§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
I beg to move,That this House, whilst it appreciates the Government's action in trebling the expenditure on major road improvement and development compared with the past years, further urges, in the interest of road safety and industrial efficiency, that an even more extensive road programme be inaugurated than is envisaged in the Ministerial statement of 8th December, 1953.Following the rather vigorous exchanges last Wednesday between hon. Members representing constituencies in North-East England and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, I am pleased to say that my seconder will be my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) who will, I have no doubt, fully and truly represent the views of the people from that important part of the country.
770 My right hon. Friend has sent me a note to say that other demands upon his time make it impossible for him to be here this morning. The fact that he should send such a note reveals his great interest in this topic. I know it will be the general view of hon. Members that we are well satisfied with his deputy, the Parliamentary Secretary. We know that members of the Department work as a team, and when it is a matter of dealing with views expressed in this House that it is truly a case of the deputy being as effective as the Minister in taking our views back to the Department.
It is right to say at once that every fair-minded person will give due credit to the Government for the road development time-table announced last December. We shall be critical of them this morning, but we are all agreed that that announcement resulted in trebling the annual amount of money to be spent on the roads compared with the immediate past years. Therefore, whatever criticism we may offer this morning to my hon. Friend and his Department, if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will multiply it by 10 and apply it to their own Government previously in office, I think that would indicate a fair allocation of the blame for the position which has existed over the years since the war.
Although we shall treble the amount spent on the roads compared with the immediate past years, it is only a comparative improvement over a standard of spending which was unforgivably meagre. We are not being insincere when, on the one hand, we express appreciation for the programme officially announced last December, and, at the same time, object as forcibly as we can to the fact that it is not good enough. When full cognisance is taken of the complete inadequacy of the existing road facilities to serve the ever-growing industrial potential of this country, and the effect of such inadequacy on the national economy, it should not be a matter of surprise that time and again Parliament turns to this subject.
I hope that the Government, and especially the Treasury, will note the frequency with which this subject is taken up by Private Members who do so under the lash of experience gained in their own businesses, and because of the urgings of 771 constituents responsible for the management of industry, the road safety committees and the leaders of the police forces throughout the country. That is why this matter comes up for discussion time and again, and will continue to be brought up until something more satisfactory is achieved.
Our concern on this one item alone is understandable when it is realised that, despite the growth in industrial productivity which has taken place since the war, making an ever-increasing demand upon road communications—every bit of production means 10 or a dozen journeys in a truck of one sort or another—the annual grant spent on roads is less than that pre-war.
I will give the facts very briefly. It is not a bad thing to remind ourselves that for every three vehicles on the roads in 1939 there are now five. Goods vehicles have more than doubled in number, and they are of a much heavier type. There are now 26 motor vehicles to each mile of British roads. The density is the world's highest.
We know that the demand on the available resources of the nation are many and varied, and other essential needs to maintain the general economy have to be met, but when road expenditure is compared with other schemes and their relative importance compared with road improvement, we can be forgiven if we feel that the all-seeing eye of Government seems to have a blind spot as far as road improvements are concerned.
I will give a short list of the amounts spent upon other industries over the period from 1948 to 1952. The amounts were: on railways £218 million; transport, £69 million; coal, £152 million; gas, £177 million; electricity, £676 million; and manufacturing industries generally, about £2,200 million. When one realises that these industries, with their developments, are making extra demands upon road transport—
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
Over how many years was the period?
§ Mr. Nicholls
It was the four-year period from 1948 to 1952. Over the same period the capital expenditure on roads was only £43 million. That sum does 772 not really reflect improvement on the roads because a great proportion of it was spent on street lighting, plant and equipment and general building work. I believe that an investigation will show that, of the £43 million which is on the record as having been spent over those four years, only £9 million was spent on new roads and £22 million on major road improvements. Therefore, £31 million only made a contribution to this problem. In the past 50 years only £400 million has been devoted to the construction and improvement on roads in Britain. In contrast, more than £600 million was spent on electricity development alone between 1948 and 1952.
We ought to keep in mind—we ought always to be reminding ourselves of this —that it is not just a matter of comparing one industry with another. Better roads mean cheaper production costs. Road improvement will reflect itself in the cost of living of the ordinary people, help in maintaining exports and full employment, and, in addition, make a substantial contribution towards road safety and an alleviation of the tragedy which danger on the roads brings to so many homes so unnecessarily. The comparison is rather more than saying that this industry is as important as another. The one common denominator which runs through all industries affects individuals, industries and community life alike is use of roads.
No one will deny that Government expenditure should be scrutinised with care. I accept the principle that a good Chancellor of the Exchequer must have economy written on his heart. We all accept that these days.
§ Mr. Nicholls
Efficiency combined with economy. One without the other is no good. That is the basis of my argument today; economy and efficiency must go together. However, we recognise that from the point of view of a Chancellor in these days of high taxation it is economy which is underlined with red ink when he looked at his records.
Nevertheless, I suggest that what is happening today is false economy which is detrimentally affecting the efficient functioning of industry and bringing about unnecessary risks to innocent 773 people. The roads programme, as envisaged even after last December's announcement, will only scratch the surface of the problem.
The economic benefits in actual cash arising out of road improvement represent a considerable asset. They have been carefully analysed, and an effective case has been submitted to the Chancellor and the Minister of Transport. The figures should impress the Chancellor. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will not belittle the figures which I give. In his speech in February on a similar subject he referred to certain figures as having been thought of up in the air and multiplied by five. I thought he was effective in defending the case that he had to defend that day, but the Government ought to recognise that they themselves frequently bring forward actuarial assessments about what will happen in the future and ask us to make decisions as a result of them. The figures which I am giving come from men who know their jobs and industries, and, therefore, they should be treated with care and sympathy.
It has been estimated that traffic delays in London alone cost £70 million a year. It has been estimated that a freer flow of traffic which would raise bus speeds by no more than one mile per hour would save London Transport more than £2 million a year. Those are significant figures. The recent Report of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee really shocked the people of London, and that means that it shocked the people of this country. Every report coming from anything like that source tells the same story. That, combined with our personal experience, shows the magnitude of the problem.
Another interesting estimate is that the overall delay at five intersections in Central London, including St. Giles' Circus, costs about £200,000 a year. These are small pieces of evidence in themselves, but they are typical of similar experiences throughout the country, and when they are added together they amount to a formidable total.
It has also been estimated that if the improvement which we are now recommending had been put in hand on 1,000 miles of motor ways at 1951 prices the saving to an industry would amount to 774 £140 million per year. There is also the estimate that if we had road improvement on the scale which I am recommending today and which was recommended in the debate in February, the sum of between £50 million and £100 million which is at present spent as a result of road accidents and casualties could be saved. Thus we have a possible saving of £140 million in the case of industry, many millions as a consequence of road safety, and large sums as a result of little improvements such as the one which is recommended at St. Giles' Circus.
I know that I have said nothing new as far as the Parliamentary Secretary is concerned. I know that all these points are well-known to and appreciated by both my hon. Friend and the Minister himself, who would welcome an opportunity of carrying out road improvement schemes even beyond the terms of their own December announcement. I believe that their insistence so far on the figure which they announced in December is based not so much on the information of their own Department, but arises from their very commendable loyalty to the Treasury in supporting the Treasury allocation of finance.
I do not grumble about that. They are all Members of the same Government, and they have a collective responsibility for seeing that the right thing is done for the country as a whole, but I do think that, if the Transport Department itself had to act according to the information contained in its own files, the allocation would have been a much better one than that which was announced last December. While it is commendable on the part of the Minister and my hon. Friend to be loyal to the Treasury, it is the duty of this House to reflect the considered views of industry, of local authorities, of the police and of the road safety organisations.
I believe that those views are quite unanimous, and that they could be summed up by saying that, in the absence of considerable road improvements, this country is on the verge of a great traffic shut-down and that even worse lists of road casualty figures will be upon us unless something is done about it.
I believe that this will happen unless the Treasury allocation and the priority Given to roads have a more favourable 775 place in the queue than they have at present. I believe that, to avoid the danger I have described, the minimum amount of necessary improvements would mean the spending of at least another £20 million a year for a period of seven years, in addition to the expenditure already announced. I believe that another £20 million a year for the next seven years, in addition to the figures already announced, would be the bare minimum required to deal with the problem properly. I am suggesting that, unless this bare minimum is provided, the traffic shut-down and the greater road casualties to which I have referred will be upon us, and it is to avoid that calamity that I believe that this extra finance should be placed in their hands now.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The £50 million figure for the next three years, which was announced by the Minister on 8th December, to be followed by another £14 million in the following year, is not enough, and I am suggesting that, in addition, at least another £20 million a year should be spent. I beg the pardon of hon. Members if I did not make that clear, but it is £20 million a year for seven years, which is my estimate of the bare minimum that is required to get us out of this catastrophe, which I think is just around the corner.
The plans for this expenditure are already on the files of the authorities that will be affected, and I believe that the materials and equipment can be made available once a positive policy decision is taken to go ahead. As I was coming into the House this morning, one of my hon. Friends said, "I have no doubt that you are going to recommend 300,000 new roads," and that, of course, refers to the 300,000 houses which was the target which some of us persuaded the Government to accept some years ago, and there is a certain relevance there.
The country and members of all political parties really did think three years ago that 200,000 houses was the most the resources of materials of manpower in this country would allow to be built in a year, but, once the inspiration had been provided by the Government 776 and the policy decision was taken, we have secured the extra houses and it has not really upset development in any of the other departments.
Having said that I believe that the resources of labour and materials are available, I should like to make reference to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on 15th February, 1954. My hon. Friend based his speech on what he described as four propositions. He said:First, that the British road system however much it has been criticised, is still the best in the world; second, that the rate of maintenance of our roads since the war has been very nearly adequate, and for the future will be fully adequate; third, that the new programme of construction announced by my right hon. Friend on 8th December is pretty nearly the maximum which the labour, economic and financial resources of the country can bear; fourth, that although road defects are responsible for a certain number of road accidents, there are many other causes which account for the majority of them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1954; Vol. 523, c. 1660.]I do not think that our roads are the best in the world, if we relate them to the amount of traffic they have to carry. I believe that, in respect of the surface, the white lines and the general finish, that may be true, and I would agree with my hon. Friend, but we all know, from our limited experience of other count72ies, that when we relate our roads to the amount of traffic they carry we cannot really say that they are the best in the world.
Perhaps we could save some money if we did not put the same finish on them, and I myself do not see why the kerbs, lamp posts and all the other extras which make our roads so excellent could not be held over until we had laid the foundations and improved our roads to enable them to carry traffic. I do not think that would be false economy. I am not suggesting that the surface should be unsafe, but that some of the finishing details, such as kerbs and all sorts of things, however excellent they may be, are only refinements as compared with the vital need to have good roads in the first place. I suggest to my hon. Friend that, in the experience of some of us who have had responsibility for building estate roads many years ago, that he could have the roads constructed and brought into use, and that, later on, the finishing touches such as kerbs, lamp posts and all the rest could be supplied. 777 The second point made by my hon. Friend in his speech was that the maintenance of our roads had been very nearly adequate. The words "very nearly" I think describe his own feelings on the matter, because this is an admission that maintenance has not been adequate, and I do not think that it will be adequate in the future. I do not think his statement will carry universal support from people who really know. Without the extra expenditure over the next seven years, to which I have referred, and which is necessary to take up the backlog, we shall still be seriously limping behind.
The third point made by my hon. Friend was that the new programme announced by his right hon. Friend on 8th December was pretty nearly the maximum which the economic and financial resources of the country could bear. That is not the view of Sir George M. Burt, President of the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors who, on 22nd February, a week after my hon. Friend's speech, said this:The civil engineering industry has immediately available the necessary skilled and experienced personnel … and the latest types of plant to undertake this task (of modernising and improving Britain's highway system) and is ready and waiting for the signal to go ahead. Never before has the civil engineering industry been so well equipped and prepared to carry out road construction work on a large scale …If we take into account the extra mechanisation, whereby two men can do five times the work of eight men before the war, I think the President's optimism is worthy of further examination by the Minister.
As regards finance, good roads are such an important part of the production effort of the country that extra money must be found for them. That is not speaking contrary to my wholehearted support for Government economy. If, as the result of spending extra money on roads, the country's productivity were increased, as I am certain it would be, then it is vital that we should spend it. It would be disastrous if we did not.
I agree that it would be best if the extra £20 million per year for which I am asking could be found out of revenue. What business man would say otherwise? He does not want to have an overdraft at the bank, or his house on mortgage or standing as a guarantee against a loan if it can be avoided. I have been in 778 business for 20 years on my own account, and I know how delightful it would be if all my bills were paid without the help of the bank or any other source. So, if we can finance the development out of income, well and good.
In business one is not always able to pay out of income, but that does not mean that there has to be no development. If we are satisfied that capital expenditure will result in greater income in the future, we are not being really ecnomical if we refrain from undertaking it. We should look upon this road development programme in the same way. If the £20 million can come out of revenue, we shall be glad, but if that is not possible we must say that the vital thing is to have the extra road improvement. Why not find the money by a loan on the lines that were suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite), the ex-Parliamentary Secretary, perhaps not on the same scale as he put it, but enough to cover the figure I have mentioned.
If that is regarded as too revolutionary because other Departments might follow suit once the precedent were set up, why not follow the suggestion made by my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) and treat the expense as a below-the-line matter in the Budget? It is our duty to establish first that there is a vital need for the improvement, and secondly that the money should be raised. Nobody better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer could suggest how to raise it. We rely so much upon essential road improvement that we should like the Treasury to look into the alternative suggestions for raising the money and to satisfy the House that they are impracticable before turning them down out of hand.
Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport submit a view to the Treasury on these lines? Would he also set up in his Department an inquiry in co-operation with the civil engineering interests to satisfy himself whether or not the sources are available for road improvement and to submit to this House any report from the Committee with such associations? The two vital questions so far are: "Are the resources there?" The people who have them and organise 779 them say that the resources are there. "Can the money be found?" We have heard two alternatives to the usual way of raising the money, and further thought should be given to them than has yet been given.
The fourth point to which the Parliamentary Secretary gave attention was:Although road defects are responsible for a certain number of road accidents, there are many other causes which account for the majority of them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1954; Vol. 523; c. 1660.]The House accepts the view that reasons other than roads are behind the accident figures. They include fatigue, illness, drink and drugs and inefficient vehicles. It is also true that lack of proper road facilities play an important part.
My hon. Friend referred to "pressure groups outside the House." I do not know what he has in mind. I certainly had no intimate contact with any group outside this House before I decided to put forward this Motion. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that there is a pretty tough pressure group inside the House doing its duty to our constituents and to the nation. I believe that my hon. Friend recognises deep down in him that it is helping him and his Department in the difficult task which all Departments have in persuading the Treasury of the importance of many of their departmental needs.
I know of no team of Ministers who could bring greater vigour and imagination into this matter than those now responsible for the Ministry of Transport. My right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary have a great reputation for getting things done once a decision has been made for which they have the backing a the House and the country. In being critical this morning I am not criticising them. I think they will be our greatest allies in bringing to fruition what, I think, it is in the nation's best Interest to do.
§ 11.37 a.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
I beg to second the Motion.
It has been ably proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls). Before the debate began a right hon. Gentleman opposite suggested that no hon. Member could be more qualified than my hon. Friend to talk the House out. His launching of this 780 Motion provides a great occasion for the House to express its opinion on road development. We should be grateful to my hon. Friend for the width of the Motion.
It is so wide and all-embracing that it will give to us all a chance to ride our favourite hobby horses and to put our points of view, constituency or national, to the Minister. The Motion gives every one of us present the opportunity of touting our various ideas and opinions. I hope that I shall not fail to exercise that opportunity either on the national or local level in the next few minutes.
I remember quite well the statement made in this House on 8th December, when the Minister announced the new development programme for roads. I well remember how we all began to think what the expenditure meant for our own localities or home town, and in meeting London traffic needs. Before that date there had been criticism, and it is surprising how much criticism of the parish pump kind has come from hon. Members since that date. "My scheme is better than yours" has been the inevitable theme at Question time, as it was in the debate on 15th February.
I must plead "Guilty" to maintaining that policy and theme myself. There has been a certain amount of rivalry among Members for North-East constituencies. I am glad to know that the Minister is coming to the North-East next month to look at some of our problems. I hope he will see also some of the roughnesses and the burdens which we have to bear in getting from one town to another.
I should first like to mention some of the salient features now exercising our minds in looking at the general picture of traffic and road development. As my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough has said, in 1938 there were three million registrations of lorries and cars, and today the figure is just over 5¼ million. That alone should make us pause to consider the situation.
The absence of repairs during the war and the smallness of the roads programme—I make no political point here because that was inevitable—since the war caused a run-down in our roads which has led almost to a run-down in our traffic as a whole. It is true that 781 expenditure on roads since the war has gradually increased, but some of us think that that "gradually" has been too slow. I hope that both sides of the House will urge the need for a larger share of the national expenditure to be devoted to road development.
