I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I think the Bill should commend itself to the whole House, because I have framed it in noncontroversial manner. I hope that it will be accepted by the Minister of Transport and by the whole House. The Bill, as its name implies, has for its purpose the removal of a form of highway robbery which has been allowed to exist in this country for many years. Twenty-five years ago our roads were almost deserted, except for slow-moving traffic, mostly local traffic, and there was no very serious objection in most cases to having to pay a toll. To-day, it is being generally recognised that the main roads are again becoming the main lines of transport, both for goods traffic and for passenger traffic. There fore, these impediments, or any impediment to that traffic which can be re moved to speed up traffic, I maintain, should be removed. The tolls on bridges and highways is one of them and the chief one. Steps have been taken in order to improve the conditions of existing roads. Many millions are being spent every year on the construction of roads, and many millions are being spent on the widening of old roads. The object is to remove any obstacles to the progress of transport, and yet, while all this money is being spent, while roads are being improved and widened, it is a fact, that one of the great deterrents to that progress is still allowed to exist.
There are still 88 toll bridges in England and Wales. Twenty-four of these are situated on first-class roads, 16 on second-class roads, and 48 are on scheduled and other roads. In addition to these toll bridges, there are 55 toll roads in England and Wales. I have no doubt in my mind that both the Ministry of Transport and the local authorities are fully aware of the inconvenience and the irritation that these toll bridges and roads are causing to motorists, and not only to motorists, but, in many cases, to pedestrians as well. Yet, it is a fact that in this Twentieth Century we still have 150 artificial obstacles to road transport. Not only are these bridges and roads a very serious cause of delay, but they are also a financial burden. When you are considering the question of transport to-day, you must realise that motor transport is no longer confined to the rich of this country. In this era of the cheap motor car and the Baby Austin nearly everyone is a road user, and in most cases he does not use his motor vehicle only for pleasure but also for his business purposes. Therefore, any tax, or any additional tax, on these road users is a burden which should be removed.
Everybody agrees that these tolls should be removed. I have heard the question brought up in this House many times, and I have never yet heard anybody say that these tolls should not be be removed. But the fact remains that 150 toll roads and bridges are still allowed to exist in the country. Everybody admits that they are an anachronism and should go, that they serve no useful purpose, and that, in addition, they are a tax on road transport, and also an impediment to progress. I am interested in this Measure because I wish to speed up the transfer of these toll bridges and roads to the local authorities. I have no serious criticism to make of the Ministry of Transport in this connection, because I know they are sympathetic towards the removal of these tolls. They have always, as far as I know, encouraged local authorities to take them over in their own areas, and, what is more, they have given them very considerable financial assistance when the local authority wished to buy up or take over any local toll road or bridge.
I have one criticism to make. Transport to-day is a national question, and they should before now have taken steps, when obstacles were in the way of local authorities taking over these bridges and tolls, to introduce a practical Bill, or have asked this House to sanction a Measure, which would have insisted on these bridges being taken over. At the present time, until a voluntary agreement is come to between the local authority and the coalowners, there is no means by which the matter can be settled. As transport is increasing and the cost of compensation to the toll owners increases, it is more and more necessary every day that active steps should be taken to have the toll bridges and roads included in our local highways.
The tolls restrict traffic. I may be in a particularly unfortunate position; I hope I am. In my own constituency I have there no fewer than one toll bridge, two toll roads and one toll ferry. I have been delayed time after time when I have been endeavouring to keep an important engagement. There is one toll bridge where I have been held up for 45 minutes, because of a fleet of charabancs coming in both directions meeting at the bridge, and the toll collector being obliged to go over each charabanc in turn and collect the toll from every passenger. In a case like that, where only one vehicle is able to pass over the bridge at one time, hon. Members can imagine, in these days of fast-moving road traffic and of charabancs, the obstacles and delays that are caused by these restrictive toll bridges. Unless I misinterpret the law as it. stands to-day, toll-owners are only obliged to maintain their bridges and roads so as to carry the same traffic which they carried when their powers were given to them. In many cases bridges and roads have not been improved for hundreds of years.
