Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £103,522, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1932, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Transport, under the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919, Expenses of the Railway Rates Tribunal under the Railways Act, 1921, Expenses under the London Traffic Act, 1924, Expenses in respect of Advances under the Light Railways Act, 1896, Expenses of maintaining Holyhead Harbour, Advance? to meet Deficit in Ramsgate Harbour Fund, Advances to Caledonian and Crinan Canals, and for Expenditure in connection with the Severn Barrage Investigation."—[NOTE: £60,000 has been voted on account.]
I have to ask the approval of the Committee for a sum of £163,522, which is a decrease of £45,452 on the Estimate introduced last year. I should, however, point out that the gross expenditure of the Ministry has increased from £418,206 last year to an estimated gross expenditure this year of £517,307—an increase of £99,101. The increase in the gross estimates is largely due to an increase in salaries and in travelling and incidental expenses consequent on the establishment of the Traffic Commissioners organisation, and as this cost is recoverable from the Road Fund as an Appropriation-in-Aid, the net expenditure is reduced accordingly.
Not the least important of the changes introduced by the Road Traffic Act, 1930, was the new machinery set up for the purpose of ensuring that passengers are provided with more satisfactory road transport facilities. Operators of public service vehicles are required to obtain from the Traffic Commissioners of their appropriate area certificates as to the fit- ness of the vehicles for the conveyance of passengers, and road service licences, which are granted after due consideration of the traffic needs of the area. The Commissioners are now working at considerable pressure in hearing applications for road service licences, and I have no doubt that the effect of their activities will be highly beneficial in eliminating a considerable amount of wasteful competition, and in giving the country a more economic transport system than it has had during the past few years, when the development of omnibus services has been somewhat chaotic. This new machinery has naturally involved a considerable increase in staff shown under Sub-head A. It numbers at present 390, with salaries, wages and allowances amounting to £111,060, as shown on page 123 of the Estimates.
Further expenditure arising from the appointment of the Commissioners is included under "Travelling and Incidental Expenses" (Subhead B) and "Telegrams and Telephones" (Subhead D), respectively. The gross provision made in the Estimate for expenditure under the Road Traffic Act is, therefore, in the neighbourhood of £140,000, and it will be observed that the amount recoverable from the Road Fund under item 2 (a) of Subhead N is increased by approximately that amount. It is somewhat difficult to form an exact estimate of this expenditure, as the organisation has not yet been working for a full year, but I would ask the Committee to compare this figure of £140,000 with the figure of £165,000 which was given when the Financial Resolution in connection with the Road Traffic Act was under consideration—Command Paper 3490—as the cost of the Commissioners and their staff in a full year.
The Committee will recollect that provision was made in the Road Traffic Act for fees to be charged by the Commissioners for the issuing and backing of licences. The scale of fees prescribed has been worked out with a view to making the Traffic Commissioners' organisation, so far as possible, self-supporting. The fees are paid direct to the Road Fund, and are estimated to amount to £140,000 or £150,000 for the year. While the staff of the Commissioners numbers 390 this does not represent a net increase in the number of public officials, as the staff employed by the local authorities on the duties now performed by the Traffic Commissioners are no longer required. Where possible transfers of staff were made, and in cases of loss of office compensation has been paid. The other duties imposed on the Minister by the Road Transport Act have not involved any appreciable increase in these Estimates.
The contributions towards the cost of equipping and maintaining the mobile police units are borne by the Road Fund. I would refer to the appreciation which has been expressed of the institution of police motor patrols, commonly called mobile police. Provision is made in the Road Traffic Act for advances to be made out of the Road Fund towards any expenses incurred by a police authority in the provision and maintenance of vehicles or equipment for use by the police force in connection with the enforcement of the Act. The advances are strictly confined to expenses incurred by the police forces in this connection. The object of employing traffic patrols is to make the person responsible for checking the wrongdoer on the highway as mobile as the wrongdoer himself. It is the mobile policeman alone who can effectively deal with the man who "cuts in" or who passes on a blind corner. The mobile policeman's official authority also enables him, apart from dealing with serious traffic offences, to offer advice which will have some weight with the drivers of motor vehicles. Although less than a year has elapsed since the passing of the Road Traffic Act considerable progress has been made in the organisation of mobile police forces.
There is a small increase, £1,879, in respect of salaries for the staff of the research station which was opened at the beginning of last year at Colnbrook, on the Great West Road, with an adjoining stretch of road for conducting experiments, for the improvement of road construction and for testing the effect of various classes of vehicles on various types of roads. The first annual report dealing with the work of the experimental branch will shortly be issued, and should prove of interest to highway authorities and engineers both on the constructional and the economic side of highway administration. If the numbers and salaries of the staff of the Traffic Commissioners are excluded, the numbers of staff under Sub-head A shows an increase of 47, and the payment for salaries a decrease of £561. The increase of staff is largely due to the development of road schemes and research work.
In connection with research work, I may say that the construction of the station buildings was undertaken by the Office of Works, who handed them over on 1st December, 1929. The equipment of the station was substantially completed in April, 1930, when the technical staff took up duty. The Ministry of Transport constructed the embankment and road, which are 550 yards in length. The road was first used for public traffic on 11th December, 1929. A special process was employed in the preparation of the concrete surface, in and below which instruments have been inserted for measuring variations of temperature, expansion and contraction and changes of level. Further expenditure on capital account has been or will be made in the current financial year, including £661 in respect of the station buildings, the total cost of which will amount to £1,797, and £550 in respect of equipment in the nature of plant and scientific apparatus. The salaries and wages of the staff employed at the station are shown in the estimate for the Ministry of Transport Vote.
An item in Sub-head C, "Special Services and Enquiries," which perhaps calls for comment is £12,300 in respect of "Fees and Expenses of Consulting Accountants, Engineers, etc." Of this £10,000 is in respect of fees to consulting accountants in connection with the London Passenger Transport Bill. The next item is £15,000 in respect of fees to counsel and Parliamentary agents in connection with the same Bill, I was happy to learn that on Monday last the Joint Committee of both Houses which is now considering the Bill decided to allow it to proceed, subject to certain modifications which the Lord Chairman indicated. In connection with expenditure under this Sub-head the Bill provides for the recovery from the Board of all the costs and expenses in connection with the Bill, but no recovery of these items will be possible during the current financial year. Sub-head E—"Expenses of Railway Rates Tribunal"—shows a small increase. The whole of the expenditure under this subhead, however, is recoverable from the railway companies.
As I indicated earlier, there is a net decrease on this year's Estimate as compared with last year s, and this has been brought about, speaking generally, by a reduction in the expenditure expected to be incurred on the undertakings vested in the Minister, namely, Ramsgate Harbour and the Caledonian and Crinan Canals. At present, losses are incurred on the working of all these undertakings, but while there have been negotiations for the transfer of Ramsgate Harbour, it seems unlikely that either of the canals will again become self-supporting. With the increase in the size of coasting and fishing vessels, these craft are more able to make the journeys by open sea and the competition of road transport causes a decline in receipts from passenger and goods traffic. The expenditure on the Severn Barrage Investigation (Sub-head L) shows a decrease of £6,700. This expenditure will enable a further stage of the inquiry into this scheme for the generation of electricity by harnessing the tides in the Severn Estuary to be completed. The main bulk of Appropriations-in-aid—Sub-head N—is composed of repayments from the. Road Fund, to which I have already alluded.
With regard to the present position of the trunk road and five years' programme, the present trunk road programme envisaged a total expenditure of £21,000,000, covering works which are likely to extend over a period of five years and reach completion in March, 1935. Up to the present schemes to the value of upwards of £9,000,000 have been authorised for commencement or are in progress, while further schemes to the value of another £9,500,000 have been approved in principle in order to enable surveys to be made and the preparation of engineering details to be put in hand. At the moment, there are upwards of 9,000 men actually engaged upon these works. In respect of the five years' programme, we have quite a large number of schemes which have already been approved. The estimated total cost of the proposals which have been accepted is £27,500,000, and at the end of last May works to the value of some £14,000,000 were in progress, or had been authorised for co- mmencement, while approval in principle had been given with respect to works involving a further £12,500,000. Upwards of 13,000 men are actually engaged upon this programme. Including the road and bridge improvement schemes which are receiving grants from the Road Fund, but which come outside the scope of these two programmes, the present total number of men directly employed is something like 42,000, and, taking the indirectly employed, the figure is something like 84,000 people employed in connection with these works.
In introducing this Estimate I have attempted to indicate the main features of variation from that presented last year, and to point out the effect of the Traffic Commissioners organisation on it. I have not attempted to deal with the more important work carried on in the Department which is not directly reflected by a comparison with last year's Estimate. I think the Committee will bear me out when I say that there was a tremendous number of schemes last year and that the work of the Department has been growing larger and larger. Consequently, I do not intend to deal with that portion of the work this afternoon. I leave that to the Minister to deal with in his reply. There may be also many points in connection with road schemes, and working of the Road Traffic Act, the supply and distribution of electricity and other matters, which may be raised in the discussion this afternoon, which, of course, I can leave to my right hon. Friend to answer when he makes his reply. I am sure that, in asking for the Vote this afternoon, we are only asking for something which is reasonable, something which is in keeping with the Department, and something which is necessary in the interests of county authorities and the people in the country, and I hope that we shall get the Vote in due course.
I am sure that those Members who happen to be present must have been interested in the necessarily rapid survey of these Estimates to which we have just listened from the Parliamentary Secretary, and I should like, if I may, to take this opportunity of congratulating him on what, I believe, is his first appearance at that Box in that capacity.
I rise not so much for the purpose of making a speech as to avail myself of a legitimate Parliamentary opportunity, which does not too often arise, of putting a few questions to the Minister, and of endeavouring to elicit from him a little definite information with regard to one or two matters which, I think, are of general and substantial importance. The first of these matters which I would like to raise is the main line electrification of the railways. I would like to ask the Minister whether he will, when he comes to reply, give the Committee, and indeed the country, some indication of the attitude of the Government towards this most important and, at the same time, highly controversial question. No one will deny that this is a matter of supreme importance from many points of view. It raises issues industrial, commercial, financial and political in character. It will, undoubtedly, affect directly one of the basic industries of the country, that of coal mining. We know that, at the present time, the railways consume between 15,000,000 and 16,000,000 tons of large round coal in the year, and I understand that if this electrification scheme is carried out, that will mean a reduction in that consumption of over 70 per cent., and that there is no alternative market readily available for this coal, bearing in mind that it is useless, as I am informed, for power station purposes. The net result of all that may well mean permanently throwing out of work some 60,000 coal miners.