What should be the two main factors in our approach to the problem? First, we need greater imagination in the construction of new roads—that is, on the engineering side. Secondly, we need greater imagination in the financing of road development. I do not wish to say a great deal on the engineering side except to make a comparison between what has happened here and in Continental countries since the war. The building of fly-overs and major roads in Continental countries has been quite striking.
Hon. Members may suggest that some of that has been made possible because of unemployment on the Continent. I am afraid that there is too much made of the unemployment theme in this regard. Everyone accepts that when—or if—unemployment comes there will be a road programme to take up the slack. I do not suggest that unemployment is round the corner—I do not believe that it is—but I feel that many hon. Members, and people at the Ministry itself are soft-pedalling on the road development programme and waiting for unemployment. That is a tragic and fatal approach to the whole problem. In the first place no one wishes to see unemployment occur or to take such calculations into account; secondly, this House should not wait to express an opinion until some day far off or never to come.
I am not an expert on the construction of roads, but I am sure that we need a more imaginative programme for constructing new roads connecting older centres of industry. In the North-East we have the twin problems of internal communications and communications with other parts of the country. Our internal communications are bad. That is due primarily to mining subsidences. The breaking up and the falling in of roads creates havoc in both constructing new roads and repairing the old.
Our communications with other parts of the country are poor. To repeat what I said about the Great North Road in our last debate, both "Great" and 782 "Road" should be deleted. If at Marble Arch there was just a sign "The North" it would probably more adequately describe the road than does its present title.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Member often wanders off the "straight and narrow" that is not my fault.
We should also have a slightly more imaginative and dynamic approach to the financing of roads. I would emphasise the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite) in the debate on 15th February, 1954, reinforced by what my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough has said this morning. The question of a road loan should not be dismissed out of hand, and I urge the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to investigate it again. It is an imaginative suggestion, it has been made before, and it deserves further consideration if we are to get the roads which the nation, industry and all of us need.
A second suggestion is to investigate the possibility of tolls. One knows the difficulties but here perhaps I could mention the proposed Tyne Tunnel for vehicles. Tolls are levied on vehicles using the Mersey Tunnel, which was built, we are told, with the aid of a Government grant. Surely some such scheme could be worked out in regard to the Tyne Tunnel as well. I know that there are technical difficulties about materials, but when such a scheme becomes a practical possibility it would be worth while considering a toll on vehicles using the tunnel to repay the initial outlay.
There is no great objection to this. At present the two halves of industry on Tyneside are separated by the river. A tunnel would join them. The saving to industry would be so great that there would be no great objection to the imposing of tolls on vehicles using the tunnel. It would be cheaper and more efficient for vehicles to use it, even at some charge, than to travel up to Newcastle and down the other bank.
I suggest that the state of our roads is now one in which the traffic is practically driving itself into the ground. As 783 my hon. Friend has already said, there is danger of a complete standstill unless urgent action is taken. Traffic passing through the major industrial centres presents one of the greatest difficulties. I refer not just to traffic going from say, Newcastle to Sunderland, or Edinburgh to Glasgow but traffic travelling the whole length of the Great North Road and coming to a place like Stamford. [An HON. MEMBER: "Through Peterborough."] And through Peterborough. I would not suggest syphoning off the traffic from Peterborough. It may be that Peterborough gains from the traffic passing through.
The ring road—the by-pass—is of great importance, but not as we have known it. When more money is available we do not want a by-pass such as that round Birtley and Chester-le-Street in County Durham. When built, that by-pass was excellent, but since then so many roundabouts and stopping points have been placed upon it that it is now quicker to go by the original route. That is a complete breakdown of the whole conception of a by-pass.
I have mentioned one or two issues relating to the North-East. We do not today expect any statement about priority, but our roads in the North-East are in a deplorable state and further help is needed from the Treasury.
I have two small points to make with regard to road safety. One has been mentioned during Question time in the House once or twice in the last two or three weeks. It is the question of speed limits. I am not satisfied that the flat 30 m.p.h. limit is altogether satisfactory. I know that some hon. Members would wish to see it nearer to 20 miles an hour. but any rigidity of that sort does not meet the needs of varying types and conditions of roads. I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to consider the possibility of imposing, in certain conditions, limits of 20, 30, 40—even 50 miles an hour. At the outskirts of major towns there are many places where a 30-miles-an-hour limit exists but where cars could safely travel faster without danger to pedestrians.
The inevitable result of imposing a 30 mile an hour limit on a road where vehicles can travel safely at 40 to 50 miles an hour is that the law is broken. 784 Whether we approve of that or not, that is the fact, and where the law is broken and falls into disrespect the 30 m.p.h. limit ceases to have any value at all in the dangerous areas where 30 miles per hour is an important limit. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider the possibility of graduated speed limits in different areas.
It seems to me that road patrols can influence motorists in a very courteous and correct way. The very fact of having seen a policeman makes many people think twice before passing other cars, which otherwise they might have done, in dangerous circumstances. I suggest that the extension of the use of road patrols is vital to the safety of our roads.
The wealth of this country, as of any other, comes from its productive industry and its agriculture. One of the vital wheels of our industrial machinery is our road system, or perhaps one should say, in this case, the deficiencies of our road system. If our industrial machine is to be used for the efficient production of wealth, every link, nut, and bolt of the machine must be efficient. I suggest that our road system is the least efficient link in our industrial set-up. In fact, industrial production is being driven into the ground by our chaotic road system.
If it is true that transport charges form an appreciable part of the cost of any article, whether capital goods or consumer goods, and if transport charges are higher than they need be, then it immediately becomes necessary to remedy the situation. Of course, we are all prepared to hear the usual answer that we cannot afford to divert a higher proportion of our national wealth towards road maintenance and improvement. But I suggest that this House should say that that answer is not good enough.
Even as succeeding Chancellors have almost killed the goose of British shipping, upon which so much of our economy depends, so various Governments have almost broken road communications, upon which British industry relies. I urge upon the Joint Parliamentary Secretary the need for more imagination, greater drive and a bigger share of the national cake for road development. So much of this problem depends upon will-power. If we have the will-power, then we can get the roads.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I am sure we are all grateful to the Prime Minister for his initiative in having removed from the Order Paper a most mischievous Motion and giving us the opportunity today to discuss this matter, which is of such vital importance to the country. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) on his good fortune in the Ballot and on the subject which he has chosen for debate.
I should also like to congratulate both him and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) on the way in which they have moved and seconded the Motion. I do not quite agree with all that has been said, but, in the main, I think that we shall all agree to a great extent. I noticed in particular the typical Conservative arithmetic when the hon. Member for Peterborough was apportioning blame. I hope that this Motion today will be accepted by the House. It is, of course, critical of the present Government, but it is also critical of the past Government, and I do not think it does any harm for the Front Benches on both sides of the House to be subject to a little criticism from time to time.
I think everyone would agree that the amount of money which is being spent and which is proposed to be spent is quite inadequate to deal with the problem which confronts us. The Select Committee on Estimates, in their Fifth Report in 1952–53, said:Since the war, the principal factor governing the amount of the grant to highway authorities has been not their estimates of their requirements, but the national economic position as a whole.I am not blaming the Minister of Transport for what I consider to be an inadequate programme. It is the Treasury that runs this country, and I am sorry to see that there is no member of the Treasury on the Front Bench to hear something about their misdeeds.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I do not include the Lords Commissioners because they are so busy keeping their party in order that they have no time to deal with the more important aspects of the Treasury.
786 It is a fact that the Treasury decides the priorities, and I am wondering whether we have the right priorities in every case. What the Select Committee on Estimates said was put in other words by the Minister, on 8th December, when he announced his programme. He said:The severe economies in capital investment which this Government and their predecessors have been compelled to practice and impose, coming on top of war-time restrictions, have meant that for the past 14 years or so the highway system of this country has been largely starved of development. There has at the same time been a substantial increase in traffic, particularly heavy goods traffic. …I break off at that point, because I think it is worth calling attention to the fact that in the last 30 years, the density of traffic on the roads has increased fivefold and, as the hon. Member for Peterborough said, the density of traffic on the roads of this country is greater than in any other country in the world. As to this heavy increase in the heavy goods traffic, I think many Members are of the opinion that there is at present far too much heavy goods traffic on the roads because a good deal of traffic which ought to be going by rail is being sent by road.
To continue the quotation, the Minister said:… and it has become clear that we cannot afford any longer to delay an extended programme of major road improvements without serious damage to our economy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 1810–11.]We all agree with the end of that quotation, but I do not think we all agree that the programme which has been envisaged is sufficiently large. Have we, during the past years since the war, got our economics right? The Treasury has said that it cannot find more money for capital investment in the roads; but against that, we have to put, on the other side of the ledger, first, the road casualties.
I agree with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's remark that the human element enters very much into the question of road casualties and that it is not all a matter of road construction. But even if road construction comes into the question at all, we have got to take cognisance of it, particularly when we remember that during last year, 5,000 people were killed on the roads, 56,000 seriously injured, and 164,000 less seriously injured, making a total of 225,000 killed and injured on the roads 787 during last year, nearly a quarter of a million people.
These are the casualties of a war, and I am afraid that we are not giving sufficient attention to the problem. Examining that total, we find that 616 people per day were killed or injured and about 14 per day were killed. If these figures of losses were published as a daily casualty list, as casualty lists were published during the 1914–18 war, probably the conscience of the nation would be aroused. That is the first consideration we have to put on the other side of the ledger, the casualties.
Secondly, we have to consider the loss of man-hours. I should like to quote from a pamphlet published by the British Road Federation in February this year. It says:During the busy times of the day, Central London traffic in some main streets is reduced to an average speed of only 8 m.p.h. A third of the time spent on an average journey through the capital's centre is spent waiting at street junctions. In the same area, there are on an average 200 to 300 people per mile sitting impatiently in cars, buses and lorries brought to a standstill by congestion during the rush hours. If the average speed of this traffic could only be doubled there would be a saving of 13,000 man-hours per hour, a fact worth the attention of economists.That refers to Central London, where traffic congestion is a very serious problem, but the problem is found throughout the country, and we cannot afford, in present circumstances, this serious loss of man-hours.
I should like to make my position quite clear. I am not envisaging super-highways along which motors can go at 70 miles an hour. I envisage good roads that will help to speed up the traffic and cut out bottlenecks, but I am not particularly interested in super-highways for excessive speed. The second matter that we must put on the other side of the ledger, then, is the loss of man-hours.
In the third place, we have to consider the increased petrol consumption, which is a very serious matter, especially as so many dollars have had to be spent purchasing petrol during the past years. In the fourth place, we have to consider the wear and tear of the vehicles. If we weigh casualties, loss of man-hours, petrol consumption and the wear and tear of vehicles against the capital expenditure I think the balance will be seen to 788 be very different from what we have thought it to be in the past.
The question arises, how is the money to be raised? I think that by now we take it for granted that no Chancellor of the Exchequer will consider the Road Fund as money set aside for road development. I would call attention to the Second Report of the Select Committee on Estimates this year, which says:Your Committee consider that it would lead to greater clarity in the Estimates and more information being available to Members if the Road Fund were abolished, and expenditure on roads provided for in a normal departmental Vote. They, therefore, recommend that, subject to there being no reasons of policy for the continuance of the present system, consideration should be given by the Treasury to the introduction of the necessary legislation.If we could rid ourselves of the notion that the Road Fund exists now for money to be spent on the roads and could see it for what it is today, merely another way of raising taxation, it might be better to start the problem of financing afresh, and to tackle it from that angle. I do not know how the money is to be raised. The hon. Member for Peterborough suggested the raising of a loan. I do not mind whether the money is provided by the Government or raised by a loan, but it must be found somehow.
I would in passing call attention to the excellent work done by the Road Research Laboratory. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Peterborough that we ought to be cutting out the refinements. I think it is important that we should have on our roads the very highest standards.
§ Mr. H. Nicholls
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that, while we prefer to have roads with the refinements, it would be better if there has to be a choice, because of the financial and economic conditions, between having roads with refinements or no roads at all, to have roads without the refinements?
§ Mr. Blackburn
I think I should have to debate with the hon. Gentleman first of all what exactly he means by the "refinements" that have to be cut out, and we had better leave it at that. Unfortunately, we have not been able to take advantage of all the work done by the Road Research Laboratory. Lord Sandhurst said, in an introduction to the 789 Road Federation's pamphlet to which I have already referred:As long as insufficient money is available for providing us with 20th-century roads, the scope of research is restricted to experiments for improving make-do-and-mend methods. Haw much better if the Laboratory could also be working on problems connected with highways on the scale that other countries are building; highways which would mean faster, safer travel, and help towards industrial prosperity by reducing transport costs. The work of these scientists would then be acclaimed equally with the discoveries of those engaged in more spectacular fields such as aircraft production and medicine which are no more vital to our national welfare than roads. Then indeed would Government-sponsored research be paying for itself many times more than it is doing now, and prove not that 'we cannot afford the roads', but that we cannot afford not to have them.Before I come to the broad problem, I would mention one or two smaller matters. Recently there was a Prayer against new Regulations for pedestrian crossings. Unfortunately, under the new Standing Order the debate was restricted to three-quarters of an hour and there was not time for all the arguments to be developed. The Ministry is much more enthusiastic about the pedestrian crossings than motorists generally are.
I should much prefer, even though I know it would be more expensive, not to have the beacons, winking or blinking or however they may be described, but pedestrian-controlled crossings. Moreover, there is a serious omission in the Regulations, for there ought to be a Regulation that there must be central islands on roads over a certain width.
In the previous debate I made a remark that was received aghast in some quarters of the House, that the time was coming when we should have to ban the private motorist from the centre of some of our large cities. I think that that time is coming very soon in London. It is merely tinkering with the problem to ban parking at certain hours of the day. The problem is too serious to be solved by that means, and unless London traffic is to come to a standstill private motorists will have to be banned from certain parts of the central area.
No doubt many constituency points will be raised in the debate, and already the hon. Member for Sunderland, South has mentioned the claims of the North-East. I wish to bring forward the claims of a much more important part of the country, the North-West. The hon. 790 Gentleman complained about the Great North Road. I would call attention to the fact that the A5 is such a wonder highway that it is possible to lose it. I can speak from experience of that. We in the North-West have a feeling that we have not had our full share of whatever money has been available for road construction. I dare say that somebody will later produce some figures to try to prove that we have had our full share, but our general feeling is that other parts of the country have had much bigger bites at the cake than we have had.
The Parliamentary Secretary will probably know something about the bottleneck at Cheadle in Cheshire. Most of the congestion is caused by Conservatives, at peak hours, either going to or returning from their work, but in this matter I think that even Conservatives are entitled to a fair deal. We welcome the fact that in the Minister's programme the Wilderspool Bridge will be included, and we welcome the improvement to the A59 in the Liverpool area.
The problem, however, is much wider than that. It is estimated that a higher proportion of workers are engaged in export production in this north-western area than in any other region except the Midlands. There is concentrated in that region over 80 per cent. of the cotton industry, 25 per cent. of all chemical industries, nearly 20 per cent. of engineering, clothing, food processing, textiles other than cotton, leather, paper and fibre manufacture, 30 per cent. of rubber and glass and 50 per cent. of small industries such as linoleum and wallpaper manufacture.
It is vital that raw materials for industry and finished products should be enabled to move speedily and smoothly, but the road congestion in this area is probably more serious than anywhere else except in and around London. Within a radius of 75 miles of Manchester there are 15 million people, and one-eighth of Britain's workers live and work in and around Manchester. The area is also important because it is centrally situated between London and Scotland, and is within a few miles of the Welsh border.
The present road, north and south through Lancaster, extending over 63 miles, is for the most part badly aligned 791 and passes through Warrington, Preston and Lancaster and other congested areas. The proposed north-south motorway would avoid these congested places. It would result in a speed-up of through traffic and make conditions easier for local traffic. We welcome the Wilder-spool Bridge and the improvement to the A59 road, but matters of urgency are Barton Bridge, the new north-south road and the Cheadle bottleneck. Innumerable other improvements are required, some of them minor and some of a more serious character.
We have the know-how to do the work on the roads and the raw materials. All we are short of is the "go ahead" from the Treasury. We appreciate that we probably cannot claim more of the money so far allocated under the present plan, but no one agrees that that plan is adequate. Therefore, if the Government are unable to find the money out of revenue let us not lightly dismiss the possibility of a loan, because the problem is far too serious to be allowed to continue.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I wish to support the Motion, but with a note of caution. Everybody interested in transport must agree that we wish to draw attention to the need for development and improvement of roads in the interests of speed and efficiency. They must also agree that they appreciate the action of the Government in trebling expenditure on major road improvements and development. Most people would also agree, including I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary, that the statement made by the Minister on 8th December is not the end of the road problem and that, in the interests of road safety and industrial efficiency, more will have to be done.
Any Government of the day, however, must look at the transport problem as a whole. The basic problem is that people wish to transfer themselves or their goods from point to point in either the cheapest or the most convenient manner. Cheapness and convenience are alternatives and are not necessarily applied to any particular case. For instance, a young man with a family who wishes to go on holiday is more interested in cheapness than 792 anything else. He wants to get to a certain point at the lowest expense so that he has more money to spend on his holiday. He is, therefore, prepared to sacrifice convenience and to travel at night or at some hour which might not be so popular with other people, but a business man who has an important engagement is prepared to pay more at an hour convenient to him.