The Bill is a very simple one. Clause 1 gives the right to local authorities, failing a voluntary agreement with the toll owner, to serve a notice on the toll owner that within three months the highway authority will take possession of the toll bridge or road. Failing agreement, the matter is to be settled by arbitration. At the present time most of the toll bridges are permitted under a separate Act of Parliament, and it is necessary for the local authority—as was the case recently with the borough of Southend and the Bath Corporation—to introduce a Bill into this House before they can take over the local tolls. That, particularly in the case of a small local authority, is a very serious expense, and causes considerable delay. Clause 1 gives the right to the local authority where an agreement is not made, to serve a notice to take over the bridge on arbitration within three months.
Clause 2 gives the toll-owner power to transfer to the local authority, notwithstanding any conditions that may be in any special Act. Clause 3 deals with the question of arbitration. It is laid down that the Act of 1899 shall apply, and that the arbitrator should be appointed by the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. It is a very simple Bill, and purposely so. If the Minister cannot accept it in its present form I hope he will give an assurance that he will introduce legislation in the near future to do away with this serious menace to transport, and remove what is an anachronism and an archaic method of collecting tolls from and robbing road users. I hope that he will see that local authorities when they are empowered to take over a bridge or toll road, are given every assistance from the Road Fund in order to carry out that very worthy object.
I beg to second the Motion.
I cannot claim to suffer in the same degree in my constituency as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald), who so ably presented the Measure, because, representing as I do a London constituency, we have not in the length and breadth of Fulham a toll bridge. I can remember the time when one was accustomed to pay tolls on crossing the Thames bridges. It is an early recollection of my youth that one of those in charge of me at the time told me that the tolls had all been removed, and when I asked why, I was told that it was because the Prince of Wales had driven over the bridges. This Bill seeks to clear away the tolls on bridges and roads, but the means suggested are not quite so simple as the explanation which was given to me why the tolls on the Thames bridges were got rid of. It is, however, a simple Measure in its way.
The Minister of Transport cannot be unsympathetic towards the object of the Bill. If he cannot accept it in its present form, but in some modified form, to carry out its intention, it will afford further opportunity for the Minister to earn the gratitude of the motor users, and also afford further appreciation of the successful efforts of the Ministry to improve our means of transport. Twenty-five years ago we were still in the railway era so far as transport of passengers and goods was concerned, but to-day the roads are more and more regaining the position which they held in the pre-railway era, and we are spending, I am glad to say, large sums in improving roads, building new roads, and widening others. The object of the Bill is to remove the obstructions to free traffic and to the cheapening of traffic, and to facilitate the exchange of goods, thereby increasing the prosperity of the country.
The continuance in this year of grace of toll bridges and toll roads cannot but be regarded as out of date and a complete anachronism. Everyone will agree that where they do exist they should go, and go quickly. We have still 150 of these obstacles to free road transport up and down the country. Perhaps it is that hitherto the removal of this particular form of obstacle has been regarded as everybody's business or nobody's business. It is generally the case that everybody's business is nobody's business. Each local authority may say that it is not their affair and they will leave it to somebody else. This measure, if it is carried, would provide for the removal by a simple process of these objectionable features by the end of next year. The machinery of the Bill deals effectively with the various difficulties which at present stand in the way of doing away with these tiresome features. A reluctant owner can be dealt with; a local authority which does not now possess powers can obtain them. A local authority itself might be reluctant to take action on financial ground. Under this Bill it is able to appeal to the Ministry of Transport to help it. Groups of local authorities might find some difficulty in apportioning the respective burden on the financial side. The Ministry of Transport can help, and it may, if it likes, find the whole of the requisite sum to free the road or the bridge. Under the arrangements for facilitating negotiation and co-operation between local authorities, thanks to the successful passage of the Local Government Act in the last Parliament, and the Traffic Bill which has been foreshadowed, it is likely that the work of local authorities in this connection will be further facilitated.
But we do not want to wait for that. The steps to secure these improvements should not be left to the public spirit of individual bodies. I have been given figures as to the time it takes under present conditions to deal with toll bridges. It took 22 years from the time the matter was first entered upon to deal with the Swale Bridge, and such delays, besides adding to the inconvenience and cost of procedure and the disadvantage of the road user, are apt to involve, thanks to the increase of road transport, an increase in the cost of acquiring and removing a toll bridge. The Burrow Bridge which was worth £45 a year a few years ago has now been sold for hundreds of pounds. I am sure the Minister of Transport will agree that it is undesirable by delays such as this to risk the expenditure of further public money when by a little promptitude the inevitable cost can be substantially reduced. My hon. and gallant Friend has dealt with the machinery of the Bill in an eminently simple fashion and nothing remains for me except to appeal to the Minister to encourage the House to give it a Second reading and adopt it and, if necessary, amend it in the light of the wisdom and experience at the Ministry of Transport. At any rate, I hope he will give it his favourable consideration and support at this stage.
