. From Plymouth to Torpoint is extremely deep water. There is an efficient ferry service for motor cars which only takes 15 minutes to get across. That road from Exeter to Liskeard can hardly be called a through road. If the purpose is to feed the port, then surely if it has to go across the water, it should not go from Torpoint, but from Saltash, through a tunnel driven under the river or by a bridge across it. The traffic is extremely heavy especially in summer time and the need for a bridge or tunnel has been continually put forward in the local newspapers. I am wondering whether in view of the fact that the Great Western Railway at that point crosses the Tamar on a single line track by an historic bridge, which presumably cannot last for ever, the Minister of Transport might get into touch with the Great Western Railway Company and make a bridge with a road on 1979 the top for traffic with the railway underneath, or vice versa, and split the cost between them. That would be taking the view that the trunk road to the West should really be a road not interrupted by a ferry in the middle.
I want to say a word on the powers which are to be given to local authorities. It may be very desirable to devolve these powers on local authorities who know the local sources for the materials for the roads for two years, and then if it is still desirable, to leave these powers with the local authorities if they prove themselves to be competent. The question which comes to my mind is, could we not ensure that these authorities are competent? How are we to know whether local authorities are going to do this work in exactly the way it should be done? There are two solutions. To issue some kind of handbook on the lines of the American publication, which gives the most complete details as to corners, dimensions and what materials should be used, or it may be possible for local surveyors to have courses of instruction in suitable places so that they will be all working to the same ideas, those ideas being the plans of the Ministry of Transport.
I have made a very disconnected speech, consisting of a lot of points ranging from horses to materials. I cannot say that I think one point is more important than another, but I hope my right hon. Friend will realise that I have 'not put them forward in criticism of the Bill. I welcome the Bill. I think it is long overdue. I have made these remarks with a sincere desire to see how far the Bill is really to go, to what extent it can be extended in the future and by what methods it is proposed to apply it in its present form.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. EDE
Since the Minister of Tranport announced in July that he proposed to bring forward this Bill, I have read and heard nothing but praise of him. I am bound to say that the treatment he has received this afternoon has come somewhat as a surprise to me—I do not know whether it was a shock to him—because I had imagined that the roses thrown at him in the Press would have been thrown at him in the House this afternoon and that there would have been no thorns with them, but after all, the 1980 right hon. Gentleman is only suffering the fate of all pioneers, and I have no doubt that in a very few years his contribution in this matter will be remembered, and those who criticise him this afternoon will in those days hope that they may be forgotten.
I must admit that the extent to which this Bill was welcomed by the county councils was a surprise to me. I would not like the Minister to think that all the county councils share the view of the County Councils' Association, because even in that association, despite the strength of the chairman, there is a minority. I do not represent that minority, but it exists, and apparently some of the county councils have certain misgivings. I believe those misgivings will be removed if the Bill is administered in the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's speech to which we listened this afternoon. If, during the first two years of its administration, the Minister can give oversight on the lines of his speech, I am sure the minority will be reconciled. For the sake of the country, in other matters than roads, I hope his influence will not extend beyond two years.
This afternoon the Minister has been attacked for including the London to Brighton road. I think that had he been rather more frank with the House on one particular thing, he would probably not have been criticised. I regard this Measure as being brought in at this moment largely because of military necessities. It is obvious. When we listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) talking about German rearmament, he makes from time to time a particular point of including the highway expenditure. I heard him say not long ago—in that thaumaturgical manner which he puts on when he is going to say something which is quite obvious, but which no one has previously had the pluck to say "Where do these roads lend?" and he supplied his own answer, "To the frontier." Where do these trunk roads lead? Eventually, to the frontier—in this country to the ports. While Brighton may not be regarded as a port, the staff of the London Command are n very important part of the organisation for war, and we must arrange for them to get their week-ends quickly. Some of us who served in the ranks used to hope that 1981 their week-ends would not merely be taken quickly but last long; but apparently there is the feeling that they should be taken quickly, and from that point of view I am sure the inclusion of the London to Brighton road needs no further defence.
§ Sir COOPER RAWSON
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that there is a port to the east of Brighton called Newhaven and another to the west called Shoreham? If the road were extended by the Ministry of Transport it might be made very useful for war purposes.
§ Mr. EDE
I do not know whether the hon. Member heard the Minister's speech, but the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that the trunk roads would get one to within a reasonable distance of the place. I do not think one can get from Brighton to Folkestone without going through Newhaven; at least, I wish I knew a good way of doing it. I regret that the Minister has not taken this opportunity to reduce the number of highway authorities in the country. I think it is a very great pity that the Minister has not taken this opportunity to remove the claiming authorities. As the House knows, the Local Government Act, 1929, established the position that any urban authority which has a population of 20,000 can claim the main roads in its area. The utmost anomalies arise from that; and I would have thought that, in dealing with this subject, it would have been advisable to deal with the problem of the claiming authorities. Claiming authorities may have been all very well in the pre-motor days, but they are an anachronism now.
One of the effects of the Local Government Act, 1929, in the review of county districts, has been a considerable increase in the number of these claiming authorities and consequently in the number of small authorities dealing with comparatively short lengths of these great roads. If one takes the London to Brighton road, in the County of Surrey, 5.64 miles are under the jurisdiction of the County Council, 4.79 miles are under the jurisdiction of the Coulsdon and Purley Urban Council and 5.21 miles are under the Reigate Town Council. Therefore, 151 miles are divided between three authorities and, as I read the Bill, those three authorities will still remain 1982 as the Minister's agents. For those 15 miles of road, the right hon. Gentleman will have to deal with three authorities instead of one. That seems to me to be creating unnecessary difficulties. When dealing boldly with the subject of trunk roads, I think the Minister might have gone a little further and dealt with the problem of the claiming authorities, certainly as far as trunk roads are concerned. I realise that, having obtained the agreement of the county councils, at any rate by a majority, the right hon. Gentleman was not anxious to stir up the sort of trouble which I have just asked him to stir up, but someone, sooner or later, will have to have the courage to deal with it, and the right hon. Gentleman is as courageous a man as we are likely to have in that position during the lifetime of the present Government. I would have liked him to face this particular problem.
There is then the question of outstanding loans, and here again the precedent of the 1929 Act should, I think, have been in the mind of the Minister. When the county councils were made the highway authorities within the counties for rural roads and took over the roads and the assets, they also took over the outstanding loans. I cannot understand why that precedent has not been followed in this case, and why authorities, which will no longer be the highway authorities for the trunk roads but merely the agents for carrying out the work, should be left to shoulder the burden. It may be that one or two of the richer counties will have no great grievance, but for obvious reasons it has been the policy of the poorer counties to finance improvements and extensions by way of loans. It will undoubtedly seriously hamper their finances in dealing with the roads that are left to them in the counties if they still have to carry loans on roads responsibility for which has been taken from them.
I was very glad to hear the Minister's remarks regarding his concern for the amenities. I sincerely hope that whoever succeeds him will carry out the views he expressed this afternoon. I have a strong personal antipathy to the idea of too many fly-overs in different parts of the country. I have seen some of the designs submitted by the right hon. Gentleman's Department to my own 1983 county council. I sincerely hope that whoever becomes the authority for constructing these fly-overs will have some regard to the amenities of the districts in which it is proposed to place them and that some efforts will be made at any rate to lessen the horror of some of the elevations that are proposed. I do not think great concrete embankments and ramps will be welcomed in this country, no matter what may be the opinion about them in the United States of America. If we must have fly-overs, I hope the embankments to them will at any rate be covered with turf, or that some arrangement will be made so that they are not displeasing to the eyes.
There is one other matter I would like to mention. During the passage of this Bill I hope it will be possible to arrange that further roads shall either be included, or that we shall not have to wait for five years before fresh roads can be included. I wish to back up, to a certain extent, the view expressed by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) with regard to the roads to the East of the Great North Road. I have interviewed the right hon. Gentleman on this point and I suggest to him that there is a very great volume of traffic to the East of the Great North Road which uses, in the main, a road called A.19 which, I believe, starts at York and runs through Middlesbrough and the great series of industrial boroughs on the East side of County Durham up to South Shields, where its further progress is temporarily broken by the River Tyne. I do not want this afternoon to get on to the problem of the Tyne crossing, but it is a subject that will have to be dealt with, and I share the views of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Rathbone) as to the inadequacy of ferries as a link, across comparatively narrow rivers, for trunk roads or main roads of really first-class importance. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the road I have just mentioned should be regarded as one of the trunk roads of the country. All the points that were raised by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, when applied to this A.19 road, entitle it to be classified as a trunk road, and it carries—and in time of war will undoubtedly carry—a very large amount of traffic of the highest importance to the nation. I cannot understand why the roads in county boroughs and in London 1984 are excluded from the Bill. After all, the London to Brighton road starts somewhere in London, and not to regard it as a trunk road until the southern tip of Purley Way, when it has escaped from the County Borough of Croydon, and then to say that it ends out at Patcham, well up in the administrative County of East Sussex, because the County Borough of Brighton has recently been extended to that distance, is really trifling with this rather serious subject.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Captain Austin Hudson)
Where would the hon. Member say that the London to Brighton road starts? That is one of our difficulties.
§ Mr. EDE
I think one ought to regard all great traffic routes out of London as trunk roads. I would say, for instance, that the A.24 London to Worthing road begins outside this House. From Westminster Bridge you go through Tooting and Merton, Epsom, Dorking and Horsham to Worthing. I would not like to say however where the London to Brighton road starts in London.
§ Mr. EDE
I am sure that if you followed the great through roads passing through London, you would find that when they reached a certain point, like the Elephant and Castle, for instance, on the southern side, they begin to diverge on to those roads which have been numbered and some of which have been included in this trunk roads scheme. I am not prepared to answer the question about the London to Brighton road without notice, and I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary, who broke Front Bench tradition by interrupting a humble private Member, will at least allow me the refuge which he would take if I put that as a supplementary question to him at Question Time.
I suggest that in this matter of roads passing through the county boroughs you will be faced with certain difficulties. The case of Doncaster occurs to me. I have tried on many occasions when going North to find a way round Doncaster, without any very great success. If you 1985 are going to say that a by-pass within the territory of a county borough is not to be a national responsibility but that a by-pass situated a few yards further out is to be regarded as a national responsibility, then it seems to me that you may be forced by the county boroughs into unnecessary deviations. For instance, if the Purley Way had been constructed about 300 yards further to the west it would have been in the administrative county of Surrey and not in the county borough of Croydon. I think it is ridiculous to suggest that the question of responsibility should be determined by whether it is 300 yards east or west of a certain purely arbitrary line on the map.
I hope the Minister will realise, in spite of the suggestions I have made, that I sincerely welcome the Bill. I hope it means the beginning of a revised attitude towards this problem of the great through roads of the country. I would sincerely beg the right hon. Gentleman to consider how far he is justified in saying that these roads when they pass through county boroughs are still to be regarded as roads dealing merely with local traffic. After all, their main importance to the people who already contribute a substantial percentage of their upkeep is in their value as through roads, and I hope that we may be able to get some alteration made in the Bill in that respect.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I, like the last speaker, desire to compliment the Minister of Transport on this Bill which, in my opinion, is long overdue. It is time that those roads which the Minister describes as through roads should be placed under the purview of the Government and of the Department represented by the right hon. Gentleman. Like the last speaker, too, I would suggest a reconsideration of Clause 2 dealing with the question of trunk roads going through county boroughs. The A.1 road, the main North road comes into my constituency. It runs four or five miles from Low Fell to the new bridge which the late King opened and it runs for another four miles directly North through the outskirts of Newcastle. Over that nine miles it carries, especially in the summer and at busy periods, traffic which is not for local purposes at all. I ask the Minister 1986 to reconsider this Clause, having regard to this arbitrary distinction which it makes between what is within the domain of the local county borough authority and what is not. I regard that stretch as an integral part of the main North road. I think it should be regarded as such by the Ministry also and that the Bill should be amended in that respect.
There is another point. I think that on these trunk roads there should be uniformity in the matter of lighting as well as in other respects. lip to a few weeks ago at any rate, the lighting in Newcastle-on-Tyne, for instance, was very different from the lighting in Gateshead. The road was brilliantly lighted at the North end of the new bridge and then you had semi-darkness in Gateshead. I complained about this matter to the police and brought the chief constable out to show him how dangerous it was for one local authority to have one system of lighting, while on a contiguous part of the road another local authority had a totally different system. It was soon after the summer time change and the turning off of the lights was fixed for a certain hour in a certain area and the authority would not alter it until representations had been made for uniform lighting on both sides of the River Tyne. I suggest that the Minister should consider the case of that eight or nine mile stretch of road which I have described. As to the question of where that road begins, I would say that it begins in London and ends in Edinburgh.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
The A.1 road ends at Edinburgh for practical purposes. The other is really only an historical name. Nobody would go there unless they were curious, but nearly everyone makes the journey from London to Edinburgh at some time. If I am asked where that road begins, I would say that it begins hundreds of miles before it conies into our territory and when it leaves Newcastleon-Tyne it continues for hundreds of miles further north. To make an arbitrary distinction in regard to a part of the road because it happens to go through a county borough does not seem to be very reasonable. At the same time I am pleased to know that the new by-pass road which will form part of the Sunderland road from Newcastle through Gateshead is to 1987 become a trunk road. For that I am exceedingly grateful and I am sure that everyone who has travelled on the old Sunderland road, which is at present narrow, tortuous, busy and dangerous—will welcome with satisfaction a wider bypass.
I was in some doubt as to whether it would be in order or not to raise the question of safety but with the permission of the Chair I would like to make some reference to it. I would point out in the first place that the roads are for the convenience of all and that convenience must include the safety of those who use the roads. Hardly a word has been said on what ought to be our first consideration in dealing with this question, namely, this question of safety. One of the main benefits of these new trunk roads to me is the fact that the Ministry will be enabled to experiment in safety measures and will perhaps be able to show, by example, what all the roads in the country should be like in that respect. I submit that it is the duty of every citizen and certainly of every Member of Parliament to advocate any means that will stop the slaughter—for it is nothing else—of our fellow citizens which is taking place on the roads of the country at present. The killed and wounded on the roads number the ghastly total of nearly 6,000 every week, and our first consideration ought to be how these proposals will affect the safety of the users.
I suggest that we ought to have a motor patrol service within the province of the Ministry not only on every busy road, but on all roads going to and from London. It may be objected that this would cost a great deal of money but I will suggest a means by which a fund could be raised for the purpose. I have made inquiries from the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club and I find that they have 900,000 subscribing members. One of the benefits which those members receive is the very valuable assistance provided by their capable and experienced motor patrols. In August, 1936, there were on the roads in this country 2,673,492 motor vehicles. I estimate that the 900,000 members of the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club pay in fees to those two associations a sum of £1,500,000 per annum, and it is obvious that all the rest of 1988 the owners and drivers of vehicles have the benefit of the patrols which these organisations provide. I snuggest that if £1 per annum were charged to every owner of a motor vehicle, it would realise £2,673,492, and that would be a fund for the purpose I have suggested.
If we assume the cost of a motor patrol man to be £200 per annum it would mean that you could have on the roads 13,000 motor patrol men. This would not only make for better control and greater safety; it would also provide a trained and disciplined force who could take charge of the roads in case of an air attack. Obviously the first thing that an enemy coming here would do, would be to smash the railways and the only alternative for us would be to use the main roads. These patrolmen, with expert local knowledge, would be the very people to take charge and every motor driver within a given region or zone would know, as soon as an air attack took place, that he must report to one of these patrols. This would not only stop panic and alarm, but would make for the expediting of traffic on the main road while the secondary roads could be used for other purposes such as supply.