Exactly the same applies to goods traffic. In the case of bulk traffic, particularly the transport of minerals, the important thing is to have a steady flow. The time taken is not important provided that the goods are ordered well in advance. On the other hand, in the replacement of machinery speed of delivery is the chief factor and cost is of secondary importance.
All this must be borne in mind in connection with the development of roads. At present a great deal of traffic which goes on the roads and causes congestion should not go on the roads at all. Whereas at the back of their minds Members of the party opposite believe that the gentlemen in Whitehall know best and some central planning authority should decide whether certain traffic should be conveyed in a certain way rather than another, we on this side of the House believe that it is for the public to decide for themselves what is the most convenient form of transport. The duty of the Government, therefore, is to keep a balance and allow a wide range of opportunity for the development of traffic of all kinds.
The Government must keep that in mind in connection with the level of expenditure on the development of roads. Very often the development of another form of transport may itself have a vital effect on the roads. It is no secret that London Transport puts the highest priority not on the roads but on the building of underground railways from North to South London. Although the Executive is a tremendous road user it would prefer that if £65 million are to be spent they should be spent on underground railways rather than on improving the roads, on the grounds that that would do much more to relieve congestion in the London streets than would the spending of an equivalent sum of money on road improvements. 793 The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) spoke of private motorists. It is a fact that during rush hours one sees a large part of the space that is available for traffic being taken up by private motorists, often one man to one car, driving to and from work and parking their cars in the street when they reach their destination, thus causing congestion and inconvenience to others. The answer might be to provide an alternative form of transport more convenient and cheaper so that those motorists would not use the roads, though I would not advocate that they should be prohibited from driving at certain hours.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
The hon. Member has gone slightly beyond the point at which I wished to intervene, but a moment ago he was not comparing like with like when he suggested that London Transport prefers to build underground railways to having new roads constructed. The point is that one is its responsibility and the other is not. London Transport Executive is not the highway authority for London, responsible for constructing roads. Clearly London Transport Executive wants both. It frequently publishes figures to show the loss it entails as a result of congestion on the roads.
§ Mr. Wilson
Nevertheless, my point is supported that the provision of underground railways might result in a considerable reduction in the number of people who drive to work, one man to one car, and leave their vehicles in side streets and thus cause congestion to other traffic, including buses.
It is too easily assumed that by the mere spending of more and more money on better, bigger and straighter roads one substantially reduces the accident rates. I do not believe that that is so. I have raised this matter before, and I should like to draw attention to some American figures in a publication issued by the Travelers' Insurance Company. It said that in America in 1952 87 per cent. of the deaths on the roads—and the number of deaths given was 30,720—occurred where cars were travelling straight. I quoted that figure in a previous debate, and I was written to by a correspondent. who suggested that that meant that the 794 cars met at intersections and, therefore, they were travelling straight in different directions and met. I wrote to the American company and asked them if that were so. The answer which I received on 2nd December last was:I quite agree with you that wide straight roads are not in themselves a cure for a high accident rate. We have been interested in the matter of highway safety for a number of years, and we have come to the conclusion that the roads are only as safe as the users make them. I do not believe that there is any type of highway construction that will substantially reduce the number of accidents unless the users themselves co-operate. We have many miles of four-lane limited access highways in this country, and while these roads no doubt help to reduce accident frequency, the accidents are likely to be more severe because of the higher speed at which vehicles travel on this type of road.The answer about safety is to avoid congestion. If we have a wide-faced road and it is still overcrowded, when there is an accident, owing to a tyre coming off a car or something like that, it causes a multiple accident if the road is congested because a number of cars pile into it from behind. The mere spending of money on roads is not in itself a cure for the accident rate unless it is particularly concentrated on black spots and corners known to be dangerous.
I represent a West country constituency—a Cornish constituency—and we want a number of improvements in transport. We would like improvement of the Tamar Bridge, but we appreciate that there are many other factors in transport to be considered. As the Member for Truro, I get requests that something should be done about the railways and the necessity for cheap facilities to holiday resorts and matters of that kind, and that something should be done for the small coastal ports. From time to time, I get a request that there should be an air service to the West Country.
All these things have to be taken into consideration in dealing with this problem, and while I agree with the Motion that what was decided on 8th December last is certainly not the last word in road development and we hope that more can be done, we also hope that in dealing with this problem these other factors will not be forgotten.
§ 12.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) for moving this Motion and giving us another opportunity to discuss this important topic. I should like to join in congratulating him and his seconder on the powerful plea which they have made to the Government.
As a Member representing a London constituency, I want to speak about a special aspect of this problem, which has been touched on by previous speakers. It is the appalling traffic congestion in the central London area. The recent report of the Traffic Advisory Committee has been mentioned by other speakers. I thought on Wednesday, when the right hon. Gentleman was answering a question of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), that he sounded a trifle complacent about this Report. He said that the chairman of the Committee had told him the report had been misinterpreted in certain quarters. But I should like to quote two paragraphs from the introduction of the Report. It says:In our Report to you for last year we dealt at considerable length with our view that if the existing traffic congestion in London was to be eased, road improvements on a considerable scale must be undertaken. We explained to you then that we were continually being asked for advice about proposed traffic restrictions of one kind or another but we were coming to the realisation that we had very nearly reached the end of those restrictions which could be introduced with any advantage.The volume of traffic in London has continued to grow, and we must report to you that nothing has happened since our last Report which has caused us to change our mind about the gravity of the situation or about the nature of the steps which must be taken to deal with it.The problem of London traffic is an old one. I think it is a great tragedy that we have never had a Haussmann to replan London in the last century as he was able to replan Paris. The present critical situation in London is not the fault of any particular Government; it is the fault of a long series of Governments; and in spite of some rather provocative remarks made by the hon. Member for Peterborough, I do not propose to make a party speech today.
There are four main ways of tackling this problem in London, and all of them have been referred to in the Report. 796 First, there is the provision of car parks; secondly, street widening; thirdly, roundabouts; and, fourthly, the construction of new roads. On the question of car parks the Committee make some very forceful recommendations. I was particularly interested in the illustration of the "Ramparks," which appear to be a very ingenious invention. These are multi-storey surface car parks and could, I think, be provided with a roof garden, which would perhaps enable Londoners to get a little extra open space.
I should like to ask the Minister why one or more of these cannot be experimentally provided on bombed site car parks in London. So far as I know nothing has been done in that direction, and, indeed, these bombed sites are fast disappearing from London. Month after month, they are being taken for building sites. They are the only possible sites for surface parks, for there seems to be a considerable reluctance to any demolition in order to provide parking facilities in London.
Why cannot we have underground parks in the London squares? I know that we have been told that in some cases this would mean a sacrifice of many beautiful trees and that this is a sacrifice which I would be very reluctant to make. I am not sure that that is necessary. What about Soho Square and Golden Square, both reconstructed at considerable expense recently. One of them had no trees worth speaking of, and in the other square, the trees had to be out down on account of disease. Why was there no attempt made to provide underground car parks when those squares were being re-designed?
Then there is the proposal for car parks underneath the London parks. That seems, although expensive, one obvious solution of the parking problem. I am told that one of the objections is that there would have to be access ramps in the parks themselves or along the edge of the parks, and it is said that the Minister of Works would not countenance surface constructions in London parks. Is it beyond the wit of man to produce an access ramp on the edge of a London park which can be concealed? I think that the Ministry is not tackling this problem as it should do.
§ Mr. P. Williams
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Johannesburg, in South Africa, any new building construction has to have an underground car park? That might well be a good example to follow in this country.
§ Mr. Robinson
I entirely agree.
Street widening is another story of helpless inertia by Government after Government. Very little was done in this matter in London between the two wars and almost nothing since the end of the last war. But it is not merely a case of inactivity which could be remedied in the near future. It means that opportunity after opportunity for widening streets is being thrown away, and disappearing past recall. Many streets which could, and should, have been widened to carry the increased load of traffic are being rebuilt, or have already been rebuilt, right up to the old frontage line.
In the City, for instance, the northern side of Great Tower Street had almost entirely to be rebuilt and has now been rebuilt right up to the old building line. There was a chance of widening the street by 10 or 15 feet, but the chance has been thrown away. There are similar examples close by in Mark Lane and Mincing Lane. Even quite small and inexpensive street widening schemes have been overlooked.
A correspondent who has made a study of this whole problem in London wrote me a letter, in which he gave an example of this. He said:One of the most fantastic cases of 'non-widening' can be seen at the point (north side) where Cannon Street runs into St. Paul's Churchyard. This area was bombed during the war and the usual grandiose plans were made for additional open space. Finally the City Corporation acquired land at this point for a small public garden. A good deal of money was spent in paving and laying out this garden and yet the Corporation had not even the commonsense to round off the south-west corner of the garden and widen the roadway by a few feet in order to eliminate the bottle neck which occurs at this point.A good deal can be done by narrowing pavements which are excessively wide. One hon. Member spoke of the congestion at St. Giles' Circus. In St. Giles' High Street the pavement is wider than the road, and yet there is constant congestion from parked cars. A piece of the pavement could be chopped off with complete safety and no inconvenience to 798 pedestrians, thus creating a new traffic lane at very little expense. This would have the effect of reducing congestion. These are comparatively minor matters, but together they could make a contribution to the problem.
What about the major widening schemes? What about the fantastic story of Piccadilly? Hon. Members will know the bottleneck just west of the Piccadilly Hotel which has existed for over 40 years. During the war a bomb fell and demolished the building which caused the bottleneck, but instead of the building site being acquired in order to widen Piccadilly, it has been let for about the last 12 years to an advertisement contractor and is used as a hoarding for a peculiarly hideous series of advertisements. The very western end of Piccadilly, at Hyde Park Corner, was widened, I believe, at the time of the Coronation of King Edward VII. It was widened by means of setting back the park railings, and there was a plan to continue that as far as the Ritz Hotel. It was a perfectly simple matter but nothing at all was done.
What about the Bayswater Road? There again, it would be easy to extend the roadway to the line of trees on the north side of the park and to construct a new pavement just inside the edge of the park on the north boundary. I am quite sure that no one would object to such a minor encroachment in a London park in the interests of relieving traffic congestion. A little further west is the Notting Hill Gate bottleneck, a very serious one indeed, about which I know of no plans.
In my own borough, Euston Road presents a series of alternate narrow and wide streets from one end to the other. What about the Strand? We have heard stories about Strand widening for years and years, and nothing whatever has been done for about the last 30 years. As for new streets in London, the only significant example in the last 50 years is Kingsway and Aldwych. One need say no more than that.
In this connection, we all welcome the inclusion of the Cromwell Road extension in the Minister's scheme announced in December, but I wish that he would look again at the problem of the "A" Ring Road, which was brought up by the Traffic Advisory Committee. This scheme was abandoned in 1950. I readily 799 admit that it was the responsibility of the Labour Government, but the Minister is begged by the Committee to reconsider this matter and I hope that he will do so.
The Minister said on Wednesday at Question time that the cost of this scheme would be £88 million, but inevitably that cost would be spread over many years. The hon. Member for Peterborough in his opening remarks reminded the House that traffic congestion in London is estimated to cost £70 million a year. In that context, therefore, an expenditure of £88 million capital is not really so fantastic.
Then there is the question of roundabouts. There are many intersections in London where the only possible solution is the provision of roundabout working. It can be done sometimes without demolition, as on the south side of Westminster Bridge and also at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge, where roundabouts are working very well. But the authorities must be prepared to carry out demolition where it is shown to be essential.
Two cases spring to mind in my own borough, in Tottenham Court Road, one where it crosses Warren Street and Euston Road and the other, even worse, where it crosses Oxford Street. There is a wonderful opportunity for a roundabout where Southampton Row crosses Theobalds Road. There is a bombed site there which would make it quite possible to construct a roundabout. Is this going to be done, or is the site to be given over to a building contractor?
In this connection I should like to quote one more example of what can happen. My correspondent writes:A typical example of roundabout 'planning' is provided by the Bruton Street-Bond Street-Conduit Street crossing, one of the most awkward in the West End.I am sure that hon. Members know it well.
The two southern corners were demolished by German bombs and a roundabout was provided for in the City of Westminster Plan, 1946. Both corners have now been rebuilt on the old building lines … and the only improvement is a small drive-in for the new hotel on the south-east corner. Traffic conditions are likely to be worse than before awing to the siting of an hotel at this congested point.800 Why is this sort of thing allowed to happen? The explanation seems inescapable. It is that private commercial interests in possession of these desirable and profitable corner sites are sufficiently powerful to resist the obvious demands of street planning in the public interest. I think it is high time that the public interest in this matter came first.
Some day a Minister of Transport will have to come forward with a bold and imaginative plan for dealing with London's traffic. It will be a costly plan and it will need vast capital expenditure, but every year that such a scheme is delayed the cost will increase quite disproportionately, not so much on account of rising prices but because of opportunities lost in the way I have described.
The cost has got to be faced. The alternatives are either restriction piled on restriction until private cars are virtually banned from the streets of central London, which, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) said, is unthinkable in my view, or else London's traffic will grind to a standstill and the pedestrian will really come into his own.
We shall achieve road safety through stagnation. The capital cost of such a radical scheme for reducing the traffic congestion of London is not disproportionate to the annual cost to the community of that congestion. The problem is a challenge to any Minister of Transport and I hope that this Government will meet it.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) on rendering a service to the House by giving us an opportunity of airing not only national views on our road and traffic problems but also a few local ones.
Certain proposals have been put forward by the hon. Member for Peterborough and others for dealing with what is accepted as the serious problem of modernising our transport system. One of those proposals is that a national highway authority should be set up to deal with the problem. I do not see why that should not be done, because similar authorities have been set up for some of our industries and some of them are working well. 801 The other proposal was that if sufficient funds were not available from national sources, a loan should be raised of, I understood, £20 million, to be used for modernising our roads. I do not think that sum would be sufficient, but I do not see why we should not work on those lines if other means of finance is not available. I say this because, if we are to treat our roads as the national asset they are, they ought to be dealt with nationally.
Other propositions have been put forward, one of which concerns tolls, but that is not a new suggestion. About 25 years ago I introduced a Bill for the abolition of tolls from bridges and highways and carried it through its various stages without one dissentient. Later I was requested by the then Minister of Transport, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), to allow him to incorporate it in his Road Traffic Act. So it became part of that Act which the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation is responsible for administering. The terms of that Act have not been fully carried out yet because, although many tolls have been abolished, there are still far too many in existence. There were about 350 and there are still 100, which is too many.
If tolls were to be introduced for industrial areas, that would be another matter. Anyone going north will find that there are toll bridges which industrialists in those areas consider to be essential for the conduct of their industries. That principle could be applied on a limited scale in industrial areas, but I should not like to see it applied to motorists on the ordinary highways and bridges.
Today the British motorist is grossly over-taxed. He has to pay not only Purchase Tax on his car but also high duties on his fuel, and a driving licence and a heavy licence for his car. By the time he gets it on to the road he is nearly bankrupt. Therefore, it is not a feasible proposition to apply tolls generally on bridges and highways, although it might well be considered for congested and industrial areas in order to deal with heavy traffic.
I hope that if by-passes are built they will be by-passes in the real sense. I remember some of the first ones in this country and I looked forward to seeing them relieve congestion in certain areas. 802 However, before they were finished, they became built-up areas and were just as dangerous and as slow for traffic as were the main roads. We need some through roads, especially to the North, but they must be prevented from becoming built-up areas.
Something must be done to relieve the London traffic congestion. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) said that we should abolish private motoring in London. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman because the private motor car is used by people as a means of getting to their work and as a means of shopping in the West End of London. What can be, and should be, dealt with immediately is the amount of heavy traffic which always seems to appear in the West End of London at the peak period of the day. I generally lunch in St. James's Street and usually I find half a dozen enormous vans there between 12.30 and two o'clock, which block the entire street right up to Piccadilly.
The other day I saw one van driver get out of his van and leave it for 10 minutes, thus holding up all the traffic. That is insufferable, and why it is allowed to continue, I do not know. It is no use putting the blame on the London police because they cannot deal with the situation. I do not take my car to the West End. I find it is better to leave it on the outskirts and walk. Others, however, probably find that they must use their cars in the West End.
I have a great admiration for the London police, for their patience, courtesy and good manners, and I do not like to see the ill-feeling growing up between the motorists and the police as a result of the traffic congestion. I try to park my car without interfering with anybody. If I am asked to move on, and ask why, I am told, "Those are my orders." This makes the motorist very annoyed and creates ill-feeling between him and the police. Motorists are grossly overtaxed and they do not like to be chivvied around and treated as criminals, as very often they are treated today. That leads to ill-feeling between motorists and the police, and it is all due to the appalling situation in the West End of London.