This is a Bill for the socialisation of toll bridges and toll roads, and I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member who has seconded the Motion, and who is prominently associated with the London Municipal Society, which is a very anti-Socialist body, should have sponsored so definitely a socialistic measure this afternoon. As it is a Bill for the socialisation of toll bridges and toll roads I can hardly resist it on Second Beading, although I wish the economic conditions and profits to be obtained from this transaction by local authorities were more pronounced. I do not wish to discourage the hon. and gallant Member who has brought this Bill before the House. There is no question but that the existence of toll bridges and toll roads is a very serious inconvenience to traffic and in some cases a serious tax upon the people who use them. I do not say that a costly improvement or work may not mean the imposition of a toll for a limited time in order to help finance the work, but most of these roads and bridges are not in that category, and from the point of view of free transport and the convenience of the public the tolls are a nuisance and should be got rid of at the earliest possible moment. Particularly are they a trouble in rural areas, where transport is important to the agricultural community and local residents. The agricultural people, I understand, and I accept it, are not too well blessed with this world's goods and the burden imposed by these tolls is a serious financial matter for them. I have every sympathy with their objections to them.
So far as the principle and general purpose of the Bill is concerned it has the strongest sympathy of the Government; we are completely at one with the hon. and gallant Member in the object he has in view. My information is that there are 55 toll roads and 88 toll bridges. The last figure does not include floating and transporter bridges, and of the 88 toll bridges, 24 are on class I roads, 16 on class II roads and 48 on other roads. That is the information up to date in the possession of the Ministry of Transport. I am sure the hon. and gallant Member will forgive me saying this, but this Bill, owing to the nature of the case, has been somewhat hurriedly drafted and is therefore a little crude in some of its provisions. We all like one-clause Bills, because when a private member brings forward such a Bill he is able to plead that it is only a little one and therefore the Government ought to be able to accept it. I am not sure that a Bill drafted to meet all the various difficulties and contingencies in this matter could be kept within the three operative Clauses of this particular Bill.
Therefore, it would require a fair amount of redrafting to put it in a shape that would secure good administration and withstand the snags likely to be met. I am not blaming the hon. and gallant Member who has had a quick piece of work to do, but I would remind him that Clause 3 has taken, as the basis of compensation in cases where the local authority and the owner of the road or bridge are unable to agree, the Arbitration Act of 1889. Of course wherever that is practicable it is a quick way of settling the vexed question of compensation. I do not raise any difficulty about the question of compensation, because it is well known that the Labour party is quite respectable upon that particular issue. The only difference between us is that sometimes hon. Members opposite would give the private interests too much and we would give them only what they are entitled to. I understand that purchase would be upon the basis of the present values of the toll road or the toll bridge. My feeling is that that would be somewhat unfair to the community.
In the past five or ten years the traffic over these bridges has increased enormously owing to the development of motor transport. It cannot be claimed that that development is by virtue of the toll bridges or roads; the credit is far more attributable to the Ministry of Transport and to the facilities given for motor transport. It would be unfair for the owners of roads and bridges to receive additional compensation for the development of traffic which has taken place despite the economic and other disadvantages which the existence of the toll roads or bridges has involved. Therefore the Government are not disposed to agree that the Arbitration Act of 1889 would be a suitable basis. It would be unduly generous to the present owners, and a modification of the Bill would require to be made in that respect.
It must also be recognised that a large number of private Acts of Parliament exist governing these bridges and roads. Probably in the watertight drafting of a Bill some detailed account might have to be taken of the existence of those Acts of Parliament. It is true that the Bill would set aside and supersede many of these Acts. I welcome the revolutionary tendency of hon. Members opposite to set aside existing legislation with a sweep of the arm and a stroke of the pen. I hope it may be taken as a precedent for some future Government. But I am afraid that this Government, being very constitutional, will have to take the strictest account of existing legislation and rights. Therefore I may have to put a brake on the tendency of hon. Members opposite towards a state of Bolshevism which is much to be regretted, particularly in the case of the hon. and gallant Member for East Fulham (Sir K. Vaughan-Morgan), who has devoted so much attention to combating this form of political vice.