These men, I suggest, should be ex-service men, ex-military, naval, and Air Force men, who know all about radio, telephonic, and telegraphic communications, and who might be able not only to repair telephone and telegraph services, but to set them up and to understand, it may be, secret codes and other things that would be of inestimable value to the nation in a time of need. I suggest that the military and police would then be able to attend to their own business, and this corps of expert men, working in conjunction with every motor vehicle driver in the country, would form a skeleton force that could be used with great effect in time of emergency and trouble.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I would not mind subsidising it at all. We have subsidised the electric grid and other public utility companies, and I would not object to it at all. It might be said that it would 1989 mean more expense to the motor drivers, but the greater safety to life and limb and to vehicles in consequence of this better patrolling would mean in fact a saving of money, as insurance statistics would very soon prove. To have this force of men to go about, not merely at road ends, but up and down the roads, to see where the most accidents happen, and to see that the law was properly observed, is, I submit, a proposition worthy of the consideration of the Ministry, of the House, and of the public.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
I congratulate the Minister of Transport on introducing this Bill, and in regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), who has just sat down, I thought one of the principal reasons for introducing this Bill was to make the highways of this country more safe and, if possible, to safeguard life and limb on the road. If that were not one of its main purposes, it would receive all the opposition that I could give it, but I assume that that is its object. I can only say that I hope the Minister will remember that many of us who have had experience on local authorities for over a quarter of a century view with some suspicion his proposal to induce the local authorities to adopt roads of a certain standard width and to suggest the withdrawal entirely of any speed limit. I may be old-fashioned, but all I can say is that I view with very grave concern any attempt to remove entirely a speed limit on the big wide roads that are proposed. I know of one case, as an illustration, where a standard width has been adopted by the local authority at the instance of the Ministry of Transport. The road finally ends in the main street of a town, a street that is only some 20 feet wide. If you remove the speed limit and take the whole of the traffic into a bottle-neck, instead of expediting the traffic through that town, all that you will do will be to cause congestion. I am sure that no one would ever dare to say that there should he a standard width through there, because the element of compensation that would enter into it would be too enormous to contemplate.
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) smiles, but I look to safeguarding the public purse, because some of these schemes will involve the Ministry and the local authorities in such 1990 enormous amounts of compensation that it is no laughing matter to those who have to foot the bill; and as a Member of this House and both a taxpayer and a ratepayer, I am very much concerned in safeguarding the interests of both taxpayer and ratepayer.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
I really think I should do you good if I did. Like any other Bill, this Bill has its limitations, and in my view there are some serious limitations in it. I look to one in particular, and that is in regard to Sections A.15 and A.18, dealing with roads that I know particularly well. There is a road bridge over the River Trent, which the local authority of which I am a member and the county council paid for many years ago by making a contribution to a railway authority. It is something like 16 feet wide, and what I regret is that so far as this bridge is concerned some provision is not made, apart altogether from the Bridges Acts, dealing with it. You go from this bridge, you by-pass Scunthorpe and you go to Brigg and Wrawby, and finally you take the traffic at Grimsby.
My view is that this is a very important part of Lincolnshire, a part that was very vulnerable in the last War, and if this is, as it ought to be, a method of preparing roads that could be used in case of danger, I wish the Minister would accept a plan which I submitted to him, of a road that would shorten very considerably the route to the East Coast. It would meet some of the objections of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and also of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). The mention of Malton reminds me that there are no more hard-headed examples in the universe than Malton and the East Riding of Yorkshire, where there are some really good, sound Tories, and if any hon. Member has to go to Malton and ask them to do something, he has got a job on hand. A snail moves, true it moves slowly, but the East Riding will not move at all.
I do not think this Bill will completely satisfy this House unless it enables the Minister to connect some of these roads more directly by dealing with the bridges in certain parts. I refer particularly to the bridge that I have mentioned, and I 1991 believe it to be essential in the interests of economy that there should be a road leaving the Norman Cross, going by way of Sleaford, Grantham, and Lincoln, and then to the Old Ermine Street that was known as the old Roman road, and so direct to Barton-on-Humber then bridge the river to Hull and so on to the Great North Road. That immediately connects that important port and economises in the distance and in expenditure. That would be considerably shorter and would make for more efficiency. I think the importance of this bridge is very great indeed, and it would give you an alternative Great North Road.
There is one other item that I want to mention. The Minister told us of various widths being found on certain lengths of road. That is true, but it must not always be laid at the door of the local authorities. Some of us have had experience of cases where we have wanted to put down a wide road and the Minister has prevented us from doing so, while in other cases he has insisted that we should have a wider road, and I think I could without difficulty take him to a road where the Ministry have themselves insisted on three different widths within a distance of two miles in one area alone. I hope, however, that, so far as the Bill is concerned, with certain minor Amendments, it will pass through this House as speedily as possible, and that the Minister will not forget that Members on all sides of the House hope and trust that it will result in lessening the loss of life and the great number of people who are injured on the highways of this country. I also hope the right hon. Gentleman will remember that some of us do not believe in making these roads merely in order that motorists may race over them at 80 or 100 miles an hour, but that human life should be the first consideration in the creation of these great roads.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
I should like to express my appreciation of the opening speech of the Minister, a speech which was clear and explicit and was not too long, in addition to which the right hon. Gentleman said very little which was not actually connected with the Bill. I look upon this as a Bill to create machinery under which future action may be taken, but I do not think it is wise to-day, when discussing this Bill, to discuss any 1992 of our pet schemes which will possibly have to come up for discussion later on, but which are not really connected with the Bill, though in saying that I am not saying a word against those schemes which have been mentioned already. The Minister referred to the various authorities which have had in the past to deal with road construction, but I think that to-day the authority which, more than any other, has to do with road construction is the county council, and I have been asked to give the official opinion with regard to this Bill in so far as that opinion is expressed by the County Councils Association.
The first thing that I would like to say is that the association regret most sincerely that the proposals which they put forward were not accepted by the Minister, and it is my duty, on their behalf, to make that quite clear. What were those proposals? Reading from their own document, they were:That, having regard to the substantially higher standard of road construction and maintenance now required to meet modern traffic conditions on both classified and unclassified roads … the reconstruction, improvement and maintenance of certain roads of major importance should become the financial responsibility of the Ministry of Transport, the work thereon being carried out by the highway authorities as agents.There is not so much difference in objective as in the method of reaching that objective. The difference between the County Council Association's proposal and that of the Bill is that the Bill proposes to constitute the Minister as the highway authority for 4,500 miles of trunk roads which have previously been under the authority of the county councils, while the association asks that the councils should remain the authorities and should act as the Minister's agents. The Bill, however, says that the Minister shall be the authority and that the councils shall act as his agents. While we regret that our proposals were not accepted, we prefer this Bill to proposals which were put forward by others to create another and separate road authority. We prefer to remain under the Minister of Transport than to have any outside body to control the roads. I am authorised to say that if the House decides to pass the Bill the county councils will loyally and conscientiously work with the Minister and see that the best is done in the interests of the public. 1993 There will, therefore, be no question of opposition from the county councils if the House decides to pass the Bill. The County Councils' Association asked that there should not be any diminution of the amount now available by way of grant for the large mileage of roads which will still remain under the control of the county councils as highway authorities. We appreciate the undertaking which was made by the Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there will be no diminution.
We are told that 4,500 miles of roads are affected, and the roads which are to be taken over by the Minister are specified in Schedule 1. Although there has been and there still remain differences between the various councils and the Ministry as to which roads should be included, the Ministry did, with their usual courtesy, discuss with the councils the question of the roads to be included before the Schedule was drawn up. I do not propose to discuss the roads that are in the Schedule, but I want to say a word about what we consider to be the unfortunate method adopted for alterations in the Schedule. If we are to rely entirely on the Minister having to promote new legislation to put in other roads or to exclude some roads, it will be a very expensive, cumbrous and slow method. I suggest that a better method would be procedure by an Order made by the Minister, which should not be effective until it had been accepted by both Houses. That would be a much easier and more expeditious way of dealing with the matter. In Clause 5, which deals with the delegation of road functions to the local authorities, the word "may" is used. We think that it should be "shall." That is a Committee point, but I mention it because we do not think that as it stands it is satisfactory.
The Minister has said that he does not propose to take power to exclude the claiming authorities. He may have good reasons for that, but I would point out that there are 77 claiming authorities and another 77 authorities which have had delegated powers. The average mileage for these is a little over three miles per authority, which means that some authorities would have much more and others much less than three miles. If the Minister is not prepared to exclude all the claiming authorities, it might be 1994 arranged that those authorities which have a very small portion of trunk road should give up their claim to control. Clause 6 refers to bridges over or under proposed new roads. We should like provision to be made for the highway authorities to be consulted before the Minister takes authority to make bridges. The cost of construction will be undertaken by the Minister, but we think the highway authorities should have the right of consultation.
With regard to Clause 7, which deals with loans, I should like some explanation why the Minister has deliberately adopted a different policy from that which was adopted under the 1929 Act. When the county councils were given the control of the roads which had previously been managed by the rural district councils, under the 1929 Act, the county councils took over the responsibility for the loans which existed. In the Bill a new principle has been adopted and the loans are not taken over. I do not believe, in effect, that the change will make much difference, but I should like to hear why the new principle has been adopted. Clause 9, which deals with procedure as to payment, makes inoperative certain Acts. Sub-section (2) of Section 86 of the Local Government Act, 1933, which deals with payments made by the county council, is not to apply to liabilities incurred under this Bill. Under that Act payments can only be made on a resolution of a council.
The Clause also refers to Sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 184 and Sub-section (2) of Section 187 of the same Act. The procedure is that no payment can be made which has not been before the council after having been approved by the finance committee and on an order which is signed by three members of the committee. That system is being done away with, and I would have liked the Minister to explain what has been put in its place. The money will be sent to the county council and the finance officer of the council will have to disburse it. He may be expected to disburse it upon a certificate given by a road surveyor. What will happen, however, if at a later date the road surveyor's signature on a certificate is questioned because some payment included in it was looked upon as part of a contract but had been put down as an extra? The auditors or the right hon. Gentleman's 1995 Department may question it at a later date, but the county officer will have made the payment. There should be some safeguard for the county councils in that matter. I have the privilege of sitting on the committee of the County Councils' Association which is dealing with this matter, and I should like to express their appreciation of the great courtesy and full facilities which were given to the association's representatives by the Minister in the discussions that they had with him.
Now may I say personally I welcome the Bill on several grounds. The first is the uniformity which it will bring about in the main trunk roads. If anybody wishes to have proof of the necessity for uniformity, he has only to read the Minister's speech and the description he gave of certain of our roads. I would like to thank the Minister for the relief that has been given to the local authorities. In maintenance it will amount to £656,000, and in construction about 15 per cent. to 25 per cent. The Minister has many objectives in the promotion of this Bill. It will set up a national system of roads, and that in itself is the great justification for the undertaking which he has given to pay 100 per cent. I deprecate any attempts to draw comparisons between what is being received from one class of authority and another because if we make comparisons between the rural and county areas and the large urban districts and cities, we shall find that, although the roads are situated largely in the rural and county areas the great users of the roads, particularly heavy vehicles, are those who occupy industrial areas.
I would like to support what has been said by other Members with regard to safety. These trunk roads should have as their first object the safety of those who use them. There is one blot which every Member of the House and the community generally ought to try to remove from this country—the terrible death roll on the roads. I have said often elsewhere that if only the same number of people who are being killed annually on our roads were being killed in warfare between two countries an international situation would arise. Nearly all of us receive some benefit from the new transport facilities given by motor vehicles, and became of that we are perhaps not so 1996 liable to realise the gravity and magnitude of the problem.
There is nothing so likely to do industry as a whole a service as the better construction and provision of main roads. The Minister is going to call them trunk roads; I would prefer to call them the main artery roads, because you can have a dead trunk, but if the arteries going through a trunk are not alive it is not very good for the individual who happens to be the occupier of that trunk. Some will look on this as a great opportunity for increasing employment. I have a great hope myself in that direction, but I would like to issue one warning. This improvement and construction of roads will largely take place in rural areas and it will undoubtedly be a great inducement to the taking away of labour at present scarce in the rural areas which are agricultural. I am not going to ask—I hope I will never ask—that the wages paid shall be low wages, but I ask that the Minister will use his opportunity as a Member of the Cabinet—a position on which I congratulate him—to support the claims of the agricultural industry, so that it will be able to pay wages in accordance with those paid in other in-industries. [Laughter.] The hon. Member laughs.
§ Sir J. LAMB
I think with no reason, because it is admitted by everybody in the House that, not because of the unwillingness of the industry but because of the position in which it is, it is not able to pay wages comparable with those in other industries. I hope that the Minister will do his best to see that the industry can pay a wage which will not mean that there will be a great detraction from the land.
§ Sir J. LAMB
If the hon. Member had done me the honour of listening closely he would remember me saying "now may I say personally." I am now giving my personal view; I have finished giving the views of the association.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Is the hon. Member suggesting for a moment that the Minister should do something to check wages rising among the road workers so that 1997 they shall not be competitors for employment against the lower paid agricultural workers?
§ Sir J. LAMB
Again, if the hon. Member had done me the honour of listening he would know that in what I said I was not asking for a reduction of wages for anyone, but that those who are employed in agriculture should have the opportunity of remaining in their industry and not being in the unfortunate position of being induced to leave it. I would like to repeat what I said with regard to the County Councils' Association. While they regret that their previous suggestions were not accepted, they pledge themselves, if the Bill is passed, to see that it is worked as satisfactorily as possible in the interests of the nation as a whole.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. GIBBINS
The Bill has been welcomed, and rightly so, but almost every speaker has had substantial complaints, and I hope that the Minister will find time in the next stages of the. Bill to attend to some of them. I think the principal fault has been the limitation of the definition of what are trunk roads. If you had a broad interpretation, you would have to have a much stronger case to leave out, not all the roads in a borough, but those roads without which the trunk roads would be almost useless. In Liverpool we have spent lots of money on new roads without which the trunk roads would lose most of their effectiveness. Surely if it is not possible to bring in all the Class A roads, at least the Government might consider those new and expensive roads that have cost cities like Liverpool a great deal of money. In Liverpool we are paying 17s. in rates, which is a lot when you have a large number of unemployed. Those roads which are contiguous to trunk roads might well be considered for control and maintenance by the Minister. The definition of the Minister as regards trunk roads was that they were through roads. That appeared to be the only clear line of definition, unless you bring in the secondary one that all trunk roads lead to the ports. I think that the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Rathbone) referred to the Plymouth road and to the dead end of a narrow bridge which might he widened and brought up to date by the Minister.
1998 I would like to suggest to the Minister an instance that is, perhaps, unique in the country. Liverpool has built a wonderful tunnel under the Mersey which connects two counties, Lancashire and Cheshire, and provides a through road which can be used right from the North of England or Scotland. Here is a road left outside the Bill. Surely the Minister might consider whether this highway, which has more right to be termed a trunk road than many which are included in the Bill, ought not to be brought under Government control. It is, by the way, used more by outside traffic than local traffic. The returns are not yet complete, but I am given to understand by those in authority that we are not catering for merely local traffic. We think that that justifies us in asking that this might be considered on the trunk road principle. There is a further point, which the Minister might keep in mind. At least 160,000 vehicles belonging to the Government has passed through this tunnel without paying any tolls, with the addition of about 5,000 military or semi-military conveyances, and they are charged no toll. The ratepayers of Liverpool have to pay scores of thousands of pounds every year for this highway. Quite apart from the cost, which is very important to us, this is a road connecting two ports and a road vital for trade and traffic. If that dreadful thing, war, does come to the country, we suggest that this roadway will play a most important part in the ordinary trade traffic and in military dispositions. I mention this because other people in the Debate have mentioned to-night that the Minister should broaden his definition of trunk roads and bring in places like this tunnel, bridges of importance and those roads which have been built at great expense which are contiguous to the main trunk roads.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. H. G. WILLIAMS
I shall not occupy much time or mention any road passing through my constituency. I am a little surprised to discover that this is a. Second Reading Debate; it seemed to be a certain amount of local geography. There are one or two points of major principle which I should like to raise. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be in a position to deal with one which seems to me to be of considerable constitutional importance. 1999 I took an opportunity of mentioning the matter to his right hon. Friend yesterday. At the moment the trunk roads which we are proposing to nationalise are administered by the county councils. As against the county council His Majesty's subjects have various rights. In some cases it is the right of organised bodies like public utilities, and in other cases it is the rights of ordinary citizens. In general, the subject has not got a right against the Sovereign, unless that right is specifically inserted in new legislation. The Minister is the Minister of the Crown and, therefore, the vesting of these highways in him is in effect constitutionally the vesting of the highways in the Crown. If I am right—I hope I am not—as the Bill stands there is something which wants clearing up, because it might well happen that an ordinary citizen walking along a road might he subject to an accident due to some works proceeding in the road which were not properly lighted. To-day he has some recourse against the highway authority; he has no recourse against the Crown, on the ground that you cannot take action against the Crown in many of these cases.