I hope the Minister will take advantage of the opportunity to tell the House what 803 schemes he has to deal with the propositions and the problems confronting us today. It is time that a real programme was put forward. One was mentioned some months ago, but I have not seen any result so far. When is the Cromwell Road scheme to be put into operation? I see no sign of it and, goodness knows, there is necessity for more easy access to and from London. There is the appalling bottleneck at Hammersmith Broadway. I believe the scheme put forward there has been approved and I hope that it will be put into operation at the earliest possible moment.
Having dealt with the road problem on a national basis, I make no apology for turning to my constituency and dealing with problems there. In the Isle of Wight, for over half a century, we have had a railway system which, although probably not up to the standards of systems in London and other places, was, nevertheless, adequate to the needs of the community and the millions of people who come to the island for holidays. Last year, more than 2 million were transported to the island for holidays, or on trips, by the nationalised railways and the ferries. Although our railways in the island were not up-to-date, they served the purpose of meeting the needs of the public.
Then the railways were nationalised and our Isle of Wight railways were also nationalised, with the road haulage system and the buses. They were all taken into the jaws of the nationalised monopoly, and that was a very serious thing for the island. The bus service is very good indeed, but Charges made for transporting motor cars to and from the island are grossly exorbitant. Probably they are higher than anywhere else in the world. It costs nearly five guineas to take passengers with a motor car to the Isle of Wight and that is often out of the question.
Every local authority and trade organisation has made representations, and a slight reduction was made for the mid-week service last season, but the charges for transporting cars and goods to the Isle of Wight are still grossly exorbitant and should be reduced.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
The nationalised railway which owns the ferry.
Running from Southampton to Cowes there is a ferry which is supposed to be under private enterprise, but it charges the same as the railway for its ferry service. On more than one occasion I have asked why it did so. I was told that it was dependent on the railways for a great deal of its traffic. All the traffic sent via Southampton and Cowes has to go on this ferry, but it generally comes from British Railways. When the private enterprise company threatened to lower freight charges it was immediately threatened with withdrawal of the traffic. I can well understand its position as it relies very much on the nationalised railways for traffic over the ferry, including passengers. That is just the way monopolies work.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
Is it not a fact that the steamer route from Southampton to Cowes takes about an hour, whereas the crossing takes about 20 minutes on the Portsmouth route run by the nationalised railways? Therefore, one would expect the charges to be higher on the privately-run route than on the nationalised route, whereas they are the same.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
Yes, but the private company is prepared to lower them if it were not threatened by an embargo by the nationalised railways. I make that charge here and will make it outside. I think it is scandalous, but nevertheless, that is the way nationalisation in monopolised industries works.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
The Lymington route is a nationalised railway ferry.
One day we awoke in the Isle of Wight to find that we were threatened with the abolition of our railways. The reason given was that they were not paying. That seems an extraordinary thing to us as for half a century they had been, and they paid until nationalisation came. We were told they were losing large sums of money each year. Eventually they would all be abolished and sections would be 805 abolished immediately. The local authorities became worked up and challenged the figures, demanding an inquiry.
A public inquiry was held and the figures put forward were challenged, but no effort was made to justify the charges and British Railways proceeded to take off the branch-line services. The main lines are kept on for the present. That left the Isle of Wight with a problem because thousands of people had been using the branch lines during the summer months, and all that traffic was put on to the roads. The Minister of Transport is directly or indirectly responsible for transport in both cases, but he is only responsible for the appointment of senior officials of the British Transport Commission. With the local authorities, he is responsible for highways.
It was forcibly pointed out at the inquiry that this traffic would be turned on to the roads. The Minister was kind enough to come to my constituency and we pointed out that this would create an intolerable burden for the island roads, which would have to carry the traffic. We have no trunk roads in the Isle of Wight. We are not allowed to have them, I am told, because it is the policy of the Ministry of Transport not to allow trunk roads on an island unless there is a highway to the mainland. We have no such highway, we depend on rail and sea transport, and so we are deprived of trunk roads. We have only second-class and third-class roads which are wholly inadequate to carry the enormous amount of traffic which has to be transported during the summer months.
An appeal was made to the Ministry of Transport for assistance to cope with this situation. A 20-year road maintenance and improvement programme was prepared but as a result of the closing of the branch railways it has been necessary to put a programme into operation immediately. The cost of that operation in one year will impose a serious and almost intolerable burden on the rates. At present the Isle of Wight is a highly rated community. The result of this added burden will be serious, and calls for further consideration by the Ministry, which has turned down an application for increased assistance this year.
The Ministry has accepted a programme which will cost £35,000, but has not given any increased grant-in-aid to 806 carry it out. As the necessity for this increased burden is largely due to the fact that the railways have been closed, and consequently more traffic has to be carried on the roads, I do not consider that it is asking too much if we request the Ministry to look at this matter again. Otherwise there is a possibility that this work may not be carried out.
Hundreds of thousands of people come to the Isle of Wight each year. Last year the figure was 2 million, and I am told that bookings this year are the highest since the war. I do not know how the roads will carry these people who wish to travel to various parts of the island. Although the bus company, which is subsidiary to the railway company, has put on extra buses it has not a sufficient number of vehicles to cope with the extra traffic and even if it had the roads could not carry them. An enormous amount of road improvement is necessary and, therefore, I maintain that the problem calls for special consideration, which I hope the Minister will extend to it.
There is one other point I wish to make in connection with the nationalisation of the railway system. For the last half-century we have had a road coach service which was built up from very small beginnings and today is a business of considerable proportions. We have a Road Coach Owners Federation on the island. At Ryde, where the bulk of the traffic comes from Portsmouth, as many as 60,000 people arrive in one day. Most of them wish to go round the island on coach trips, and desire to book their seats at the earliest (and most convenient point.
On Ryde Pier, which was controlled by the Ryde Corporation until the nationalised railways took it over, all was well, because the coaches could be parked at the top of the pier and the coach offices were there. Now the railways, with their subsidiary bus company, monopolise the whole of the area and the island coach-owners have been pushed into the background. The other day the island coach owners were informed that the railway bus company was going into the coach business in opposition to them. The local coach owners considered that to be unfair competition. Nevertheless, they made no complaint until they found that it was intended that the nationalised coach service should have a booking 807 office at the end of the pier where the boats come in. They considered that to be very unfair unless they were allowed similar facilities.
They communicated with the regional officer and their request for such facilities was turned down. They were informed that there was no room on the pier for anyone but the nationalised service although, as everyone knows, there is ample room. That is another example of a monopoly in practice, and I wish to protest violently against this sort of treatment being meted out by the nationalised railways. We do not mind fair competition but we object to that sort of thing.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
The pier is rented by the railways from the corporation.
The pier belongs to the Ryde Corporation. I have no complaint about them using the pier but I think that they should give a fair deal to people who were in the business for 50 years before they came. I am glad to have had an opportunity to air this grievance. I urge the Minister to take note of what I have said and of the problems confronting us in the Isle of Wight, so that the 2 million people, mostly working-class, who come from all quarters of the country to the island, may enjoy their holidays.
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles)
We all congratulate the hon. Members who initiated this debate and moved and seconded the Motion which is critical of Government policy. Any hon. Member opposite who rightfully criticises Government policy upon any major matter is sure of very warm support from hon. Members on this side of the House.
The terrible situation in which we find ourselves regarding road casualties has been stressed during this debate. The fact that there are a quarter of million road casualties a year presents us with one of the most serious problems which we have to face, and anything which can be done to lessen the terrible holocaust on the roads it is our duty to do.
The condition of our roads is very unsatisfactory, and the policy of the Government in this respect appears to be fantastic. The Government claim that 808 they are unable to proceed with an adequate road policy because of financial difficulties. But other sections of their transport policy involve them in the loss of millions of pounds. Because they are attempting to denationalise road transport, and are making such a terrible mess of the transport services, they have not sufficient money to deal with the road situation. In my opinion, they should abandon this policy of denationalisation. They should cease from disrupting the great national system of transport which has been set up and concentrate instead on improving our road system.
I warn the Government that their policy is creating in the minds of the transport workers feelings of fear and despair. During the last seven or eight years the employees of the British Road Services have given loyal service to this country, but now their only reward is the sack. It is small wonder that there is dismay in the transport industry. I appeal to the Government to reconsider their whole transport policy, for it is not meeting with any success. The Government are unable to sell lorries at the price which they expected to get. The whole system ought to be reviewed.
There is a great need for a better road system and for better equipment and safer vehicles. We cannot afford to have separate road and rail systems. We want a co-ordinated system. Much of the huge volume of heavy traffic now carried on our roads ought to be carried by the railways, and the Government should ensure that that is done. I do not rule out the possibility of this being done by means of co-operation between private road interests and the Transport Commission.
§ Mr. Proctor
One might turn the question round and ask what would happen if road transport struck. No one deplores the present situation on the railways more than I and my hon. Friends do, and I hope that some means will be found of securing peace on the railways as quickly as possible. I do not think that we shall improve the situation by making it an issue here today. I certainly add my voice to the appeals to the workers to return to work as quickly as possible and 809 settle the problem by negotiation and not by industrial action.
It is essential for the well-being of this country that there should be co-operation between road and rail transport, and the heavy traffic should be carried by the railways, which are naturally suited to that task. We wish to see a co-ordinated road-rail-sea-air system. The fact that we have one Minister now responsible for almost every field of transport is an indication that that is necessary.
Reference has been made to the problems of London traffic. We are always conscious that a very large amount of national resources, time and consideration is given to London because of its central position. The industrial North has a claim to greater consideration in transport matters, but that does not prevent us from giving attention to the London transport problem.
I support the idea that the bringing of motor cars into the centre of London should be discouraged. I do not know whether we could prohibit them, but at any rate the London transport system could do much more than it has done to discourage them. The London railways have great opportunities to provide car parks near outlying stations, which might encourage motorists to drive to those stations and then come to the centre of London by rail. That suggestion ought to be carefully considered by the Ministry of Transport, for it would be much cheaper to provide adequate parking facilities close to such stations, giving easy access to the centre of London, than to provide the facilities in the heart of London. This could also be done on the outskirts of many of our large towns.
Between the two wars when a great deal of our road construction was done there was a very great wastage of land. Along many of our highways there is a considerable amount of land adjoining the roads which is not being used. The Minister ought to consider bringing that land back into the farms, which could be done merely by shifting the fences. At present that land is lying useless, and it represents a considerable waste.
Between the wars the South of England and the richer authorities were able to get more than their share of road construction done because they could afford their part of the bill. The industrial centres. which were hit by unemploy- 810 ment, were unable to make the necessary contribution and so they lost the great advantage that went to the richer areas. There is a good case for more being done in the industrial areas now in comparison with the other areas. This specially applies to Lancashire, whose road system fell into a very serious condition between the two wars.
That brings me to the local problem of Barton Bridge, which is situated close to the Trafford Park industrial concentration. The carriageway of the Bridge is 17 feet 6 inches wide, and 9,600 vehicles per day use the bridge, and the bridge closes 7,000 times a year. I wish to impress upon the Government once more the industrial importance of this bridge. About 16,000 workers are engaged in Trafford Park. They are doing the most useful work that any set of workers in this country could be doing, for much of it is concerned with the export trade. Trafford Park is one of the most important industrial areas in Western Europe. It cannot be surpassed for skill and knowledge by any other industrial area that I know.
We have been gravely disappointed by the Minister's action in not including the bridge among the tasks which have been given first priority. I hope the Minister will review his decision. I cannot think of any other project in the North of England which should have higher priority than the Barton Bridge scheme.
Even when the work begins, it will take a long time to complete it, and that is another reason for commencing the scheme as quickly as possible. Even when the scheme is approved, it will probably be two or three years before the actual bridge can be started. The delay is all the more frustrating because it will take so long for the approaches to settle down after they are completed.
The Eccles, Swinton and Stretford Trades Councils have appealed to the Trades Union Congress to go into the matter. They asked us if we in this House cannot persuade the Government of the urgency of the matter, to appeal to the General Council of the Trades Union Congress itself to take up the matter to see what it could do to assist. Our appeal is receiving consideration at the headquarters of the T.U.C. at the present time. I therefore hope that the 811 Government will review this matter, because it is one upon which all the Lancashire Members are united in asking that the scheme should be proceeded with straight away.
I should like to ask what is the position regarding the life of the present bridge, because it is rapidly becoming an ancient monument. No doubt, it is a tribute to the engineering skill and the constructive ability of the age in which it was built, but many of the workers who use it have told me that they are very doubtful whether it will last many years longer without major repairs. The real question is whether it will last until the new bridge is built, and, under the present decision of the Government, I think the answer to the question is bound to be "No."
I think the Minister of Transport, who has told us that it was on local advice that it was decided that Barton Bridge should not have such high priority as other schemes, should make this point a little clearer. I know that the Minister is naturally responsible for accepting the advice of those who advise him, and that he takes responsibility for the advice given to him by civil servants, but is that the case where his advisers are local authorities? I should like to know whether the advice upon which he based his decision was that of the local authority concerned or that of his own officials. If it was the advice of his officials, the Minister is responsible for it, but, if it was the advice of the local authority, I think we should hear from him so that we can consider whether they have done their duty in the proper manner or not.
I appeal to the Minister to give careful consideration to this, and to recognise that this is the most urgent problem of bridge construction in the whole of the Lancashire area. I am greatly concerned about it, as are other Lancashire Members of Parliament, and we are completely united—M.Ps., local authorities, industrial firms and the workers themselves—in asking that our view should be considered. I hope that the necessary finance for this project will be provided by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so that we can get on with the removal of this bottleneck, which is causing so much difficulty in this area.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Storey (Stretford)
Like all those hon. Members who have preceded me in this debate, I welcome the opportunity of taking part, and particularly of following the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor), because I represent the larger and more important end of Barton Bridge.
No one who listened to the last debate can avoid the conclusion that, while the House welcomed the Government's decision to increase expenditure on major road improvements, there was a strong opinion on both sides of the House that there was ample scope for much greater expenditure. On that occasion, like every other hon. Member who spoke, I stressed the project which most affected my constituents.
Today, however, knowing the capacity of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for absorbing and retaining information—indeed, he is one of those who always bears in mind St. Peter's exhortation to the Hebrews that they should give the most earnest heed to the things which they have heard, lest at any time they should let them slip—I do not intend to repeat all the cogent arguments which I then put forward why a new Barton Bridge should be the first major road improvement to be undertaken in Lancashire. That it is not to be undertaken, as we have been told by the Minister, is due to the advice given by the Lancashire authorities. That advice, in my opinion, was wrong. That it was even given is much worse.
At the end of 1952, the Lancashire local authorities sought the help of Lancashire M.Ps. in pressing for their schemes of major road improvements. Before consulting us, the Lancashire authorities agreed amongst themselves not to give any special priority to any one particular project, and they asked us to do the same. After the most careful examination, the Lancashire Members decided that they would give equal support to all three projects—Barton Bridge, the Lancaster by-pass and the Preston by-pass. In consequence, I refrained from pressing the claim of Barton Bridge until after the Minister had made his announcement last December. It was, therefore, with concern that I learned of the advice given by the Lancashire 813 authorities. I feel very strongly that Barton Bridge should have preference, and that, if the local authorities had not done what they asked us not to do, the decision might well have been different. Therefore, I ask once more for the reconsideration of priorities, and I would particularly urge that the Lancaster problem, containing as it does an element for the relief of holiday traffic, should take second place to Barton Bridge.
There, the problem is wholly one of increasing the efficiency of the most highly concentrated industrial area in the country by relieving the congestion in the delivery of raw materials and the despatch of the finished products, by facilitating the recruitment and retention of the necessary labour force, and by easing the conditions of thousands of workers who must travel daily over Barton Bridge. That industry and workers have to tolerate such conditions, and that the Minister is unable to alleviate them through lack of funds, calls in question the sufficiency of the funds available to the Minister.
Industrial efficiency is the admitted need today. If better roads and bridges lead to greater productivity and lower costs, an increased capital investment in roads and bridges is indicated. I therefore press for a further examination of the proposals which have been put forward for a road authority with power to borrow for, and to undertake, major road projects. It is well worth consideration whether such an authority should be set up to undertake such national road projects as the Lancashire north-south motorway, the West Midlands-South Wales motorway and the London-Birmingham motorway.
If such an authority was set up, industry would be given the opportunity to prove its contention that the condition of the roads is a serious handicap to national industrial efficiency, that the losses caused by inadequate roads are such as would not be tolerated if an industrial corporation was responsible, and that bad road surfaces impose a costly and increasing burden which should not be allowed to continue. If industry believes these things, then it should be prepared to support such loans. If it is not prepared to support such loans, it will have no real cause for complaint if progress is slow.
814 Such an authority, borrowing for its projects, would relieve the Minister of serious burdens. It would enable him to concentrate upon those major projects which do not form part of such nationwide proposals as those I have indicated; for example, the Preston and Lancaster projects, part of the Lancashire north-south motorway, would be provided for, and money would be freed to proceed with the Barton Bridge project. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give serious consideration to such proposals, but quite apart from them I would urge upon him that the priorities for Lancashire should be reconsidered. I believe that they have been wrongly assessed.