It has another very important bearing from the point of view of employment. There is the question of the effect on the railways themselves, because the Weir Report, I notice, estimates that there will be a 50 per cent. saving in locomotive wages, and a 10 per cent. saving in superintendence, and, therefore, the report contemplates, presumably, a considerable reduction in employment on the railways themselves. Even if you place against that a certain amount—possibly a large amount—of additional employment which will be provided in carrying out the scheme, I fear, from such consideration as I have been able to give to the matter, that the result will be very much on the debit side of the employment ledger. After all, the great industries of coal, iron and steel are tied definitely to railway transport. I do not think anyone could suggest that to any substantial extent they avail themselves of the road. They are practically maintaining the standard revenue of the railways to-day. Railways are losing money on passenger and light goods traffic, and such profits as they are making are made with regard to the heavier traffic.
That being so, there arise two questions which I would venture to put to the Minister, if he will be good enough to try to answer them. The first is, Does he consider that there is any reason to believe that this scheme is going to cheapen railway transport? That is really the vital question so far as the industry of this country is concerned. The second question is Does he consider it likely that this scheme, if it were carried out, would do anything to bring back traffic from the roads on to the railways, and to restore that just balance, which we would all desire, I think, to see as between road traffic and railway traffic? If that were the case, one has to bear in mind that it would probably necessitate a 50 per cent. reduction in the cost of railway transport, if there was to be any-real hope of getting a great deal of the traffic which has been driven on to the roads back again on to the railways. I feel sure that the Committee would very much appreciate the view of the Minister and of the Government on those vital questions.
A few days ago I ventured to put, in the ordinary course, a question to the Minister as to whether he had received any reply from the railway companies with regard to this electrification proposal, what was the nature of the reply and whether he would publish it. For some reasons, which I am not quite able to appreciate, he evidently thought it necessary to invest the matter for the moment with a good deal of secrecy, because he took refuge in the recognised ministerial device of referring me in his reply to some answer he had given a few days before. When I turned it up, I found that it amounted to practically nothing at all, so far as vouchsafing information in reply to the question was concerned. I do not know why that should have been necessary, because we now learn from the Press that replies have, in fact, been received from the railway companies, and, in passing, I should like to utter my protest against the increasing practice of furnishing important information to Members of this House through the columns of the Press rather than on the Floor of the House itself. As I say, I do not quite know why the Minister did not supply the information. At all events, I do ask him now whether he is in a position to tell the Committee what is the exact nature of the replies which he has received from the railway companies, and is there any reason why those replies should not be published in order that the country may judge as to the considerations involved?
There is, of course, the vitally important question of finance. The figures mentioned in the Weir Report or scheme amount to the somewhat startling sum of £300,000,000. Even that may possibly be an under-estimate, because we have the example of what happened with regard to the earlier report of the Weir Committee on the grid electrification. There the estimates, I believe, were £33,500,000 and this has already been extended to £50,000,000. If these figures of £300,000,000 are correct, does that, in the opinion of the Minister, necessarily involve a Government subsidy? Is there any possibility that the railways would be able to raise such a colossal sum themselves, and, if so, would it not mean that the railway shareholders, as I have heard it suggested, might well have to go without dividends for the next 20 years. If there is any question of a Government subsidy involved, will this House have an opportunity, at the earliest possible moment, of discussing the matter fully before the country is committed in any way to such a scheme? There is no doubt whatever that that is a very controversial matter on which strong views are held.
One alleged advantage of a railway electrification scheme is that it will definitely assist the operations of the Central Electricity Board. Is the Minister of Transport able to express any opinion whether the electrification of the railways would act favourably or otherwise on the electricity supplies? If the railways are able to pay an economic price for their electricity well and good, but, if there is no reasonable prospect of them being able to do so, they will receive their supplies at the expense of other consumers, industrial or domestic, or else the amount of loss will have to be carried as a national charge. In other words, this may be the first step towards the nationalisation of the railways. The Minister of Transport himself may favour such a scheme but, at all events, I would like to express the hope that if such a scheme is brought forward, it will not be introduced by a side issue, but will be brought before the House in a straightforward way, and that we shall not be committed to these large sums, and then be told that the country must assume control of the railways in order to collect the money which it has put up on their behalf.
I am not asking the Minister for an official opinion on all these controversial matters. I think that would be unreasonable at this stage, but I would respectfully invite him, when he replies, to take the Committee into his confidence; not approach this matter from the point of view of how little he can tell the Committee, but how much information he is able to give at the present stage. To a very large extent, this question is bound to be sub judice at the present time, but already it is creating considerable anxiety in many industrial and commercial circles in the country, and for that reason, if for no other, I think it would be helpful if the Minister could make a definite statement. I think the Minister will agree that nothing is more disadvantageous and harmful to trade than uncertainty and lack of confidence with regard to what is likely to happen in the near future upon questions of this kind. So far as the proposals of the Weir Report are concerned, the general opinion in industry at the moment seems to be that the proper verdict to give is the Scottish verdict of "not proven," and that a great deal more information should be forthcoming before we embark upon such a tremendous and far-reaching undertaking.
I want to pass from that matter and come to the Road Traffic Act, to which reference has been made by the Parliamentary Secretary. Again, I would like to put a question to the Minister, and to ask whether he is in a position to give the House a general survey as to the working of that Act. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any indication, for example, as to whether it is doing, or is likely to do, anything to reduce the appalling number of accidents and casualties that take place on the roads of this country every day in the year, and particularly at week-ends. Has there been any increase of accidents since the Act came into force? I understand that that is not the case, and that the figures are rather the reverse. At all events, it is clear already that the gloomy forebodings and dismal prophecies which were uttered during the Committee stages of that Measure, as to the results which would ensue if the speed limit were abolished, have been falsified. There are no grounds for supposing that the abolition of the speed limit has made people drive more recklessly, or has led to any definite increase of accidents So far as one who drives about the country a good deal is able to express an opinion, I suggest that the reverse has been the case, and that there is, for some reason or other and I do not know why, a distinct improvement in the general manners of motorists on the road, and an increase of care. It may be that the abolition of the speed limit has had some psychological effect which we may not be quite able fully to appreciate even yet.
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman's attention has been called to a scathing comment made by one of the stipendiary magistrates in London regarding the apparently more drastic enforcement of the speed limit in the parks. I do not know what is the policy underlying the matter, but certainly it is impossible to drive through the parks, down Constitution Hill particularly, any day of the week without finding some unfortunate motorist being held up at the bottom of the hill, having fallen into a police trap. As the stipendiary magistrate pointed out, it does seem somewhat inconsistent, when you abolish the speed limit throughout the country, that you are enforcing it far more drastically than before in the parks.
If that question does not come within the Department of the Minister of Transport, my only other remark on the point is to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to make some representations to the Department concerned in order to bring about greater consistency in this matter. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the mobile police, and he made the statement that the creation of that force was very much appreciated, although he did not tell the Committee by whom it was appreciated, or what evidence there is for expressing such an opinion. I do not say that the experiment may not be fully justified, but the Committee would be interested in having a little more information with regard to the exact nature of the activities that are being carried on by this mobile force.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that the object of this force was to be able to deal with wrongdoers, but is that object being carried out? Does the Minister think that the instrument, the vehicle—the motor bicycle and those little two-seater cars with which this mobile force is provided—is adequate for the purpose in view? I doubt very much whether if they would be in a position to overtake a wrongdoer driving a much more powerful ear. In America the speed "cops" are mounted on very much more powerful machines than seems to be the case in this country. Perhaps the Minister will express his views on that matter, bearing in mind that one of their chief functions is to overtake a man who is driving too fast or dangerously cutting in. This very often means that the mobile policeman probably has to turn his machine round in order to go in the opposite direction, thus losing time in giving chase to a much more powerful car than he himself is driving. I doubt very much whether many of their two-seater cars and tri-cars would be capable of overtaking those powerful cars, the drivers of which are often the worst offenders.
I wish to take this opportunity of saying one or two words with regard to a new and interesting experiment which is being tried in Oxford Street in the way of traffic signals. So far as one can judge, there are reasons to believe that that experiment, on the whole, may be successful. One can only express an opinion as to how the system strikes one, but I think it has resulted in a certain speeding up and a more even flow of traffic. There are one or two minor points which occur to me. First of all, I think something in the way of warning signs ought to be erected to warn people who are approaching the area where the lights are situated. That is done in some provincial towns where there is an automatic sign warning people when they are approaching such a spot. There is nothing of that kind in connection with the Oxford Street lights, and I would suggest that such signs might be erected at Baker Street where there is a big flow of traffic approaching Oxford Street. It has been pointed out many times in the Press that those lights, owing to the shade over them, are difficult to see if a vehicle draws up alongside, and I would like to know if it would not be possible to have some kind of signal instead of the lights, or in combination possibly, something on the analogy of the moving arm signals on the railway, which work automatically up and down, and which are more easily seen, not merely by vehicles which are alongside, but also by vehicles which are some distance away. Another point is the obvious need for educating pedestrians as well as motorists. Very often, when the lights suddenly turn from green to red the traffic is held up by a stream of pedestrians not paying any attention to the lights, and there is a block of traffic in consequence. These are just a few points that occur to one in connection with what, as I have said, I think is on the whole a very successful experiment, and one which might well be extended to other areas. I hope, therefore, that, when the Minister comes to reply, he may be able to find time to deal with these few specific points, all of which, small and large, are of general interest and importance, not only to the Members of this Committee, but also to the far larger public outside this House.
In the first place, I should like to congratulate the Minister on his, as I believe, very successful two years of office. I hope that the next three years will be even more successful. I understand that, among his multifarious duties, he has some power to make orders with regard to maximum prices to be charged by electrical undertakings, and there are one or two points that I should like to make in that connection. That revisionary power is often very useful from the consumer's point of view. Some months ago, the Chiswick Electric Lighting Company were buying current from the Hammersmith Borough Council at 1d. per unit and selling it at 8d. There were numerous complaints, and eventually an inquiry was held by the Minister, as a result of which the maximum price that could be charged by the company was reduced from 8d. to 5d. per unit. That was a great satisfaction to the people in that neighbourhood. Unfortunately, however, there are many other undertakings to-day which are still charging exorbitant prices, almost as bad as in the case of Chiswick. I think it is true to, say that prices generally have come down a good deal within the last two or three years, and also that many electrical undertakings have reduced their charges correspondingly, but that is not universally the ease; there are some undertakings which still charge very high prices, especially, strange to say, in the London area. Let me give a specific case.
Surely, in the localities where these high prices are charged, the local authorities can ask for an inquiry, and, if the complaint is justified, the prices can be brought down. It seems to be an easy remedy.