I am not a lawyer, but this point has struck me, and I hope that it will be looked into, so that if there is any substance in it there may be included later the necessary provisions to safeguard all those persons whose rights may be taken away owing to the fact that we are doing something now which has never been done before. This is the first case in which the State has taken away powers, duties and responsibilities from the municipalities in order that the State might assume those powers itself. I do not believe that there is any similar case and, therefore, what I am raising has not been raised before, and I hope for that reason that it will be carefully examined. The Minister, in his admirable speech in moving the Second Reading—and I congratulate him on the speech as I congratulate him on the general principles of the Bill—told us clearly that this Bill does not in any way alter the highway law. Having regard to all the circumstances, I think the Minister was wise to introduce a Bill which in substance merely substitutes him for the various highway authorities, and does not attempt at this stage to alter the high- 2000 way law. But I think it is evident that the highway law will require to be altered in many directions, as the Parliamentary Secretary is aware, because he deals at the Ministry with electricity questions.
The electricity supply industry, with which I have some connection, is, in conjunction with other public utility concerns, always engaged with the very difficult problems which arise out of the breaking-up of the roads. It is, unfortunately, necessary to do this from time to time when water mains, sewers, gas mains or electricity cables have to be laid, and it is a rather curious feature that the general statutory rights of an electricity undertaking, whether owned by a company or a municipality, are, apparently, rights in relation to local authorities. Since those rights were given by the Electricity Act changes have taken place, and to-day, in general, the highway authority is not the local authority; and, therefore, unless certain electricity undertakings have, in fact, secured the necessary rights they have not got the essential powers to break up county roads, as they have in the case of streets in our towns. We all regret that it is a right which they have to exercise, but in practice things work out very smoothly, because where necessary the Ministry intervenes and the requisite powers are conceded. Still, the statutory position is unsatisfactory, though I realise that it cannot be properly remedied in this Bill. It would be undesirable to introduce amendments to the highway law in this Measure, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some undertaking that the whole question of highway law will be reconsidered at an early date. The Minister told us in his speech that there was in progress the necessary work with a view to consolidation of the law, which I imagine must take place before we can consider amending the law, which is scattered over so many statutes.
Sub-section (4) of Clause 6 deals with lighting. I should like to congratulate the Minister on the fact that he has taken power to provide that the trunk roads shall be illuminated, or better illuminated. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Rathbone) made some references to this question of lighting. I suggest that a substantial proportion of the accidents occurring at night happen 2001 because the roads are lighted, or, rather, are badly lighted, as the hon. Member for Bodmin put it. It is much safer to drive along a road which is not lighted at all than along a road which is badly lighted. The lighting of our streets was designed for the convenience of pedestrians. The ordinary gas lamp, as it used to be—it is more frequently perhaps an electric lamp now—is placed at a very low height, and does nothing but create a great many shadows, and makes the road much more dangerous than when there are no lights at all.
I said that I would not mention a road in my constituency, but somebody else has mentioned it. It happens that the must notable development of road lighting which this country has seen took place only some six weeks ago on a road part of which runs through my constituency. But amazing progress is taking place in the work of scientists in the electrical and certain allied industries, and I imagine that Purley Way does not represent the last development we shall see; but it is a very notable one. There are varying schools of thought among competing manufacturers producing the form of lighting which is to be found on Purley Way. There is the sodium form of lighting and the mercury form, and there may be others, and great research is going on. The interesting thing about that form of lighting is that it is much cheaper, once it has been installed, than anything we have had before, and it is so good—and what we have got is not as good as we shall get—that there is no need for people to have lights on their vehicles when driving along a road so illuminated. That is the idea—that there should be no need for headlights.
It is sheer misery to drive along a great trunk road at night and to meet a constant stream of powerful lorries with searchlights on them, because that is the only thing one can call them. I hope the time will come when our trunk roads will be so well lighted from end to end that people will be able to drive along them with perfect safety with only side lights, in fact, with no lights at all. In that way we shall eliminate the terrible risks now run by pedestrians, cyclists and also animals. It may be said that there may be in this a measure of self-interest for me, because the industry with which I 2002 am connected will be more prosperous when that comes about, though it is largely a municipal industry, but I think there really is a case for lighting our trunk roads. Let us have the road lighted all the way from London to Glasgow. To light the trunk roads would not involve the colossal expenditure which the idea might at first suggest. As far as I can make out from my inquiries, the capital expenditure on providing the most modern equipment, exclusive of the laying of electric mains where they are not already in being, would be about £4,000,000 for the whole of the roads with which we are now dealing. That is not an impossible sum having regard to the fact that the Road Fund revenue will increase, despite the change in its constitutional position. The cost of maintenance assuming current to cost about 1d. a unit—and I think we can look forward to cheaper average rates—would be about £2,000,000 a year. That would not be an unreasonable charge for the enormous benefits, in public convenience and safety, we should gain from illuminating those roads which carry the bulk of the traffic moving over this country at night.
I do not imagine that even if the Minister intends to do this, and I imagine that he may intend to do a good deal of it, all can be accomplished in a year or so, because in many cases the electricity cables or gas mains will have to be laid; but if by lighting the trunk roads we bring electricity mains into country districts much earlier than would otherwise be the case, we shall be carrying out simultaneously another great social reform. The difficulty of getting electricity into the villages arises from the fact that when it is first made available the initial cost of it is heavy. Probably there is only one consumer in the village, the squire, or perhaps also the local public house. They are the only people prepared to pay what initially must be the rather heavy charges. If the Minister of Transport is to be the first consumer on a substantial scale, it will justify the laying of the mains at an earlier stage, and, in addition, will provide the electricity undertakers with a satisfactory initial load and that will make the cost of electricity from the beginning very much cheaper for everybody else. Therefore, the effective illumination of our trunk roads may be a most 2003 potent factor in bringing about rural electrification. I know how aggrieved the agricultural community feel over the present situation. They see gigantic masts and cables running over their land, and cannot understand why they cannot have electricity. It is a little difficult to explain that you cannot just throw a wire over and bring the electricity down. If it is a high tension cable it would mean an expenditure, possibly, of £30,000 or £40,000 to tap off the electricity. If only we get our trunk roads equipped with electricity cables we shall be able to deal with the electrification of those districts, into which up to now, electricity has not been taken.
I congratulate the Minister on this Bill. He has just had conferred upon him the great dignity of being a member of the Cabinet, and though I think that in these days the Cabinet is like a mass meeting, and I hope the time will come when we shall have a Cabinet of six or seven members, so carrying out a scheme advocated some years ago by the late Lord Haldane, so long as it has been decided that the Cabinet shall be a mass meeting it is vitally important that a Department like the Ministry of Transport should be represented in it. It has been a source of very great weakness in our road policy that the Transport Department has only been represented, except for a short period during the last Socialist Government, by deputy. That position is not satisfactory, and I congratulate the Minister on his elevation to Cabinet rank, and hope that the improvement of transport facilities in this country will proceed apace.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. F. ANDERSON
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) into the question of electricity in connection with the transport problem, but I wish to join in the plea which has been already made that the Minister should take powers under this Bill to say that new roads can be included if it is thought desirable, as well as other roads which may come to be considered of importance at a later date. There are one or two good reasons why such powers should be taken. For one thing, the powers should be there for use if, by chance, a serious national difficulty arose. Then take the ease of the West trunk road, as I would 2004 term it. The west side is, perhaps, the heavy industry side. I want the House to take into consideration all the area in the west going up to Scotland on the Liverpool side. There are several bottle necks in the roads there and any one who has had experience of them in summer, particularly when you get beyond Preston, will realise the force of my argument about the Minister having power to include new roads if it is thought desirable. Anyone who has had the experience of being on those main roads at the time of the Blackpool illuminations will think twice before travelling on them again at that period. Morecambe is coming into line with Blackpool in this respect, and there again we have to face the difficulty of congested roads at certain periods of the year.
Then there are the bottle-necks of which I have spoken. Take the Ship Canal and Manchester. There is on that west side a large mileage of roads through towns and cities which it would be very difficult to by-pass. You would have to go miles round to by-pass those towns, particularly from Manchester joining on from Liverpool.
So many clearance schemes are taking place in some of those towns and cities that it might be possible to make some of the areas which have been cleared the means of including roads through them. That is a reason why the Minister should take powers in the Bill to include new roads if at all possible. Travelling from Manchester to Bolton, you take the road over the top, and at Preston you come into a very big bottle-neck. You would have to make a tremendous bypass road to pass Preston, under the powers conferred in the Bill. I have given two reasons at least why steps should be taken to include in the Bill power to make new roads.
There is another reason why I adduce this argument. On the diagram, we see that one of the main roads goes over Shap. Anyone who has had experience of the Shap road, especially in wintertime, would agree that it would be very foolish to use that road in winter, unless absolutely necessary. The road is covered with ice, snow and fog from time to time, and a good case could be put up for cutting a road another way. I hope I shall not be considered parochial when I say that in taking a road from Lancaster up the west coast of Cumber- 2005 land, you could cut out 40 or 50 miles on the route to Scotland, by going across the Solway Firth at Silloth. That is very important, because on that coast road you would have a number of coal mines and iron and steel works which would be very important in time of war or other emergency. You would be giving transport facilities to a ten-times bigger population than there is on the road from Lancaster to Carlisle, and traffic would not have to pass over terribly difficult roads during bad weather. That is another argument why the Minister should take power in the Bill to include the possibility of new roads.
There is another observation, which I believe to be more important than any of the other arguments which I have adduced. The West Coast of Cumberland is part of the Special Areas. If the Government wish to promote the idea of new industries coming to those areas, our transport facilities must be prepared in order to cater for them. It is more than ever necessary that proper facilities should be provided for these developments, and that the necessary powers should be taken in the Bill. Many thousands of people may be coming into those areas. It may be foreseen that new industries will be coming to the Special Areas, and we ought to look ahead and try to cater for the conditions which might arise.
The West Coast road, so far as Cumberland is concerned, is the nearest point to Ireland. The diagram shows that the road from Carlisle to Stranraer is included. If that be the case, we should remember that there are large shipbuilding yards in Belfast and in the North of Ireland, and that if we are faced with difficulties of transport because of the possibility of war, by a West Coast road, such as is proposed in the Special Areas Report, you would help to feed the Northern Ireland ports. That would he very important, and the mileage would be very considerably lessened.
May I return to the Shap road? Apart from that, there is only the East Coast Road or the Great North Road. My experience of the Great North Road is that you have nothing near the heavy traffic passing on it that you have on the West Coast side. I have taken particular notice of it, although that may not have been the experience of other people. I feel that there is a danger in the event 2006 of attack on the East Coast side. You would have to come by the Shap Road, and if you were faced with severe weather, what would be your position? You should have another outlet, and an inlet. It is only by going round a coast which is free from fog and snow, and other winter difficulties, which are present on the Shap road, that you could do that. That is another reason why the Minister should have power in the Bill to include the possibility of new roads. On the West Coast side, by taking a road right through, you would be in a position to help the important industries of the South with very important raw materials. I refer to coal, iron ore, gypsum, lead and all classes of that description of material. That justifies my appealing as strongly as I can to the Minister that there should be power in the Bill to provide for new roads.
I desire to see the roads made safe, especially for the ordinary public. I am a very old motorist, and I know that it is essential that elderly people should not have to be flurried and hurried if they have to cross some of our big main roads. Steps should be taken wherever possible so to make the footpaths of the roads not running alongside a main road. I live in Westmorland, where footpaths have been put behind the ordinary roadsides. I think that helps towards the safety of pedestrians very considerably. The point should be considered, with safety in mind, and wherever it is possible to do so, what kind of footpath should be put down for the travelling public. I believe the time has arrived for a number of over-bridges to be put down on the big main roads. Elderly people and others who cannot cross roads at a very good speed are thereby given an opportunity of crossing in safety. I hope that that will be done. Last but not least, may I make an appeal to the Minister to take power in the Bill to include other roads, if the various authorities think that course desirable?
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
May I, first of all, congratulate the Minister of Transport upon the new position of power and authority which he holds, in having been made a Member of the Cabinet? He has always been the right man in the right place as Minister of Transport. I do not know why the essential importance 2007 of the road system of this country never seems to have been grasped by any Government but the present National Government, since the motor car was invented. The invention of the motor car was of far greater importance than that of the steam engine. Far more money is sunk in the motor car industry, and far more men are employed in it, than is the case with the railway industry. Nevertheless, the railways succeed in exercising a tremendous influence in this House and an enormous power in the country, and the capital invested in them has been used to a large extent in strangling the road transport industry. It is sad to see all those Transport Acts on the Statute Book, and all the different Regulations. I wish the Minister of Transport could gather some strength to himself to throw off all that influence. I wish he were strong enough even to buy up the railways, or most of them, and to use the few of them that would be left as he thought necessary, compensating the holders of the stock in order to get rid of them.
Railways were responsible for the congested populations gathering into such huge masses. If steam transport had been allowed to develop properly in the beginning of the last century we should probably by this time have had beautiful roads, and we should never have had huge congested masses of population such as we have to-day. If the money had not been taken from him, the Minister of Transport ought to be asking for power to make new roads. We need our main trunk roads to be broad and straight highways, not these twisted rolling roads. I think it was Mr. G. K. Chesterton who said:The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English roads.As he staggered along, he made the roads follow him. What we need is something straight, like the Roman roads, with bridges across so that there would be one-way traffic all the time. No money can possibly be wasted which is spent upon improving the means of transport.
I suggest that for commercial vehicles we should impose a toll, and that all the industrial transport should run along their own special roads at a minimum rate of 60 miles an hour. When they emerge from their roads, these vehicles should slow down to about seven miles an hour. 2008 Some plan is urgently needed to deal with the thousands of cars which are being turned out of the factories every month. In a short time the whole place will be jammed up, and the existing roads will be of no use. The Bill is a distinct step in advance, but it does not go nearly as far as it should. The Ministry of Transport should control all the roads of the country and should retain an adequate staff of men to keep them in repair and rebuild them, as is being done in the despotic countries, where young men are doing all sorts of work on the roads, keeping them in constant maintenance and improvement, in the public interest, and doing it patriotically. We want some big scheme of that sort.
Now I wish to come down to a little more of the details. I happen to know one of the Colonies, where they have developed their roads in a very intelligent way. They run rails or tracks along the roads, made of bitumen, and about 18 inches or 2 feet 6 inches wide. That is all that they do with the road; they run their rails along hundreds of miles of road, and they can build 10 miles for what it costs us to build one mile. We build our roads of the same material right across. That is as though the flanged wheel had never been invented upon the locomotive road, and the whole railway road were of steel. We are simply wasting money. The Minister should take over all the roads and lay down these double or treble tracks for traffic. The whole thing could be done at a minimum of cost, and the macadam road would last indefinitely, because it would not be subjected to the suction of motor tyres; and, moreover, it makes a fine road for cattle, horses and sheep, whereas the present road, with its hard surface, is of no use for anything except motors. Of course, it is not possible to make a road engineer or a road surveyor understand that. They are hidebound. It does not mean spending money, but saving money, and that always gives them a shock. They are cast iron. They remind me of the Scottish railway engineer who was taken out to Canada to build a railway. When he got there and saw the prairie, he said, "I cannot build a railway here; where are the tunnels and viaducts to go?" A fresh mind is necessary for this matter. In Southern Rhodesia they 2009 are building thousands of miles of roads better than we have, and suitable for all classes of traffic.
I hope the scheme will be taken up of building special roads suitable for motor transport alone. I can conceive of nothing more crude than mixing up horse and foot, cattle and sheep, children and all sorts of things on the one road, and then expecting motor traffic to be possible on it without a great sacrifice of life. The railway companies were told in the thirties of last century that, if they were going to make use of such dangerous vehicles as locomotives, they must make their own roads and fence them in. Yet they are not so dangerous as motor cars. You have only to keep off the rails and you are safe. But on the highway the ordinary individual has not a chance; he is even liable to be "biffed off" on the pavement. When people go out, their relatives never know whether they will get back safely; there is hardly any one of us who has not had friends who have been killed or mutilated on the roads; and yet we go callously on. More lives have been lost in this country during the last six years than in the whole of the civil war in Spain. I cannot understand this horrible callousness, particularly when it might all be avoided.