I hope that the Barton Bridge proposal will be given priority, and that an early and serious start will be made upon the embankments on both sides of the canal instead of the camouflage operation which is taking place on the south side at the present time. I hope that the Minister will give these matters serious consideration, and that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us encouragement to hope that a start will be made upon this important bridge, which affects so vitally one of the most highly concentrated industrial centres.
§ 1.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)
The speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey) was a plea for his constituency. I do not know that it was any the worse for that. The hon. Member has a perfect right, indeed a duty, to advance in this House the needs of his constituency. I rather think that the case was made somewhat more cogently and with less repetition by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor). That encourages me—and I will be ever so brief about it—to do a little bit of special pleading for my own constituency of Nottingham, South.
We want a by-pass. My constituency is bisected by a busy thoroughfare called "Arkwright Street," where I am told one-seventh of the almost continuous stream of traffic has nothing to do with the city at all but must cross the Trent Bridge in order to get to the industrial areas to the north and north-west of Nottingham. I do not complain about the Ministry of Transport at all. In fact, I 815 would tell the Parliamentary Secretary that his Ministry has done well for me, because last summer they gave me Clifton Bridge on the new estate on the South side of the Trent. That has done me a lot of good, although I do not say that it has not done them good also.
We would like to get an arterial road, which would necessarily go over what I understand would be a duplication of the Clifton Bridge. I want to put something up to the Ministry. I would ask them that much care should be taken to ensure that the arterial roadway, on diverging from the city, does not incommode the residents of the new housing estate at Clifton. That point will need watching. That is where I will leave my constituency special pleading.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) has left the Chamber. I have never heard in this Chamber anything so naive as his speech. He sought to convey the impression—I am sure that the hon. Member is much too intelligent to believe it himself—that because the railways have been nationalised something nasty has happened in the Isle of Wight which would not have happened otherwise. The whole idea is too childish for me to pay much attention to, but the hon. Member was performing a public service in drawing attention to what happens when railways cease to function.
I do not quite know what happened there. I gathered from the hon. Member that the railways in the Isle of Wight are going, or soon will go, out of business altogether. This raises the question to which some reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles. I should imagine that the public would be much happier if British Railways really were satisfied that the Isle of Wight system no longer justified itself and would be much happier still if British Railways said that they had considered alternative methods of keeping those railways in being. I remember that the railways in the Isle of Wight were, until recently at any rate, run by ordinary trains—locomotives pulling wagons or carriages. Before shutting them down British Railways ought to consider such alternative possibilities as electrification or the use of diesel rail cars.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I must point out that the Motion does not appear to have anything to do with railways.
§ Mr. Norman Smith
I will try to show you how it does, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The Motion is concerned with road safety, among other things. It has been a consistent theme for almost every speaker in this debate, seriatim, this morning that the volume of traffic and the inadequate road system cause trouble, accidents and even loss of life. Although the method of approach of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) was that he wanted more to be spent on the road system to enable it to carry a greater volume of traffic, I should have thought it pertinent and germane to the subject to advocate on the occasion of this Motion that everything possible should be done by the Ministry of Transport and other people concerned to ensure that as much as possible of the traffic which has, possibly needlessly, been diverted from rail to road should be diverted back to the railway.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight stressed what was happening on his roads because some of the railways in the Isle of Wight had been shut down. I should have thought it was all part of the same problem, and I would strenuously urge that the Ministry of Transport should have regard to the question of railways and do everything possible to ensure that no more traffic is diverted away from the railways than is absolutely essential in the national interest.
I did not agree with another thing said by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight —about motorists and the volume of private motor traffic in the centre of our great cities. I should not have risen in this debate but for him. I live just off the Kennington Road, about a quarter of an hour's walk from this House. If, as often happens during the business hour, I am waiting for a bus down by the Granada cinema where Kennington Lane intersects Kennington Road, I am appalled at the number of motor cars, each with only one occupant, being used for residential purposes. These cars clutter up the highways. They impose an appalling strain on whatever parking 817 facilities are available. These one-man motors are absurd.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight thought that that was all right, and he said "Good luck" to the people who have cars, because they did their shopping with them. I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that having a car is a privilege. Let us reduce the position to the absurdity of supposing that every citizen and every family in the country could afford a car and that all the families decided that they would not use public transport, but each man and woman would go to and from work using his private car. We know what would happen then. Only a minority of the people use private cars. They are a privileged minority, taking advantage of their financial differential over the average income of the community.
I really think the time has come when this problem has to be approached very seriously, with resolution and determination. We must forget the fetish of liberty and freedom. We cannot have liberty and freedom in a technological age to the extent that we can have it in the non-technological age. The "one-man-one-car" for daily residential purposes idea is an important contributory factor to cluttering up the roads, causing accidents and wasting money. It arises from social inequality and class financial differentials, and it should be dealt with as a matter of priority and very serious urgency.
I ought to pay a tribute to the hon. Member for Peterborough—it is a long time since he was in this Chamber—for having introduced the topic in the way he did. He made a very good case and both he and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight took the view that there should be a loan, to be spent on road development. I hope there will be, and I hope that it will be a popular loan and that people will be tempted to part with their savings at 4 per cent. If the Ministry can get the Chancellor to agree, that loan could be made safe by tying it to a cost of living index, so that people would not be deterred from investing by the fearing of losing their money by reason of the depreciation of its value. Then the loan would be a success.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) has come back into the Chamber, so instead of sitting 818 down I will say that he marred what was, if I may say so, an excellent speech, admirably delivered, with the most appalling suggestion of tolls. We do not want to return to the days of Queen Victoria. By introducing that sort of thing he is impairing what otherwise would be his great usefulness to those of us who have the cause of road safety so much at heart.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
As another Lancashire Member, I am greatly tempted to pursue the powerful pleas put forward on behalf of Lancashire and the North-West, but I am particularly anxious to call attention to what I submit is the major consideration in this Motion. It is that this country is maintaining a system of moving its people and its goods on its roads which costs over 5,000 deaths and over 220,000 injuries a year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) has said that to improve the roads does not necessarily make them safer. Greater convenience and speed may mean greater danger. I say, "may," but economically, of course, that type of improvement is desirable, and if it can also be made safe no one would wish to obstruct it. But let road improvement be preceded by the intensification of safety measures. I received so much support for that proposition in an earlier debate that I do not need to repeat the arguments then used. I would rather advance some practical steps towards putting that proposition into effect.
There are three main elements in road transport. There is the basic element—the roads; the mobile element—the vehicles, and the human element—ourselves. This Motion is restricted to the basic element, so I shall endeavour to confine myself to the roads. May I first quote from the Cantor Lecture delivered to the Royal Society of Arts on 22nd February last by Dr. Glanville, Director of Road Research, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The whole paragraph is of great pertinence to this debate. He says:The days are past when any one of us would argue that our roads are anything but totally inadequate for the traffic they carry. They turn and twist; they vary in width; they mix all types of traffic, and, although many miles have been planned, not one mile has been built with a special eye to the needs of the motor vehicle. It is unnecessary for 819 me to say more, for it is now frankly admitted that they are out of keeping with the age of the motor vehicle, and that what is needed to put things right is a wholesale reconstruction—new roads and improvements to existing roads on a vast scale involving great expenditure.I have no hope of persuading the Minister, through the Parliamentary Secretary, to expend money "on a vast scale," and for that reason I would not urge at any great length the case for special motor ways. I would only offer a warning to those who do urge that case that, economically sound as it is to construct special motor ways such as the autobahnen in Germany and the expressways in America, dangers arise from the potential speeds which can be gained on them.
I would also offer the warning that the capital outlay of constructing such a road is about £200,000 a mile. For example, the 1946 plan for 1,000 miles of special motor ways would have cost this country £200 million. That may be worth while economically. From the safety point of view I think we should bear in mind also the advantages which have been gained in America in the construction of these roads where there have been adequate control of speed and sufficient safety measures.
§ Mr. Page
I am quoting from the same lecture by Dr. Glanville. Perhaps I may quote the sentence, from page 13 of the print of his lecture:For a motor road carrying 20,000 vehicles a day for 250 days a year, the economic gain to the nation from the reduction in accidents would be 15 per cent, per annum for a saving of 12.4, and 2 per cent. for a saving of 1.4 accidents on a capital outlay of £200,000 per mile of road.I take it that he was meaning that for a road which would carry that quantity of traffic there would be an expense of £200,000 per mile of construction. That is why I said that the 1946 plan, put forward by the previous Government, would have cost £200 million.
I would like to consider whether that £200 million would be a worth-while expenditure and to look at a similar rate of expenditure in America on one highway, the Davison Expressway in Detroit. The normal accident rate on roads is 820 anything from two to 13 accidents per vehicle mile. On the Davison Expressway that was reduced to 0.6—a very considerable reduction. It was done by improvement of the road plus adequate safety measures. On that basis, by an expenditure of £200 million, we could perhaps save something between 7,000 and 43,000 casualties a year in this country.
I have, however, a much more modest scheme. There are many ways of spending a much less sum of money and saving a greater number of lives and limbs. I turn my attention mainly to built-up areas, because it is there that three-quarters of the accidents occur. There are four or five things which could be done at comparatively small expense. The first is the provision of non-skid surfaces. This may seem a very small point—
§ Mr. Page
I am grateful to the hon. Member—it is most important, and the figures are most impressive.
In one case there was a roundabout where, at an expense of only £150, a non-skid treatment was applied to the road. There was a reduction of accidents there from 33 to seven a year. That was for the small expenditure of £150 for treating that surface with a nonskid material. The number of casualties from skidding accidents in this country per year is 10,350. Those are the 1952 figures. On the basis of that example of the roundabout, we could avoid all these skidding accidents at an expenditure of about £600,000. Perhaps I am being a little optimistic in assuming that we should be able to choose the exact spots where the accidents are going to happen, but at least we could choose the black spots where there have been skidding accidents, and make this very great improvement there.
There was an experiment in Glasgow where four intersections were treated with a non-skid surface. The results were very satisfactory. Over a period of 2½ years before this treatment was applied, there were 82 accidents. Over a similar period after the non-skid treatment the accidents were 27—a reduction of 55 over a period of 2½ years, a matter of 22 accidents prevented a year. I am 821 thinking particularly of the approach to pedestrian crossings.
I think we could prevent about 12,000 accidents a year by this means. I am particularly impressed by the remarks on this matter in the document entitled "Road Research, 1953," where, after quoting the figures, there is this sentence on page 21:This treatment greatly reduced the frequency of accidents both where skidding was reported as a factor and where it was notI would stress the last phraseboth where skidding was reported as a factor and where it was not.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
Is the hon. Gentleman now suggesting that in order to increase the safety of zebra crossings there should be a stretch of surface on either side treated with this non-skid material?
§ Mr. Page
I mention that as a valuable suggestion in connection with pedestrian crossings, but I do not restrict my remarks to pedestrian crossings; they apply equally to dangerous curves, roundabouts, road interceptions and anywhere where skidding is likely.
The second point on which I think a small expenditure would provide great safety is improved and uniform street lighting. I do not propose to quote any figures or attempt to give statistics because I think this is a matter of commonsense, yet it needed the shock of the accident to the Chatham cadets to bring this home to the public. We have plenty of scientific knowledge on the best lights to use for street lighting, such as the yellow type of light which enlarges the pupils of the eyes so that one gets a greater panoramic view, which is very important in enabling one to see traffic coming from side roads and pedestrians coming off the pavement; the type of light which gives least pools of darkness; the dangers of changing from one system of lighting to another, and the advantage of being able to judge the speed of a vehicle by seeing the whole of that vehicle and not just the side lights.
I am sure the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) will join me in being shocked by the peak number of accidents which occur in hours of darkness and particularly between 10 and 11 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Smith
For the benefit of those of us who are not enlightened, could the hon. Gentleman say just what the hours of 10 to 11 p.m. have to do with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North?
§ Mr. Page
I think the hon. Member for Ealing, North appreciates the point, and I was very grateful for his nods of assent.
I was saying that we could prevent a quarter of the accidents which occur in hours of darkness by improving street lighting. That would mean 1,000 accidents prevented a month, or 12,000 accidents a year—and that at no very great expense. I should say that £1 million would go a very long way in improving thousands of miles of street lighting.
My third point relates to vehicle and pedestrian actuated lights. Most accidents occur at road junctions. Obviously, more traffic lights would make road junctions safer. They are not installed at every crossing because of the unnecessary delay which would be caused unless they were actuated by the vehicles themselves, when there would be no delay. Even more useful are the press-button actuated signals for pedestrians. We had a very important example on the Neasden section of the North Circular Road where four sets of these press-button lights were installed, and I think I am right in saying that over a period of months since they have been installed there have been no accidents, whereas for a short period before that there were as many as six fatal accidents.
§ Mr. Page
I think that the present day education in schools on road safety matters is adequate and very powerful, and I do not think that children do play with press-button lights. They are told in the schools not to do so, and I believe that children are obeying the road safety instruction given in schools. 823 These press-button lights cost between £350 and £850 to install—a comparatively small amount. One could fairly take an average figure of £500 per set of lights. They are particularly valuable where there is fast moving traffic, and I suggest that if we installed a number of these lights on the sort of roads which my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) mentioned, they might well be de-restricted to a speed of 40 or 45 miles an hour. It might allow a measure of de-restriction on some of the outer roads of London if these press-button signals were installed. Again I would say that an expenditure of £1 million would give us some 2,000 of these types of crossings. Even if we were able to prevent only 10 accidents a year on each crossing by that means, there would be a saving of 20,000 accidents a year.
My fourth point concerns central refuges. This is a more controversial subject. I am told that motorists run into central refuges, but I feel that refuges do carry out a principle of safety —namely, the segregation of the traffic. They certainly prevent pedestrian casualties. They allow one to concentrate on one stream of traffic at a time. I personally have never been able to play the piano very well. I cannot play with both hands at once. I do not think that I am dual-minded, cross-eyed or rubber-necked, and indeed one has to be all those three things to cross a road in safety in these days.
A refuge in the middle of the road is by its very name a measure of safety. I imagine that small refuges with bollards would not cost more than £200 each to construct, and if we spent £500,000, that would provide 2,500 refuges. If we prevented two accidents per refuge per year we should be here saving another 5,000 accidents.
My last and fifth point refers to the Road Research Laboratory. I urge the Minister to use that very valuable institution even more than at present. Road Research Laboratory tests and advice on specific black spots should be put to much greater advantage. My previous four points were general ones. This one concerns specific black spots all over the country. Each has to be dealt with on its own merits, but very often the local 824 ideas are all wrong. There is not the requisite scientific knowledge behind them. We spend only £300,000 a year on the Laboratory, which, to my mind, is a paltry sum. Let us spend more on the scientific consideration of road safety, and let us direct it towards the black spots. Of course, it would follow that the advice of the Laboratory should be implemented as soon as given. Let us use this scientific knowledge to our utmost.
In the last 20 years—and only 20 years —the rate of deaths from infectious disease has, by medical science, been reduced by four-fifths. In the last 80 years the infant mortality rate has been reduced by medical science by four-fifths. Surely we can do as well in reducing deaths on the road. We can if we apply science to ensuring safety, and apply it to our roads; to our vehicles and to ourselves. We have reduced the accidents in the mines; we have reduced the accidents through factory machinery, through domestic equipment; we have reduced deaths from the food we eat and the water we drink. We have done so by being determined about it, and by applying scientific methods. We can do the same with road accidents.
Let us take heart from this fact. Great Britain is the only country in which there has been a reduction in the proportion of accidents to vehicles registered. In every other country for which we have figures the total accidents have increased. The figures for this country between 1931 and 1951 show that although the number of vehicles registered during that time increased by 97 per cent. the number of fatal accidents was reduced by 22 per cent. This is the only country in which that decrease has been effected. It could not have been without the support of public opinion, and I believe that public opinion is particularly favourable, at the present time to the provision of safe roads and to the sacrifice of money to make the roads safe.
Let me sum up my five points. First, non-skid surfaces, which I say would cost £600,000 and save 12,000 accidents; second, improved street lighting which, at a cost of £1 million, would save another 12,000 accidents; third, vehicle and pedestrian actuated lights which, at a cost of another £1 million, would save 20,000 accidents; fourth, central refuges which, 825 at a cost of only £500,000, would save 5,000 accidents. The round figures are that we could save 50,000 accidents a year at a cost of about £3 million, which is the very small sum of £60 per accident to be saved. Fifth, I suggest the greater use of the Road Research Laboratory. My plan of these five points may be wrong in some details, and my estimates may be inaccurate, but at least it is a plan which, at comparatively small expense, would improve the roads and would save lives.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
As previous speakers have done, I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) on bringing this matter again before us, and I also warmly commend the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) for the way he has tackled the problem. I do not suppose that the amount of money he has estimated his plan would cost would be anything like adequate, but still it would effect a reduction of accidents, and I am glad that he impressed upon the attention of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary the need for consideration of these matters.