I am coming to that question. If I may give a case in point which has arisen in my own constituency, the Netting Hill Electric Company have a maximum charge of 8d. per unit, and they are charging in that neighbourhood—a very compact area with a very large population—8d. per unit for lighting purposes alone, and are necessarily making very heavy dividends. In passing, I may say that the answer given to a question on my behalf a short time ago showed that, on a certain type of shares, 1,600 per cent. was being paid by this company, and that on the overall capital of the company a dividend of 17 per cent. had been declared in the last year—a year of depression from a general business point of view. It seems to me that that is a case in which the Minister might be able to encourage the local authority to ask for an inquiry. Unfortunately, local authorities frequently will not lake the necessary action by getting an inquiry to protest against the high charges of these undertakings. I may say that, in the next constituency to my own, the price for lighting is only 3d. per unit, as against 5d. in Kennington.
I do not know in what respect the Minister is responsible for that. If local authorities take no action, I am given to understand that the matter does not come within the purview of the Minister.
My point is that the question of maximum prices does come within the purview of the Minister, and the maximum prices, generally speaking, in the London area, were fixed eight or 10 years ago, when prices were very high. They are still at the old level, although the prices of most commodities have gone down tremendously.
I quite understand that, but, if I understand aright, there is machinery whereby the local authorities can approach the Minister and ask for an inquiry. If the local authorities do not take the necessary action, it does not seem to me to come within the purview of the Minister's administrative powers.
When I was interrupted, I was asking the Minister to urge local authorities to take this action and demand inquiries. If that is not quite in order, I will proceed to my second point. I understand that some time ago the Electricity Commissioners were considering the question of the very many methods of charging for electricity in the London area, and, on the 1st July, I put a question to the Minister as to the number of different types of tariffs for lighting and domestic purposes in the London area. The Minister replied that there were at least 20 types or methods of charging, and within each of these methods there were many variations. Some of these different methods of charging are based upon floor space, some upon rateable value, some upon the maximum demand, and some upon the number of kilowatts installed, and the variety and multiplicity of the types of charge make it very difficult to arrive at any fair comparison from year to year. I would press the Minister to recommend to the Commissioners, if it be in his power to do so, the adoption of some more uniform basis of charge, and to ask the Commissioners to urge upon the undertakers the advisability of adopting some simpler arrangement.
I understand that the Minister has power to confirm orders, when application is made to him, with regard to the amalgamation and transfer of undertakings in different areas. When one looks at the electricity map of London, one is struck by the patchwork type of arrangement, and by the scores—I might almost say hundreds—of different types of areas and undertakings, each with its own petty system of supply, its own small area, its petty overhead charges, each purchasing its own coal and so on, and each one of them unable to effect those economies which large-scale undertakings can effect at the present time. If the Minister, by granting orders, and encouraging applications for orders, for these amalgamations, helped to bring them about, the many economies that would be possible would be of great benefit to the consumers.
There is also a point that I want to make with regard to the orders themselves. I do not want to suggest that the commissioners have any bias as between private undertakings and public authorities, and I am certain that the Minister at any rate has no bias towards private companies. In fact, I hope that, if he is biased at all, his bias is towards the public undertakings. It does seem to some of us, however, that an order applied for by a private company has a much more easy passage than orders applied for by public undertakings. For some obscure reason, which may be quite simple if one knows the facts, when a public authority applies for an order there generally seems to be a large number of obstacles in the way which make it very difficult for the order to be obtained, and, when a group of local authorities, having a legal right to acquire the undertakings in their areas, can put forward sound economic and financial schemes in support of such a transfer, it seems to me that, whether the joint undertaking is going to be controlled by a number of local authorities or by a joint electricity authority, the Ministry might in every possible way encourage that amalgamation because of the benefits which would come to the consumers. I do not think I need try to prove to the Minister that such an amalgamation of areas by order would be beneficial; I am sure he is aware that that is so; and I do not think he need be afraid, nor do I think he is afraid, of encouraging by these orders such a policy of public ownership. The history of electrical development in the last 10 years furnishes conclusive proof that, where public ownership of electrical undertakings is in operation, there are always greater advantages to the consumer as compared with ownership by private companies.
I have been rather active of late in asking the Minister questions, and I should like to ask him a few more on this occasion. I think he will admit that the questions which I have asked him have been of a constructive character, and not merely questions in criticism of his administration. As Minister of Transport he has to make many regulations, and his task must be a very trying and difficult one. I think that the country as a whole has welcomed the Road Traffic Act which was recently passed, and I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) that the Act has worked quite successfully up to the present, and that there is no indication of any increase in dangerous driving as a result of the abolition of the speed limit. In fact, as we have heard recently, the number of accidents on our roads has actually decreased since the passing of the Act. We do not know how or why that has happened, but possibly it may be that drivers are getting more experienced, and pedestrians possibly a little less thoughtless, than they were in the past.
I think that a considerable number of the accidents which occur in London are due to the congestion of traffic. A lot of people try to get across the road quickly just before the traffic starts, and in that way get knocked down. About a year ago I asked the Minister a question about the number of motor omnibuses licensed in the London area. His answer was that the number of omnibuses in 1913 was 2,908, that by 1920 the total had gone up to 3,299, and that in 1930 it was 4,877. So that we have nearly doubled the total since 1913. Can the Minister tell us anything about the longdistance motor omnibuses, and whether he is going to make any regulations as to the number of omnibuses that are to be allowed to circulate in the main streets of the Metropolis? I remember asking a question on the subject a little while ago, and the answer was that apparently there was no limit to the number of long-distance omnibuses which could come into the centre of the Metropolitan area.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Lowestoft mentioned the experiment which the Minister has started in Oxford Street. I would like to say a few words on that subject. One of my complaints, as far as the Ministry are concerned, is that they are too slow in taking action. My right hon. Friend the Member for the New Forest (Colonel Ashley) says "No," but he is to blame just as mach as the present Minister of Transport.
About 18 mouths ago, before the circular traffic system was started in Parliament Square, I put a question about it in this House and suggested that the system should be tried. It took a year and a half for that proposal to be put into operation in London. I also asked a question about parking cars, single parking on one side of the road. The Minister answered that it was being considered. Here I would like to make a suggestion. To my way of thinking the traffic in Paris is very much better organised than it is in London. I suggest to the Minister that he should spend a week-end in Paris and study some of the traffic regulations there. What we have to try to do is to make our streets as safe for the public as possible, both motorists and pedestrians.
I would again put in a plea for another suggestion which I made to the Minister, and that is that we should have what I describe as pedestrians' paths across the main thoroughfares in London. These pedestrians' paths are laid out in all the big streets in Paris by means of metal studs. All pedestrians are expected to cross by these paths and not to cross the roads anywhere else. At one time there was a penalty for crossing at other places, but that is no longer in force. It is not really necessary to have a penalty. The system quite definitely encourages the pedestrian to take a certain route, across the main streets, and it is an advantage to the driver when he knows where to expect the pedestrians to cross. I urge this method from the point of view of the pedestrian more than from the point of view of the motorist.
In the Road Traffic Act the Minister took powers to prevent what might be described as dangerous parking, that is on corners, over bridges and on the top of undulations on roads, just over the brow of a hill. Has the Minister any report to make to the Committee on the subject, or has he made any regulations to deal with this sort of parking? I have travelled about the country quite a lot recently and I have found that people still park their cars on dangerous corners or on the brows of hills and over bridges and so on. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to do something to prevent this practice if he can. I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for something which he did for me a little while ago. I mentioned to him that I had found a case where a motor omnibus was stopping at a very dangerous corner. I wish to say how much I appreciate what he did in having that stopping place removed to a straight piece of road away from the corner.
There are other powers which the Minister took in the Road Traffic Act. One related to the size of vehicles which were to be allowed to travel over certain roads. Recently I have come across a large number of cases where very large motor omnibuses travel along very narrow roads, with the result that there is hardly room to pass. The right hon. Gentleman did take powers to regulate the size of such vehicles on certain roads, and I hope that with his traffic commissioners he will take particular notice of this point and see that these very broad motor omnibuses, which travel about the country, shall travel only on roads that are suited to them, and that they shall not be allowed to travel on very narrow roads as they do at present. I suggest that he might ask his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to provide him with some report on the mobile police. I do not know whether it would be in order to discuss the activities of the mobile police on this Vote, but I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should take into consideration a proposal which I made in a question not long ago, namely, that the mobile police should be equipped with cameras, so that they can take photographs of dangerous parking. Possibly they might be supplied with cinematograph cameras, so as to be able to take pictures of dangerous driving.
The Minister has recently issued some draft regulations with regard to dazzling headlights. I am very interested in them but I am afraid that I do not agree with some of them. In the regulations the Minister has relied on a system of dip ping headlights to prevent the dazzling which is very dangerous. In my opinion the French system is better. The right hon. Gentleman might go outside Paris some week-end and see the lighting regulations at work there. It is a positive system. Whenever a motor car with a bright headlight approaches another car with its lights on, both cars have to turn off the bright lights and put on what are called code lamps, that is lamps which are not as bright and not as dazzling but sufficiently bright for a driver to see any cyclists or pedestrians who happen to be in his path. I suggest that that is the better method, better than the dipping headlight. I know there might be the objection that as a car comes along with an anti-dazzling light, the bumps in the road might throw the light up a little way and cause a certain amount of dazzle. I agree that that is so in the distance.
I have travelled a great deal in France and I have seen this system actually in operation. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that in the distance there is a certain amount of dazzle from the bumping of the road, as the anti-dazzle lights come towards one, but when the vehicles get near each other they are going very much more slowly than they were at a distance, and the range of the bump, if I may so describe it, is such that the drivers of the vehicles, who are sitting considerably above the lamps, are never dazzled when one vehicle is sufficiently near the other vehicle to be dangerous at all. The advantage over dipping is that a positive thing is, done. You switch off one light and put on another. If reliance is placed on dipping some person may dip a certain amount, another person may dip a little more and a third may dip a little more than that, but the result of it is that you have to rely on the good behaviour of the driver to dip sufficiently far down to be able to prevent the blinding of the oncoming driver. That scheme is really better than the dipping scheme suggested in the Minister's regulations, and if the right hon. Gentleman tries it I think he will find that it will be successful.
One thing which is very important is that when these regualtions are issued prosecutions should take place if the regulations are not complied with. The regulations must be absolutely compulsory. A pious hope that someone approaching someone else will dip his headlights is no good at all. What we want is a definite law which will say that when one vehicle with headlights is approaching another vehicle the driver shall be compelled either to dip or to turn out the headlights and put on the code lamps. In regard to the code lamps I suggest that no lamp and no dipping headlights should be allowed to be fitted in future except particular types of lamps which have been passed by the Minister of Transport. That is the case in France. There is one thing about which I do not agree with the Minister, and that is the limitation of the amount of the light. If he makes an experiment on a very dark night, with a wet road, he will probably find that the strength of the lamps suggested, namely, 36 watts, is not enough, and I would urge him, before making any orders under this Act in regard to headlights, to make experiments, as no doubt he will make or has made, on open wet roads, with a large amount of traffic on them, to see whether the strength of the lamps which he has suggested is sufficient.