There is only one way, and that is by abandoning our old twisted roads and making special motor roads, not too near to towns, but in the open country, and, when the deadly motor emerges from them, insisting upon it crawling at about five miles an hour. In that way we can safeguard human life, open up the whole country to development and prosperity, and get a real system of transport. With our present system of old-fashioned, twisted roads we shall never succeed in doing that. I know that the Minister of Transport has the imagination to carry it out, but he is hobbled, largely because of what happened when for the first time the Road Fund was raided. When the Road Fund was instituted, it was to be earmarked for the purpose of giving us new roads, and yet the usual thing happened. It was said that the Treasury must have control, and they took possession of it, in direct breach of the pledge that was given that the motor duties should be earmarked for roads. I should like to see the present Minister of Transport given absolutely unlimited funds. I am sure he has sufficient 2010 imagination—he has shown it even in his present limited sphere—to carry out the gigantic development which the transport system of this country requires.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS ACLAND
I desire to apologise to the Minister for not having been able to hear his opening speech; unfortunately, through no fault of my own, I was unable to get here in time. If, therefore, I make, as may be possible, any points that he has made, I hope he will not trouble himself to reply. I shall read his speech with interest to-morrow, and get my information in that way. I am bound to say that I do not like, unless there is an unanswerable case for it, the tendency that we see so often in legislation to-day towards greater centralisation. I do not like taking powers away from minor local authorities and giving them to county councils, or taking powers away from county councils and giving them to a central Government Department. If it is vital to have this great centralisation, why is the line drawn outside county boroughs? If these powers are not taken inside the areas of county boroughs, which often extend a good way beyond the built-up area, why is it so vital to take over and centralise these powers? Then I am bound to say that, while the Minister is given more money, as is usually the case when almost any legislation is passed, it will be disappointing to many of the poorer authorities, who in the past have had to do their road development out of loans, that their loan expenditure is not to be taken over or assisted.
I have asked one or two of my friends who had the pleasure of hearing the Minister what his description was of what constituted a trunk road, and why it had been selected; and they told me that, as far as they could understand, they gathered that the position was that trunk roads were through roads,, and roads leading to important ports. That, however, is a double definition, because a through road does not always lead to an important port, and a road leading to an important port is sometimes not a through road. That applies to the roads down in the West of England, in Devon and Cornwall, in which the Minister is interested even more than I am. It is rather an interesting thing that the most direct through road in the West of 2011 England, A.30, is not a trunk road for part of its passage, namely, in the area between Exeter and Bodmin, where the trunk road as defined in the Bill switches off A.30 and on to A.48, to go back on to A.30 again at Bodmin, when it gets right down into Cornwall. Of course, in the meantime, by that diversion it goes to the important port of Devonport, which has become of even more importance since the Minister of Transport was elevated to Cabinet rank. I know it is not his doing that the trunk road dips into the sea in or near his constituency; that was probably done before he became Minister of Transport, and therefore I am not pulling his leg or anything of that kind, but I want to bring to his notice one serious consideration which I am sure he will bear in mind. A.48, which is picked out between the middle of Devonshire and the middle of Cornwall instead of the through road A.30, does go to earth, so to speak, or rather, goes to water, on the border of Devon and Cornwall.
Hon. Members have talked in the Debate about bottle-necks. This is particularly a bottle-neck, and, as in the case of many bottles, it is full of liquid, because the road disappears, a ferry takes its place, and the road goes on on the other side. If the Minister has a scheme which will remedy that, and make a bridge, tunnel, or something of the kind, well and good; but if these roads are regarded as strategical roads—and it seems to me that they must be partly so regarded—is it not rather unsafe to have such a road as the only strategical road down to the West, particularly when it is so near to the Great Western Railway, which is the main railway to the West, seeing that both the road and the railway are so much exposed to attack? From that point of view, if the Bill had not been drawn so tightly as it is, I should have pleaded for the addition of A.30, instead of A.48, to the trunk road as it has now been selected. That would enable the Exeter-Tavistock road or the Exeter-Okehampton-Launceston road to be included both of which afford far more direct means of communication, and are really more of the nature of through roads than the road which has actually been scheduled as the trunk road. From that point of view I am 2012 bound to express my regret that apparently no change can be made in the definition of trunk roads except by fresh legislation. Several hon. Members have made that point, and I hope the Minister will consider some simpler means than a fresh Bill for varying the Schedule attached to this Bill. My last point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Mr. R. Acland) a week or two ago in the Debate on the Address. He quoted from the Act of 1909, in which these words occur:Where the Treasury have approved a proposal by the Road Board"—which is now, of course, the Ministry of Transport—to construct a new road, the board may acquire land on either side of the proposed road within 220 yards from the middle of the proposed road, and shall have full power to lease or manage any land acquired by them under this part of the Act.That was an important power which it was intended should be used, but of course it has not been used because hitherto the roads have been made by local authorities and not by the Ministry of Transport. Now roads or by-passes—and this applies very largely to the bypasses which are going to be made in these trunk roads, presumably by the Ministry of Transport, although it will act through the agency of the local authorities. That will enable the Minister, if he pleases, to apply this power of acquiring land within a fairly considerable radius of the centre of a road, and to sell it again, in which case the profit will go to his Ministry and to our national Estimates, already pretty heavily burdened. The President of the Board of Education, who replied to the Debate on that occasion, said that he could not give any full answer, but that it would be in order to raise the matter when this Bill came on. Accordingly, I would ask the Minister to tell us, if he can, either at this stage or later, whether that power is likely to be exercised as was intended, to the saving of expenditure to the counties. As I have already said, I apologise if any of the points I have mentioned have been already made.
§ 7.59 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel SANDEMAN ALLEN
Mr. Disraeli was once reported to have said, of Members sitting on the bench opposite to him, that they reminded him 2013 of a row of extinct volcanoes. One would not say that to-day, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) did start throwing out some smoke and steam this afternoon, and even showed signs of bursting into flame. He complained bitterly that the Conservative party had resisted, through the Ministry of Transport, all the efforts that had been made to improve matters by what he called advanced councils. He talked about the enter- prise of Socialists, and particularly about the enterprise of the late Colonel Watts Morgan, in regard to which I fully agree; but a few moments later he said that, when Minister of Transport, he had great difficulty in resisting the efforts of Colonel Watts Morgan. Having blamed the Conservative party for resisting some of these schemes, he blandly told the House a few minutes later that he himself had great difficulty in resisting them. Such inconsequence is rather difficult to listen to with patience. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for the Welsh Universities (Mr. E. Evans), who carried out the great traditions of the Liberal party by coming down on both sides of the fence at the same time. I have read in the newspapers that the Minister of Transport is supposed to be following Julius Caesar as Minister of Transport. I only hope that, when he departs, he will not leave such horrible memories behind him in a foreign language for young children to have to translate, and I hope he will be successful as his alleged predecessor in the job of providing roads.
We warmly welcome the Bill and support it in all its main essentials. There is no doubt that in a great many cases the present system is not up to present day requirements. More trunk roads are wanted. I must join in the regrets which have been expressed that provision is made for only 4,500 miles. We have 27,000 miles of Class I roads alone, and one-sixth is put into the Bill, with no powers to add. Why not? Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer the nigger in the wood pile? Licences and oil duties provide £71,000,000 produced from the roads, and yet there is this muddled financial policy. I hope my right hon. Friend will remember the difficulties through which the Post Office went for many years owing to not having a settled financial policy, and I hope he will learn from the example set by the Post Office that he must have 2014 an assured plan before any real progress is made. New construction can be made against loans charged on the Road Fund and there are all sorts of ways. The Road Federation has suggested that there should be appointed a Central Highways Board. I do not like the suggestion, but I hope my right hon. Friend will appoint a roads advisory committee from members of county and municipal associations, motor organisations and trade and industry. He would get considerable assistance in the good work that he is doing from such a committee. The Minister has taken a lesson from railway organisation and has followed railway principles in a great many ways, such as red signals at junctions and other matters. I was glad to hear that he was going to follow the principle still further in junctions, in fly-overs and in other ways. I should like to suggest that, where a main road passes some well-known beauty spot, he should put a little spur running from the road where cars can park without disturbing the traffic. There are a great many beauty spots along which main roads go where cars stop and block the traffic in order to have lunch at a place where they can admire the beauties of England or Scotland as the case may be. If the road were widened or a small spur made, it would be a safety factor.
Some time ago I mentioned the danger of various coloured lights. I read the other day that a railway company succeeded in an action in the courts in getting neon lights removed. If a railway company can do that, surely the Minister can do it for the roads. I hope he will look the case up and see what powers he has, and get on with it. I am sorry that he has not seen fit to take some control over pedestrians, but I will not pursue the point. Clause 2 deals with roads passing through counties and not through boroughs. In the First Schedule you have the main roads laid down, and they go through 62 county boroughs. The roads actually in the boroughs are the most important parts of the road to the users, yet he is going to leave them to the boroughs. A point arises out of that. What is going to happen to the roads that by-pass the boroughs? In a short time those parts of the main road which will come under the Bill at present will come under the boroughs and be excluded from the Bill. What will be the position in that case? Are the 2015 trunk roads going to diminish? The principle ought to be, once a trunk road, always a trunk road.
I should like to support what the hon. Member for West Toxteth (Mr. Gibbins) said. One who has the Mersey Tunnel in his constituency may be forgiven for boring the House for a few minutes. The Queen's Way adjoins two of the excluded areas—two boroughs. It is a national highway, and, incidentally, it has no houses on either side of it, so it is not as if it were in a crowded street. There is no excuse of that kind for the Minister refusing to take it over. The police have no real control and the tunnel has to provide its own police, and there are going to be some dreadful smashes until they are trained, because they are not doing their job properly. I hope the Minister will take it over if it is only to see that there are proper policemen in the tunnel. It is a very serious matter to my constituency. The Birkenhead ferries are losing £80,000 over the tunnel, and the promise given in the Mersey Tunnel Act to consider further assistance in the event of difficulties of an engineering character involving an appreciable increase in cost has not been implemented. There was an additional cost of £2,000,000 and the block grant was lost because the tunnel was not finished in time. That meant another £15,000 gone west. Post Office vans use it to the tune of £9,700 per annum and, there are loan charges. Altogether the extra cost of the tunnel to Birkenhead ratepayers is 11.3d. in the pound, which is a very serious matter.
There is another point that is vital. Birkenhead is largely an export port, while Liverpool deals mainly with imports. All the traffic going from North Lancashire—cotton goods and so on—into Birkenhead has to pass through the tunnel and the extra tunnel charges involve a cost of nearly 6d. a ton. That means that we are losing that trade. In the case of trade coming from Birmingham and the South, if the lorries are not loaded for the return journey they are running uneconomically and, if they are loaded for the return journey, they have to cross to the import side of the river to pick up their cargoes and there is an additional 6d. a ton. Unless something is done to equalise the charges with those of the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board 2016 there is considerable danger of much greater loss.
Enough has been said on the question of trunk roads in the event of war, and I want only to underline what has been said. West Coast ports will be tremendously useful. I hope my right lion. Friend will consider reviving the Road Transport Board, for the same sort of reason for which it was originally formed, and that he will bring in all the necessary advice and think of the matter from a strategic point of view for the defence of the country. It has not had a great deal of public attention, but it is a matter of great urgency. We want to see that, if a national emergency should arise, the roads are put to the most economic use and the traffic on them allocated in the most economic manner. A suggestion has been made that taxation should be placed on motorists in order to provide extra road patrols. The motorist is providing enough as it is towards national funds. It is surely possible to provide extra patrols, if necessary, from the taxation that the motorist is already producing. I hope the Minister will turn a deaf ear to any cry for increased taxation of the motorist. He has told us what should be done in the future. In a few years I hope it will be a question of what has been done, and not what should be done. I hope that, when the time arrives, he will pass down a road that is not paved with good intentions.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. MATHERS
It is not my intention to follow to any extent the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for West Birkenhead (Lieut.-Colonel Sandeman Allen), but I would say that, with regard to his suggestion that the Minister should build spurs on the roads where there are points of interest to be viewed in order that cars may be off the main trunk road while that enjoyment is being indulged in, it makes me think that in many parts of the country of which I claim nationality he would have more spurs than roads. It would be necessary, in order to see to any effect many parts of Scotland, to have very many of these spurs, and I am wondering what the Minister thought of that suggestion. It was a suggestion which in many ways was a desirable one and one which should be acted upon.
I have ventured to intervene in the Debate because of the fact that, except 2017 for the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), no Scottish voice has been heard in this Debate to-day. I hope to have something to say not particularly with regard to my own constituency, although I want to refer to a matter concerning it, but to this question as a whole in one or two aspects. When I heard the hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) explaining the reason for the Amendment that he had on the Paper and complaining so strongly about the fact that there is no trunk road provided for in the East of Yorkshire, it seemed to me that, in the speech of the Minister and in the diagram that we received along with the Bill, if the hon. Member cared to read the signs aright he had his answer. I am of the opinion that behind the emergence of the Bill, which has come rather suddenly upon us, although we knew that things like this had been talked about for some time, there is involved the question of defence and strategy.
§ Sir PAUL LATHAM
Does not Yorkshire need defending, and were not Scarborough and Whitby shelled during the last War?
§ Mr. MATHERS
I am very glad indeed to find hon. Members on the other side so keen in the interest of their own constituencies, but with all due respect to them, I think that they must be forced to agree that their constituencies and that part of the country which is left out are not of particular military importance.
§ Mr. TURTON
Strensall and York are the chief military depots in the north of England, and the hon. Gentleman cannot say that they are not of military importance.
§ Mr. MATHERS
The trunk roads that are to be dealt with under the Bill are clear indication to me that the question of being able to reach our ports and to carry goods from our ports not only during times of peace, but during times 2018 of war, has weighed in the considerations that were given before the Bill was framed. I am no doubt on dangerous ground in expressing an opinion on that matter, and perhaps I had better leave that particular point.
§ Mr. MATHERS
It is my view, however, that the emergence of the Bill has some connection with the question of defence, that is so much occupying the mind of Members of the Government at the present time. When the Minister was describing how certain roads which are included in this trunk road system now taper down from six tracks of traffic to only one if there is a vehicle standing in a narrow part of the road, it immediately brought to my mind the thought that there are some roads which taper down to nothing at all, and into the water, as the hon. Baronet the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) mentioned to us. I am thinking of that part of the trunk road system that shows a blank in the road that is set out in the Schedule—London to Thurso. There is a blank in that road which requires to be filled.
The Minister is taking powers to construct by-pass roads, and I think that this is a suitable opportunity to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I assume, will reply to the Debate, what is the long-term policy with regard to the construction not of a by-pass road between Edinburgh and Perth, but of a link that would enable him to make a more direct route than is available at the present time. It is a suitable opportunity to ask the Ministry of Transport what they have in view when the defence programme has ceased to make its extreme demands upon them. What is their intention with regard to the building of the Forth road-bridge. The site for the bridge, and the design of the bridge, I understand, have been approved. Do the Government agree in principle—let me put my question quite specifically—that this bridge should be built, and can they say that in due time and immediately the defence programme has ceased to trouble them as severely as it does at the present time, they will go on with the project of allowing the building of this particular road-bridge? I have, as is known, been pressing the Minister of Transport for some time to make a declaration of Government policy in this regard, and I received what I 2019 looked upon as unsatisfactory answers. It is true that the door has not been completely closed, and what we are anxious for now is to have some definite assurance for the future that this bridge is one that has been approved in principle by the Government. Three bridges have been mentioned when we talked about this matter; a bridge over the Forth, one over the Humber, and one over the Severn.
§ Mr. MATHERS
In the replies which I have had from the Minister three crossings were referred to, and three only. If the Minister wants to take a line that will remove any idea of giving preference in respect to the erection of these bridges when the time comes, I would suggest to him that he simply takes them in alphabetical order. I want to ask very definitely for a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, of what actually is the Government position in relation to the projected Forth road-bridge.
It is obvious that when the Bill comes to be considered in Committee there will be a strong urge made to bring into the system of trunk roads those roads which are at present excluded from the scheme. I mean the roads that run through the large burghs, county boroughs as they are called in England. I think there is every justification for that proposal. One can well understand that these roads through the county boroughs were not included because they were regarded as being used not so much for through traffic as for the traffic that arises in the boroughs themselves. I am certain, however—to mention a borough in which I lived for many years—that that test would not suffice to keep the City of Carlisle out of the scheme. If the diagram is looked at it will be seen that all the traffic going on the west coast route into Scotland passes through the city of Carlisle. There is no means of by-passing Carlisle. The very heavy traffic that passes between England and Scotland goes through the centre of Carlisle and that makes it very desirable that that borough at least, and others in much the same position, should be brought into the scheme so that the city itself is not left with the burden 2020 that is being removed from other authorities.