His statistics were not altogether adequate, as he realised when he dealt with street lighting. He mentioned the fact that there were statistics relating to 10 o'clock at night. He called me to his aid, to tell the House what might be involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Norman Smith) was not at all aware that I could have anything to do with the matter. I do not know any of the institutions referred to from any personal experience of my own, and apparently my hon. Friend does not know anything about them either, but there are places that by law close in the hour from 10 o'clock to 11 o'clock at night.
§ Mr. Hudson
Yes. I thought my hon. Friend had no knowledge of those places. I have not, either.
However, I have seen people coming out of them. They queue up to come out of those institutions. They are booted out sometimes, judging by the appearance of things. There is a relation, to which the hon. Member for Crosby referred, 826 between drinking, public houses, closing times and road accidents. There is an evil there. I am very glad that public opinion has recently been so much stirred about this matter of road safety. We and the Ministry will be compelled to give much more serious attention to it.
I know the difficulty is that we have not adequate statistics to show what exactly is the relation between drinking and road accidents. When I have referred on other occasions to it I have been told, "The percentage of accidents caused by drunkenness is less than 1 per cent. of the total number of accidents." I agree that the percentage of accidents caused by drunkenness, as proven by convictions or as certified by the police, is low, but that is not the problem. The problem is not so much drunkenness as the effects of the "one for the road."
Some time ago I held up a cartoon in the House which called it "One for the grave." The problem is to show the connection between road accidents and the drinking of even a small quantity of alcohol. It is difficult to do so. The difficulty is partly due to the fact that the devices which we have adopted and which have been accepted by the law to discover to what extent the drink factor enters into an accident are so out-of-date. Efforts are being made to improve them.
How far it is right to charge a man with drunkenness or being under the influence of drink or having been affected by drink after an accident cannot be estimated by asking him to walk a white line. I am always sober but if I were asked to walk a white line after having suffered the shock of an accident I should not walk it very well, and I should be very annoyed if somebody said, "There you are." The same applies to the recital of words like "British constitution." I manage to say them now, but that is no proof of my sobriety or otherwise. The tests that have been adopted by medical men in dealing with this matter are out-of-date.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The terms of the Motion refer to sums of money being spent on road improvements. I do not see that the Motion has anything to do with medical tests.
§ Mr. Hudson
There must be a general expectation on the part of those responsible for the Motion, which asks for road improvements, that somebody might argue that rather than spend a great deal of money on road improvements we might spend some time on human improvement. I am arguing, or at least I am seeming to argue for the moment, that there is not a strong case for spending a great deal of money on improving the roads until a little more time has been spent on improving the human beings who use the roads.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am only referring to medical tests because at that point one finds out the extent to which human beings have not improved themselves. I had better leave the matter there.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am not particularly keen to argue in favour of wider roads. They might cause higher speeds, as I have seen happen on the wider roads in Germany and the autostrade in Italy.
If one drives on faster roads with cars not adequate for those conditions one does not decrease the number of accidents. One might considerably increase the number. I agree that there is a case for improved road surfaces, better lighting and wider kerbs for the limitation of accidents, but I also emphasise, with your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I want the other questions to which I have referred also considered.
Account should be taken of the places where we can effect road safety without being compelled to embark upon expenditure on the construction of roads. It is only because I feel that in all our debates on road construction and road safety we fail to account adequately for the human factor, particularly at those points where it is discovered to be most defective, that I thought there was a case for making a fleeting reference to this topic, with the hope of winning your sympathy, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. You have made it clear that I must not pursue the question of medical tests any further. Perhaps later I shall be able to bring to the Palace of Westminster a demonstration of a test which is much better than 828 the clinical test, and in a Committee room I might be able to persuade hon. Members that this problem of drunkenness and the influence of drink can be better dealt with than it is at present.
The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) on one occasion quoted statistics to me in the House in an effort to show how wrong I was in insisting on the drink factor. He pointed out that the accidents caused by drunkenness were about 1 per cent. of the total number of accidents, but I am arguing that the percentage of accidents caused by drink is very much bigger than that. The real percentage includes accidents caused not only by drunkenness but by drinking of any character. The factor of a small amount of drink plays its part in building up present-day accident figures. I have raised this issue with the Ministry of Transport at Question time on several occasions.
The hon. Member for Peterborough said that among people who have been pressing for this debate were not only the business community, who are anxious to have traffic speeded up, but all the local road safety committees. I agree that we should listen to the views of the road safety committees. The Ministry of Transport has a rather special responsibility towards them, at any rate in an advisory capacity. I know that some of these committees are doing a marvellous job. When I go out of London to Kent, as I often do on a fine day, I am always struck by the extremely successful cartoons displayed on lamp-posts and elsewhere as a result of the efforts of the Camberwell Road Safety Committee to draw attention to the various ways in which human beings fail in their control of motor cars.
I am able to give that praise to the Camberwell Committee although I have not yet seen displayed by them the cartoon which I held up in the House some time ago, or any similar cartoon. Somebody on that committee is extremely skilled in bringing all sorts of devices and quotations to the public mind in order to emphasise safety on the road. It is said that accidents have been reduced in that borough as a result of that skilful campaign.
I am not asking the Minister of Transport to do anything about that committee, 829 but what does the Ministry do when a local road safety committee manifestly fails in its job, such as the committee to which I referred the other day, when somebody suggested all sorts of reasons why the cartoon on the influence of drink which I showed to the House should not be displayed. The trouble is that there are powerful interests which can use their influence to impress local committees, sometimes by withdrawing subscriptions.
I do not know whether that happened in that case, but at any rate great pressure was brought to bear in Birmingham to impress the local road safety committee with the fact that the excellent cartoon which I showed to the House should not be displayed in public. The road safety committee yielded to the pressure of the Birmingham brewers, whose representatives on that committee protested against its use. I submit that when things of that sort take place in a road safety committee for which the Ministry of Transport has some advisory responsibility—I do not put it higher than that—representations ought to be made. I hope that the Birmingham City Council will make representations, as it contributes a considerable amount of money to assist that road safety committee in its work. I hope that when things of that kind take place efforts will be made by the Minister of Transport to induce the committees to take a different attitude.
I see, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you have been sitting on tenterhooks while I have been bringing my King Charles's head again to the feast. I had to do that because hon. Members were inviting me to do so. I cannot help thinking that everyone knows that, somehow or other, this question has to be dealt with by the House of Commons. The Lord Chief Justice has been dealing with it, and the magistrates have been dealing with it.
§ Mr. Hudson
I hope that I have made clear that the House of Commons has to deal with this matter at some time. I hope that the Minister of Transport will deal with those specific points which I was sufficiently in order to be able to make.
Hon. Members have referred effectively to Barton Bridge. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) seemed to assume 830 that it was becoming something of an ancient monument, and said that people were telling him that it would have to come down and something entirely different would have to be put in its place. I lived near Barton when the bridge was built and I saw it built, so perhaps I may be classified as being among the ancient monuments.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am much obliged to the hon. Member.
When I lived near there I used to be a teacher in Salford, and I cycled morning after morning to my school. I was regularly late because the bridge would swing open at an unexpected time and a couple of big ships would go through. I had to wait, and when I tried to get across a whole procession of vehicles was going across. The waste of time at that bridge is still literally appalling.
It is not only the local question that is involved in what is taking place there. There is the traffic from Trafford Park, Patricroft and Eccles, and it is important that that road should be a first-class alternative trunk road to the roads going through Manchester from the south and vehicles coming up from Altrincham and Sale, which turn off to make their way over Barton Bridge to Bolton, Preston and to the north. There is a tremendous loss of time in getting over the bridge, the reconstruction of which appears to have a low priority among the bigger tasks for which the Minister of Transport should be responsible. I warmly commend hon. Members for pressing this matter as strongly as they have done, and I add my plea to theirs. This has nothing to do with my King Charles's head, so I think that I am justified in voicing my plea to the Minister to do something about the reconstruction of that bridge.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) began his speech by referring to places from which he did not come out between 10 and 11 at night. I thought at first that he was referring to cinemas, but I discovered that he was referring to places of refreshment and exercising his usual ingenuity in introducing King Charles's head into the most unlikely places. 831 We all pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's great sincerity on this subject, although we do not all share his view. I was interested in his reference to Barton Bridge and the fact that he was late for school because it swung open at the wrong time. The hon. Gentleman said that at that time he was a teacher, and I hope he accepted the same excuse from his pupils when they could not get to school for the same reason.
I should like to join in the mounting chorus of praise voiced by many hon. Members to my hon. Friends the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) for raising this question, and for giving many of us an opportunity of not only covering the national issues, which has been done so successfully by Members on both sides, but also to indulge in items of special pleading. Having listened to most of the speeches today, I make no excuse for indulging in a piece of special pleading.
One of the most important roads in the country—and one always places emphasis on a particular road with which one is concerned—is the London-Fishguard A.40 trunk road, which serves the West Country and which, by an unfortunate coincidence, passes through my constituency at a particularly difficult and inconvenient place. On Wednesday, 19th May, I asked the Parliamentary Secretary a question about this road. As always, he was most sympathetic in his reply. He said that he realised that this particular road, especially when it ran through my constituency, was a very important road indeed. Of course, the sting lay in the last part of the answer, in which he said it was unlikely that the Government could include this scheme in the road programme for the first few years.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation will be visiting my constituency tomorrow—I am not sure that he will not be on his way there tonight—it would be most ungracious of me to wish him ill, because he is going to speak on our behalf, but I hope that he chooses a time of travelling when he gets the maximum amount of traffic on the road, so that he may experience for himself the irritation, frustration and complete annoyance caused to all road users who enter that 832 seven mile stretch, with a 30 m.p.h. limit, which starts at Loudwater and ends the other side of West Wycombe.
Many centuries ago, when we had the same long narrow road running through the wooded hills of Buckinghamshire, there was considerable need to exercise vigilance when travelling along it because the woods on both sides gave refuge to bands of robbers and the small pockets of rather warlike survivors of a race who were later driven to the West Country, and who used to come down and harry and pillage travellers. For that reason, we had appointed a Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, an appointment which has fallen into disuse except for those of us for whom the complexities and problems of Parliamentary life become too much. Today, the dangers which beset life and limb, quite apart from loss of money to those who travel that same stretch of road, are far greater than when a steward was specially appointed to look after them.
What is the Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds doing about it? Perhaps the holders of this office pass through it too rapidly to take any account of these problems. Perhaps it would be a good thing if anybody applying for this office of profit under the Crown should stay in that office a little longer so that he could consider this appalling difficult and dangerous problem, which so besets and annoys the inhabitants of the Chiltern Hills. I commend the idea to my hon. Friend.
In that particular stretch of road there is a scheme for by-passing the worst of the congestion by a by-pass road, starting somewhere at about Loudwater and coming out near Stokenchurch. It has been pressed on many occasions, and the last occasion when the despairing borough council passed its unanimous resolution, drawing attention to the great danger to life and limb on the highways in the borough, was on 20th April this year. As always, the resolution received the most sympathetic consideration from the Minister, as it has received sympathetic consideration from previous Ministers and Governments.
But still nothing is done, and this appalling bottleneck destroys all the benefits and value of Western Avenue, which leads up to it and is the approach 833 to this great trunk road. This bottleneck reduces traffic often to a slow crawl from the narrow and difficult streets of both High Wycombe and West Wycombe village—a village in the National Trust, of great beauty and antiquity, which is rapidly being damaged and destroyed by the heavy traffic thundering past its old houses, not only day after day, but all night through as well.
I know that there is a great problem of allocating money and deciding priorities. Everyone in the House could make a first-class case showing why the Government should spend money on his own area first. There are so many examples of the need for improving our roads that it is quite obvious that the amount of money which has to be spent is far greater than the amount which has so far been allotted by the Treasury for the purpose.
I liked very much the suggestion advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough and others in this debate that we should float a loan. I do not see any great objection in doing so. Loans have been floated on many occasions for many purposes for the national interest. There has been no problem about getting the loans taken up at a reasonable rate of interest, and I am certain that the investment of money of this kind for such a purpose could only succeed in paying the greatest possible dividends, not only in time saved for industry, in man hours and in the wear and tear of vehicles and the other considerations which hon. Members have mentioned, but also, possibly smaller, but nevertheless a very worth while dividend, in the safety and saving of human life.
I beg the Government to look at this problem again, not in the narrow restrictive sense of the amount of money that is available at any one time out of income, but from the viewpoint of capital investment for the future. If they look at the problem from that point of view, they might find a solution, if not by floating a loan, by below-the-line expenditure, of which there are many examples. This would enable the Government to embark on many worth-while schemes of road development, helping not only my constituency and people living on the A.40 road from London to Fishguard, but the nation as a whole.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
I wish to be brief to enable other hon. Members to take part in this debate, otherwise I should deal with some of the points raised by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald), who may be in his constituency by now. The hon. Baronet suggested that the Red Funnel Line in Southampton, or some private shipping company there, was prevented by British Railways from taking motor traffic across to the Isle of Wight much more cheaply than the Government-owned railways. I do not believe that that is the case, but if it is I am certain that if the directors of the shipping company in Southampton get in touch with their Member of Parliament, he will help them to reduce the cost that is imposed against the will of the private company on the British public for carrying motor cars to the Isle of Wight.
I support the general case which has been made so adequately, moderately and rationally by the hon. Members for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) and Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams). It is part of an even wider case—that we need more than ever a greater diversion of the nation's resources to capital investment if we are to survive. Only increased efficiency, increased productivity and increased production can keep our heads above water. Because transport plays a vital part in that increased efficiency, some of the increased capital expenditure —I emphasise "increased," because we do not seek to divert; it is not so much a question of taking from another capital investment programme—ought to go into improving British transport by better roads.
During this debate we have had a number of local speeches which add up and make part of the general case. I want to illustrate that general case from my own county of Hampshire, not because it is a bad county, not because Hampshire has the worst problems, but, paradoxically, because it is one of the best. We have a good road authority and an excellent county surveyor. We have a good record of 40 years' real progress by the county council inside the limits imposed by successive Governments in the road development of Hampshire, and we have, I sometimes think, perhaps the best roads in the country. If only our 835 Hampshire schools were like our roads, I should not be half so worried.
But despite Hampshire's favourable position with modern expansion of road transport and the industrialisation that has come into the county, the backlog of all that the country has failed to do shows itself even there. We have bottlenecks at Christchurch and Winchester, congestion is developing in Southampton and Andover, and there is a new whole area on the borders of Portsmouth—the inspill into Hampshire from Portsmouth around Havant—where a vast new area has grown up and new roads are needed.
Christchurch is a very quaint old town, one of the quaint places still not intelligent enough yet to get a Labour man on the town council. As hon. Members will know, the coast road to Bournemouth passes in the middle of Christchurch through one of the most dangerous bottlenecks in the country. At long last we have a minor improvement there under way, but what must be done at the earliest possible moment is to by-pass Christchurch, because the problem is insoluble inside the town. We have that proposal in our five years' programme for the county.
There are bad patches on the road from Winchester to Southampton, and as every motorist who has been in the South knows, we still have an almost feudal anomaly in the midst of Winchester, where a main road passes the High Street as one of the narrowest bottlenecks in the country. Before the war, we had built one of the finest mazes of by-pass roads round Winchester, but this by-pass system is by no means complete. And so in our proposed five years' programme we have projects which would relieve Winchester by completing all the by-pass connections, so that Midland traffic, on the one hand, could pass the town, and London traffic coming to the South could get on to the excellent New Forest roads by-passing Winchester and Southampton, on the other hand.
I shall not deal with this five-year programme in detail. I would only say that the projects that are envisaged in the county council, of which I am a member, tot up to some £4½ million for five or six major projects. Side by side with 836 that, we insist that sooner or later—the sooner the better—the whole of the south coast road must be completed. The dangerous parts must be eliminated on the roads from London to the South. We have accident figures to show just how grave is the danger which the weak spots in the great road to the south coast cause to our people.
So a major project from London to the South Coast will cost £4 million, and the five-year plan another £4 million, and this inside a county which is not by any means the worst, and whose problems are by no means comparable to some of those which have been mentioned today. If Hampshire needs such capital expenditure, how powerful is the case moved by the hon. Gentleman for the entire nation to have a greatly increased capital investment programme of road development.
My only other point is one I make on behalf of the whole of Hampshire. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight has spoken of the evil of toll bridges. We have in Lymington two antique things, of one of which we are immensely proud. We have one of the loveliest high streets, with some of the finest old houses, in the country, and we have a toll bridge separating one part of Lymington from another.
Mothers going in to do their shopping, men going to work, have to pay tolls as they pass over that bridge. We could redeem that for £60,000 from the Railway Executive. We have asked the Minister of Transport for a grant towards that redemption, but he has turned it down on the grounds that he cannot afford the capital sum involved, which cannot be much more than £30,000, because it will divert the capital from more vital expenditure elsewhere.
I plead with the hon. Gentleman on behalf of the people of Lymington to remove this anomaly in the county of Hampshire. It simply means transferring from one Government pocket to another, from the Ministry of Transport to the British Railway Executive, a sum of be between £20,000 and £30,000, and it should not interfere either with the capital expenditure programme of this year or the increased capital expenditure which the hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion has so rightly asked for.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Inverness)
I have seldom listened, during my short time in this House, to a debate on which there has been so much unanimity, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on having brought forward this subject. It looks as if the House of Commons is of one mind, and that we have to convince the Treasury that more money is needed to be spent on roads. I do not think that there could be a better way for the Treasury to "cast bread upon the waters" than to spend money in this way. We all want to see this country in economic health, and many of us believe that this could be achieved more easily by expansion, and in expansion is explicit the easier flow of traffic.