The right hon. Gentleman spends a large amount of money annually on the construction of roads, and I would like to ask whether he has ever considered, in making these big trunk roads, making a double roadway. It is done in various parts of the world. I mean making a one-way road going in one direction, and another road going in the opposite direction, with a piece of grass or something of that sort in the middle, so as to divide the two. I feel certain that if he did that, quite a large number of accidents would be prevented, and it would save a lot of cutting-in. It would also save accidents on corners, because quite a large number of inexperienced people who drive try to pass other vehicles at corners, and if they had a single-direc- tion road, it would not matter so much if they did pass at corners, because they would not meet anybody coming the other way. If the right hon. Gentleman considered that for the big main roads, it would be an advantage and would help the safety of the public.
Another point which I think might be mentioned here is that on these big roads which he is making he should consider banking the corners. I am not suggesting that all the big main roads should be made like Brooklands, but the Spanish and French roads are banked, and I suggest that when a road becomes slippery with rain, a road banked on the corner is much safer than a road which cambers away, like our big main roads do at corners. I think he might consider that suggestion, because it is being done in a large number of European countries. I am not suggesting it with the idea that people should go faster, but merely with the idea that it is safer to go round a banked corner than it is to go round a corner that is cambered the wrong way. Not only so, but it saves the road itself, because a vehicle skids out on a corner if the road is cambered the wrong way, and the road surface is saved, because that skidding does not take place.
I would like to make one remark about the film which the right hon. Gentleman has had made. Some little time ago I asked a question about it, which I did not mean to be impertinent, because I think it was a good idea, but I would go further and suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should actually have some films taken to show the public the dangers of the road—instructional films, taken from inside a vehicle. If he could do that and have them published, I think it would be a great advantage. Some little while ago I asked a question about lights on the back of public service vehicles, and suggested that when the brake is put on all public service vehicles should have a red light on the back which would come on automatically. The answer was that the right hon. Gentleman thought I was rather bureaucratic and wanted to make too many regulations, but I would like to point out to him that, as a matter of fact, most of the public vehicles on our streets have these red lights on the back, and most cars now are fitted with them, and I suggest that for the safety of the public they should be insisted upon for all public service vehicles before they are licensed.
I also made the suggestion the other day, which I think was misinterpreted, that all public service vehicles should have speedometers fitted to them, so that the public would be able to know how fast they were travelling. I received a letter, among many, in answer to my suggestion, which incidentally was turned down, and this is what the letter said:
You will deserve the gratitude of every careful person in the country for your suggestion about speedometers in these vehicles. A short time ago I came a few miles in one of these public omnibuses and was really frightened at the pace the man drove. I was heartily glad to reach my journey's end.
I think that if the right hon. Gentleman would insist in his regulations that all public service vehicles should have speedometers fitted, so that the public as well as the driver should know how fast they were going, he would in fact prevent them going at the excessive speeds at which they go to-day. He would prevent them, I think, for this reason, not possibly from the protests of the friend who wrote to me, but because it would be so easy for a couple of police officers to get into a motor omnibus, see the speed at which it was travelling, and then prosecute the driver if he exceeded the 30 miles an hour. That was one of the things that I had in the back of my mind when I made the suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, and I think he might even now consider the advisability, not necessarily on the London motor omnibuses, but on the long-distance coaches, which travel so fast, of requiring these speedometers to be fitted inside.
Then there is a point about road signs. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is setting up a committee to inquire into this matter. I hope he is. I think that road signs ought to be standardised all over the country and that they should be made sufficiently large so that people should recognise danger points on the roads. I would make the suggestion also that the right hon. Gentleman should tabulate the main roads, as against the by-roads, at cross-roads, so that when anybody approached a main road from a by-road, he would see a sign on which was written "Main Road Crossing—Stop," so that a person coming into a main road from a by-road should know that if he by any chance had an accident at that crossing he was responsible and not the person on the main road. I think that should be done wherever possible on the main roads, that all the bigger roads should be tabulated "Main road," and all the smaller road crossings also tabulated, so that there should be no mistake about it at all and anybody approaching a cross-road should know whether he was on the by-road or the main road. I think that would add considerably to safety at cross-roads. I would like to ask the Minister to consider the suggestions which I have made. I can assure him that they are all made purely from a constructive point of view, with the idea of trying to make the roads safer for the public and of helping him as much as I can.
I am sure the Committee will be grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) for his protective care of us in our dangerous passages on the roadways, and I am also sure that the Minister will delight in the thought of the week-end in France which is to teach him so much. Personally, I am afraid that I can offer the Minister no such alluring task, because I want to take him off the roads and to invite his attention to the railways.
It was no doubt inevitable that in a society moving towards Socialism the socialised services should receive an excess of publicity and public favour, but our roadways have received public support since the War in a very remarkable degree. I see that it is stated that in the last 10 years we have spent £500,000,000 and more on the roadways of this country, and if you compare that with the fate of the railways, you will realise, I think, that the roads are rather the spoiled darlings of our transport system.
I want the Minister of Transport to turn his attention to the railways. After all, the plight of the railways is a serious matter for the country, and how grave that plight is I need not elaborate. Two slight illustrations
will show what I mean. I see that in the first half of this year the traffic receipts of the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway are down by £3,000,000. I note also that the price of their ordinary stock is now below 16, while eight years ago it reached its highest point of 118. That is a serious matter, and, as I say, I want the Minister to turn his attention to the railways. By way of prelude, I must remind the Committee that in 1844 Mr. Gladstone passed a Railway Act. He did many things in it, such as providing third-class passengers with shelter—with covered carriages—but there were also Sections in that Act the effect of which is described in Halsbury's "Laws of England" in the following words:
The Crown has power at any time on certain conditions to purchase any railway made or authorised since 1843.
To this passage there is a note that this power does not appear ever to have been exercised. I mention that Act not because it has had any practical effect, except to keep the question of nationalisation alive by being on the Statute Book, but because it enables me to raise this matter on the Vote for the Minister's salary. Mr. Gladstone's Act made the first processes of nationalisation an administrative matter, and I am therefore able to raise that question. It is not that I expect the Minister to adopt in its entirety the Gladstonian scheme of nationalisation. He would no doubt find that circumstances have changed, and that both in matters of finance and indeed—
I am not permitted to discuss those points, but I am permitted to discuss the reasons that would lead him to proceed to exercise his administrative power in the direction of the nationalisation of the railways.
That is exactly my point. I shall confine myself absolutely and rigidly to the proposals of the Gladstonian scheme, but I am entitled on that to suggest some reasons why the Minister should adopt the scheme.
The Weir Report has produced a new situation. I should like to express the thanks that all Members must feel to the authors of that report. In this House I suppose we are rather experts in reports of committees and Commissions. It is a dreary and a sombre form of literature which diagnoses social diseases and prescribes doubtful remedies. The Weir Report was distinguished in that class of literature by its lucidity and convincingness and practicality, which I am sure made other Members beside myself grateful to its authors. It bases itself upon two assumptions. To quote its words:
An efficient and progressive railway system is, and will continue to be, a matter of vital importance to the nation. In view of the competition of road transport and. the existing industrial and agricultural depression, it is essential that the railways should examine new methods of reducing the cost of railway transportation.
On those two hypotheses, with which we should all agree, and on a very careful and lengthy examination of the facts they came to the conclusion that electrification was the solution. Since then there has been correspondence with the railway companies about the report and the Minister proposes to negotiate with them. The Press has given summaries of the correspondence, but we need not trouble ourselves as to their accuracy, because it has been clear from the beginning what must be the attitude of the railways on the most favourable assumption that they desire to put the Weir Report into effect. On that most favourable assumption it has been clear that they could not find that money in existing financial conditions unless the State gave them some definite financial support—some guarantee of interest, whatever it may be. Now it is perfectly obvious that, if the State pays the piper, there is only one tune that it could call, and that is the Gladstonian tune of public ownership. I hope, when the Minister engages in conversations with the railways, he does not attempt any third course. The dilemma before him is complete and unescapable. Either the
railways go on by themselves and there is no electrification, because they cannot do it, or there is nationalisation and electrification.
Reverting to the Weir Report, the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) seemed rather dismal about it. I did not quite gather what his quarrel with it was. He threw doubt upon its estimates. No one whose fate it has been to compare the estimates of experts in prospectuses with ultimate results, will be tempted to attach undue weight to them, but these estimates impress one favourably for one very special reason, that they very deliberately exclude favourable factors for which no precise figures can be given. For example, no allowance is made for increased traffic resulting from the improved facilities and greater amenities. As to the figures of profit, the 7 per cent. that they reckon this £260,000,000 will earn is the result purely of economies. No account is taken of possible increased traffic. Does anyone really believe that electrified railways—a faster, better pleasanter service—will not attract larger traffic than they otherwise would? There can be only one answer to that. On the estimate of costs, apart from the estimate of revenue, copper was taken at a cost of £70 a ton, whereas it is now about half that figure. A saving of anything like the difference between those two figures would run into millions. Another saving that they point out is that in their calculation of costs of construction they have made no allowance for bulk purchase of standardised units. Clearly, if you are engaged in a great scheme of electrification, you will be buying large quantities. So that these estimates impress one favourably as estimates which made great allowance for possible errors on the wrong side.
Who will benefit by this scheme of electrification? I want to mention three categories of people who will benefit. In the first place industry. The hon. Member for Lowestoft seems to have doubts about the electrical industry. On that, the letter from the Central Electricity Board which is given in this report is surely conclusive. It has no reason to exaggerate the merits of the electrification of railways. It makes certain statements which carry conviction with them. Firstly the consumers of electricity everywhere will tend to benefit. They say the average cost of production would be more rapidly reduced by reason of the new and increased number of producing stations. Secondly the Board's charge to authorised undertakers would be lowered both on primary and on secondary transmission systems. It is not only the railways that will benefit but the industrial community throughout the Kingdom. Finally, they say "the development of rural electrification will be greatly accelerated." That is equally obvious. If the electrification of railways produces only those benefits, it will be justified, because the electrification of our rural areas and the increased use of electricity in our industrial areas would make a big difference to our civilisation. There is this further point, that it will be of great benefit to the electrical manufacturing industry. The report says "it is clear that any programme of this nature would greatly increase the power of British electrical manufacturers to compete in the world markets due to the steady nucleus of work over which they would spread their standing charges."
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but I cannot directly associate the Minister with the development of this argument. If the proposals the hon. Member is putting forward were to be adopted, they would involve legislation. I cannot connect the Minister's responsibility.