The position may be taken as follows: The Government concurs in the Second reading of the Bill as the purpose of its Movers is the purpose of the Government and of all parties. We are all agreed that these tolls are a nuisance and ought to be abolished as soon as possible. In fact the Ministry of Transport is encouraging local authorities, wherever it can, to liquidate tolls and to get roads and bridges freed. It would not be fair for me to say that facilities can necessarily be given for the further progress of the Bill through Committee and the remaining stages. The legislative programme is fairly congested already. There will be some problems to be dealt with in the Committee stage of this Bill, and it would not be honest for me to give an undertaking that facilities can be given. On the other hand, if it is eventually found that it is possible for the Bill to make progress we shall not put artificial difficulties in its way.
There is another point. The House knows that I am engaged, in association with Lord Russell, in the preparation of a Road Traffic Bill. It has been on the stocks for three or four years, and I am very anxious that it shall pass into law in the present Session, provided that we get the co-operation of all parties on a Measure which is not political. I can not give cast-iron guarantees, but it is possible that that Bill will contain some Clauses dealing with the question of tolls. I do not say that it will be a complete and final solution of the matter, but at any rate it will very much simplify the present procedure and lubricate the wheels for dealing with the matter. If at the time the Road Traffic Bill came in the present Bill was before the House, the Clauses in the Road Traffic Bill which dealt with tolls would be out of order. Therefore I would like the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain Macdonald) to accept the position that we concur in the Second Reading of this Bill, but if and when the Road Traffic Bill is introduced by the Government, though he may not regard the provisions dealing with toll roads and bridges as being as satisfactory as he would wish, I hope he would then withdraw his Bill at a point which would not render the Clauses of the Road Traffic Bill out of order. I do not ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to give an undertaking not to move Amendments to the Government Bill. That he would be at liberty to do. All I ask is that we read this Bill a Second time to-day. I cannot give guarantees as to further progress. I am sorry that I may not be able to remain throughout the Debate, as I have an urgent official appointment which I cannot evade, but I am sure the House will accept my apology and my promise that I will study the records of the Debate in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
If there should be any considerable delay with the Government Bill would there be any possibility of dealing with fares which are excessive on some of these toll bridges now, and are a great tax in agricultural districts on the produce which is carried over them, and a great tax on people living in the neighbourhood?
I think that the Minister of Transport in his concluding remarks rather overlooked the fact that for a private Member's Bill introduced early in the Session on a Friday no special facilities are required from the Government, unless the Government proposes to alter the Standing Orders of the House. I do not propose to pursue the Minister into the argument as to whether this Bill is or is not Socialistic. We all realise that those who erected the toll bridges at any rate did in their time render a very valuable public service. They undertook to bridge rivers where no bridges existed in days when little machinery existed for carrying out such work, and for the service which they rendered and the expenses to which they were put I think we may say they were justly entitled to the return in money which those tolls brought them.
I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill that the time has come when, in the interests of modern traffic, tolls should be done away with, but the point I want to make is that I am not quite clear whether the drafting of this Bill will meet cases which are not infrequent along the River Thames where that river is the boundary between two local authorities. There is a case very close to my own constituency, where the main road crosses the Thames by a toll bridge, and for a very short distance, about two miles, it runs in the county of Berkshire, but that main road is not of the slightest interest to the county council or the in habitants of Berkshire. There are very few of them who live on it, whose needs are served by it, or who desire to traffic on that road, and it is a mere geographical accident that that road, for two or three miles, runs through that county. The road serves Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire and other counties to the west, and it is one of very considerable importance to my own constituency, because it is the main road between Ox ford and Cheltenham and Gloucester, and the vast bulk of the traffic on that road is either Oxford or Oxford shire traffic or through traffic. The people who are not interested in it are the people of Berkshire, and the difficulty hitherto felt in getting rid of that particular toll has been that the Berkshire County Council, in whose territory it is situated, has but a very small interest in the matter.