I agree entirely with the representations made by hon. Members, especially in regard to the Great North Road, and the importance of ease of traffic flow through industrial and other centres. However, I want to mention the important subject of the development of roads in that large area of Britain known as the Highlands of Scotland. I am putting this matter forward not in any parochial sense, but because I believe that development in the Highlands of Scotland will help the United Kingdom.
We know that as yet we are nowhere near the achieving of full food production from the Highlands. We also know that until we get better roads, and particularly roads leading up all the glens, we shall not get anything approaching full development. The Highlands are half Scotland in area, but during the last 100 years 45 per cent. of our people have left the rural areas at a time when the Industrial Revolution was resulting in the multiplying of the population of Britain by five.
There are many things wrong with the roads of the Highlands. For instance, the Malaig trunk road has a restriction on 20 miles of it. I believe Lord Mathers referred to it the other day. An American who was driving along it got tired of the twists and bends and asked a local inhabitant the shortest distance to the main road. Narrowness applies to many of the roads in the Highlands, and they present a great problem.
In my own constituency I can motor from east to west 160 miles, or the same distance as from here to York, 838 and still not be at the end. We are dealing with big areas and considerable road distances when considering the Highlands, so improvement will be an expensive business. I do not say that our claim is more important than the other road needs of the country. They must all be examined. I ask my hon. Friend not to divide Scottish opinion by saying, "If you have a Clyde Tunnel, you cannot have a Forth Road Bridge," or "If you have a Forth Road Bridge, you cannot spend so much on the Highland roads." I ask him to look at the needs of the country and the possibilities and then to see what can be done.
There are other means of raising money than by direct Treasury grants. One of my hon. Friends has suggested that a loan might be an effective way of doing it. After all, no Government can be altogether trusted with money. Governments always spend it and are always short of it; and we have to make a convincing case before a Government will alter their expenditure policy. I do not see why a Forth Road Bridge board should not be appointed and given powers to borrow money, with authority to get it back by tolls. I do not like tolls particularly, but I would rather have tolls and a bridge than no tolls and no bridge.
There are many anomalies one finds when considering our Highland roads. There are certain crofting areas where the roads are in such an appalling condition that it is almost impossible to get to the crofts. There may be a more or less reasonable road by which to get away, but the two or three miles from the crofts to the roads are the difficulty. At other places the Secretary of State has provided excellent congested district roads, and there will be a wonderfully paved road as far as the main road, after which it may become pot-holed and rough. There is no consistency about the Highland roads except that all of them need re-making.
The Highland Panel recommended a road programme to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated in getting at least £1 million to be spent over three years; although it is only one-third of what had been recommended, and that was only a minimum sufficient to put the roads into a reasonable condition. The development 839 of the Highland road system should be carried out in two phases.
First, we should get the roads, as quickly as we can, into a reasonable state of repair, which means repairing the neglect of years. The second phase should be a long-term one of attaining satisfaction, which we might never achieve. And in the long-term project should be included a West Coast main road which would go right round the West Coast and the north of Scotland.
Roads are arteries of wealth, commerce and trade. Scotland is one of the worst balanced countries in the world, with three-quarters of the population living in a belt 30 miles wide, while its great area to the north is depopulated and subject to constant further depopulation. It is not good, it is not healthy economically for the country, and the whole of the Kingdom would benefit if this could be better adjusted. It could be better adjusted if we could provide adequate arteries. In my constituency and throughout the Highlands wherever there are good roads there is a comparatively flourishing local life, but in a great many districts that does not obtain. I ask my right hon. Friend to give serious attention to this matter.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)
I wish to congratulate the Treasury on giving so much more money towards the development of roads this year. Previously, the whole sum to be spent over the whole country was £1 million. That was so inadequate that really desperate cases could not be attended to.
The Ministry of Transport has been particularly good about my applications for work to be done. After four people were killed, the Ministry agreed to the placing of a traffic island on Sawley crossroads, for which I had been asking for years. This year, the Minister has promised that a start is to be made with Cavendish Bridge. Last week I received a letter from the Ministry saying that in Ashby a refuge is to be established in the main street—after that project had been turned down several times.
I have to thank the Minister for these improvements. I put a Question down on Monday, but I was five minutes late. and now the Minister has an application from me in regard to the A6 road at 840 Hathern, where there have been 57 accidents, two of which proved fatal. I do hope that the Minister will give this question more than casual attention because this main road is a very dangerous black spot.
Time and again I have noticed that buses rush through when traffic lights turn red and I think that something drastic ought to be done about that. It does not happen occasionally; I have noticed it repeatedly. I have also noticed that when there is ample space for two cars to stand at the lights one car takes up the whole space. People behaving in that fashion and taking up the whole of the space in order to get off before the other car immediately the amber light appears, should be punishable by fine.
During the Christmas Recess I was knocked head over heels in Oxford Street. I crossed when the green light was showing but, by the time I was three-quarters of the way over, a motor cycle appeared and knocked me over. Luckily I sustained no injury. I think I can claim to be the oldest driver in this House. On my car I have a veteran's badge for 49 years' driving. Through all that time, whether by act of God or carefulness, I have never had an accident or made a claim against an insurance company. Nor have I ever been fined for dangerous driving—
§ Mr. Follick
—so I think that I am in a position to speak on careful driving.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) that one drink when driving is too many. When I have had a whisky and soda on a cold night I have found that I take risks which I would not otherwise take. My hon. Friend is quite right, although he was out of order in talking about that subject.
Taxi drivers are sometimes not very obliging on the roads. Some of them are, but the majority are not and they do not give signals properly. When driving an empty cab, they dawdle and will not give way to other traffic. As they are almost a public service—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member seems to be addressing his remarks to the behaviour of motorists on the roads. 841 whereas the Motion is concerned with improvements of the road themselves. I can see that there is some connection between the two subjects, but the hon. Member seems to be confining himself to the most remote branch of the subject under discussion.
§ Mr. Follick
I stand corrected, Mr. Speaker, but these are grouses which I have been aching to voice for a long time.
I now turn to the Motion. Is there any reason why zebra crossings cannot be put in front of traffic lights? We notice that in Paris pedestrian crossings are always in front of traffic lights so that, when the lights change, people may cross over in safety. Crowds of people wait until the traffic lights change and then cross on the pedestrian crossings. Our pedestrian crossings seem to be placed anywhere, and there is no definite rule. If the pedestrian knew that in front of the traffic lights he could expect to find a zebra crossing he would use the crossing as is done in Paris.
I admit that in Paris people are traffic-minded. From the days of Napoleon, Haussmann planned marvellous roads and streets in Paris. They have remained traffic-minded ever since, but we do not seem ever to have been traffic-minded. Our road improvements seem to be made in a higgledy-piggledy fashion all over the country.
An hon. Member opposite spoke about the non-skid surfacing of roads. I have always felt safer on a non-skid surfaced road on a wet night and have found when coming off a greasy road on to a good surface that there is a great improvement. If that system could be copied more generally in this country, we could avoid a great number of accidents.
When I was in Chicago last year I saw a huge lakeside road on which the barrier dividing the two streams of traffic either way is moved across from the centre to provide more room for the traffic going to the town in the morning. It is moved more to the other side to allow the heavier return traffic more room to proceed from the town. I do not know if with benefit we could adopt that principle on some of our roads.
When I was in Russia in 1943, I found that in the school playgrounds vehicles 842 are used in order to teach the children road sense. I see, Mr. Speaker, that I am incurring your wrath once more, and I must speak about the improvement of roads rather than the improvement of persons. I also know that a friend of mine wishes to catch a train and I promised not to speak for too long.
If some attention were given to better developed planning throughout the country instead of higgledy-piggledy planning—if councils were able to plan for two or three years in advance and knew whether money could be spent in their area—instead of hon. Members having to urge improvements on the Minister, the right hon. Gentleman would be a great deal less worried by complaints and Questions, and a developed plan could succeed, whereas the business of making an improvement here and there really proves to be a failure.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I wish to raise one constituency matter which I consider to be relevant, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, even if he is not able to deal with it in the course of his reply, will give it his attention later.
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) on the way in which he impressed upon the House the importance of this subject. There has been one deficiency about the debate so far in that little has been said about the rural areas, with the exception of what my noble Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) had to say about the Highlands of Scotland. I hope to remedy that deficiency, and in doing so I wish to refer to an area which is in great contrast to the Scottish Highlands—the Fens, and particularly that part in the Isle of Ely.
During the war the county council was wise enough to utilise in the Isle of Ely the provisions of the Agricultural Miscellaneous Act in such a way that instead of the concrete fenways, which were then built, continuing to be the responsibility of the internal drainage boards, they were taken over by the county council and turned into Class C roads to link up the pre-war highways. Unfortunately, neighbouring authorities, in particular in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, did not adopt the same practice, 843 and there still exist concrete fenways the maintenance of which is the responsibility of internal drainage boards.
To me and to all who use these roads it appears absurd that a body with no experience in the upkeep of roads should have the responsibility of maintaining these fenways. What is more absurd is that there are 17 Orders in existence which have been served on the boards regarding the maintenance and upkeep of the fenways, and not one of them has been implemented, because, were that to be done, the rates would be put up to such a level that it might well lead to a riot among the ratepayers.
These roads are used by the general public and they are traversed by very heavy transport vehicles which have no connection with agriculture. With my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard), I recently made a tour of inspection of these fenways. We found that they are deteriorating at an alarming rate, and if something is not done to improve them, not only will they become dangerous, but the possibilities of food production in the area will be affected.
At present they are the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture. I maintain that the responsibility should be transferred to the Ministry of Transport, which should handle the matter through the county councils. I appreciate that it will be difficult to persuade other county councils to agree to this course of action. I suggest that the quickest method of achieving this would be for the Ministry of Transport to enable the county councils to dispense with the high standard which at present they have to insist upon before they can take over a road.
I believe that the right thing to do is to make the county council highways authority responsible for the roads and to improve the roads as rapidly as possible. I admit that the cost is enormous; it will probably take £3,000 a mile to put the roads right. However, so long as agricultural production remains as important as, it seems to me, it will remain for many years to come, we should ensure that the lines of communication for this industry are attended to side by side with the improvements to the lines of communication for our other great industries.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
I am very grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) for cutting short his remarks so that the two Front Benches may bring the debate to a close by 4 p.m. The Parliamentary Secretary has such a strong case to answer in view of what has been said from both sides of the House that he will need a considerable time.
As the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, rarely in these debates have we had such unanimity upon matters which often give rise to partisan points of view. On this occasion the debate has been marked by a universal expression of opinion that the Government's programme is inadequate to the needs of the country. The debate has enabled a large number of hon. Members to put forward valuable and essential points about the programme or the need for an extension of the programme within their own constituencies. I certainly wholeheartedly share the expressions of thanks which have been offered from hon. Members on both sides of the House to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams), who respectively moved and seconded the Motion, for having raised the matter today and giving hon. Members this opportunity to put forward their own views.
I hope that the debate has made an impression upon the Parliamentary Secretary and that he will convey the views which have been so forcibly put forward not only to his right hon. Friend but also to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On an occasion like this, when the expenditure is so largely the responsibility of the Treasury, it is very regrettable that we should have had no direct representative of the Treasury here to listen to the views of hon. Members.
The hon. Members who moved and seconded the Motion were courageous in their speeches. They began by giving credit to the Government for what they have done, but they gradually slipped down a very slippery slope and ended up by being very critical. They have every reason to be critical. The hon. Member for Peterborough stated that. within the next three years, the Government would treble expenditure upon new construction, but he did not point out how much the expenditure is at present. 845 A very small amount indeed is now being spent, and to talk in terms of trebling a very petty sum does not make that small sum a large one. The amount at present being spent on new road construction is only £5 million, and it will be three years before the amount rises to £15 million. An additional expenditure of £15 million within three years is very small in comparison with the needs of the roads and the country's total expenditure.
During the current year no more than the £5 million which has been spent during the last few years will be devoted to this purpose; in other words, there is no increase whatsoever in expenditure on new road construction during the current financial year. Next year the increase will be only £2 million, and in the financial year 1956–57 the increase will be only £7 million. Thus, during those three years the total increase will be only £9 million, an average per year of £3 million.
To suggest, as the Minister did at a public dinner last night, and as one or two hon. Members who have been trying to be nice to him have done, that we are trebling the expenditure means practically nothing. The figures are insignificant and quite inadequate. It is true, as has been pointed out, that maintenance has been increased, but the maintenance of the roads is an annual charge which must be met in any case. The roads are the permanent way for all the vehicles which move along them, and, as a matter of fact, only 78 per cent. is being spent on maintenance today as compared with before the war.
It is true that, even with that figure of 78 per cent., modern developments, mechanisation and so on are enabling more work to be done, but it is quite clear that the roads are not being maintained at the same level as they were before the war on an expenditure of only 78 per cent. of the pre-war figure. Therefore, both on the side of new construction and on that of maintenance, the case for increased expenditure on the roads is unanswerable.
As one of my hon. Friends said in a very useful contribution, the Treasury, and not the Minister of Transport, are largely to blame for the failure to increase expenditure. That is probably true, and I have no doubt that the Minister has been doing his utmost to get a larger allocation of expenditure for the roads. but I 846 regret that sometimes the Minister of Transport makes more than the most of a bad job in answering Questions and in replying to debates in this House, and there has been a little confusion between commitments and expenditure, which emerged particularly during our last debate.
The actual commitments for the next three years involve £50 million, but, of these new commitments, there is an increase of only £9 million, so that we must not talk in terms of a three years' road programme of £50 million when only £9 million more will be spent in that time. That is what I cannot understand, and it has come out particularly in the constituency points made today. Why must there be this time-lag between being committed to expenditure on schemes which have been already planned and the actual expenditure of the money on those schemes? It seems to me that this time-lag is used as an excuse or is invented in order to prevent further expenditure and to delay actual expenditure on new road construction.
I have an example in my own constituency which I have frequently raised in this House—the Great Cambridge Road —which is one of the main arteries out of London. There is a dual carriageway for a certain length, and now the Minister has authorised the construction of a dual carriageway for a further three miles. The total length which requires the dual carriageway, and for which the land has been purchased and all the plans are ready, is only five miles, but the Minister prefers to do the three-mile stretch during this first programme and let the remaining two miles wait until some other time, although the additional cost of the other two miles is only £100,000. That seems to me to be an example of the niggling way in which expenditure is being meted out and of the unnecessary delays that are taking place in carrying out the road programme.
I feel that we can afford more than £50 million of capital expenditure on the roads in three years. After all, the Budget today is well over £4,000 million, and, surely, we must be getting our priorities wrong somewhere if we cannot increase our expenditure on the roads to a greater extent, when industry, trade and agriculture, through their organisations and through hon. Members here, have 847 made it absolutely clear that failure to improve the road system of this country is a handicap on production, is a factor in efficiency, and, of course, is involving the country in very considerable waste in manpower, in time and in road safety.
This is a matter of urgency, which should be treated as we have treated problems which confronted us in wartime. If there were an emergency, there would be no hesitation in tackling the problem. It is not as though it cannot be tackled. The manpower and the materials are here, and the job could be done if there was willingness, determination and imagination to cope with it. When a problem seemed insurmountable during the war, the Government put someone on to it and a solution was found. In the same way we could tackle this problem of the inadequacy of our road system.
Several Members have repeated the suggestion, which was mooted by the British Road Federation, of financing road expenditure by loan. If the Parliamentary Secretary turns this down, I hope he will give us a more convincing reason than has yet been put forward why a road loan cannot be accepted by the Government. What are the real objections to it? I cannot understand why it is impossible for the Treasury to raise on the open market £50 million or whatever may be necessary for the new programme. Interest and amortisation could be met out of current expenditure over 15, 20 or 30 years, and the capital expenditure could be a below-the-line item in the Budget.
That is not bad business or bad financing, because road loans would be capital investment. Every new road or major improvement to a road increases efficiency, and saves money for industry and agriculture as well as for the community as a whole. What holds the Government back from treating this suggestion seriously? I stress the point about a road loan, which is a method which has been followed in other countries and in other industries in this country.
Why do the Government allow very large capital expenditure to take place in other industries through borrowing? Roads need it just as much. The dividend in increased production and industrial efficiency which would come from that expenditure would be very great, but 848 because it has to be financed in the first place by the Treasury the money is not forthcoming and the roads are treated as the Cinderella of industry. Besides, it is easy for the Treasury to raid the money, which is raised from the taxation of the motorist and commercial vehicle users and put into the general revenue, instead of using it for the purpose for which the tax was originally imposed.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) made a most interesting and valuable speech on the problem in the metropolis. This problem cannot possibly be solved by palliatives. As the Advisory Committee points out, we have nearly reached the end of palliatives—the restrictions, the unilateral parking and so on.