I do not think it necessitates legislation. It may be argued that the railway companies could not raise this large sum of money, but it is perfectly within their legal power to raise the money if they can get the investing public to provide it. As far as the Minister in concerned, he is in active negotiation with the railway companies on this important point. I have no doubt he will recommend that credits should be given them, which will not involve legislation.
I understand that, but my point is that it is not within the purely administrative powers of the Minister to raise capital for private companies. I quite understand that, if the Government did this, naturally it would require legislation; but, if it is to be done by private companies, by capital raised privately, in what way is the Minister responsible administratively for it?
In this way. Under the Electricity Supply Acts and other Acts the Minister is responsible to the House of Commons, as far as any Government is responsible for electricity in this connection, for the development of the industry. Lord Weir's report was made to him. He is in negotiation with the railway companies, and will in due course announce the Government decision. Therefore, I submit that we are entitled to raise the Weir Report.
Perhaps I can help. It is true that the electrification of the railways could be done in such a way as to involve legislation. On the other hand it is arguable that it could be done without legislation at all as the result of Government co-operation with the railways, the Government financially assisting them, or even by the Minister squeezing and urging the railways to do it. I would point that out in order to make the matter clear, though it is true that, if it were done in another way, in a way that the hon. Member has not yet indicated, it might involve legislation.
I do not want to restrict the Committee's discussion upon what is within the administrative power of the Minister, and, if he assures me that he is so responsible, I must, of course, rule the matter in order.
I can pass at once from that particular aspect of the Weir Report to talk of the other classes who would be benefited by this electrification. Is it not clear that both the railways and the railway users and even the railway stockholders would be benefited? The stockholders are not having too happy a time, I understand, and the Weir Report gives them a ray of hope. I will not put it higher than that. As to the users, I do not want to occupy time, so I will only refer briefly to benefits well known to anyone who has travelled on electrified systems.
On the matter of speed, the report has a good deal to say. It gives specific examples of how a train between London and Peterborough with 15 stops is speeded up. It is speeded up from 2 hours 32
minutes to 2 hours 8 minutes, about 10 minutes an hour. Will not that kind of amenity make all the difference to railway travel and will not railway users indeed be grateful I refer also to cleanliness, because cleanliness in travel is a very real amenity, and cleanliness in our cities with lessened smoke and steam and dirt would be a real asset. I have been told that in New York a train is not allowed to enter under steam, and that engines are changed some distance out and the train brought in electrically. If they value pure air there, why should not we also value it here? I think that the general public would value it very much indeed. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) made a great point—I do not know why—of the effect upon the railway staff. The Weir Report went into that very carefully, and they point out what is obvious, that the grades of drivers, firemen, and cleaners must ultimately suffer. They will ultimately, in that form, be extinguished. They point out, what is equally true, that the problem to which this gives rise must be specially examined. They make this remark:
Such consideration as we have given, however, leads us to the view that there will be no serious adverse effects on the men now occupying these grades, particularly having regard to the fact that any schema of electrification will include a considerable intensification of suburban services"—
and so on.
Apart from this, they add that the physical conditions in which motormen and other locomotive staffs will be called upon to work under electrification will be substantially more favourable than the present conditions. From a pure staff point of view, I believe that on balance, if the scheme takes a series of years, it will cause no immediate hardship and will simply mean a transfer of forces from certain grades to certain other grades, and that undoubtedly it will improve the amenities of the services as a whole.
Look at it as an unemployment scheme. Parties in this House have vied with each other in producing grandiose unemployment schemes. There is nothing before the country which is a rival to this as an unemployment scheme. Let me again quote the words of the report:
The estimated employment in this to British labour would represent over 60,000 men per annum for a period of 20 years.
That in itself, surely, is a reason that should make the scheme desirable to the present Government. The hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft raised one further objection, the objection that less coal would be consumed. The Weir Report dealt with that matter. The amount of reduction they estimate is 3.8 per cent. of the national output, by reason merely of the transfer from steam to electricity. But it is the universal experience of all electrical undertakings that the provision of electric current enormously increases the demand for electric current. Does anyone for a moment suppose that if you have an increase of electricity due to electrification of the railways, an increase industrial and universal throughout the country, that that would not mean an increased consumption of coal which would very much more than set off the decreased consumption on the railways themselves?
My final point is the political consideration which should impel a Minister to pursue the Gladstonian scheme. I think that perhaps one of the chief defects of the present time is the lack of enterprise and of energy and vision both in politics and, even more so, in industry. This Parliament, through no fault of its own, has almost necessarily had to pass its time in tinkering with domestic affairs, and it has not been possible to engage in large-scale schemes. But here Mr. Gladstone has shown the way to the present Minister of Transport.
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that this subject must not be pursued too far. It is questionable whether such a scheme would not involve a substantial Money Resolution, and I am quite sure that a Money Resolution of that kind would require to be incorporated in a Bill, and that would certainly be legislation.
Surely it is in order upon the salary of the Minister to discuss administrative affairs which come on the Vote which he controls. However, I do not really want to pursue the point, because I have sympathy with anyone who is conscious of the difficulty in which we are all placed, partly by Mr. Gladstone, partly by myself, and partly by the Rules of Order. The report says that here is a scheme the magnitude of which would be unique in the history of world industry. That is, in itself, a recommendation. I ask specially for the assistance of the Liberal party, because they too have historic interests in this subject. Ever since Gladstone's day the subject has been on the horizon of politics. Sometimes it has come right up into the sky, as when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) declared in 1918 that it was Government policy. I believe that here the Liberal and the Labour parties can follow a policy in unison and attain in 1932, if the Government will only promote it, an achievement which will make this Parliament memorable in our annals.
The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) has done a service to the Committee in bringing forward the case of the railways. I do not say that I agree with all the arguments he has brought forward or with that which he obviously desires to do. It would be out of order if we were to attempt to discuss it. Nevertheless, I think that for many years this House has not paid sufficient attention to the railways. They are, as the hon. Member said, in a very bad way, both from the point of view of making profits and also from the point of view of the employment they are giving. Therefore, the hon. Member has done us a service in telling the Committee, or at any rate bringing the question forward as to whether something cannot be done for the railways as well. When he says that over £500,000,000 has been spent upon the roads in the last. 10 years, it is obvious that the spending of that money must have had a very detrimental effect upon the railways. It has enabled the motor coach trade to capture a large amount of the traffic which was once carried by the railways, and to that extent these private motor coaches have been subsidised by the State in order to take the traffic which once belonged to the railway companies.
The hon. Member went on to talk about the Weir Report and to advocate the complete electrification of the railways. I understand that there are two very definite views and that there are high experts on both sides, one side holding that electrification would be a good thing and the other side holding that it would be detrimental to the railways themselves. In this time of very high unemployment the figures which were given by the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Bentoul) were rather striking. If by this electrification you put at once, or very nearly at once, 60,000 coal miners out of work, and also add to that number a very large number of people who are now employed by the railways, you will find that in this so-called rationalisation you have merely added another 100,000 or so unfortunate people to the unemployment list.
I did not rise for the purpose of making any remarks about the railways, but really to deal more with the Road Traffic Act. I do not think that the Minister can complain this afternoon that he has had to face a very fierce attack. In fact, on the whole, most hon. Members who have spoken have either congratulated him on his administration, or have merely put forward suggestions which they hope he may adopt. I do not think that anybody so far has made an attack upon his administration of the Ministry of Transport, nor do I intend to do so. I want to ask him one or two questions. The Road Traffic Act has been in operation for some time, and I think it would be appropriate for the Minister, when he comes to reply, to give us some survey of it, particularly as it has affected accidents on the road and the question of speed. He will remember that when the Measure was going through this House not very long ago, all sorts of lugubrious prophecies were made as to what would happen when the speed limit was abolished. It was said that every road would become a racing track, that there would be many more accidents and that the number of people killed would even be doubled. I understand from the facts which have been elicited that, as a matter of fact, none of these calamities has come to pass, and that there are actually fewer accidents to-day than there were when the 20 miles an hour speed limit was in operation. Can the Minister tell us—he probably will not be able to do so off-hand—whether there have been a great many more prosecutions for dangerous and careless driving than there were before the Act came into operation? There used to be a great many prosecutions for exceeding the speed limit which would now, I suppose, come into the section dealing with careless and dangerous driving. It would be interesting to the Committee if they could discover whether there has been any very large increase in the total number of prosecutions under these particular Sections of the Act.
I wish to say a word or two about third-party insurance, because that is a subject which has not yet been mentioned in the Debate. When the Bill was before the Committee, there were a certain number of doubts as to this particular Section, and even the Minister himself warned the Committee at the time that it was not really watertight. As far as I can understand, the Section has worked fairly well, with the exception of the small alteration which had to be made when the driving licence period did not coincide with the insurance certificate period. I would ask the Minister in relation to that particular matter whether he has made a regulation on the subject, or whether it is merely an agreement between him and the insurance companies. Is that particular part of the agreement between the insurer and the insurance company, that he shall not be insured if his driving licence happens to have run out, merely an agreement, or has it actually the force of a regulation behind it?
There is another matter to which I wish to draw the attention of the Minister. I have received a certain number of complaints from my division—and I have no doubt that every Member in whatever quarter of the Committee he may sit has also received complaints—that after the road traffic commissioners in their various areas have sat and adjudicated upon cases they have cut off a large number of motor omnibus services which the population of various villages think ought to be retained. I imagine that in a great many cases there will be appeals to the Minister on this subject. I wrote to the Ministry of Transport with regard to one case. The answer that I received was: that the Minister was in the position of a judge in these matters and that, there- fore, he could not take into account anything except when he was actually sitting on the case. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will make the position absolutely clear as to how these cases will come up and, when they do come up on appeal, what particular evidence he will consider to be good if it is put before him. I know of one case in my division where the only service between the village and Weston-super-Mare has been cut off. There is no other means of conveyance, and the people of that particular village, Kewstoke, feel that it is rather hard that the operation of the Road Traffic Act should have cut them off from a means of transport which they had enjoyed.
I received a letter this morning from the scout-master of some scouts who are going away to camp in August. They have been informed by the gentleman who was to take them there in motor lorries that he can take their kits but he cannot take them. I understand that a Bill was before the House this year to regulate that matter. Perhaps the Minister can say what is the present position of that Bill. Has it yet received the Royal Assent, or will it receive the Royal Assent before the end of the Session? If so, am I to understand that I can write to the individual in question and tell him that that Act has become law, and that the scouts and their kit will be able to go to camp in the same lorry?
