When the Debate was interrupted I was saying that the central criticism of the Bill is to be found in Sub-section (2) of Clause 3. When the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was introducing this Bill I asked him, with reference to Clause 9, which contains provision for the holding of inquiries, whether these inquiries would be held on his initiative, and he assured me that they would be. It is useless to hold an inquiry unless action is to follow. Clause 3, Sub-section (2), says:
Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Minister on any such application may make an order.
The words "any such application" refer to Sub-section (1), and that is the centre of my complaint against the Bill. Unless the owner or the authorities make a move, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is powerless. The gravity of the need which this Bill seeks to meet can hardly be over-estimated. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned what he called the industrial Midlands, and I believe that in an area there of 30 miles by 40 miles there are two or three thousand bridges which cannot bear the weight of modern traffic. That alone shows that this subject ought to have been dealt with years ago. The Bill is not drastic enough. I do not care anything about the question of public ownership; the point is that we must enable people and goods to get from one place to another more cheaply and quickly than they can now, and we know how these bridges interrupt the traffic. At Liverpool, where enormous improvements have been effected in town planning, a bridge of this type is holding up the passage of heavy traffic. That is happening all over the country, and I reinforce what the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) said about what might have been done if the Road Fund had been applied to its proper purpose. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned a sum of £250,000 which he allocated for this purpose this year. He could spend only a quarter of that sum, and I have not the least doubt that millions could probably be spent on this purpose. The spending of that money would not only employ men, but leave behind an asset to the country which would help the transport problem in many ways. We all know cases where a bad, insufficient, obsolete bridge, which is not powerful enough, can hold up the traffic on miles of roads, and it is no good starting on improvements to the roads until there are adequate bridges. My Friends will not offer any opposition to the passage of this Bill, but I hope that we shall make some attempt to make it more drastic.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) that this Bill ought to have been prefaced by a White Paper to give the House and the public some idea of what is involved in it. Will the passage of this Bill do anything to compel owners of private bridges to contribute more for the reconstruction of these bridges?
I am sure that the Minister does not think that I am so simple as that, nor do I think that he is so naive as he appears to be. Within 25 miles of Charing Cross are 400 bridges which have bottle necks on the great roads which are being developed. When we were going in for the grandiose scheme of trunk roads and arterial development, the bridges should have been the first consideration, but we have now come to the empasse that the trunk roads and arterial roads have bottle necks because of these narrow bridges. I can see my dear old friend the landowner watching you build these great roads; as the owner of a private bridge, he would know that his compensation was secure, and that in the making of arterial roads the value of his assets would go up in proportion to the country's necessity. To return to the 400 bridges within 25 miles of Charing Cross: I am asking the Minister what will be the net cost to the local authorities, and what will be the amount of the contributions from the Road Fund for the reconstruction of these bridges? These people are, by law, obliged to contribute only £750. The net cost for the reconstruction of the Regent's Canal bridge was £11,000, and the company only contributed £750. That is a typical illustration of what will go on all over the country, unless provision is made to compel private owners to contribute much more. I think it would be quite a good idea to call upon the owners to capitalise what the upkeep of the bridge would be year by year; and, to put it at a conservative estimate, that would be £50. You would then find that the sum for each bridge would work out at something like £2,000. With 400 bridges there is going to be a capital cost of £800,000. Who is going to pay? How much are private owners going to contribute towards this sum? These are all questions which arise in one's mind to which one finds no answer in the Bill.
Clause 4 is a very contentious one. It has already been discussed, and one could not follow up what has been said without going into meticulous details more suited to a Committee stage speech. But there is one passage in the Bill which I should like the Minister to explain. It occurs at the top of page 4, in Clause 3 (2, d). In that paragraph the Minister provides:
for the transfer to and vesting in a highway authority of the property in the bridge or road carried thereby or the approaches thereto, and of all rights and obligations other than any right to take tolls.