I am not clear, under the drafting of this Bill, whether there is power to deal with a case where two local authorities have definite interests in the abolition of a toll and where they cannot agree as to how compensation, if any, should be apportioned. I feel that that is a very important matter, because I am certain that there must be other cases besides the Thames where the course of a river results in a main road passing through a very small fraction of a county and being of extraordinarily little importance either to the local authorities of that county or the inhabitants of the district. I should like, if this point has not already been considered, that the Minister should give it very careful consideration between now and the Committee stage of the Bill, so that the necessary Amendment can be moved in Committee.
Mr. A. HENDERSON, Jun.:
I am sure the House will be delighted to learn that the Government are going to give favour able consideration to this Bill. As one who represents a district which is afflicted by one of these territorial anachronisms, I am naturally going to give my support to the Bill. The toll road with which my constituents are concerned lies between Penarth and Barry and Cardiff itself. The road belongs to the Marquess of Bute and. has been under his control during the last 50 or 60 years, and at the present time he is receiving about £ 20,000 a year as a result of collecting these tolls. All kinds of traffic, motor traffic, horse-drawn traffic, cows, sheep, and horses, are subject to a per capita charge, and I suppose it is unnecessary for me to point out that those charges are eventually passed on to the consumer. There is a very strong feeling in this particular district that the existence of this toll road constitutes a check upon the intercourse between the inhabitants of Cardiff and those of Penarth and Barry. Every time that I want to go from one part of my constituency to another I have, like everyone else, to stop my car or whatever I am travelling in and pay my shilling, no matter how often I use that road.
It may be said that there must be some means of avoiding this particular road, and I ought to say that there is an alter native route, but it is at least a mile longer than the toll road and it includes a very steep gradient, of one in eight I believe, at the bottom of which there is a very narrow bridge which only permits of traffic passing one way at a time. It is, in the view of local inhabitants, an extremely dangerous spot, and the result is that very few people care to use that road. Therefore, so far as my particular constituency is concerned, the sooner this Bill or its equivalent is passed into law, the better it will be for their interests. I have said that the Bute Estate are receiving this large sum each year as the result of the toll system. I hope that it will be possible to insert in this Bill some sort of check upon the amount that has to be given to the owner of a particular toll system in return for the surrender of his rights. I was glad to hear the Minister of Transport make the point that the basis in the Arbitration Act for assessing the fair sum to be paid in respect of any land, or whatever it may be that is to be taken over, is not necessarily the present market value. I hope that, having regard to the fact that in most cases the local authority, as representing the inhabitants of a particular district, will have to find the compensation money, the amount which is fixed will be at the lowest possible minimum, and that regard will be taken not only to the present market value of the particular toll, but also to the compensation that the owner has received in bygone years.
I have a particular interest in this Bill and I desire to add my hearty support to it. I was pleased to hear that the Minister proposes to allow it to be given a Second Reading. In my constituency are three important toll bridges, probably well known to a good many members. For some time, if you wanted to cross from the East Riding of Yorkshire to the West Riding, you had to go by Selby Bridge and pay ninepence, as indeed you have to to-day.
The hon. Member is quite right. It is a ricketty old wooden bridge, and it appears to me to be highly dangerous. During the last administration, a bridge was erected at Booth Ferry, near Goole, and the traffic on that bridge is phenomenal. It is more than double what it was before, and it shows the necessity for doing away with these other three bridges, which are all in my constituency. I am a member of the Highways Committee of the county, and for some years we have approached the Ministry and done all we can in order to get these grievous things taken away. I have lived for a long time in a very secluded spot, and people who wanted to come and see me have to pay 9d. twice over. I am sure that the House will see that it is not worth that. But that is not the reason for my support of this Bill. My constituency is agricultural; the people have not much money, and they will be delighted when these bridges are done away with.
These particular bridges are protected by Acts of Parliament, and I do not think that I have seen anything which protects one so highly as these Acts do the owners. One Act dates back to 1790, and each of the others are well over a 100 years old. In days gone by, over the River Ouse and the East York Derwent, there was only the old fashioned ferry; and the local landowners got together and obtained the leave of Parliament to make these bridges. Until the advent of the motor car, they never made any money at all, because they had to spend the tolls on the upkeep of the bridges. Now, since the enormous change which has taken place in transport during the last few years, the owners of these bridges are making thousands of pounds. It may, perhaps, be a little difficult to deal with them, for in this Bill, which is very rough and ready, no provision is made for these old Acts of Parliament. If the Minister will allow this Bill to go through Committee, and will allow it to have his backing, all parties in the House and the country will agree that it will meet a long felt want. I hope that the Government will find time to do away with something which for a very long time has been a very great bother and nuisance.