This afternoon we have had a pleasant change from the normal procedure in Supply, in that we have not put down any Motion for a reduction of the Minister's salary. The Minister must not, however, think, because we have not moved a reduction of his salary, that we have no desire for information. The whole Debate is on a note of interrogation, because the activities of the Minister of Transport are so much in evidence at the present time and are so apt to increase that they touch many aspects of our private and public life. I am, therefore, taking the opportunity of this Supply Day to put a good many questions to the Minister, seeking information. In the first place, may I compliment the Parliamentary Secretary on the statement in which he described the routine work of the Department. He touched on two points to which I will draw attention. First, as to Ramsgate Harbour. Will the Minister never get rid of Ramsgate Harbour? Will that most unfortunate enterprise—Heaven knows why it was put into the hands of the Minister of Transport—never be got rid of. Could not the Minister make a gift of it to the corporation of Ramsgate? If he gave it away for nothing, he might save money by not having to find money for repairs and to make up the deficit in the working of the harbour.
The by-pass road at Colnbrook is a form of activity which is very commendable. I started it; therefore it must be good. I hope that the Minister and his advisers will see that not only is the information gained from that by-pass road available to the Ministry, but is also freely given to the local authorities. The local authorities are primarily responsible for the construction of roads and the repairing of roads; therefore, the experiments on that by-pass should be as widely known as possible. If the Minister would invite the highway engineers of the local bodies to go there occasionally and see what is going on, it would be a very good thing and would help them in their work.
With regard to the Road Traffic Act and the publication of the Highway Code, does the Minister think, or is he sure, that good results have flown from the Act? There can be no doubt, not only from what hon. Members have said but from the general experience of people who use the roads, that for the last year there has been an improvement in road manners. There has been a more universal desire to drive in a safe way and, generally, the situation on the roads today is better than it was a year ago. I do not want in the least to take away from the Minister any credit which may be his in regard to the Road Traffic Act, 1930. Whether the improvement has been post hoc or propter hoc, the right hon. Gentleman can say: "It is my Act and my Highway Code, and it has effected an improvement," whether the actual improvement has come from his Act or not. I would like some confirmation from the right hon. Gentleman that things are, as we imagine, better on the roads and that accidents are decreasing, although they are lamentably numerous. When we contrast our position with what goes on in France, our accidents are favourable compared with theirs. On the whole, we may consider that our highway dangers are diminishing, although they ought to diminish still more.
Another form of activity instituted by the Road Traffic Act is that of the mobile police. By Clause 54 of the Act the Minister was empowered to give grants to local authorities who applied to enable them to set up a body of mobile police, to be conveyed in appropriate vehicles, in order to try to prevent people committing illegalities, warning them if they were going too fast and if they seemed to be cutting in where they ought not to do, and also catching them and taking their names and addresses so as to enable a prosecution to take place if they committed an offence against the law of the road. Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many local authorities have taken advantage of that Clause and how many mobile police are being used? Is he generally satisfied with the conduct of the police? It is not an easy duty that these mobile police have to undertake. They must be courteous, yet firm. They must not try to ride roughshod over the public, because that will do more harm than good, but they must not allow the road-hog to flout their authority. Therefore I hope, as I am sure is the case, that the chief constables in choosing their men from their existing forces took every step to see that only thoroughly reliable men were choosen. If they have done that, I feel that good results will ensue.
Several hon. Members mentioned the signal lights in Oxford Street. On the whole the comments have been favourable, and I join in them. The only warning that I would utter to the Minister is this: Do not, in your natural desire to facilitate traffic, adopt any scheme which is too complicated and difficult to follow. There are limits to the amount of direction which the driver of a motor car can take in. If you bother him too much by saying: "You may not go here and you must go there," he is inclined to give up in despair, and confusion results. When first we started the system of roundabouts, it was very simple and anybody could understand. It was understandable also that if you stopped at right angles at a crossing, you were not to go until the policeman waved his hand. When you have too many complicated directions and signals, it may be that you reach a point where you are doing more harm than good and slowing traffic instead of accelerating it. I welcome this experiment. I am not sure that we ought not to have done it before. Some of the cities in the provinces have anticipated London in this respect, with excellent results. I hope that the Minister will go on with the plan, but I would say to him, "Do not make your plan too complicated, or you will defeat the object you have in view."
Under Part IV of the Road Traffic Act, traffic commissioners were appointed for the 13 areas in Great Britain. Will the right hon. Gentleman say what progress has been made in this new form of control of omnibus and motor coach services? Have there been many appeals from the decisions of the commissioners to the Minister? If so, what steps has the Minister taken to deal with them? I hope that there have not been many appeals, and I do not imagine that there have been many, because the commissioners appointed by the right hon. Gentleman were gentlemen in whom the public should have trust. I would not wish to encourage appeals to the Minister, although there must be that technical right of appeal. If a man insists on appeal, then he must be allowed to appeal, but if I were the Minister I should not encourage these appeals, because the commissioners are men of great experience and ought to be trusted to give wise decisions.
I will deal with another form of activity under the Act of last year, namely, compulsory insurance. A good deal of apprehension was expressed—I expressed it myself—when the Bill was in Committee and on Report, that we were doing an unheard of thing in handing over to certain private companies in the insurance business the decision as to whether a man should or should not be allowed to drive a motor car on the road. Parliament deliberately laid it down that the decision should be arrived at not by any advisory body or by any official body, but calmly enacted that no persons should be allowed to drive motor cars on the road unless they were insured. As Parliament did not face up to the formation of a national scheme of insurance, the only person who can insure you now is a private company or a corporation and, therefore, we have the very extraordinary position at the present moment, Mr. Dunnico, that neither you nor I can drive a motor car unless we can get an insurance company to insure our car. The Committee adopted that course because they knew of no other way of getting round the difficulty in the absence of a national scheme, but I think you can trust the big insurance companies, in their own interests, not to be unduly harsh in the matter of insurance. I should like to know, however, whether the right hon. Gentleman has heard of many cases in which individuals have been refused insurance. I should imagine that if they have they well deserve it. Probably they are quite unfit to be on the road. I should like to ask him a question on behalf of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Colonel Howard-Bury) who is unable to be present. My hon. and gallant Friend a short time ago drew the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that, owing to the form of the insurance policy that the insured person must be the holder of a driving licence, any person who accidentally fails to renew his driving licence will be guilty of a much more serious offence in the absence of an insurance policy. He desires to have some information on this point.
A situation has arisen from compulsory insurance to which I should like to draw attention. A friend of mine was talking with an official of one of the biggest insurance companies, and if the experience of other insurance companies is similar the situation is indeed remarkable. It is obvious that as everyone must now be insured, there are probably five or six times more motor cyclists insured this year than there were last, because very few were insured last year. It is obvious, also, that the number of motor cars insured this year is substantially more than in 1930. But this distinguished official of this large insurance company said that during the first six months of this year they had, actually and not relatively, paid out less in insurance than they did in the first six months of 1930. Therefore, there have been less costly accidents this year. I make a present of that to the right hon. Gentleman. It is a feather in his cap, because he can say that owing to the Act of 1930—
Oh, no. The premiums now being charged for this year have been found sufficient to meet their claims, and my impression is that insurance companies will not have to raise their premiums. There has been a diminution in the number of accidents, and, whatever may be the cause, it is a most satisfactory state of affairs. The right hon. Gentleman as the author of the Act, may justly claim that it is the result of the Act of last year, though whether that is the case I do not know. Let me put another question to him. I apologise for all these questions, and the right hon. Gentleman can answer what he can and forget those that he cannot answer. I want to know how much the hospitals have got from their share of the insurance money. I have not seen any mention of this, and if the Minister of Transport has any information we shall be glad to hear it.
May I leave the everyday activities of the Ministry, and come to matters of perhaps larger moment. I should like some information as to the position of the Government towards the Charing Cross Bridge. The Committee will recollect that three or four years ago a promise was made that if the Charing Cross Bridge materialised the Road Fund would contribute 75 per cent. of the net cost. It is not necessary to go into the whole question at this moment, although, personally, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the transference of Charing Cross Station to the south side of the river and doing away with Hungerford Bridge. The Bill promoted by the London County Council was turned down. The London County Council, with great good temper and long suffering, because they have been kept waiting by successive Governments for years, have investigates the matter still further. They got Sir Leslie Scott to be their chairman, and with a very reliable committee they went into the whole matter again. They have recommended to the council, and the council has approved, a scheme which, after all, is very little different from the scheme turned down by Parliament a year ago. They propose to go on with the scheme, and I should like to know from the Minister, supposing all goes well and scheme No. 6 is adopted by Parliament, whether the offer of 75 per cent. still holds good? It would allay the apprehensions of the London County Council if they knew that that grant still holds good, or at any rate is under consideration. Could the Minister also tell us whether the 75 per cent. offer of the net cost includes the cost of about £1,000,000 to reconditioning Waterloo Bridge? The new bridge was to cost £12,500,000, and the reconditioning of Waterloo Bridge £900,000. I should like to know whether it is 75 per cent. of £12,500,000 or of £13,500,000.
From the discussion this afternoon hon. Members will realise that the activities of the Ministry of Transport are very widespread and very up-to-date. So far there has been no mention of the activities of the Central Electricity Board or the Electricity Commissioners, two bodies which in themselves are almost of sufficient importance to justify a department. The development of electricity in this country during the last few years, in spite of the abnormal trade depression, has been really remarkable. I have no figures with me, but I am not wrong in saying that the amount of electricity consumed by people who take their supply from public bodies, as compared with private stations, is from 5 to 7 per cent. more each year. That is really remarkable. It is not so much remarkable that the private consumer should use more electricity, but the consumption of the private consumer is very small compared with the amount of electricity consumed in industry, and the fact that our staple industries, which are so terribly depressed and when the outlook is so bad, should use more and more of this form of energy, although I am afraid the increase is slowing down, is a very helpful sign for the ultimate recovery of our more modern industries. If you take the amount of commercial electricity con sumed in the Thames Valley you will find an extraordinary increase, which more than counterbalances the less electricity used in Lancashire and Yorkshire and other industrial centres.
I should like to know, so far as the Central Electricity Board is concerned, how finance is developing. I was responsible for the Act of 1926 and, of course, I gave figures which my technical advisers said were the most reliable that could be given. I want to know whether those figures have been justified. I can hardly think they have; not because of any fault on the part of my technical advisers in being too optimistic, but because no technical advisers, or anybody eke, could possibly have foreseen the trade slump of the last two years, and, therefore, if the figures do show that the return for the money spent on the grid and standardisation has been more than anticipated or, alternatively, has not brought in the revenue anticipated, I hope that those who made those estimates will not think that I am criticising them. I am criticising that providence which has sent us two or three years of bad trade, which has hampered the development of this Very necessary work. I am glad to see that the Central Electricity Board, of which Sir Andrew Duncan is chairman, says:
All contracts have been placed with British firms.