I would like the Minister to tell us exactly what that means. We have in mind the case of a bridge taken over in the county of Kent. A private company charged tolls for the use of that bridge. The bridge was reconstructed and, after public funds had been used to reconstruct it, the private company still continued to exact toils; and after having received enhanced tolls after the reconstruction of the bridge, the company sold the tolls back to the local authority, I wish to know whether this innocent-looking little passage is inserted to encourage this little piece of—shall I call it business—on the part of toll owners. Does this mean that the tolls are exempt and are still to be retained in the hands of the private owners; or are they a saleable commodity after the bridge has been constructed to the profit of the previous owner?
The answer is that we do not think it is right to deal with tolls in this Bill. If the hon. Member looks at Sub-section (6) he will see that the Minister:
shall not, on the application of the owner of a bridge to which any right to take tolls is attached, make an order tinder this section with respect to that bridge without the consent of the highway authority or authorities.
That is to prevent anything being done which would in any way increase the value of the tolls. We regard the highway authorities as the guardians of the public rights.
Perhaps the Minister of Transport will lay down his task with greater relief than any other Minister, and hand over all the obligations and difficulties under this Bill to the Labour Minister who will take his place. Another thing to which I wish to call attention is to be found in Clause 6. On page 7 it says:
Where the bridge is a bridge crossing a railway or canal of a railway company….any additional expense incurred by the owners of that railway, canal, lock, passage or work, by reason or any alteration thereof, due to the provisions of the order, not being provisions applied for by the owners for the improvement of their undertaking, shall be defrayed by one or more of the highway authorities.
I openly challenge any owner of a private bridge to say that he will not be in pocket after the improvement has been carried out?
The advantage is to the public. It does not help a railway company or a canal company if a bridge over their property is made better. The people who will benefit are the public.
The reading of this Clause means, if it means anything at all, that benefits are bound to accrue to somebody by virtue of the reconstructed bridge, and the owners have to be compensated because they did not ask for those improvements to be made. As I have said, I do not want to be meticulous or make a Committee speech on the Bill, but I do ask that the questions I have put may be dealt with by the Minister because I am not speaking as one who looked into this matter only yesterday nor, indeed, am I speaking entirely on my own responsibility. I have discussed this matter with our local authorities in Staffordshire, and in Staffordshire, as it will be known, we are bottlenecked on many of our roads by inefficient bridges. In speaking to our surveyors and other local authority officials, and talking to men who have made it their business to look after the roads, I have found that they are frankly suspicious of this Bill. They are just as suspicious as I am—though for another reason. As the House well knows, I am always watching the vast expenditure of public money on the making of roads and the reconstruction of bridges, all of which goes to enhance the value of land. If I had my way, I would know where to get the money to cover the cost of reconstruction, without going to the Road Fund or the local authorities. I would make the betterment value which arises from these improvements pay its contribution. I had intended to say something of what is going on in Scotland, but one of my hon. Friends who is more native to the soil at the moment than I am has something to say on that subject.
The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) seems to think this Bill will prove of benefit to landowners or bridge owners. From a perusal of Clause 3, it seems to me that the owners of a bridge may be placed in a position of difficulty and may be considerably prejudiced. By Clause 3 it is provided that if a highway authority considers a bridge:
is or may be by reason of its construction, position or state of repair, dangerous or unsuitable for the requirements of road traffic as then existing or the anticipated development thereof, or that the responsibility for the maintenance and improvement of the road carried by the bridge or the approaches thereto should for any reason be transferred from the owner to a highway authority, the owner or authority may apply to the Minister for an order to provide for the reconstruction or improvement or maintenance of the bridge or road carried thereby or the approaches thereto.
By Sub-section (2) it is further provided that subject to the provisions of the Act the Minister may:
(a) require the execution of such works of reconstruction or improvement either by the owner or by a highway authority as may he specified in the order.