In talking about this heavy traffic one is reminded of the fact that there is much heavier traffic on the roads than should be there. It would have been desirable in this Bill for the Minister to have taken powers to protect the roads and to protect the public, because it would have been a safety precaution as well, in order to deal with the vexed question of the competition between road and rail in respect of the carrying of traffic. The Bill might be described as an experiment in constructive Socialism, but there is much more than is contained in this Bill that requires to be done before we have the roads of this country and their administration on a proper footing. When the Minister was speaking I thought he spoke rather proudly about the big things that this Bill represents. I am not wishing to minimise the Bill, but it is a small thing compared with what actually requires to be done. Some of the traffic that is passing over our roads at the present day ought not to be there. It is wrong to allow such heavy loads to be carried by road. Here especially one can cite the fact that in the boroughs through which the trunk roads pass there is very heavy upkeep, much heavier expense than for the upkeep of country roads. Moreover, there is greater danger of damage being caused. Drains, gas pipes and other things lie below the streets and it is necessary, because of the heavy traffic upon the streets, to take steps to protect these things.
In view of the weight of the traffic on the roads to-day, and the way in which it is growing. I believe that before the programme that is set out in this Bill is completed the Minister will find it necessary, in the interests of the good administration of the roads and in the interests of the public safety, to place a restriction upon much of the far too heavy traffic that is passing on the roads, and take steps to see that traffic of that kind is conveyed from one part of the country to another by more suitable means. There will be many criticisms of details in respect of the Bill when it comes to its further stages, but I think there will be general approval of the idea that at last we have taken a step, whatever may be the motive for it, that is in the right direction, and one that at this stage we can all approve.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. CRITCHLEY
In this Debate we have disclosed one fact, and that is that on the principle of the Bill we are all more or less agreed. I think also that most of us are agreed that it is unsatisfactory from one point of view that the Minister has not discretionary power to acid to the Schedule and thereby enable local authorities with roads that ought to be included in the Schedule to submit their schemes, so that they might be considered. At present those particular roads are excluded. I apologise to the House for having to raise a matter which is of special importance to Liverpool and Merseyside. I represent a division of Liverpool which is particularly interested in the future welfare of that great national highway the Mersey Tunnel. I am indebted to all those who have gone before who have made it quite clear that we ought to have an opportunity to discuss these matters.
When the Bill was mooted in July last the Mersey Tunnel Joint Committee made advances to the Ministry of Transport and made an application for inclusion in the scheme, but that application and those advances were resisted. An alternative suggestion was made but that, too, was turned down. It would be a great thing for a city like Liverpool and for a town like Birkenhead, with their joint interests in the Mersey, if they were given what they are justly entitled to, and that is an opportunity of ventilating their case. There is a decided and persistent opinion on Merseyside that the Mersey Tunnel should be a national responsibility. It is only in this House that such a matter can be ventilated.
The great advantages of the tunnel are not altogether local; they are distinctly national. The tunnel was constructed with the permission of this House, under a Bill which it passed, at considerable expense. The original estimated cost of the tunnel was £5,000,000, and to give an example of the support which it received from the Ministry of Transport a grant of £2,500,000 was made. Since then ventilation difficulties and the like have increased the cost of the tunnel by a further £2,000,000, and as the Mersey Tunnel Joint Committee are responsible for construction and maintenance it naturally imposes a heavy responsibility on the ratepayers of the two boroughs. In the case of Liverpool—and this is 2022 where I should like to the hon. and gallant Member for Birkenhead, West (Lieut.-Colonel Sandeman Allen)—the cost of the tunnel and its maintenance is equivalent to a 6.4d. rate, and in the case of Birkenhead to a 3.9d. rate. That means that a 10d. rate is the burden which is imposed upon the ratepayers. There is a persistent demand on behalf of the ratepayers of both boroughs that there should be some definite Government recognition. Liverpool's rate contribution to the cost of maintenance is unlike Birkenhead's; it is unlimited, and under the Act we are responsible for any losses which are incurred on the Birkenhead Ferry system. At the present time there is an estimated loss this year of between £80,000 and £90,000.
My colleagues and I contend that a matter of such national importance ought to be a national responsibility. The Mersey Tunnel is, we consider, a national asset. It is a local burden and a local responsibility of which Merseyside ought to be relieved at the earliest possible moment. The Bill does not provide any opportunity for the Mersey Tunnel Committee either to state their case or to hope for any relief, as they are in the first place excluded from the Schedule and under Clause 2 are precluded from being considered. There is also the question, and an important question, that should a time arrive when this country goes to war, which we hope will never happen again, it is a great, desirable and useful place of safety in the case of air raids, which again makes the tunnel a national asset. Although we have to thank local enterprise for this great undertaking I think if such a scheme of national responsibility is not acknowledged it will penalise all local enterprise and stultify national progress.
I contend that if the Government took over the responsibility for this great roadway, which has been classified as a first-class road, both the tunnel itself and the approaches, it would be doing a profound service to the immediate local authorities and to the trade and industry of the country. It has been truly said that the Mersey Tunnel is not strictly for the use of local industries and local traders, but that it is used nationally. The traffic through it comes from all parts of the country, and it cannot be denied that from that point of view it makes a wonderful contribution to the transport 2023 of industry through the country. I make a strong appeal to the Minister to consider the claims of Liverpool and Birkenhead in this gigantic undertaking, and I hope that a new Clause will be inserted or Clause 2 so amended as to afford an opportunity to the Minister to possess discretionary powers or make definite recommendations so that the difficulties which are being experienced by those who have to face the burden of this great national highway will be overcome.
Having dealt with that point I should like to put a question or two to the Minister on the behalf of property owners. From Clause 1, Sub-section (3), it would appear that if the Minister wishes to construct a new road he may give notice of his intention to do so, and presumably thereafter proceed with the work without any other formality other than (1) consider any representations made by a county council; or (2) hold a local inquiry if he thinks fit. From this it is not clear what the position would be should the construction of the new road involve an injurious affectation or purchase of property or interference with private rights or damaging business interests in a town which was being bypassed. Why should the Minister be obliged to consider only representations from county councils when he is constructing new roads? Would it not be desirable also to consider representations from property owners who would be affected? Why should the Minister hold only a local inquiry if he thinks fit? Why not have an inquiry if property owners who are injuriously affected desire one?
If the Minister constructs a new road or by-pass under the Bill will the position with regard to property and property owners affected be the same as it is to-day, when a local authority proceeds with the construction of a new road? Where the construction of a new road under the Bill interferes with private rights, statutory undertakings, etc., will the Minister be obliged like any other highway authority to introduce a private Bill before he can proceed—a Bill like the Post Office Sites Bill? I have made my contribution to this Debate, and I once again urge the Minister to consider the strong appeals which come from the Merseyside on the question of the Mersey Tunnel. I apologise to the House 2024 for having had to repeat so much that has already been said.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. WOODS
I join with other hon. Members in extending a sincere welcome to this Bill, but with the qualification expressed by other hon. Members that, although it is a beginning, it is very inadequate. One can appreciate that the Minister and the Government feel that this is a big innovation. They are taking over for the nation a new responsibility; they are cutting across other claims and have to meet a certain amount of objection. Nevertheless, I feel that the Debate so far has shown that the general view is that the Bill, as presented, is inadequate for the purpose. First of all, I think the most serious point with regard to road transport throughout the country is not facilities for motorists or the speed at which they can travel, but the appalling weekly list of tragedies in which all sections of the community, aged people, little children, motorists and cyclists, are included; and after considering this Bill and trying to visualise the road system of the country as it will be when the ideals of the Minister, as expressed in his speech, are carried into effect, I have very serious misgivings as to whether the number of casualties will be reduced—I fear indeed that the probability is that it will be increased.
My reason for thinking that is the following. Everybody who uses a car knows how easily a motorist becomes accustomed to travelling at various speeds. When he has been travelling at a relatively high speed on a road such as is conceived in this Bill, and then has to drop to 30 miles an hour or less, it seems to him to be a "crawl." I am afraid that the roads covered by the Bill will tend to speed up traffic but that there will be no provision for making the whole of the roads safe. After all, this Bill covers only a very small percentage of the roads of the country. On these new modernised roads the motorist will develop habits which he will have difficulty in overcoming when he is motoring on the minor roads, with their tricky bends, and so forth. Consequently, I feel very strongly that if this job is to be tackled, it ought to be tackled in a much bigger way, and that one ought not merely to take over, in an arbitrary manner, a number of 2025 roads, not, as the Minister said, because they have the greatest volume of traffic, but for some other reason which he failed to explain. I think hon. Members are still wondering why certain roads have been selected and others not selected.
Other countries, in dealing with this problem, have had to decide on one of two possible courses—first, to take over old roads and attempt to modernise them; or secondly, to plan the whole country and provide it with a new up-to-date road system. In travelling in these countries, one is able to see why and how rightly they have planned their new road systems. In Italy, as far as the State roads are concerned, there is a new system. In Germany, the Reichsautobahn is a new system. In Sweden, although they do not get much publicity for it, they are carrying out a remarkable 10 years' programme of road construction, in which, for the greater part, there are new roads. The small old roads have been straightened out and carried directly across the country, and very often it has been necessary to blast thousands of tons of granite in order to get roads that are safe and straight.
Sooner or later, whatever may be done with regard to this Bill, we shall have to take the same course. I hold that opinion all the more strongly after having examined the detailed maps in the Tea Room. Any hon. Member who studies on those maps a part of the country which he knows very well will see that the State is now taking over roads which, in a very few years, will be in no sense of the word national roads. I have been amazed to see how roads are taken through small towns which are not county boroughs and through long stretches of ribbon development where there are tortuous bends. Obviously the right thing to do, as will have to be done sooner or later, would be to avoid those towns. I would like to know what is to happen to these pieces of road which are taken over, but which will sooner or later have to be replaced by satisfactory arterial roads that are safe and direct.
Not only is the scheme not sufficiently comprehensive and national, but for the life of me I cannot understand why these particular roads and not others have been taken over. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) spoke of one road which I know very well, and 2026 it is an excellent illustration of a road that ought to be taken over. The volume of traffic going to Scarborough is tremendous, and the road in existence is utterly inadequate. In the summer it is not uncommon to see a traffic block five miles long on one side and three or four miles long on the other side of Malton, so that the whole of the traffic for six, seven or eight miles is at a standstill. That road is not taken over, but other roads further North are—for example, at Carlisle, straight across from East to West, where the volume of traffic is microscopic compared with the volume on the road to which I have referred. Then I wondered whether the roads are selected not so much because of passenger traffic, but because of commercial transport, yet on examining the maps I find that that cannot be the reason. I cannot conceive that there is a sufficient volume of goods traffic going to Yarmouth, for example, to justify three trunk roads to Yarmouth, although there is not one to Scarborough. It seems to me ridiculous that there should be two roads to Bangor, whereas a little further North the road from Preston to Blackpool, which is full of factory traffic, and which at certain periods during the year carries a great deal of night traffic, should not be taken over.
Let me examine the position with regard to the roads that are taken over. The road which I know best is from Leeds to Scarborough. As the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton pointed out, this road passes through the West Riding, through York, which is a county borough, through a small piece of the North Riding, up to Mahon in the East Riding and again out into the North Riding. What has happened on that road? In the North Riding, I suppose because of the interest in Scarborough or because of the influence which the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton may have exerted, a considerable amount of money has been spent on the road, so that that part of it is a magnificent modern motor road, with a very fine surface, with permanent markings and traffic lines. On the part of the road which goes to the East Riding, they have apparently said that the road is nothing to do with them. The consequence is that the traffic first of all passes along a fine modern road and then has to negotiate very narrow roads where there is only the possibility of one line of traffic 2027 each way. There is nothing in this Bill which will deal with a problem of that kind, and make such a road uniform.
I do not say anything about the sidestepping of Malton, because the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton has already spoken of it, but I would like to say a word about York. Some of us who know York feel that it is a great national asset and one of the most remarkable cities in Europe. We do not want to see that city modernised. I think a country like ours can afford to have at least one or two beautiful museum cities, if I might call them so, which will convey to the population what the life of this country was in bygone centuries. I give Chester and York as two illustrations. Negotiations have been going on between the Ministry and the local authority with regard to side-stepping York but keeping within the York territory. Knowing the city as I do, I say that it cannot be done without mutilating the city. But it can be done at a fraction of the cost, if you take the traffic right outside the area of population and go sufficiently far outside the city. There is no reason why that should not be done. Problems like that are the real problems of modern road transport and they are not even touched in this Bill. Furthermore, we fear that the Bill will make it impossible to deal adequately with them in the next five years. One asks with some misgiving, how many more victims are there going to be on the roads, while we are discovering that this scheme, extended as far as it can be extended, is inadequate for its purpose?
With regard to the case of the boroughs, another remarkable feature of the detailed maps is the number of short pieces of road that are to be taken. You find a patch that is not taken over and then you come to a piece that is taken over under these proposals. It is not a national scheme. The Ministry proposes to take over short sections, especially in big industrial areas such as the West Riding and Lancashire. Why not take over the whole road and make the scheme consistent throughout? The only way is to take over the whole responsibility. If it is replied that the boroughs have only short stretches of road to look after and can afford to do so, I say that that is a ridiculous argument. Those who have served on streets 2028 and buildings committees of public authorities know that road-making in a borough is much more expensive than it is in the countryside. To do anything in a borough which would make your road system meet modern requirements, involves the demolition of an enormous amount of property and a considerable burden of compensation payments. That is what is holding up improvements all over the country. The obvious solution is to side-step the boroughs and the congested parts of the cities but surely such side-stepping ought to be part of the national scheme and the cost should be a national burden and not left to the local authorities.
There are two further points to which I wish to refer. The first is the inadequacy of the signs on our roads. It will be said, I know, that the main roads are adequately provided with signs, but those who make cross-country tours know the amount of time that is wasted at many points in finding out exactly where you are and which turn you have to take. A good deal of irritation is caused in this way which does not make for careful driving. What is even worse, there is a considerable amount of slowing-up near dangerous crossings and junctions. That would not matter so much if the motorist could keep his eyes on the road, but very often he is looking for sign-posts which are not there and while doing so he may bump into another vehicle or be bumped into by somebody else. A considerable percentage of accidents occur in proximity to these crossings and are due to this cause. I would ask that there should be a comprehensive scheme to deal with these points. I see no reason why the international code should not be adopted in this country, having regard to the number of motorists here who have travelled on the Continent and the number of Continental motorists coming to this country. It would make for safety on both sides of the Channel.
Apart from the question of proper traffic signs there is one other point which has already been mentioned, and that is the number of neon signs. I feel strongly that the multiplication of signs, especially of illuminated signs, which show up at night on the roadside tends to divert the attention of drivers from the road. That, indeed, is their object. They are designed to attract the atten- 2029 tion of the motorists and are made to glitter and sparkle accordingly. Anything that diverts the attention of drivers from the road is conducive to danger. A comprehensive Bill to deal with these matters ought to include the question of a national system of signs on roads and ought also to contain powers to restrict other notices. It is becoming a harassing task for motorists to have to watch the road and at the same time pick out the real signs and ignore those which are a mere waste of time and money, and are only there for advertising purposes. Personally, I think their value, as such, is nil. Most motorists get the feeling that the people who badger you with notices 'along the road are people to ignore, because they are really a menace to motorists, and I hope that that feeling will grow.
The other point is one which affects my constituency, the borough of Finsbury. I know what has been suggested regarding the attitude of boroughs towards the Bill. It is true that those boroughs which have been mentioned are through boroughs, but as regards the borough of Finsbury, I would point out that there is in fact very little Finsbury traffic on our roads. The borough is very compact and the tradesmen there can move about it easily, and few of them can afford mechanised transport. But there is an arterial road into the City by which people who work in the City go in the morning and get home at night. This makes the position at certain hours very dangerous. The only solution of the problem of congestion in our big cities that I can see is something on the lines of the modern motor system, an excellent illustration of which is to be seen in Stockholm. There, in the centre of the city, where all the traffic meets, there is no need for any crossings. A very elaborate device has been designed whereby it is possible to go right through without being held up on to the road which you desire to take. Of course, directly you try to visualise an aboveground system of that kind in London you recognise its impossibility here. But something will have to be done in London. We cannot continue as at present, or business will come to a standstill.
2030 The only way to deal with the problem apparently is to have at these junctions underground replicas of the Stockholm system—an underground traffic system whereby cars approaching the centre could go down into tunnels and come up outside the congested area on the road which they want to take, so that there would be no danger to pedestrians, cyclists or anybody else. I am not saying that that is the only scheme, but suggest that it is one possible solution and that we may be driven to adopt a scheme of the kind. Some of our provincial cities where they have considerable central open spaces might find it possible to adopt an overhead system as a solution of the difficulty. I am only suggesting that in London the only way of having something like that must be by a system of tunnels. Whatever is done, it is going to be enormously expensive, and it will have to be done, not for the benefit of any particular borough, but in the interests of general transport and of the safety of pedestrians and motorists alike.