That is very satisfactory. I know that they have not excluded tenders from foreign firms. They have not said that they will only allow British firms to tender; if they did that they might open the door to rings which might mean forcing up prices. They have said that it should be open to all comers, and, either because the British tenders were lower or for some other reason, they have been able to keep all this work in the hands of British people. I expect that the reason has been because the British contractors have quoted lower prices than the foreigners. The Committee may not be aware of the fact that before the War this country was a bad third to the United States and Germany in the manufacture; of electrical apparatus, both heavy and light, and, above all, in the electrical apparatus which we exported. I have not the benefit of the official figures, but my recollection is that, taking the years 1926 to 1929, we were
in two of those years first in the export of electrical apparatus, and we were second in the other two years. Therefore, not only are we gratified to find from this report that the contracts have been given to British firms in all cases, but we are also happy to think that that is probably owing to the fact that our British manufacturers and workmen are able to produce the goods as cheaply as, if not cheaper than Germany and the United States.
The last point which I would raise concerns the report of the Weir Committee. I cannot conceive a more important report than that which has been issued by the committee, consisting of Lord Weir, Sir Ralph Wedgwood and Sir William McLintock, and I congratulate the Minister on having brought together these three gentlemen who obviously command respect, not only for their ability but for their integrity and foresight. Any recommendations which they put forward on the subject of railway electrification must carry great weight, especially as Sir Ralph Wedgwood is manager of the North-Eastern Railway. I wish to ask the Committee's attention to some passages in their conclusions because, whether we approach the subject from the angle that something should be done to help an industry which is in the hands of private enterprise, or from the angle that something should be done to assist an industry which is having a bad time with a, view to its ultimate nationalisation—whatever view we take, we must all realise that it is vital to the future of this country and to our daily lives that the railways should function. We obviously cannot allow the railway companies to fade out of the picture. You cannot move coal, iron and steel and heavy goods by road. You must have the railways, not only for goods purposes, but for passenger purposes, for suburban services, and for long-distance travelling. To my mind no motor-car or flying machine can ever take the place of the all-night trains from London to Glasgow or Edinburgh. They will always be necessary if for no other reason than that it is much more comfortable to sleep in a first-class or a third-class sleeping car, than in an airship or a motor vehicle. What are the conclusions at which this
very important committee arrived? Their recommendations are unanimous, and I propose to read some of their conclusions in order to give a connected picture of the problem which the Minister and Parliament and the nation will have to meet. They say:
The existence of the national scheme of generation of electrical energy, and the consequent low price and availability of such energy constitute a new and favourable factor in the economics of further railway electrification in Great Britain.
I have always said that we could not expect the railway companies to give serious consideration to the question of main line electrification until they knew with certainty two things—first, that they could get abundant electricity, and, secondly, that they could get cheap electricity. In the old days before the grid they had to provide their own supplies but now, in a very short time, as a result of the 1926 Act the railway companies will know that they can get an unlimited supply of electricity, and very shortly they will be able to know from the Central Electricity Board what will be the price. If you know that you can get any amount, and if you know the price at which you can get it, then you can come down to hard facts, and consider whether electricity or coal is the cheaper means of moving main line traffic. The Weir Committee deal with the point which I have already emphasised when they say:
An efficient and progressive railway system is and will continue to be a matter of vital importance to the nation …. British railway electrification up to now has been confined to suburban lines and the results, economic and otherwise, have been favourable.
That is quite true, but, of course, one cannot generalise as to main line traction from the results of suburban electrification. It is a very different thing running a shuttle service to Woking or Three Bridges, and using electricity to bring your main line trains to Scotland. Therefore, it is necessary to turn to other sources of information and not to deal exclusively with the precedent of suburban traffic. The Committee point out:
The increased load on the national system which electrification of the railways would contribute, together with its high load factor, would react most favourably on the cost of electrical energy produced for all
purposes while the additional transmission network required for railway electrification would do much to accelerate rural electrification throughout the country.
Obviously, if a certain railway load is added to the ordinary commercial and lighting load in this country, it would help the Central Electricity Board in the production of a cheap supply, because the more they produce the cheaper the price. It would help not only as regards the electrification of the main lines, but, in my opinion, it would help industry generally by creating a better load factor, and as the committee point out it would also make the development of rural electrification easier. They go on to say:
Apart from the direct financial economies of electrification as disclosed in comparative costs of operation electrification offers important indirect advantages associated with speed, comfort, amenity, improved service, and increase of capacity.
That electrification means amenity, and the other points mentioned in that paragraph, goes without saying. It would do away with smoky tunnels; there would be a lack of vibration, and these are advantages to be considered not so much from the personal as from the amenity point of view. The committee say further:
Assuming that such a scheme "—
that is a scheme of main line electrification—
is carried out on a comprehensive programme over a period of 15 to 20 years, on a conservative basis and on the assumption of existing traffic, the new capital involved on the part of the railways would be approximately £261,000,000 and the return on this through the various economies would represent about 7 per cent.…Apart from the direct returns due to these economies other substantial advantages could be realised, the most important being increased revenue from suburban and inter-urban traffic. On a broad estimate, we anticipate that schemes of intensifying suburban working would yield an additional revenue of £5,850,000 representing a return of 13 per cent. on the additional capital expenditure of £45,000,000 involved.…In addition to the expenditure under this programme there would be a further expenditure by the Central Electricity Board and authorised undertakers of approximately £80,000,000 in excess of existing programmes, on which these bodies would earn their normal revenue.
Therefore, the sum involved, as outlined by the Weir Committee, would be £261,000,000 on main line electrification—which money would normally be found by the railway companies—and on suburban
traffic they would have to find an extra £45,000,000. The £261,000,000 on their estimate would bring in 7 per cent. and the £45,000,000 would bring in 13 per cent. In addition, the Central Electricity Board and the authorised undertakers would have to find another £80,000,000 which would bring in 7 per cent. To sum up, it means that a sum of £400,000,000 would have to be found. The amounts I have mentioned come to £386,000,000 and I am allowing a margin for unforeseen contingencies. That sum would have to be found by the railway companies and the Central Electricity Board and the authorised undertakers and spread over 20 years it represents roughly £20,000,000 a year. But, as has been pointed out, and, as the committee state in this report, in the maintenance of roads in the last 10 years we have spent round about £500,000,000 and that expenditure is now proceeding at a rate of over £60,000,000 a year.
I hope that from the point of view of the national interest there will be no tendency to turn down this scheme merely on the ground of cost. It may well be that the Minister may advocate schemes of work to relieve unemployment and he may say with regard to that work that he does not mind the cost. I would say that I want to be quite sure that the £400,000,000 is really going to bring in a return of so much per cent. and, if incidentally, it finds work for the unemployed so much the better but I hope that the Minister and the Committee and the country will not) turn down this suggestion simply and solely because it is going to involve a sum of £400,000,000 spread over 20 years. If the Minister and representatives of the other interests concerned can come together and check these schemes and if they come to the conclusion that this is the amount of money which would be required, then they can go more closely into the question of the probable return, and they can sit down and consider the question of how the money is to be raised. There, no doubt, we shall come to the dividing line as between nationalisation and private enterprise, and perhaps some hybrid measure between the two may be considered, But I hope that the right hon. Gentleman to-night will give a sympathetic answer to my note of interrogation by assuring us that the proposal will not be turned down merely because of the amount involved. If the Government can be assured that there will be a decent return on the money, I am sure that it would be to the advantage of this country in every way to have the railways electrified, because it would make them up-to-date, cleanly, quick and easy to run. After all, electricity is the power of the present age, and, as far as we can see, it will for many years to come hold its own in this form of transport.
May I thank various hon. Members on behalf of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the kindly welcome which he was given in his first speech in that office? May I join in the congratulations to him on the clear and lucid way in which he presented the Estimates of the Department to the Committee? I have to thank hon. Members in various parts of the Committee for the kind way in which they have treated the Estimates of the Ministry of Transport. We are a dangerous Department in many respects, and a danger to ourselves in many ways, because everything that we touch could be made the subject of the most acute political embarrassment to the Government of the day. We have to be careful, and we feel, when we are making the various regulations that the Minister can make, that we live on the edge of a volcano, and that one of these days we shall go too far and we shall all be blown up, and that will be the end of the Ministry of Transport. So far we seem to be safe. Nobody has tried to lop £100 off my salary; so far the full money is there, I am going to get it, and in that respect all is well with the world. The Committee may be sure that I shall not assume thereby that we are always safe. We shall always be conscious of potential criticism and shall try to be careful to forestall it, and to meet it before troubles arise.
The right hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest (Colonel Ashley) and other hon. Members have asked me a number of questions. With regard to Ramsgate Harbour, the right hon. and gallant Member wondered why we ever got hold of it. I think that I explained before that we are the owners of Rams-gate Harbour, Crinan Canal and the Caledonian Canal, and my theory is that the reason the State owns them is the operation by some Conservative Government of the doctrine that if an undertaking pays, keep it in private hands, but if money is being lost, socialise it as quickly as you can, and adopt the principle of "Socialism in our time." I find that most of the undertakings that we own lose money, but I am not going to say that we will give them away. When I buy tramways that lose money, I have to pay for them, so, if anybody wants to buy Ramsgate Harbour, they must pay for it. The sands go with it, and when the lease for the sands runs out, we shall get a higher rent. The Ramsgate Corporation were unwilling to buy, and we are in negotiation with the Dover Harbour Board. Discussions are proceeding, and we may be able to come to an arrangement, but I am not sure. Otherwise, we hope to do well out of the sands in future, and to ease the financial situation. The deficit this year is less than it was last year. In regard to the research station, it was a very wise action of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to initiate that. The first annual report is about to be issued, and it will be given that publicity which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested. Recently the County Surveyors' Society visited the institution, and we shall make similar facilities available to municipal engineers and so on.
With regard to the administration of the Road Traffic Act, I am much obliged to hon. Members who have indicated that they think that the Act, for which I was responsible, is working reasonably well. I think that we ought to pause and pay our tribute to the work which has been done for many years by the National Safety First Association in propaganda and education, which has undoubtedly been beneficial in respect of accidents. The Metropolitan Police have just published figures which indicate that in the first quarter of this year, there was, roughly, a 10 per cent. reduction of fatal and non-fatal accidents as compared with the previous period in the Metropolitan Police Area. It would be unwise to assume that that restricted Metropolitan experience is necessarily typical of the whole country, but the general opinion seems to be that the Act and the publication of the Highway Code, together with the work of the mobile police, the policy of heavier penalties for more serious offences combined with the policy of trying to handle motorists, not in the spirit of assuming that they are criminals and scoundrels, but that they are decent men and women who want to do the right thing on the road because it is right—that all this is producing results. The Royal Automobile Club, who instructed their guides to maintain a careful observation on road traffic in order that the club might ascertain what effect, if any, the new Act is having, have come to the conclusion that, despite the short period during which the new conditions established by the Act have obtained, there is a gratifying tendency on the part of all road users to render roads safer by the exercise of greater caution, judgment and consideration. The Automobile Association, which has a wide experience with its road scouts throughout the country, has also expressed its appreciation of the provisions of the Act, particularly with regard to the institution of the mobile police and the issue of the Highway Code. The chairman of the association has expressed the view that the roads are undoubtedly already safer.