That means that if a highway authority considers that the bridge is not sufficiently strong and requires reconstruction or rebuilding, it may go to the Minister, without any reference to the owner, and the Minister may then, if he thinks fit, make an order requiring the
owner to carry out works of reconstruction or improvement. That order, it is provided by Sub-section (8), is to be a final order. I suggest to the House that that is not a very fair provision. In the first place there ought to be an inquiry by the Minister, and the owner should have the opportunity of attending.
And at that inquiry will the owner be entitled to bring forward expert evidence as regards the structure? May I also ask the Minister whether the owner is to be entitled to carry out this work or is bound to allow the highway authority to carry it out and then run the risk, under Clause 6, of having an order made upon him to pay the whole of the cost of the reconstruction?
The hon. Member must read the Bill. In 99 cases out of 100, the private owners are a railway company or a canal company or a dock company. This is not the case of an ordinary private owner, because he does not own anything. An owner cannot be called upon to pay more than he would be liable to pay for the maintenance and reconstruction of the bridge if this Bill had not been passed.
With great respect, I do not think it is material whether the owner is a railway company or a private person. The point I wish to emphasise is that this order is to be a final one, and that there is no right of appeal against it. I suggest to the House that that is not fair or reasonable. It may even be that no inquiry would be held, because it says in Clause 9 that the Minister "may" hold inquiries. But suppose he does not hold an inquiry, and the owner, whether he be a private person or not, has no opportunity of coming forward to rebut the views of the highway authority? All the authority have to do is to "consider" that the bridge is not sufficiently strong, and once the order is made, the thing is finished, there is finality, there is no right of appeal. Without having had any opportunity of stating his case, the owner may be called upon to pay the whole of the cost of reconstruction. Apparently he is not even to have the opportunity of carrying out the work himself. I suggest that frequently an owner is able to carry out his own work at a lower cost than it would be carried out by a highway authority. At all events he ought to have the opportunity of doing it.
There is no doubt that under the proposals which we are now discussing a good deal of litigation will take place, and, in the end, the cost will be thrown upon the community. I am intervening in this Debate because this Bill applies to Scotland, and the Scottish people have very deep grounds for complaining in regard to what is proposed under this Measure. The roads in Scotland are so constructed that they have very small bridges; in fact, they would not be classed as bridges in England. On this point, I would like to quote what was said by the Minister of Labour yesterday as an excuse for not pushing; on with the making of roads. He said:
I myself have been concerned in building roads, and I have consulted surveyors, and I put it to the ordinary common sense of every hon. Member that if anyone wants to build a road they have to get it purveyed, the plans made, the quantities taken out, the specifications drawn up, and then they have to let the contracts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1029; cols. 2147–48. Vol. 226.]
That was the reason which was given yesterday by the Minister of Labour for not being able to develop road transport more quickly. The right hon. Gentleman told us that more time would be required in order to get the roads properly dealt with. When the survey of the Scottish road between Glasgow and Oban was taken I want to know whether the bridges were included in that survey, and, if so, whether there was any report about the inefficiency of the bridges on that road? Was the question considered in relation to the capacity of the present bridge to carry the increased traffic of the new roads. As a matter of fact, I am informed that when the survey of
the Scottish roads took place, the bridges were left out of consideration. Surely anyone who surveys a road would face all the difficulties, because that is what the survey is intended to overcome. If the question of the bridges was the real difficulty, that ought to have been the first instead of the last consideration. What is the use of building a road 20 feet wide when you are dealing with bridges which are only 10 feet wide and in some cases only six feet wide. Surely, there was no need to have a survey of these roads and to make them 20 feet wide when you have to face the difficulty of all the narrow bridges which are now in existence.