A much bolder approach will have to be made to the problem in London. Some hon. Members have mentioned banning the entry of private cars into the inner centre of the metropolis. Unless this were absolutely essential we would not want to adopt it, but if something is not done about new road construction and the construction of underground car parks in London, we shall have to take drastic measures which will be unpopular and which none of us wish to see imposed.
This debate has quite clearly shown that the Government's road policy is mistaken, because it is false economy. There is no doubt whatever about that. This failure to keep up our roads to modern requirements is resulting in an appalling waste to industry, in waste of human life and limb due to the increased danger on the roads. and in damage to health.
The answer is either to make the roads fit the vehicles or to impose restrictions on the number of vehicles which may use the roads. To adopt the latter course would be defeatist and would be to admit our failure to cope with the problem. We have to make the roads large enough, build new motor roads and so on in order to cope with the increasing number of vehicles which will use the roads as the months go by.
I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to face the fact that our roads are out of date and must be modernised and developed. If these roads, originally built for the stage coaches of the Regency and 849 Victorian eras, are to cope with the high-powered diesel commercial vehicles and streamlined motor coaches, far more will have to be spent, otherwise the flow of traffic will come very nearly to a standstill and the loss to the country will be considerable.
I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary at Whitsun should himself travel on the roads and witness the congestion which, if the weather is fine, we all know will occur. As at Easter, the vehicles will be returning in the evening practically bumper to bumper. If that does not teach him how essential it is that something more should be done by the Government, then nothing will.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
My right hon. Friend and I are very glad that the House of Commons is showing so keen an interest in the whole problem of transport, and especially this particularly difficult problem of the modernisation and development of roads to deal with the ever-increasing burden of road traffic.
The debate which we have had this afternoon has, I think, been of a most useful and constructive character. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) drafted his Motion in such a way as to enable almost every subject connected with roads and traffic to be included. That has been of greater advantage to hon. Members than to me, because it really will be difficult for me to deal with the general issues of national importance that have been raised and, at the same time, to deal with the particular cases of great local importance which hon. Members have put forward on behalf of their constituencies.
I shall try first to deal with the general matters of policy, and afterwards to deal with as many of the other individual matters as I can. I hope, however, that hon. Members will not think it any discourtesy on my part, and will attribute it to either lack of time or inadvertence. if I do not deal with any particular points that they have raised. I shall certainly study HANSARD afterwards.
I can say that I have heard the speeches of every Member in this debate except the speech of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). He had the 850 kindness and consideration to say that during his speech I might go and take a little refreshment—the solid refreshment which he would regard as a proper and necessary fortification of the human system, and if I had a little liquid refreshment at the same time I hope he will overlook the human frailty that that discloses.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough began by referring to the very great increase in expenditure which has been accepted by the Government, and which has only become possible as a result of the great improvement in this country's economic and financial position. But I think—and especially after the speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), who alone today appeared to-be seeking to make party points—that it would be useful if I actually gave the figures, including those for which the Government of which the hon. Member was a member were responsible.
The first figure, which is of great interest, was the expected expenditure in 1947–48. This was to be the beginning of the Barnes plan. Great special motor roads all over the country were to be built in the brave new world that the Socialist Government were to introduce. The estimated expenditure for that year was £38,575,000. Unfortunately, however, there supervened one of those financial crises with which we became familiar during the time that hon. Members opposite were in office, and so the actual expenditure was not £38,575,000 but £3,647,000.
The year after, the expectation was £4,100,000, but the actual expenditure went up to £6,083,000. Encouraged by that, they expected expenditure of, and estimated for, £8,100,000 in 1949–50, but again there was a sharp decline from over £8 million to £4,239,000. After that we had, in 1950–51 just over £4 million expenditure; in 1951–52 just over £3 million; in 1952–53 £3,533,000. In 1953–54, an original estimate of £3,547,000 was raised later, as a result of the special contributions which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer found himself able to make, to £6,376,000. Our commitments in 1954–55 under the new programme are £19,360,000; in 1955–56, £17,840,000; 1956–57 £12,710,000.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
Those are commitments. That is not expenditure. That is what has been authorised for work to be started, but that amount is not going to be spent in that period.
§ Mr. Molson
I had already said that I paused to deal with the point that was raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, East.
I was pleased to find him referring complacently today to the difference between commitments and expenditure. I very well remember giving a supplementary answer to him in January or February, in which for the first time, I think, I made plain to him what the difference is between commitments and expenditure.
§ Mr. Molson
Judging by the questions the hon. Gentleman asked he did not seem to know at all.
It is perfectly obvious that, when we are negotiating with local highway authorities and offering them a grant of 50 per cent., or 60 per cent. or 75 per cent. as the case may be, and when we are leaving it to them to take the initiative, and when there has to be careful investigation of the cases in which grant is to be paid, and when great schemes of road development are to be undertaken, there has to be a considerable lapse between the time when approval is given and the time the work is begun.
Of course, we do not pay our grant when the work is begun. We make contributions from time to time as the work progresses, but the final payment is made only after the work has been completed, and when we are satisfied with the way in which it has been done. It is the case under this Government, as it was under the previous Government, that there is a difference between commitments accepted and the payments made. It is because we are now able confidently to look ahead that we have accepted these commitments for the coming years.
Hon. Members in whose constituencies these great projects of trunk roads are being undertaken, costing £2 million and more, will not be surprised to learn that it will be some time before the bills are finally presented to us and paid. Some of the most efficient of the local authorities themselves scrutinise the bills so 852 carefully that it is a long time after the work has been completed when they actually present their demands to us for the payment of grants.
I have given those figures to illustrate the very great increase in new construction which will result from the programme announced on 8th December last. I would point out to my hon. Friend that the expenditure amounts to very much more nearly five times what has been spent before than the three-fold increase he is good enough to mention in his Motion.
§ Mr. Molson
More nearly five times what was spent before.
I now come to the figures for the total expenditure on new construction and maintenance which will be provided in the future. In 1953–54 the total payment from the Exchequer was £33 million. In 1954–55 it is estimated to be £38½ million, but when the whole programme is in full operation, and when payments have overtaken commitments, we expect that the average payment per year by the Exchequer in respect of roads will be about £48 million. That appears to us to be about as large a programme as it is wise and prudent for us to undertake at the present time, and as can be maintained over a period of time.
At the same time as there has been this very great increase in expenditure upon major improvements and new construction we have been able to make a substantial increase in the amount of money to be spent upon maintenance. As a result of the increase of £4 million a year we shall be back to about 78 per cent. of pre-war expenditure, taking into account the increase in the prices of raw materials and of wages. We believe that, as a result, we shall be maintaining our roads at certainly as good a level as that at which they were maintained before the war, and probably at a slightly better one, with perhaps one small exception where it will take a little time to get back to what we were doing before the war. 853 This recent increase of £4 million will enable 13 per cent. more work to be done in the way of maintenance in this and in coming years than was done last year. We have not yet been able to do quite as much in the way of minor improvement work as was done before. This included the improvement of bends and sight lines within existing highways and minor widenings of carriageways and the provision of footpaths for schoolchildren. We attach great importance to that from the point of view of road safety.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Does that 78 per cent. take account of the great reduction in the manpower required to do the same amount of road work, in view of the enormous mechanisation that has taken place in the last few years?
§ Mr. Molson
That is exactly the point to which I was coming.
Machines have been produced which materially reduce the amount of work required to do the same amount of maintenance. They also improve the quality of the maintenance that is done. Machines have been produced which speed up and cheapen the operation of providing strong haunches to carriageways. That has an important effect upon the life of the road, and also enables traffic to go right to the side of the road without causing the verge to collapse, which has been a main cause of maintenance costs in the past. Machines have also been devised for cutting verges and hedges. These have contributed to the speed and frequency with which those operations can be carried out.
Apart from the Barber-Greenes and those other pieces of plant that I have mentioned, important contributions to the mechanisation of our operations have been made by bulk sprayers for surface dressing, gritters and loaders, heating and planing machines. These are now being brought into use almost everywhere, and in this matter there has been the closest co-operation between my Department and the Road Research Laboratory.
I pass to the question whether it is really a practicable proposition at the present time to talk about a great loan for road construction. The advantages have been stated to be, first, security, second, continuity, and, third, priority, for road expenditure. I am not sure that the advocates of a loan have fully thought 854 out all its implications. In the first place, they are quite clear that they want the whole sum raised on the market at the present time.
§ Mr. Molson
That was the suggestion originally put forward by my predecessor, the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite).
To take £500 million out of the money market for this special purpose would quite obviously cause a very serious disruption of the money market and would embarrass the Treasury and local authorities in raising funds for all the other purposes of central and local government. When this money had been borrowed it could not be spent all at once. Indeed, the spending of it would be spread over 30 years. My hon. Friend, when he put this proposal forward, spoke of a money box which could not be rifled or raided. Obviously, therefore, much of that money would be lying completely idle.
In the second place, interest would have to be paid upon it. If the money were raised at the rate of 3½ per cent., the interest upon it, without mentioning amortisation, would be £17½ million per year. This, of course, could not be raised out of the present taxation, as we have no Budget surplus large enough to enable that to be done. In any case, if we were to incur an additional debt in this way the interest upon it would have to be provided for.
I do not know whether motorists would welcome a proposal for special taxation to raise £17½ million a year in order to pay interest upon this special debt incurred for the roads. It would, however, obviously be open to the great objection, which I think is generally accepted, that we no longer agree to the principle of earmarking sources of revenue for one particular purpose.
As mentioned in this debate, as far back as 1936 the Road Fund ceased to be an individual fund and the whole proceeds are paid into the Exchequer. From that time onwards, what is called the Road Fund has been money voted by this House to the Minister of Transport in exactly the same way as Estimates are voted to the Admiralty or to the War Office. Roads, however useful, are not revenue earning unless they are toll roads, and to increase the economic prosperity 855 of the country is not the same thing as to raise the additional revenue necessary to cover the interest upon roads.
§ Mr. Davies
What is the objection to raising a smaller loan? It has been suggested that an annual sum of £50 million could be raised, being the difference between the total of £100 million to be spent and £150 million, which is the least amount needed. The interest would come out of the Consolidated Fund.
§ Mr. Nicholls
Is it not wrong of the Minister to deal with a point made in a previous debate? My suggestion today did not mention a £500 million loan but £20 million extra per year for seven years in addition to plans already promised. The Minister's arguments resisting a £500 million loan certainly do not apply to my suggestion made today, and it is in his answer to my point that I am interested.
§ Mr. Molson
The difficulty of these proposals is that when one is dealing with one, one cannot at the same time be dealing with another. I am dealing with the proposal that was made by my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West on a previous occasion. That particular objection may not arise in other cases, but some others do.
It is also claimed that this proposal would provide for continuity of road expenditure. It has been the practice of Governments, of both parties—and I should have thought that it was the accepted view of economists—that a modern Chancellor of the Exchequer must control expenditure with a view to maintaining employment at a high and stable level and the economy in a state of equilibrium.
I am sure that no Chancellor of the Exchequer would be willing to abandon completely the right to speed up and slow down road construction in order to deal with a state of deflation or of inflation. Even when local authorities have been willing to provide the whole of the money themselves for public works, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, both in the previous Government and in the present Government, has considered it necessary to retain power to prevent them spending that money, so as to avoid an excessive demand upon labour or materials.
856 The loan has been advocated as a method of obtaining priority. The suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough was that it should be additional to the expenditure out of revenue which has already been announced. I have stated earlier that the programme of 8th December increases by nearly five times the rate of expenditure upon new road construction and that that will throw quite a sufficient additional strain upon our economy. To increase greatly this programme would cause great distortion in the state of full employment which now exists.
A great increase in work upon the roads would necessitate drawing labour away from other equally important and, in the case of the exporting industries, more important work. Already, the programme that we have announced has resulted in a substantial increase in the number of men employed on highway works by local authorities. In an earlier debate this year I gave the figure of men employed upon the roads as 81,000, and it has already gone up to 87,000. In addition, about 7,500 men are working for contractors engaged on highway work.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has gone as far as is reasonably practicable to provide the security and continuity and some measure of priority for which my hon. Friends have been asking. Subject to Parliamentary control, expenditure has been promised for three years, and it has been made quite clear that it is our intention that expenditure shall continue at the rate of £14½ million from the Exchequer for a number of years.
As regards priority, there is a tremendous number of demands upon the Exchequer. As Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, I am naturally inclined to agree with hon. Members on the very great importance that attaches to roads and all other forms of transport; but hon. Members are constantly pressing for increases in expenditure in all other departments of the national life which appear to them to be extremely important. There have been no fewer than two debates recently in which a special matter has appeared to enjoy high priority in their minds.
Among the many subjects which have been raised today has been that of 857 London traffic. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) dealt with the matter in a reasonable and detached way. I dealt with this matter in a previous debate and it is difficult to go into its complexities, but it is so important that I think I should devote a certain amount of time to it.
I appeal for the co-operation and support of all hon. Members, who complain about London traffic, when we take steps to try to deal with the problem. First, I want to say something in defence of the Metropolitan Police. They cannot be expected to prosecute motorists for obstruction or for illegal parking when they are not able to tell the motorists where they can go in order to keep within the law. My right hon. Friend and I have been in consultation with the Metropolitan Police, and we have been anxious that something more should be done.
The Metropolitan Police attach importance to preserving their good relationships with the public, and they are most anxious that, until they are able to make more constructive suggestions, they should not be taking "chivvying" action. My right hon. Friend is the traffic authority for the Metropolitan area because under the Act of 1924 he is the traffic authority for an area of approximately 25 miles around Charing Cross. However, he is not the only traffic authority. The local authorities within that area enjoy the powers which are appropriate to their status; they have powers comparable to those which the authorities in other parts of the country have. They have not often exercised them in conflict with the powers of my right hon. Friend, but it is important to realise that they possess them.
Many of those authorities are highway authorities, and my right hon. Friend is not a highway authority, except for trunk roads. It follows, therefore, that although he has power to make traffic regulations, he has no general powers to put up traffic signals and signs. Therefore, whenever it is proposed to take further steps, agreement is necessary between the Minister of Transport, the police and the local authority.
As has been announced to the House, a number of new restrictions were started on 1st January, 1953, which proved 858 successful. My right hon. Friend then announced that he had others in mind which he hoped to introduce shortly. I hope it will be possible to introduce them very soon, but we have not yet obtained the assent of all the local authorities concerned. I would emphasise, therefore, that my right hon. Friend is not the dictator of traffic in the London area. It is really difficult to introduce traffic order when responsibility and power are as dispersed as at present.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North referred to many opportunities which have been missed in the rebuilding of London. Again, that is not the responsibility, nor does it come within the power, of my right hon. Friend. The London County Council is the planning authority for London. It has prepared the London Plan. I was particularly interested in what the hon. Member said about an hotel being built at the corner of Conduit Street and Bond Street. One of the first things I did when I was translated from the Ministry of Works to the Ministry of Transport was to ask why we had allowed that hotel to be built at that particularly congested point.
The planning authority is the London County Council, which is obliged to consult the Ministry of Transport only about entry to and egress from the hotel. This it did, and we asked for an unloading bay to be built, and for the Bond Street front to be arcaded. This is being done; but the council did not consult us as to whether an hotel should be built there at all.
Nothing is causing my right hon. Friend more concern at present than the congestion of London traffic. Under the 1924 Act he is the traffic authority, and he has a feeling of direct responsibility in the matter, but in the case of a whole lot of things that he would like to do he does not exercise the control which is necessary to give effect to that responsibility.
I hope that I have dealt reasonably fully with the general matters which have been raised. I also hope that hon. Members who have referred to road safety will take some slight measure of comfort from the more recent figures. The increase in traffic accidents is not proportionate to the increase in the number of vehicles. In the first quarter of 1954 there 859 was a slight decrease in the number of accidents compared with the same period of last year.
A number of individual cases have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey) referred again to Barton Bridge. We have allocated to Lancashire a full and fair share of the total money available. I can only repeat what my hon. Friend said on 15th February:the Lancashire authorities told me that Preston and Lancaster by-passes and Wilderspool crossing at Warrington should come first and I had to pay regard to that advice."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1954; Vol. 523, c. 1717.]My right hon. Friend and I are both aware of the very great needs at Barton Bridge, and we will see what we can do to ensure that that scheme has some place in the road programme.
My noble Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) spoke about the Highlands. We believe that the Highlands have not only received their fair share of the general road programme, but, owing to the persistence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, there is the special grant of £1 million. Road works in the Highlands, costing in all £234,000, are to be started this year, and, over the three years 1954, 1955, and 1956 it is hoped that a great deal more will be undertaken.
We sympathise with the case which has been put forward and I undertake that all the arguments which have been advanced will be most carefully considered by my right hon. Friend and the Government.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House, whilst it appreciates the Government's action in trebling the expenditure on major road improvement and development compared with the past years, further urges, in the interest of road safety and industrial efficiency, that an even more extensive road programme be inaugurated than is envisaged in the Ministerial statement of 8th December, 1953.