I do not want to be misunderstood or to be thought of as failing to appreciate our road system. When all is said and done, this country has something to be very proud of in its fine road system, such as it is. Whether that system can be extended is a question. On the Continent, particularly in Germany, a great deal has been made of the new roads, but I feel satisfied that the average motorist who has toured Germany or any other Continental country comes back to this country with a sense of satisfaction, because on the Continent very often the roads that have not been taken over by the State are in a state of repair infinitely lower than our standard of repair here. Even in Spain the great Alfonso roads are very finely engineered, but, speaking of a few years ago, owing to the lack of repair in certain areas they have become a source of danger.
Our road system and its maintenance are very fine indeed, and the tragedy is that they have helped to accelerate the pace of motor traffic development here, which has caused the problem now confronting us. We are all glad to see that the Government are at last prepared to take over the responsibility, but many of us are anxious that it shall be taken over on a big enough scale to begin with, and with powers that will 2031 enable the Government to do the thing thoroughly and to meet contingencies as they arise, and not to create, as we are doing in this Bill, a nest of trouble for ourselves between local and national authorities. I am speaking of London and the county boroughs when I say that. I should like to see the whole system taken over now, or the Bill so amended as to make it possible for the scheme to be uniform and satisfactory, and so that other roads, not now included, could be included.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. SALT
I think it must be unique that a Bill of this importance should receive such unanimous approval. Even if there has been some kind of criticism in a Member's speech, he has almost invariably ended up with praise, and I am not going to be an exception. My anxiety is rather whether the results of this Bill will be as rapid as we desire, and I hope that the Ministry will see to it that they have a sufficient number of surveyors so that the whole of the road system shall be surveyed and the preparatory work executed with the least possible delay. I do not think that an important road such as the one from Winchester, via Oxford, to Birmingham, should have to wait while perhaps the Great North Road or some other great road is being surveyed, and I think there should be enough officials and surveyors to carry on at the same time.
The factor of accidents is naturally uppermost in our minds, and I feel confident that the Minister was induced to bring this Bill before the House mainly because he hopes at any rate to reduce the number of accidents that are taking place, despite all that he has done. This very week we have details showing that no fewer than 164 deaths occurred on the roads last week, and with all the Minister's many activities, he is not really making any appreciable difference. I believe that the new roads will undoubtedly reduce the number of accidents but can we not do something, while we are preparing, to avoid the enormous waste and inefficiency that are going on at the present moment. There is the trouble with regard to skidding that takes place because the wrong surfacing is being used—it almost seems that at the worst corners you get the worst surfaces—and there is the trouble regarding 2032 the repairs that are taking place? In one short stretch of road you find three or four different types of repairs going on. On one stretch you find that they can repair the road, taking short stretches at a time, so as scarcely to hold up traffic at all, and mend the road with a first-class surface, while on another piece they take a longer stretch and they hold up traffic—I am thinking of a road that has an enormous amount of traffic on it—day by day, and when it is finished they leave chips all over the place for the motorists to scatter and waste. I feel confident that if the Minister could give some general programme to the highway authorities until he finally takes over, we should at least save some of the waste that is taking place to-day.
I was pleased to hear, on the matter of road lighting, that the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) spoke strongly and was appreciative of the Ministry's undertaking to do this work. I would like to add two matters that I think are worth consideration and may assist the Ministry, if they are prepared to spend the necessary money. I believe that if roads, particularly between important commercial towns, such as Birmingham and London, were adequately lit, they would bring about a very great relief in regard to heavy transport during the day, because it would be carried to a much greater extent during the night. It is obvious, in the interests of motor hauliers, that their goods should be delivered with the least possible delay,end we know that, approaching such a place as London, for the last 20 odd miles during the daytime the roads are congested with traffic, whereas at night and in the early hours of the morning that traffic would have a clear run through, saving much time, and the goods could be delivered mainly when those who are to receive them would desire to do so. This would be an immense relief of the traffic which we now have, both in London and in other busy centres.
I had the opportunity last Session of quoting various statistics which I believe proved that good lighting would be an economic factor. May I add one other thing for consideration? During the winter months a great many motorists put their cars aside because they dislike driving in bad visibility. I believe that, with proper lighting, you would find that quite a number of these motorists would run 2033 their cars during the whole of the year. Every motorist saves on an average at least £5 in taxation for the six months during which he now lays his car aside, and he would certainly pay another £5 in petrol tax. That is £10 per car, and for 100,000 cars you would have £1,000,000 added to taxation. While it is obvious that the taking over of 4,500 miles of main roads would not be sufficient to bring all the cars into constant use, there is no doubt about it that it would increase the use of many that are now laid aside. I hope the Minister will take greater powers, even if it means spending more money than he is asking for in this Bill, so that the work can be proceeded with and the least possible delay incurred.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. G. STRAUSS
I think that every hon. Member who has addressed the House has declared himself in favour of the principle underlying this Bill, and I am certainly no exception to that rule. Like other Members, I hope that, as the result of the passage of the Bill, it will be possible to maintain our trunk road system in a much more efficient way than it is done at the moment, that accidents will be eliminated and that the adequacy of our road communications will be generally improved. I am, however, critical of one or two of the provisions of the Bill, particularly of the manner in which the Bill, once it is passed into law, will be administered. I would like, first, to ask one or two questions about the financial side, because in that respect the Bill is deplorably vague, and we as guardians of the public purse are entitled to know exactly what is meant by those Clauses where the financial provisions are set out. We are told that the maintenance costs of the trunk roads to the tune of about £660,000 are to be taken over by the Road Fund, and will no longer be a burden on the local authorities through whose territory the roads run.
According to the Financial Memorandum, regard will be had to the transfer in the negotiations as to the General Exchequer contributions for the next fixed grant period under the Local Government Act, 1929. Does that mean that the relief which local authorities will enjoy is to be wholly taken away from them in the new Exchequer grants to be decided upon? I am particularly interested in the next question because 2034 of my responsibility in regard to highway improvements in London. Are those local authorities whose trunk roads do not come under this Bill going to suffer as a result of it? Will they be told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when we come along with the necessary road improvements in London or elsewhere, "We are very sorry, but we had to spend so much more money on our trunk roads than before that we really have not enough to pay the county boroughs or the London County Council for road improvements in their areas." If that be so, it is a very serious position, and I would like to have a categorical statement from the Parliamentary Secretary that this will not be the effect of the extra payments falling on the Road Fund for the trunk roads which are being taken over. These payments may be very heavy; we are told that schemes to the value of £6,000,000 have already been approved and that there are £12,000,000 worth under consideration, while I should think that to make the trunk roads really good, anything from £20,000,000 to £40,000,000 will have to be spent on them. Are we going to be told in London or in the county boroughs, when we come up with our road improvements which are equally urgent and necessary, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is sorry that he cannot provide any money for them because it has all been earmarked for work on the trunk roads?
I would like to endorse the criticism which has been made by many Members that this scheme will take over some of the trunk roads only and will deliberately avoid those trunk roads that pass through county boroughs. I cannot see the logic of that at all, and no explanation was given by the Minister. He said that he was concerned only with through roads, but through roads go through many county boroughs. Reference has already been made to the road that goes through Carlisle, which is one of the main roads to the north and a through road if ever there were one. When, however, that road gets to the boundary of Carlisle county borough, it will no longer be taken over by the Minister of Transport. The Ministry will not be responsible for it, although the upkeep of it will be as expensive inside as outside the borough. What is the reason for avoiding trunk roads when they go through county boroughs?
2035 The same position applies to London. Many of the London roads which now exist, and particularly some which are to be built, are purely and simply through roads. There are the Eastern and Western Avenues, which we hope will be built before very long. Their whole purpose is to form a through road, and I cannot see the justice of the State paying 100 per cent. towards the widening of through roads outside London the maintenance of which will fall on the Road Fund, while in London a large proportion of the cost of a through road, built at very great expense, is to be paid by the local authorities. If there is any justice or logic in this I should like to hear it, but for the moment we have not been told what the reason is. There is also the example of the Dover Road, which is included in the trunk roads to be taken over. When the Dover Road approaches London, it is still a through road and has exactly the same traffic as in the earlier part of the road; it is all traffic between London and Dover. When it comes into the London area, however, when it goes up Shooter's Hill, for example, it remains a main road but the local authorities will have to pay their share of the upkeep and 40 per cent. for any widening. Outside the boundary the cost will fall on the Exchequer. We shall be interested to hear the reason for this anomaly.
My main concern with the Measure is that the admirable machinery which it sets up for the better care of the trunk roads and the better provision for widening may not be worked in the way it should be. From time to time we hear from the Government, and particularly the Minister of Transport, statements about their great activity on the roads of the country. I follow these matters very carefully and not only read or listen to these statements, but ex- amine the statistics to see what work is actually done. As one who does that, I am not at all satisfied that the Government show the energy in regard to the improvement of our roads that they ought to do. They are not a road-minded Government, as one would be led to think from listening to their speeches. If we view the actual work accomplished and the money spent by the Government in the maintenance of the roads in the widening of roads, and in the 2036 making of new roads, I think that every Member will agree that their record is deplorably bad. It is important, when we are handing over 4,500 miles of trunk roads to the Government, to consider how the Government will discharge their duties. If they are not going to do better than they have done in the past, everybody will be very disappointed in the results of this Bill. I would like to give these few figures comparing the expenditure of the present Government on roads with the only possible comparison, the amount spent when there was a Government in power that really cared about roads—the Labour Government of 1929–31. In every particular the amount spent by this Government is much less than the amount spent or promised by the Labour Government.
The actual expenditure on road improvement and the making of new roads, according to official returns issued by the Ministry of Transport, was in 1929–30, £18,000,000; in 1930–31, £20,000,000; in 1931–32, £21,000,000; in the following year it dropped to £15,000,000; in 1933–34 it dropped further to £11,000,000; last year it rose again to between £18,000,000 and £19,000,000; and it is still below the figure of £20,000,000 to £21,000,000 spent when the last Government was in office. It is even more remarkable when we consider the road schemes agreed to by the present Government and the last Government. In 1929–30 road schemes had been agreed to by the Ministry to the value of £26,000,000; in 1930–31 to the value of £32,000,000; the figure dropped to £20,000,000 in the subsequent year; to £14,000,000 the year after that; and to £13,000,000 in 1933–34—almost one-third of the amount of money agreed to by the last Government.
These figures will doubtless come rather as a surprise to those who thought from Government speeches that this was the most energetic Government in improving the roads system of the country. The figures show that this Government has been deplorably slack, and has been doing much less than the last Government. The revenue from the Road Fund has increased immensely since the period to which I am referring——1929–31. The licence duties have gone up about £5,000,000, and if you take into account the whole Exchequer revenue derived from motor cars, licence duties, petrol 2037 tax, import duties and drivers' licences, you find that the total receipts have risen from £44,000,000 in 1930 to £72,000,000 in 1935. Yet the expenditure and schemes agreed to are now very much less than in the period when the revenue was much smaller.
Our doubts about the manner in which these powers we are now granting to the Minister of Transport and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be carried out are increased when we remember the attitude to road matters indicated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Budget speech, which alarmed not only Members here but everybody interested in road development. He felt that the more roads one made the more accidents there might be, and cast doubt on the desirability of providing new roads. He thought, presumably, that it was wrong to make new roads or bypasses, that it was bad policy as it might give rise to more accidents. If that is the attitude of the Chancellor, who now has considerable power in regard to road matters, I do not see how we can anticipate that there is going to be a great expansion of road development after the passage of this Bill. Nevertheless, I support this Bill because I think it is improving the administration and, in proper hands and under a really energetic Government with initiative, is likely to be of great value. I hope it will be so. My wholehearted support for this Bill lies in the fact that I feel that under the next Socialist Government it will provide machinery which will make the road system of this country really adequate for modern needs.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I rise only to ask a question of the Minister about a matter with which I am very much concerned. Is he going to do anything to reduce the danger of an increased number of accidents which must inevitably follow the establishment of the roads with which we are dealing? The class of roads he is now taking over has the worst possible record. Straighter and wider roads mean higher speeds and more fatalities, and I want to know if he is going to do anything to neutralise that effect on the trunk roads. There are 140 people killed every week as a result of motor accidents, and a large proportion of them are from fatalities on the kind of roads with which we are now 2038 dealing. The Parliamentary Secretary recently recognised the danger of these roads. Speaking on 22nd May of by-pass arterial roads running into big cities he said:We are determined not to have these roads turned into race tracks. We are having complaints about certain roads on the outskirts of cities where motorists, instead of travelling at 40 or 50 miles an hour, go at 70 to 80 miles an hour, and are a danger to other road users. If that goes on, local authorities will be asking for speed limits, and we at the Ministry will back them up.The hon. Gentleman has still left his promise unfulfilled. I did not want to make a speech, but to ask a question, and without more ado I will ask the Minister to say whether there is anything he proposes to do which will neutralise the increased dangers caused by trunk roads.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Sir P. LATHAM
It was with pleasure that I heard that the Minister was going to take really useful steps to deal with the problem of main roads, but my pleasure was short-lived, because I was almost immediately disappointed to find that the main road which leads from Leeds through York and Malton to Scarborough was not included in the scheme. I do not apologise for mentioning my constituency, because the length of that road in my constituency is very short—only about two or three miles—but the road does serve the people there and it is in a very disgraceful condition to-day. If one considers why the Ministry has not included this road, one can only imagine either that the formula they are using for choosing the roads is not a good formula, or that they are not applying it in a proper and liberal manner. On the question of danger, we have heard the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Woods) describing that road as an extremely narrow and dangerous road, with a lot of traffic on it. In fact, the hon. Member spoke so highly in favour of improving that road and including it in the Bill that I am inclined to support him in getting any motor machines, either underground or overground, that are wanted for Finsbury.
Is it the case, as was suggested by an hon. Member for one of the Scottish Divisions, that the formula was based on considerations of defence? I do not believe that it can only be a problem of defence, because if that be the case why 2039 should York be omitted? After all, York is the centre of the Northern Command. The Minister put the case for ports and also through roads. Why include the road to Brighton—although I admit that place is near Newhaven—and not the road to Scarborough? It is quite clear that these roads would be used as an alternative route for bringing food to London if the London Docks by any chance were bombed in time of war. Surely Scarborough and the surrounding areas have a value as a source of potential food supplies to be sent to other parts of the country. It cannot, therefore, be simply considerations of food supply or defence which are responsible for the formula. Is it a question of helping industry? In the area to which I have referred industry is very much hindered by the very bad state of that road.
Is it a question of the maintenance of through roads? In the past we have seen how very unfair it is that a poor county should have to maintain a through road which brings very little benefit to that poor county. There is the example of the Great North road through Huntingdonshire. Is that one of the reasons for dealing with these as through roads? If that be so, we have an admirable example up in Yorkshire. The road from Malton to Scarborough is so bad, because from Malton to Scarborough is a distance of 22 miles and no less than 17 miles of the road are in a different county, for administrative purposes, from Malton and Scarborough. I can easily see why that road is left in a bad state. Why should the East Riding County Council pay out large sums in order to improve that road when their rateable value in Scarborough or in Malton is not increased? They get no benefit from improving that road. The people of the East Riding rarely use it, except in the case of a few people going to Filey. Clearly, therefore, the ratepayers in the East Riding will not be enthusiastic about providing money for that road. The North Riding County Council provides the money to build a very fine and wonderful road from York to Malton. The North Riding is prepared to find money towards its share of the bypass at Malton. The North Riding has also done up the last four miles into Scarborough. The North Riding has done 2040 all it can to make that into a good road, but the East Riding County Council does nothing. Is not that as good a, case of a through road as could be found in any part of the country?