We have been told that road development is taking place in order to find work for the unemployed. To carry out this policy, the Government begin by making large roads, and in that way increase the value of the land to the landlord. Then it is discovered after the roads have been made, that the bridges are too narrow to carry the increased traffic, and, when negotiations are commenced to widen those bridges, the landlords say: "You cannot take the land for increasing the width of your roads for these bridges unless you accept our terms." Therefore, it is a question of the landlord all the time. I would like to know, if these bridges were not included in the survey before the roads were made, what was the reason for making the roads wider than the capacity of the bridges. There must have been some reason, because, if no good reason can be given, such a policy is sheer stupidity. I do not wish to say that the Minister of Transport and those in charge of this Measure have been stupid, but probably they have been pursuing this policy in order to let the biggest landlords grab what they can. They have made the roads first, and, later on, they will come forward and ask for the cost of widening the bridges.
I am dealing with that which makes the bridge of use. You must have access to it in order to use the bridge, and we are now discussing the widening of these bridges in order to let the traffic which the road can carry go over them without being held up.
I was asking why it was that, when the roads were decided upon, the bridges were left out, since the bridge is now a part of the road. If you take the road between Glasgow and Oban, it is no use saying that there is a road between Glasgow and Oban if you say that the bridge is not part of the road.
Then the question of the bridge cannot arise, because it is only in connection with the roads that we have these bridges. With regard to the question of compensation, what is going to be the amount of compensation, for instance, for the right which will have to be bought from the landlord? It must be borne in mind that the counties in Scotland where these bridges are are very poor counties. Are the people in those counties to be saddled with something more because they happen to live in a country where there are many deep gorges and many bridges? Is not the Minister of Transport going to tell us that these bridges are quite suitable for the traffic of the locality, and that the necessity for their extension only arises from the traffic which comes from outside the locality—the traffic from the great cities? During the War, a beautiful bridge was built at Gretna, but the traffic in either direction which passes over that bridge is increasing every month, according to the point-to-point statistics taken in the different counties.
Who has been responsible for leaving, out of consideration the bridges, which should have been the first consideration of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, when schemes for new roads were brought in? Public money is being flung out to relieve unemployment up to the bridges, but there it stops, and now we are asked to start with the bridges in order to make them coincide with the width of the road. It seems to me that that is not merely a mistake. I cannot imagine any surveyor or engineer making a mistake like that. It would seem that, wherever there is a town planning scheme and roads become necessary and there is a bridge anywhere, the landlord is going to be there to add to the rates of the community, because they happen to live in the neighbourhood of that bridge. Is it consistent with human development that these things should take place, especially in a country which claims to be a Christian country, and that, because someone says, "This is my little bridge," a whole community should be bottle-necked and held up? I hope the Minister will see the great need of dealing with these questions in regard to Scotland. In the Highlands conditions obtain in winter which make the bridge problem very difficult. I know that from experience, and that is all the more reason why I cannot understand how the bridges came to be left out when the question of the roads was being considered.
I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions with regard to this Bill. If the owner of a bridge, or a highway authority, considers that the bridge, by reason of its construction and so forth, may be unsuitable for the requirements, certain things may be brought about by an Order made by the Minister, and I should like to ask the Minister what is meant by the issue of such an Order. I heard his interjection during the speech of the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Rye), when he referred the hon. Member to Clause 9, which deals with inquiries. I see that Sub-section (8) of Clause 3 says that
An Order made under this Section shall be final and have effect as if enacted in this Act.
It was stated in the earlier part of the discussion that the Minister may hold an inquiry. That is not to say that he will
hold an inquiry, and I am anxious to know whether or not, when he has made up his mind, he will issue an Order which will be operative as though it were enacted in the Act. I notice that there is no question in the Bill of laying these Orders on the Table of the House. The only direction given in the Bill is for the laying on the Table of what are referred to as Rules, and apparently that does not include these Orders. I hope the Minister will explain what is meant there, so that the interests of the community may be protected in this matter.