I support the Bill on principle. With the improvements which are being made along the roads, the time is far past for these out of date methods. I can speak as one who has had a great deal to do with county administration in Lancashire. We have many of these bridges, and they are a great hindrance, not only to traffic but to commerce. I am glad that reference has been made to the poor farmer, because I happen to be one of them, and can speak with authority and experience. Any thing the House can do to alleviate the expenses of agriculture and of the poor farmer ought to he done. We on this side of the House are often taunted that we are out for confiscation and not compensation, but in this case we should be fully justified in compensating the owners of some of these poor old bridges. I trust that when this Bill goes to Committee—as I hope it will, and pass into law as soon as possible—provision will be made that compensation will not be based on the increased traffic of recent days, but that a fair compensation will be given.
All the hon. Members who have spoken seem to think that this Bill will deal with what is an admitted nuisance, but it does not provide for any such result. There is no compulsion about it. A highway authority may, if they like, purchase the rights of the present owners, but the authority will be able to continue to impose the charges which are being imposed now. If it be really desired to secure the termination of these tolls, I suggest that something might be put into the Bill which would secure that end. One sees this dilemma. If the tolls are to continue, there is a direct inducement to the highways authority to continue them, but if the tolls are to be discontinued, an authority might hesitate before it indulges in expenditure which will bring in no return. The question how far some element of compulsion should be put into the Bill is one that needs full consideration, and there should be words in the Bill to say that if an authority purchase these rights, they shall be extinguished.
I must emphasise the importance of saying something in the Bill about the basis of valuation. These arbitrations are very often of an expensive character. You have expert witnesses on both sides, and one thing which is very often con tested very hotly is what is to be the number of years' purchase. It is easy enough to get at the average net profit for the last five years, or any number of years, but the contest often turns on what is a fair number of years' purchase to take. I see no objection to the Bill stating how many years' purchase should be taken, and I suggest that it should not be too big a number, in view of the value of these tolls in recent years. There is to be taken into consideration, too, the problem how soon a new bridge ought to be built. Many very complicated matters have to be considered, and one can visualise expensive arbitration unless the Bill lays down some definite principles to guide the arbitrators. There is reference in the Bill to the Arbitration Act of 1889. I think that this is a mistake, because there have been later systems of arbitration, such as that in one of the Land Valuation Acts, which have several advantages.
In the scheme of arbitration under this Act, both parties are limited as to the number of expert witnesses they may call, whereas under the Arbitration Act there is no limitation, and our experience is that there are cases of a great number of witnesses being called. This is wholly unnecessary when you have an expert arbitrator. Another advantage under the Land Valuation Act system is that the buyer can make a sealed offer and hand it to the arbitrator before the arbitration begins. The arbitrator does not look at it until after he has made an award, and if he awards a sum less than that contained in the sealed offer, the man who has refused the offer has to pay the costs. That is a fair provision, but there is no provision of that sort in the Arbitration Act.
One other matter does appeal to me. I see that the arbitration may be before a single arbitrator appointed by the Institute of Civil Engineers. I suggest that surveyors are more experienced in regard to these arbitrations and valuations. I do not think the civil engineers have the experience which surveyors have, and I suggest for the consideration of those in charge of the Bill that they might be allowed to substitute the President of the Institute of Surveyors. Many of them are very competent arbitrators. I do feel that one ought to place a limit to the number of witnesses that can be called and that some basis of valuation should be laid down.