§ Sir P. LATHAM
I know that there is one there, and it is needed, and I am not sure that the Minister will not have to help the St. John's Ambulance Brigade to put a few more there if he is going to do nothing to that road. There we have a local case of a through road which is a perfect case for action by the Ministry. It is very disappointing to find that nothing is to be done in the case of this road when if it is a question of defence it is remembered that Scarborough and Whitby were shelled during the War; if it is a question of food supply there are ports which are served by that road; and if it is a question of benefiting industry, industry there is suffering, and further that the whole difficulty of county council co-operation has not been settled. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us on what grounds that road has been omitted, and I hope that he will give us an assurance to-night that it will later be inserted in the Bill.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. A. EDWARDS
I have no desire to mutilate further the diagram which the Minister has given us, and I will mention only one road and ask the Minister to make a note of it. I do not wish to argue the point. The road from Middlesbrough to Thirsk carries all traffic coming off the Great North Road, and I wish he would look into the question of including that road. I think his scheme will have to be judged by one standard above all others—it was the point raised by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. LovatFraser) and that is, Will it reduce the great toll of life on the roads? I do not know whether the Minister thinks he is doing the best that it is possible to do, or whether he is limited for funds, but those of us who have travelled in America and on the Continent are apt to wonder why we cannot have in this country, which is such a small stretch of territory, roads equal to those of other countries. This year I have travelled fairly extensively both in America and in Germany and I 2041 believe that we ought to have roads at least equal to theirs. I would suggest to the Minister quite seriously that he should ignore the existing roads. Let them remain as they are, to be used for local traffic, let them be secondary roads, and let him begin an entirely new road to London at the point where the Government are now building a new training estate on Tyneside. I am not sure that he could not build a road for less money than he is going to spend on widening the existing roads. The widening of roads is an expensive business, and we know there will be interests which will fight against it. As one who has ridden on roads at fairly high speeds—and I disagree entirely with the hon. Member for Lichfield that speed is the danger: if you have the right roads it is not—I assume that we could travel from Tyneside to London on a road such as he could build, and has the power to build, almost as quickly and with perfect safety as in the Silver Jubilee train. The distance is about 245 miles. It would not be an excessive speed on a road such as they have now in Germany, but they would have to be built without any roundabouts in order to make them perfectly safe. I know it costs a lot of money to build flyovers, but such roads are perfectly safe and you can travel along them hour after hour in safety.
I know something about the heavy traffic also which has to come down from my district. I myself send a great deal of stuff to London. The Minister, or somebody, has made a law which is impossible to work. Heavy traffic cannot travel at 20 miles an hour in the country with which I am associated. I happened to talk about this to someone who was fined for exceeding the speed limit, and he said that it was impossible to run at all unless you kept in second gear all the way. Why should they have to do that? Heavy lorries can travel at comparatively high speeds in safety. If you can halve the time, which can be quite comfortably done, on the journey from the North-East coast to London, you have pretty well halved the cost of it.
I wish the Minister would tell us what he is going to do, if he does not accept my suggestions, now that he is, so to speak, through his recent promotion, able to get inside the ring and make a fight. What is he going to do about the bypasses? We have had some terrible 2042 examples of by-passes, for example at Kingston-upon-Thames. We used to go on the by-pass to dodge the traffic in Kingston, but now we go to Kingston to dodge the traffic on the by-pass, and a tremendous sum of money is being spent to widen that by-pass. That is the sort of thing that we should avoid. I hope we shall have the Minister's assurance that by-passes will really be by-passes, and that the money spent on them will be spent in the interests of safety and speed. Would the Minister give me a little enlightenment upon another point? Previous speakers have referred to the interruption of traffic and the serious hold-up which occurs during alterations to a road. I suggest that he might organise a survey from the North-East coast to London, through cheap land, with a view to building an entirely new road and without interfering for one moment with existing traffic. I wish he would give us an indication whether it would or would not be cheaper to take that agricultural land, picked up very cheaply indeed, than the cost of widening existing roads. Would it not be a better investment, since we are committed to this expenditure?
It might be that that road could be built so that other roads could be connected up with it. Would it not be possible that Scarborough, which is only 35 miles away, and various other places, could link up with such a main road? If so, it would make a perfectly marvellous arterial road. I hope that the Minister will carefully consider my suggestion. There is the factor of loss of life; I know of no way in which to reduce it other than by constructing roads of which there are now perfect examples in Germany and America. I hope that the Minister will take courage. If he will build something of that kind, the roads might be called the new Belisha Broadways. They would probably assist him to live down his other experiment, the Belisha Beacons.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I want to take a few moments to thank the Minister very heartily for the Bill. In doing so I am conveying a wish which was expressed to me a few moments ago by a friend of mine who has been here to-day. He owns a certain amount of farming land upon a narrow road. It is clay land, difficult to plough, and he has lost two or three 2043 motor ploughs in the process. He has found that by leaving a few motor ploughs in the land the iron helped to mature the land very well. Having tried to farm this land for some years, and having lost a lot of money in the farm, he now finds that the Bill is coming along. He asks me to express his deepest gratitude to the Minister, because the new roads which will be made will cut right through his farm, and the enhanced value which he will receive—
§ Mr. MacLAREN
If I were to give that information, his next-door neighbours, who are wanting to acquire land, since they found the new roads were coming, would be on the look-out. I shall not give away anything in the House which would give them the cue. Almost every landowner in the country is on the lookout whether the new roads are likely to benefit him.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
The new roads which are likely to be constructed under the right hon. Gentleman's new scheme. Enhanced value is likely to result from this development. My friend is under the impression that he can get enhanced values as the result of the operation of the Bill and the widening of the narrow roads on which his farm abuts. He says also that when the wide roads are made he will be able to get enhanced value for the contiguous land. Millions of pounds of public money are being spent to make new roads and to widen narrow roads. We have heard a good deal about the deaths that take place on the King's highway, and the cause of those deaths, as anyone knows, is the narrowness of the roads. We are bleating and moaning about the horror of death on the King's highway but the truth of the matter is that it is too expensive to widen the roads and make them safe for the public. If you widen a great arterial or trunk road you get a bottle-neck in the vicinity of the cities.
I must also congratulate the Minister in seeing to it that the dear county councils shall not be obliged to carry onerous burdens, and that, while the borough councils will carry the cost of any parts of 2044 this road scheme that come under them, the county councils shall not be obliged to do so. The hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) was delighted with the Bill. It was very naughty of the State not to leave control of the roads still in the hands of the county council. I am sorry that that should have happened. Seeing that the county councils are made up of gentlemen who support the party opposite and receive so many gratuitous gifts from the Government, they might have been handed this one too.
The only thing that I am worrying about is whether the Government are going to recoup themselves for this expenditure. Are they going to allow this vast expenditure to sink into the land and not take any of it back? I should like the Minister who is to reply to say a word about that to-night. Is anything to be done to have a drawback of some of this expenditure, or is that to be allowed to lie? If we are to have the finest roads in the world in this country as a result of Government expenditure, and the Government do not at the same time take back some of the betterment, I consider it is scandalous. It will be nothing short of plundering the national taxpayer to expend these sums of money on road making only to enhance the fortunes of people who do nothing but sit and recoup themselves at the public expense. We remember the famous case of the Middlesex County Council, who, after they had spent I forget how many thousands of pounds on miles of arterial roads, found that they had increased the value of the land in the county to many millions of pounds which they openly state is a gift to the landowners. Have we all to be piously praising the Minister for this great Bill, as if it was any great discovery to find that we have archaic roads? If you are going to rook the taxpayer to get better roads, there is no reason why you should not have roads 15 times the present width as long as you have taxpayers who will lie down and let you bleed them for someone else's benefit. I hope the Minister will tell us if the Government are going to do anything to recoup themselves for this vast expenditure on public roads.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I should like to congratulate the Minister on the clear exposition that he has given us, though 2045 it was a very limited exposition. Just as he was getting to the most interesting part of it he said "Good afternoon," and took his seat. I think also our congratulations ought to be extended to the Minister of Defence, because I cannot get it out of my mind that this is part of the great rearmament of the country. I am not complaining about it, but I think it would have been wiser and better to tell the House that it is part of the rearmament scheme. It is borne out by the diagram that has been presented to us. The trunk road from Preston to Hull touches 18 sea points and covers the area which would be most intensely engaged in the production of munitions. It is also borne out by the fact that nothing is said about connecting Preston with Blackpool and the Preston-Blackpool road is one of the busiest thoroughfares in the country during nine months of the year. It is a great mistake not to take it over. Our friends have been complaining about the road to Scarborough, but if they saw the Preston-Blackpool road once in the summer-time they would understand that it is more congested than the road to Scarborough. The Minister mentioned the East Lancashire road and said it had been sign-posted right through and had islands at every junction. There have been many fatalities during the short period of its existence and many have spoken and asked questions about the need for lighting. I myself have seen that the lighting is very inefficient and does not meet the requirements of the road at all. It is time something was done to make it safer at night. The right hon. Gentleman also said that sooner or later, probably in the near future, there would have to be a consolidation of the laws relating to roads. I agree that that is very necessary.
Clause 1 (3) deals with the construction of new roads and compensation for land recently acquired for road improvement by local authorities who have trunk roads running through their areas. I hope it is not intended to reduce the grants now paid to the authorities. The right hon. Gentleman said there was to be uniform lighting. That is one of the first things that are necessary. With regard to taking over the roads, many county boroughs have been spending money heavily in the last few years, and they have been encouraged to do it by the Department 2046 because it has been necessary. Everyone has been trying to reduce the accident rate and has been making sacrifices in order to achieve that result. is it really fair, or does it come well from the Minister, to exclude the county boroughs, in view of the fact that they have been facing the same expenditure as any other part of the country, and have been building and keeping their roads in conformity with his desires? The main trunk road runs right through the centre of my town. It has been frequently mentioned that there is to be a by-pass from Warrington to Bamber Bridge, Preston, which would by-pass Wigan. Is it the intention to by-pass every county borough you can in order to avoid the very heavy expense of widening roads? I know that the expenditure that was going to be borne will be very heavy if they have to widen the roads to make them fit in with the scheme, but if they are going to leave the county boroughs as they are at the moment, many other questions arise. Many of the boroughs, as I have said, maintain their through roads at great expense.
My next point is as to whether the block grant is going to be affected. Is there going to be a reclassification of the roads inside the county boroughs which will affect the block grant, or are they to have their block grant guaranteed to them for a period of years? Of course I understand that national interests must come before local interests, but at the same time we think the Government might have made a real job of this business by taking over all the main roads of the country, instead of taking over only some of them and leaving an obligation which is difficult to understand, but which will have to be dealt with either now or later. Are those boroughs and other areas which have spent large sums in bringing their roads up to the requirements of the Ministry in the past to have to bear that burden, or is the Minister going to take over any of their responsibilities in regard to money which they have borrowed I think that this is an essential point on which a reply ought to be given.
I particularly want to know whether any assistance is going to be given to the county boroughs; whether it is going to be a hard-and-fast rule that only part of the roads of the country are to be 2047 taken over and made trunk roads; whether it is intended to by-pass all the county boroughs possible, and whether any consideration is to be given to those areas which have spent heavily on their roads in accordance with the requirements of the Minister. Not only have these authorities spent money upon what will be trunk roads, but they have spent money in widening certain roads, in the hope, not without encouragement from the Ministry, that they might be taken over at some time, and this money is now owing on loans. Is any effort going to be made to relieve those particular areas? I am not pleading for my own area, but for areas which are in that position throughout the country. I think that something should be done in this matter, and I hope the Minister will look at it from that point of view. The work has been done, and the money originally borrowed will have to be paid in any circumstances, either through the block grant or from the rates. We think it is not right that the rates should be penalised in that manner, but that the matter should be cleared up to-night.
I should like to ask the Minister if it is possible for him to issue a White Paper which could be circulated both to county and non-county boroughs, showing exactly how they are to be dealt with under the Bill, and also how he intends to deal with the classification of the roads and with block grants. This would relieve the anxieties of many people, and would, I think, give great satisfaction to those who are affected under the Bill. In Clause 6 (4) the Minister has power to deal with the question of lighting. I believe that bad lighting has been responsible for more deaths on the road than any other cause. One sees cars emerging from half-lighted places into brilliantly lighted places, and vice versa. That is to be seen throughout the country, and the effect that it has on the drivers of vehicles makes the roads very dangerous. The Minister ought immediately to take it upon himself to get a uniform method of lighting throughout the whole of the roads of which he is taking control. With regard to the question of expenses, Clause 9 contains these words:and all other expenses of the Minister under this Act, not being expenses in the construction of trunk roads, shall, to such amount as may be approved by the Treasury, 2048 be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament.I should like to ask what is the exact meaning of the words:not being expenses in the construction of trunk roads.I think we have a right to know exactly what the intention is. Clause 10 (2) reads as follows:The former highway authority for a road which becomes a trunk road shall produce to the Minister such documents relating to their functions property and liabilities in respect of the road, and furnish to him such other information relating to those matters, as the Minister may require.Will these liabilities be met by the Government? Will they be taken over by the Department? Many of the liabilities which will fall upon local authorities ought to be taken over by the Ministry, in view of the fact that this is a national expenditure. At the same time, I think that to take over only a part of the main trunk roads of this country is a wrong step to take; I believe that the Class I roads ought to be taken over in their entirety. The Government would then be able to undertake the work which is before them, and either rebuild, widen or by-pass such roads, so that all authorities throughout the country, including boroughs and county boroughs, would be treated in the same way. We reserve to ourselves the right to put down certain Amendments, and we certainly shall do so when the Bill is considered in Committee. We think that the Bill ought to go through; we believe it is a greater step in the right direction than many others that have been taken but we do not think it goes far enough. It not only leaves us dissatisfied, but it leaves a certain amount of dissatisfaction throughout the country, which I hope the Minister will do his best to dispel when a reply is given to this Debate. I would appeal once more for a White Paper, because I think that more information ought to be in the possession of the House before the Bill reaches its Committee stage. We ought to know exactly the intentions of the Minister on the points that I have raised.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Captain HUDSON
It is very satisfactory for us to see the very general agreement with which the provisions of this Bill have been received by the House. I think I may say that no party argument has been brought in at all, except 2049 by the speech made at the beginning of the Debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), about which I shall say a word a little later on. Such criticism as there has been has mostly been directed, not so much against what the Bill contains, as to what hon. Members would like the Bill to contain, and I think that, in winding up the Debate, the best thing I can do is, first, to summarise very briefly what the Bill does contain, in order that we may get it clear in our minds, and then to deal with the large number of questions and criticisms which have been raised, and answer the questions which various hon. Members have put to me.
The Bill, although long, is very simple. First of all, certain roads to a length of 4,500 miles, as specified in the First Schedule to the Bill, are to be transferred to the Minister from the present highway authorities and are to be known as trunk roads. This is the vital part of the Bill. It is to be a straight transfer to the Minister of the existing functions and powers of the highway authorities in respect of these roads. I want the House to know that there are no new powers taken under the Bill, and highway authorities will act as agents of the Ministry. The county of London and county boroughs are excluded, and I shall deal with that subject when I am dealing with the questions. By-passes of trunk roads which are at present under construction or now approved will be taken over before 1st April next and the Schedule altered, and as other by-passes are made, they will be added to the trunk roads and the superseded roads will revert to the highway authority. The only other provisions in the Bill are that the powers under the Ribbon Development Act will continue to be exercised by the highway authorities, subject to the Minister's concurrence, and compensation being payable by Parliament. In that summary you have the whole of the Bill.
Some hon. Members have naturally asked what people outside this House are asking, "When can we expect that results will be shown?" I want to remind the House of what the Minister said when he presented the Bill earlier in the afternoon. First of all, a survey will be put in hand at once. Six million pounds worth of work on these particular roads has been approved for grant, and 2050 another £12,000,000 worth of work on these roads under the five-year programme has been submitted and will, we hope, be put in hand in the very near future. Therefore, I think we can give the answer, that results should be immediate when the Bill is passed. I will now deal with some of the criticisms, and, first of all, with what the Bill does not contain. The Minister has taken no powers to add roads to the Schedule. The reason for that is that we have quite enough in these 4,500 miles of roads, both from an administrative and from a financial point of view, with which to deal as it is. It is all very well for hon. Members to ask us to put other roads in which they 'are interested into the Schedule to the Bill.
I presume—and I think I am right—that hon. Members of this House want us to get on at once with results and to bring all these roads up to a reasonable standard of safety and a reasonable condition as the trunk roads of this country. For this reason it is obvious that there must be a limit to the amount of roads which, under the Bill, we can, as a start, take under our care, if we hope to get the quick results, which, I am sure from the speeches made in this House, is the desire of all hon. Members. It will be possible at a later stage for an amending Bill to be brought in, and according to the success or otherwise of this Bill, so will hon. Members support or try to reject such a Bill. Preferably, as my right hon. Friend has said, such a Bill should be brought in at the time when the block grant is under discussion, which is at every five-yearly period. There must be adjustment between local and national finances in schemes of this magnitude. The roads which are in the Schedule are very largely those which were agreed to be the main trunk roads, in consultation with the County Councils Association, as far back as 1924; and when hon. Members asked me why certain roads are taken and others left out—whichever roads are put in there is bound to be some criticism of that kind—I reply that we have done our best in consultation with the County Councils Association to get general agreement on this schedule of 4,500 miles of roads.
The hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) said that the county councils had hoped that we should have a scheme by 2051 which we gave 100 per cent. grants and the county councils or highway authorities would retain the local government. I do not believe that any such scheme would for a moment be acceptable to this House. If we pay we must have the responsibility. Other hon. Members have raised the question of the consolidation of the highway law and its necessary amendment. We can give the assurance that we realise the urgent necessity of that, and that it is intended at the appropriate time to undertake the necessary work preparatory to introducing a Consolidation Bill, which in its turn is necessary before amendment. But I want to emphasise that in this Bill we have definitely made a straight transfer of functions, and hon. Members will find no new powers possessed by the Minister under this Bill which are not at the present time capable of being exercised by the present highway authorities.
Now to deal with the various questions which were asked and the various speeches which have been made. The right hon. Member for South Hackney had a great deal to say about the finance of the Bill. He said that there was nothing in the Financial Memorandum outside the Bill or in the Bill itself to show what the cost would be. The reason for that is that we have not up to now been the highway authority and, therefore, it is absolutely necessary that a survey should take place before we can estimate what sums of money are necessary to put these roads into what we consider to be a proper condition. I would further point out that every year it will be necessary for my right hon. Friend to present an Estimate to the House. Therefore, the House will have, as it has from every other Government Department, the Estimates of the Ministry of Transport before it, and hon. Members can say whether they think those Estimates are too much or too little, and they will retain control of the finance just as they do in respect of every other Government Department..
The right hon. Member for South Hackney also raised the question, as did the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), who wound up the Debate for the Opposition, of the block grant. If hon. Members will look at page 2 of the Memorandum they will see that negotiations as to the General Exchequer Con- 2052 tribution for the next fixed grant period are now proceeding. Therefore, while these negotiations are going on it is impossible for me to give to the House the exact conclusion to which those negotiations will lead. As we have explained in the Memorandum, when these roads are taken over by the State the highway authorities will be relieved of their maintenance for the future, and it is obvious that some adjustment, which is now being negotiated, will have to be made as between local and national finances, but while these negotiations are taking place it must be obvious that it is impossible for me even to guess what the conclusions will be.
§ Captain HUDSON
The hon. Member will see something about that in the Memorandum, but the question of the block grant will have to be dealt with by this House, and while negotiations are going on it is impossible to say more than what is stated in the Memorandum. As the counties are being relieved of a certain yearly expenditure for the future there will have to be a readjustment as between national and local finances. The hon. Member for Wigan asked what expenses were coming out of the Road Fund and what from moneys provided by Parliament. This is really a bookkeeping matter, but the actual expenditure on the roads comes from the Road Fund and the administrative charges from moneys provided by Parliament. It is a book-keeping entry, in that Parliament itself in either case pays the actual sums. These words are put in because of the adjustment which was made in the Budget of last year.
I must say one word about the extraordinary outburst of the right hon. Member for South Hackney in regard to Private Bill procedure. He appeared to suggest that the Minister should in some way have approached the Private Bill Committee which was sitting in a judicial capacity, and that if he had done so they would have passed the Bill dealing with the Severn Bridge. The right hon. Member must know that it is utterly impossible and would be completely wrong for any Minister to approach the Private Bill Committee in that way. As a 2053 Ministry we should not consider giving evidence before the committee unless We were asked to do so by the chairman. One of our proudest boasts is that the Private Bill Committee come to their decision on the merits of the case, and it was a little unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman to cast aspersions on the work done by that committee. He must know that it was not with any satisfaction we heard that the committee had failed to approve the Preamble of the Bill. It was not likely that the Department would offer a large grant for the making of a bridge in a Bill which they wished to see thrown out by the House. Naturally we are prepared to accept the verdict of the Private Bill Committee.
I want to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) in regard to the Leeds-Scarborough road. As the hon. Member knows, earlier this year I received a deputation on that subject, and I have also had considerable correspondence about it. The hon. Member asked why this road is not included, and other hon. Members have asked why roads in their districts are not included. There are many roads which we might like to see included, but after consultation with the County Councils Association we have chosen the roads that are given in the Schedule to the Bill. The hon. Member said that Scarborough is a populous place and that the road bears a great deal of traffic in the summer. So do other roads. The hon. Member mentioned that the Brighton road is included in the Schedule, but I would observe that the Brighton road carries a large volume of traffic all the year round and Scarborough does not carry so much in the winter. We did not find it possible to include the Eastbourne road, the Hastings road, the Southend road, the Blackpool road, and others.
I would point out, however, that when the deputation met us, we offered the East Riding County Council 75 per cent. if they would carry on with their part of the road, but they found themselves unable to do so. They said one reason was that they had heavy expenditure on Selby by-pass and bridge, and that they could not do both. Now that the Selby road is a trunk road and is taken off their shoulders, I would press my hon. Friend to see whether they cannot do 2054 their part, as the North Riding are doing —accept our 75 per cent. offer and proceed to bring the Scarborough road up to a reasonable standard of width and safety. Moreover, I would point out that Yorkshire has not been badly treated. It has no less than 247 miles of trunk roads within its borders, and the hon. Member now asks us to add another 50 miles. I realise the difficulty in which some counties are put when they have a large amount of through traffic which does not start or end within their borders. But the East Riding is not the only place that has this difficulty, and I sincerely hope they will overcome it. I must congratulate them on the eloquence with which their case has been put by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton and by other hon. Members in all parts of the House, who have pleaded for this particular road.
I would like here and now to dispel a popular fallacy which seems to have arisen in the House. These roads were not chosen as strategic roads. The idea of a Trunk Roads Bill and a network of roads was considered and worked on long before the arms programme came before the House. They are, I may say, the main net-work, as far as we can get a main net-work of through routes, and we consider that they are indispensable both in peace and in war. I do not want the House to go away with the idea that this Bill is purely a war measure and that these roads have simply been chosen because of their strategic importance.
We heard an interesting speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Rathbone), in which he dealt with the surfacing of roads. I can assure him that we attach the greatest importance to having a proper non-skid surface. There is a Road Research Station, which some hon. Members may have seen, on the Colnbrook by-pass, where night and day they are trying to find the most satisfactory surfaces to put on the main roads and other roads of this country. They test all the different surfaces which are brought to their notice, and the result has been visible in the greatly improved standard on a large number of roads, particularly in London and in other of the more populous districts. The hon. Member asked whether concrete could be used for old roads which are being widened and improved, as on the new 2055 roads. The answer is that, on the whole, it is not so satisfactory to use it. The new roads can be made completely of concrete but when we proceed to enlarge a road, using the old foundation, we usually find that concrete is not satisfactory. As regards super-elevation or banking, it is and will be employed on all arterial roads. We have already dealt to some extent in the Ribbon Development Act with the question of horse traffic, and a circular sent out to all highway authorities specifically draws attention to the necessity of providing verges for the use of horse traffic.
The hon. Member dealt with the subject of lighting, as also did the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), the hon. and gallant Member for West Birkenhead (Lieut.-Colonel Sandeman Allen) and the hon. Member for Wigan. This question is of tremendous interest to the House and, as hon. Members will see, we have put into the Bill a special Clause which allows us to come to arrangements with local authorities for the lighting of our roads. A Departmental Committee has been inquiring into the subject and has published a very interesting interim report. We now know a lot more than we did about shadowless lighting. I sympathise with those hon. Members who have pleaded for roads on which it will not be necessary to use headlights, but I have doubts as to the suggestion that every main trunk road throughout the country should be lighted. I think, however, that an adequate system of lighting on our trunk roads in populous districts is vital, and I assure the House that we shall see that some such system is set up, as soon as it is humanly possible to do so. The hon. Member for Bodmin had also something to say about Plymouth. He was rather surprised to find that no bridge had been put. up there and that a ferry was still operating. I must say a word on that, because of my right hon. Friend's constituency. I am assured by my right hon. Friend that the trouble has been that they could not get the county authorities to agree, but it is sincerely hoped that it will be possible to get agreement and to have a better through system in Plymouth than is possible at present.
2056 The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) made a speech for which we thank him. He spoke in a very complimentary way about our Bill, and raised the question, as other hon. Members did, of the claiming authorities. He said it was a pity that we had not taken power to eliminate claiming, citing as an example a case in which on 15 miles of road there were no fewer than three authorities. It is only for two years, however, that we have definitely stated that we will not alter the system. For the first two years we will not alter it but will leave delegation just as it is at present. After that time, and no doubt after negotiations between the bodies concerned, my right hon. Friend, if he wishes to do so, will be able to alter the system and deal purely with the county authority and do away with the claiming system. The hon. Member then dealt, as did several others, with outstanding loans, and he asked why although when the counties took over the roads they had taken over outstanding debts too, we should not do so under the Bill. There is a difference in this sense, that the same body of ratepayers remained responsible for those outstanding loans when the counties took over the roads; we see no reason why the State should take over the loans.
§ Mr. EDE
But surely, when the loans were taken over by the county councils, the urban districts, whether they were claiming or non-claiming authorities, then had to shoulder, in the general county rate, these loans, which has obviously fallen on the rural districts alone, and it seems to me that the analogy is quite complete.
§ Captain HUDSON
They are all ratepayers. We are not buying the roads, and we fail to see why we should take over these outstanding loans. It is the custom of certain local highway authorities to finance their works by means of capital, and it is the custom of other local authorities, of equal standing, to finance them by paying out of revenue, and we entirely fail to see why we should take over the loans of those who choose the first method and do nothing for the people who have met all their obligations by means of revenue. It is equally fair for both, and I am afraid that we cannot see why we should make any differentiation.
2057 Now let me deal with the question of county boroughs, a subject which has been mentioned by a large number of Members. We think that there is an almost insuperable difficulty in including county boroughs in the Bill. I would mention incidentally that this is the first occasion on which we have seen any inclination on the part of county boroughs for us to interfere with their administration or take over their roads. In county boroughs the roads of necessity must be of very large local value, and very much of the traffic must be local, and for that reason, when the 1929 Act was passed, these county boroughs were block-granted, at their own request, I think I am right in saying, because they did not want continually to have to come and obtain grants as in the case of the county councils. The point which I made when I interrupted the hon. Member for South Shields is, in my opinion, a very real one. When you get big cities like London, Liverpool, Manchester, and other places, it is very often utterly impossible to know where a trunk road begins or ends; and for all those reasons we have not felt it possible to take over the administration of roads in the county boroughs—I think they are called large burghs in Scotland—and also in the county of London.
We have taken note of what hon. Members have said on the subject, which I think is something of a change of heart on the part of the county boroughs, but at the moment we think the difficulties of so doing are almost insuperable. My right hon. Friend reminds me that in very many cases—I think I might say the case of Wigan among others—it is our intention to build by-passes. We feel that in the case of these boroughs, which are bound to be built up, it is more satisfactory to go round the borough than to go through it, and therefore the difficulties in this way will not arise in every case, but the difficulties are very great indeed. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) raised the questions of county boroughs and of lighting, and then had some very interesting things to say about motor patrols. Needless to say, they do not come under this Bill, and actually they would be dealt with by the Home Office.
The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) raised his point about the Humber Bridge and also an alternative 2058 Great North Road, which was a scheme that he discussed with me before. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) gave the proposals the blessing of the County Councils Association and said, what we were very glad to hear, that they were giving an undertaking to work the Bill, although they were disappointed that we would not adopt exactly the scheme which they put before us.
§ Captain HUDSON
I thought that I had dealt with finance at the beginning of my remarks, and if there are any other points perhaps my hon. Friend will raise them in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon and other hon. Members pointed out that, as my right hon. Friend is taking responsibility from the highway authorities for these roads, a case might occur where a statutory authority or some private individual might wish to sue, and that the Minister, being the Crown, could not be sued. I think that I can put their fears at rest. Section 26 of the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919, expressly provides that the Ministry of Transport may sue or be sued for contract, tort, or otherwise. Therefore, he is in exactly the same position as the local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon also dealt with the amendment of the Highway Law and with lighting.
The right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) asked whether we intended to use the 1909 Road Development Act for purchasing land. I think that he was rather on the same point as always excites the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) to such a degree, namely, the taxation of land values. What we intend to do is to use the powers under the Ribbon Development Act for buying such land as is required for roads. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman thought we should use these powers to buy land to a depth of 220 yards and thereby reimburse the State to some degree, but to do so would be deliberately to encourage ribbon development, because property is not very valuable if you do not give access to it or allow people to build. When we are building new roads we shall do our best to see that ribbon development shall 2059 not be allowed to rear its ugly head on them.
The hon. and gallant Member for West Birkenhead and the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Critchley) had something to say about the Mersey Tunnel. All I can say is that the Mersey Tunnel is between two county boroughs and that what I said about county boroughs applies to that tunnel. We cannot see our way to take it over because of the amount of local use to which it is put and for the other reasons I gave for not including county boroughs. I must say a word about the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), because he asked me a question which has nothing to do with the Bill. That was whether I would say a word of comfort about the Forth road-bridge. All I can say is that a case has been made out not to reject this project on traffic grounds. I cannot give him any more hope than to say that as the scheme has not been rejected, but only postponed. he can still live in hope.
The hon. Members for Finsbury (Mr. Woods), Yardley (Mr. Salt) and Litchfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) all dealt with the question of road safety. I can assure them that it is our intention to make these trunk roads as safe as we can. A large number of accidents occur because of the narrowness and unsuitability of our main arterial and trunk roads. We believe road safety will be greatly enhanced by the passing of this Bill, and by the fact that we shall at last get uniformity in surface and width, proper lighting, super-elevation and things of that kind. The hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) dealt particularly with the case of London. I can give him the definite assurance that there will be no diminution in the percentage grants made. He seemed to think that the London County Council were a most energetic body, but they are about the only county which has not yet put in a five-year programme. We are still waiting and finding it extremely difficult to press on with any amount of work.
§ Mr. G. STRAUSS
Is the Minister aware that the London County Council put in a schedule of work for their five-year programme soon after they were asked? One of our difficulties is that we do not get proper grants for works like Waterloo Bridge.
§ Captain HUDSON
They are always ready to make excuses for not doing work, but never seem to be ready to get on with the work. The hon. Member tried to show by figures that the Labour Government did a great deal more work than we are doing. I would remind him, when he points to the amount of money now being spent, that there is a time lag between the work being put in hand and the money being required for it, and we are only now recovering from the time lag imposed by the economic difficulties from 1931 onwards. The hon. Member for Wigan asked about a certain phrase in the Bill which dealt with property which had been bought by a highway authority and not yet used. In that case we are going to give them the appropriate grant as if the property had been used and the road made. It is what they have asked for and what we are able to give them.
I think the House will agree that this is one more step forward in the direction of making the roads of Great Britain better and safer, and I wish to emphasise the word "safer." As driving has increased, so have the authorities endeavoured to widen and improve the roads to meet the ever growing needs, and I want to say here and now that county councils and other highway authorities have done their utmost to carry out their responsibilities. Circumstances have in some cases, however, been too strong for them, and the poorer highway authorities have found it quite impossible to bring their roads up to the required standard. Anybody who motors long distances, as I do, and as other Members who have spoken in this Debate have said they do, must marvel at the extraordinary variations to be found on our roads in lay-out, in width, in surface and in lighting, and that is both inconvenient and, what is still more important, dangerous.
We wish to bring these trunk roads up to a definite and uniform standard of excellence as soon as possible. A guide to the standard we have in mind is contained in a Circular, No. 454, which deals with standard widths and which was sent to all highway authorities after the passing of the Ribbon Development Act. If this Bill becomes law we intend to send out another Circular bringing that one up to date, and if any hon. Member wants to see the kind of roads we have 2061 in mind we shall be only too glad to supply him with a copy of that Circular. Roughly, the width and the lay-out will depend on traffic needs both present and prospective. I would emphasise the word "prospective" because it was our failure to look ahead 10 or 15 years ago that has led to so many of our difficulties with arterial roads which have been built in that time. We hope that these trunk roads will be made worthy of our country and a model for other countries to follow, and I am certain that the House will assist us in this laudable effort by passing the necessary legislation without undue delay.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Captain Margesson.]