I am not going to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) in an endeavour to prove that the bridges are a part of the roads, but I think it will be accepted, even by the Minister, that these improvements in the direction of widening and strengthening the bridges and making them part of the roads will enhance, not only the value of the bridges themselves, but the value of the land, to those who happen to possess it, on the road on either side of the bridge. I can see a wonderful lining of the pockets of a number of people who are concerned with land-holding in the parts where these bridges are strengthened and widened and reconstructed as set out in this Bill, and I hope that something will be done to protect the interests of the community, because it is most unfair that an advantage should be given to certain individuals who have spent no money or effort on improvements, but who will be able to charge a higher price by reason of the improved facilities when these bridges are reconstructed. I put that forward as something which will happen under this Measure, and at the same time I am very much concerned about the Orders and the powers which the Minister is taking to himself.
The hon. Member knows what the Rules of the House are, and I am obliged to call attention to them. Of course, if the House gives permission, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman can reply.
There are really not many points to answer, as I have already dealt during the discussion with some of those that have been raised. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member who spoke last as to Orders being made by the Minister, the first answer I make to it is that this Bill has been agreed by all the interests concerned, including the County Councils Association, although, of course, that does not in any way prejudice any decision by the House. I only want to point out that this is not a hole and corner arrangement made by the Minister himself, but an agreement which, after many years of negotiation, has received the assent of all the associations representing interests that are likely to be affected. I certainly should not give this order to an individual who owned a bridge unless I had an inquiry and took every possible step to see that he was not prejudiced thereby. The hon. Member, like many others on his side of the House, has this King Charles' head in his mind, that anything that is being done must be some nefarious plan to help a private individual to extract money, improperly, out of the community—not only a private individual, but a railway, canal, or dock company. This is not a series of private bridges in all parts of the country. Practically all the bridges that will be affected by the Bill are railway and canal bridges and a few bridges in docks where there are public rights of way. I cannot conceive that to reconstruct a bridge over a railway to enable it to carry 75 tons instead of only five is going to enhance the value of the landlords' land 50 or 100 yards away. It is not a question of building a bridge and making access. It is simply making a certain number of bridges fit to carry the ordinary traffic of the district.
One word about the point raised by the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie). He rather talks as though whenever we reconstruct a road in Scotland we never touch the bridges at all. Has he in his summer holidays taken a motor car and gone, we will say, from Perth to Inverness?
If the hon. Member is dealing only with private bridges, he must be an enthusiastic supporter of the Bill, because the very purpose of it is to deal with bridges in private ownership—I mean bridges belonging to railways, docks, and canal companies—and we have not been able to deal with them, simply because it has been illegal up to now to make a grant from the Road Fund to these trading concerns to help them to reconstruct bridges. Moreover, those trading concerns could not divest themselves of the responsibility of maintaining the bridges without a special Act of Parliament in each case, which is obviously impossible for any considerable number on the ground of expense. Therefore, in this Bill we have enabled the Road Fund to come generously to the assistance of local authorities to do away with these obstructions to traffic. I hope after this explanation the hon. Member will realise that this is really a democratic Bill.
I saw a Report in which a series of bridges were tabulated as having been reconstructed, and in all cases not more than £750 was contributed towards the reconstruction by the owner and the excess, running into thousands of pounds, had to be made up by the local authorities and by grants from the State. Will the Bill change that? Will it make it obligatory on the owners of private bridges to pay, say, 50 per cent., or less, towards the reconstruction? There is no stipulation as to their quota.
I think the hon. Member, perhaps, has not quite appreciated that the owners of the bridges I have in mind, namely, railway, canal and dock companies, do not want to have their bridges reconstructed. It is no advantage to them. The advantage is to the community in being able to use the bridges. Therefore, we say the owners shall not be compelled to find more towards the reconstruction than they would have had to find towards reconstruction and maintenance if the Bill had not been passed. That is only fair.
I take it, when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says they will not be relieved of a penny of liability, they will not be asked to pay any more than they are obliged to pay now.