I, like my hon. Friend behind me, agree with this Bill, but the speech of the hon. and learned Gentle man who has just sat down goes to show the necessity of the Government and the Ministry of Transport giving their attention to this matter. As the Minister said, they have great sympathy and are doing, and have done, what was possible to assist the authorities in getting rid of these toll roads and toll bridges. It is rather surprising to learn, though, that there are still some 40 or more toll roads and bridges on the first and second-class roads which have been supported by the Ministry of Transport through public funds for several years. I think, if the Ministry of Transport had been doing their duty, they would have known that road traffic was increasing, and, as the people had to use these roads and bridges and to pay heavy tolls, the more there was going over them, the more their value would be enhanced, and, to my mind, they should have taken precautions in the first instance to see that what there was as a result of the increased traffic should come back to the exchequer of the Trans port Ministry instead of going into the pockets of those who have been holding these bridges and roads for many years.
My experience of road traffic and road transport is a fairly long one. I have had nearly 60 years about the roads, and I have had some experiences with regard to paying the tolls. One may be sent with a load of goods or material many miles away and not knowing what one is going to contend with on the road, and with very little in one's pocket. Suddenly, one comes up against a toll bridge or a toll gate and a demand for a toll for going along the other portion of the road which one has been traversing for hours. This means a difficulty in finding the money with which to pay. I have very often found it has not been very much of a laughing matter for me, especially when I was getting 18s. a week. That was before I was married, and I had the deuce of a job to keep myself respectable and decent without keeping anyone else. When it came to paying a toll of 8d. or 1s., I had to look round a few times, and I looked at the box office at the toll gate and found it something like a museum of different articles left by people like myself going along and trying to get their work done. Either their wages had been small, or their employers had been so economical that they had not given them any money for the roads. I have known men to leave an overcoat behind to pay 8d. for a toll, or leave their watches or their knives. They have been left there pending the man's return in the evening. They did not, like the pawnbroker, put three brass balls outside, but the toll keeper looked out to see that he got something before the man passed.
That has been reduced very consider ably. I had two toll bridges in the constituency which I have the honour to represent. They have been done away with. I understand that those gates belong to certain people. Where land has been purchased for building purposes, and buildings have been put up and shops opened, shopkeepers have to pay tolls to go into Poplar and come out of Poplar. I do not understand that. It shows that somebody was very careful in the early days, when he had a bit of land, to get an Act of Parliament, and I think those people have been very well compensated. An hon. Member above the Gangway said that the traffic had so increased that they had been tak- ing money galore. They have been compensated for years, and I think that should be taken into account when it is a question of compensation. Perhaps the old Acts were all right in their day, but it is quite right that there should be new Acts of Parliament brought for ward, and that we should use every consideration that can be used to see that the public generally do not get filched of a sum of money as they have been.
We know very well that the development of motor traffic is increasing. Those who have the honour to own motors and mechanical power vehicles have had to pay fairly highly for a considerable time, and they expect that having paid the registration fees, which are fairly heavy in most cases, they shall be cleared of any obstacles on the way of their traffic.
As the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain Macdonald), who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, said, the delay now in many cases is greater than it ought to be. Of course, in the old days, when most of the traffic was horsed-vehicle traffic, it did not so much matter about there being an hour's delay; very often it gave the horse a rest which probably he would not have had otherwise, while the man was on the hunt looking round to see where he was going to find the wherewithal to meet this blackmail; for you cannot call it very much less than blackmail if you have roads of this description at the present day. Even if this Bill cannot go through in its present form there must be some alteration made, and I certainly hope that an opportunity will be given, when the Minister of Transport brings in his Road Transport Bill, to bring about a change, and that something will be included in that Bill whereby we shall get rid of this anomaly of blackmail.
I am very glad to welcome the introduction of this Bill for the abolition of tolls, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for South Poplar (Mr. March), I am very much concerned about the offer of compensation. Although the Minister of Transport endeavoured to make the House believe that this party is respectable on the matter of compensation, I want it to be quite clear that there are some of us who are not inclined to agree to the payment of compensation for the taking over of these tolls. When this subject was discussed during the life- time of the last Government, when we were dealing with the Bridges Bill, I think it was made very clear that the people who are in possession of these tolls had certainly not paid much regard to the interests of the country or to the interests of traffic, industry, or commerce, and the suggestion of even this expensive method of arbitration with a view to compensating them for something for which they ought to be paying us instead of our having to pay them, is a matter about which I am very much concerned. Although at this late hour of the after noon I do not wish to deal any further with the details of this Bill, I do suggest that while we are pursuing this we shall have a little less regard to the mater of compensation to those people who have held up the industry and trade of the country.