In the case I cited of the Regent's Canal, the bridge had not only to be reconstructed, but widening had to be made also and, I think, carried out at public expense, and there is a statutory restriction on private companies that they shall not be asked to pay more than £750. I know a certain place in Staffordshire where it is to the advantage of the railway company to have a better bridge arching their railway than the one they now have.
Take a bridge that has been reconstructed so that there is a larger area to be considered from the point of view of paint and upkeep. Is that increased payment going to be borne by the railway companies, or who is to pay it?
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman conceive that under this Bill he has power to grant from the Road Fund subsidies for the benefit of the community in freeing bridges from tolls? I understand the Bill is to facilitate traffic, trade and business and to benefit the community. I do not want to be carpingly critical. The Bill, as it appears to me, will allow the expenditure of public money to make more valuable certain private interests. I think that is inevitable.
We will agree in that respect to differ in opinion whether I may be touching the spot or not. I put a question to him perhaps 18 months ago. The reply was not very committal but it was not directly unsympathetic, that it is possible to use the Road Fund that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has left for the benefit of the roads to benefit some of the working class communities. We have a great bridge at Barrow-in-Furness which serves a thickly populated working class district. It is still a toll bridge. The tolls put an embargo on the wages of the working people. They have to pay to cross it and their wages are consequently reduced. Our town has suffered very much from unemployment, and has been very hardly hit. There is a wonderful foreshore along this island. It might, if developed, become a seaside resort. It has a wonderful stretch of sand, but between it and the town is a toll which would again be an embargo on visitors taking advantage of that which the town has to offer. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that a few pounds from the Road Fund would be very well expended, would be of great advantage to the individual working people of the community of Barrow-in-Furness and would assist the heroic struggle of the borough council in endeavouring to make this foreshore an attractive resort for visitors, especially from the North of England. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if under this Bill he has power to use, for the benefit of the general working class community rather than of certain interests, sums from the Road Fund in the direction which I have indicated, particularly in regard to this toll bridge at Barrow-in-Furness.
May I, by the leave of the House, again answer the hon. Member? I hesitate to say so, but the speech of the hon. Gentleman is entirely out of order and has nothing to do with the Bill. I may say this that I have power, of course, to allocate money from the Road Fund to do away with toll bridges, but I cannot do so until a local authority has put its proposals before me.
On a point of Order. In Clause 3, Sub-section (2, d) there is a definite reference providing
for the transfer to and vesting in a highway authority of the property in the bridge or the road carried thereby or the approaches thereto, and of all or any rights and obligations, other than any right to take tolls.
As far as I can make out from this Bill, what is going to happen is, that the private owner still will take the tolls and we, the community, are to be left to uphold all the new obligations that this Measure will bring into operation.
As this Bill is largely concerned with the expenditure that would be involved, surely, with all respect to your ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it is of the utmost importance that such a matter as this should be weighed in the balance in considering the necessity of public money being expended on this great enterprise of bridges. Therefore, it would not exclude the question which I asked the Minister. I do not discuss tolls as tolls, as I know that that matter is excluded, but I think that it is fair to ask the Minister if, after the passing of the Bill, the tolls will still remain the private property of the owners of bridges which have been reconstructed out of the expenditure of public money.
My desire is to point out that while the private owner retains the tolls, he certainly should be in a position to guarantee more towards the future maintenance of the bridge than is provided for by this Measure. I want to know from you, Sir, whether it is in order to ask that, as the owner is still safeguarded in the retention of the tolls, the Minister should give us better satisfaction than he has given hitherto regarding the future maintenance of the bridge and the share that the private owner should pay towards its maintenance. As far as I can see, the Minister seems to have failed to answer all the questions that have been put to him on this point. I am pressing now, with your permission, that as the tolls are fully provided for, and the owner retains those tolls, it is right that the Minister should give us better satisfaction than he has done with regard to the sums which should come from the owners to assist in the maintenance of the bridges and their approaches.