The Highway Code has been issued with the approval of Parliament. We circulated it to about 40 organisations before we brought it to the House. I have always found it an advantage when making regulations, and I found it when making the Highway Code, to have the maximum consultation with the motoring people, the pedestrian people, the trade unions and the employers' organisations. They are of the greatest help to the Ministry in framing these regulations so that they will work in the most smooth and effective way. Therefore, I think that it may be taken that that part of the Act is working quite well, and that the dismal prophecies of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) and others, that the abolition of the speed limit for light cars would turn the roads into regular institutions of slaughter and murder, have not been fulfilled.
I believe that if we can get the motorists to feel a sense of responsibility—to avoid doing dangerous and careless things, rather than be obsessed by the one consideration of how fast they go—although that must be made a consideration—the method of handling the problem as laid down in this Act is better than the old and somewhat narrow method under which we used to act. The mobile police are being organised. My responsibility is to supply the funds for their motor vehicles. The Committee may be interested to know that we have approved a provisional programme of grants in respect of 1,000 vehicles for England and Wales and 122 for Scotland. Grants from the Road Fund have already been made in respect of 684 vehicles operated by 120 local authorities in England and Wales, and 60 vehicles operated by 20 authorities in Scotland. So that, although the Act only came into force at the beginning of the year, it will be seen that considerable progress has been made in this direction.
With regard to Oxford Street, which, of course, is one of those danger points in the administration of the Ministry to which I have made reference; this is the biggest and probably the most complex, so far, of the schemes for traffic control which we have operated. I knew perfectly well that during the first two or three days, or even, perhaps, weeks, during which it was in operation there might be a mess up, there might even be chaos, but you have to go sometimes through chaos to order, and the best thing is to be as cheerful as you can. We tried at first with the aid of the police alone, and we found the regulations greatly improved matters. I am convinced that with the operation of the light signals, the system will work, particularly if we have the co-operation of the motoring community in running at a fair average speed.
Undoubtedly, the local authorities who complain of the cost of traffic police will be assisted by the development of the signalling system, towards which they get a grant from the Ministry. It will economise the use of the police force and check the ten dency for the force to be swollen largely for traffic purposes. I think that the Oxford Street scheme is working reasonably well. I have driven through it two or three times to see how it is working. It is not perfect yet. We shall let it run a little while before the final adjustments are made in the signalling apparatus, and we shall improve it as we go along. Fundamentally, it has succeeded, and the travelling public will get accustomed to it and will find that it will work all right. Criticism has been made that the shields over the lights are rather long. We will watch that, but they are necessary in order to get the proper effect from the lights, and to keep the sun from them. My own observations indicated that the lights could be observed by the average driver, and that there was no difficulty.
We have adopted on that thoroughfare the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass), and provided pedestrian lanes in order to indicate where pedestrians should cross. There are two necessities on that point: one is that the vehicle should stop at the first line, and the other is that the pedestrian should use these places for crossing and themselves observe the automatic light signals, and not attempt to go over when a, change is being made in the colour of the light. It is not only necssary at all times that we should lecture motorists on how they should behave themselves, but we should not be afraid, to lecture pedestrians, although they do not like it we should give them some polite indications that they have a responsibility upon the highway for the safety of the highway, and that it can only be made safe as long as we get the co-operation of everybody. I think that it can be said that the Oxford Street experiment shows every indication of being a success. We shall learn as we go along. The last word has not yet been said, but I believe that substantially we shall find it successful, and that London, where we have been behind in the provision of this method of traffic control, will go forward and catch up with the provinces. Discussions are now proceeding between the Ministry and the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee on the question of establishing further signals in London.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman inquired as to the working of Part IV of the Road Traffic Act. The Traffic Commissioners, of course, have been faced with a very heavy task. Many people expected that they would dish out licences for public service vehicles straight away. The Commissioners on the whole have taken another course, which, I think, is right, of not issuing licences as applications are made, but of getting all the applications before them and surveying the territory with which they have to deal, and then deciding what vehicles are necessary. If licences were issued or refused straight away, applicants who came after might be prejudiced. In June as many licences were dealt with by the Commissioners as in April and May. In the early stages there has been need for argument, and people have been represented by counsel, and I am sure that the learned profession is grateful to the Act. In many ways, that was bound to happen in the first year, but, as time goes on, we shall jump to principles more quickly as they become established, and the indications are that the work of licensing will go along more quickly in time.
Already about 150 appeals against decisions of the Commissioners have been lodged with the Minister. I am afraid we are going to have a lot of appeals. I am not too happy to have these appeals. I am bound to say that when the Act was going through I looked forward with some interest, and perhaps some eagerness, to the exercise of this Ministerial authority—settling these things on appeal; but I am equally bound to say that the nearer I get to the job the more I realise that I am going to be in great trouble, whatever I do. They are intricate, difficult decisions, that land you into criticism whichever way you go; but my own experience in administration at the Ministry is that the best thing to do is to make sure you have all the facts, be fair and impartial, do the right thing, and stand by it. On the whole I find that the House of Commons stands by you as long as it is convinced that you are acting fairly and sincerely in the discharge of those responsibilities. That is the spirit in which we shall go on.
The function of a Member of Parliament in all these matters is one of some difficulty. I am getting letters from Members of Parliament, who have had letter" from their constituents, about individual omnibus applications, and even hefty petitions which somebody has organised—sometimes, I suspect, the operators themselves—with large numbers of signatures, demanding a licence. It is my duty always to consider the letters of Members of Parliament with the greatest respect and courtesy. On the other hand, it would be equally wrong, I am sure the House will agree, for me to be influenced improperly by ex parte statements from Members of Parliament when I have to act on evidence received and arguments heard before an impartial inquiry in a judicial spirit. So on the whole, at the end of the day, I shall consider the arguments that are addressed to me and the facts of the case and do what I think is right, and chance my arm; and I believe that if I do that Parliament will understand. While I cannot refuse to receive letters from Members of Parliament, Members of Parliament will nevertheless understand the difficulties of the situation, and will not embarrass me more than is necessary.
The compulsory insurance part of the Act is, so far as we can tell, working all right. There was a quite natural apprehension that the insurance companies might pick and choose among applicants for policies, refuse some people policies and so automatically deprive them of the right to drive on the roads. We have had a few complaints, but not so many as I should have expected. Sometimes a complaint comes from a man who has been refused but who has applied only to one company. We tell him to "have a go" at some others, and he gets through. Again, a man who applies is found to have such a record on the road that it is perfectly obvious that companies are entitled to refuse him a licence, and on the whole it is in the interests of the community that he should be refused. But, really, this part of the Act has worked more smoothly than one could have anticipated, and the fears we had of it have proved more or less groundless. I am always grateful for the suggestions put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Colonel Howard-Bury) and the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe both in questions and letters. Let them never think that I resent their questions or letters. The more Members of Parliament are interested in the Ministry of Transport the more I like it. It shows we are worth taking an interest in; it is part of our goodwill that they should be interested in us. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford raised the point of a person being out of order for driving because he did not possess a licence. He had got his five days' grace, but at that time his insurance was not effective because he did not possess a licence. The insurance companies have agreed that in all future policies failure to renew a licence will not prevent a policy holder from being covered, so that there will be no difficulty; and they have gone further and have assured me that in respect of all existing policies they will in practice not enforce the conditions with regard to drivers' licences.
Before these consultations took place a certain number of people were convicted and had their licences taken away for a year or more. Now it is no longer a serious offence, could not the Minister see whether in those eases their licences could not be given back to them?
The point shall be noted, but that is a question of the administration of the law, for which I am not responsible, and should properly be raised with the Home Office. The point will be noted, and I will see that it is brought to my notice in the Department, in order that we may see whether it is possible to communicate with the Home Office. I imagine it is a matter of the greatest difficulty, once a conviction is recorded, to get it annulled. However, without prejudice, as the saying is, I will have the point looked into. I am interested to hear that the companies are paying out less. If that should prove to be the case, it may be, as a result of this Act, that instead of premiums being increased they may be reduced, because I am quite sure that the companies, being generous and charitable bodies, will be ready to reduce the premiums if they can. I am sorry I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman any information as to how much hospitals have got out of Part II of the Act as a result of the rather dangerous and difficult controversy we experienced during the Committee stage of that part of the Bill. We have not the information.
The right hon. Gentleman wanted to know what was the position with regard to Charing Cross bridge. The position is, of course, that a Select Committee of the House last year rejected the Bill after it had been carried on Second Reading by 230 votes to 62. Thereafter I intimated to the London County Council that if they were disposed to move for the recommittal of the Bill the Government would support them. The county council, no doubt for good reasons, did not adopt that course, but appointed an advisory committee, which largely consisted of critics of the scheme and others, with instructions to produce an agreed scheme. I am afraid they have not produced an agreed scheme, and there is some controversy going on, but undoubtedly the council are under a debt of gratitude to the advisory committee, and particularly to Sir Leslie Scott and to Mr. Pick, the vice-chairman, for the great and conscientious work they have done. I know that Sir Leslie Scott has taken up the matter with great seriousness and given great attention to it, and he has rendered a considerable public service by the work he has done. When the council decided to appoint an advisory committee, we were asked to be represented upon the advisory committee. On the whole I thought that was not wise for us, but our officers were available for consultation with the committee. I had to point out to the council that when the committee reported and the council were ready to go forward with the scheme I could not say what the position of the Road Fund would be, or what the condition of the national finances would be at that time. Therefore, the Government are perfectly free as regards any promise to make a grant towards the construction of Charing Cross bridge. A letter which I wrote to the council made that perfectly clear—that we would have to consider the situation in the light of the merits of the scheme and the condition of the Road Fund at the time.
If my memory serves me aright, when the advisory committee were appointed, about a year ago—a substantial time ago. That has been perfectly clear to the county council all the way through. The position now is that we have just received a letter from the clerk to the council, following the council's meeting on Tuesday, intimating to us officially the decision of the council on Charing Cross bridge, and asking whether the Government approve of the scheme and whether it will implement the promise of a 75 per cent. grant. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. The promise which the Conservative Government made and which we accepted in connection with last year's scheme was both in respect of Charing Cross bridge and the Waterloo Bridge, assuming that they went on together and were part and parcel of the same scheme. The present position is that that letter has been received—it has only just reached me—and will be immediately considered and replied to.
I will not disguise from the House, although I am not in a position to inform the House of any decision of the Government, that we must seriously consider such a very large expenditure on this matter at this time of very great difficulty in the national finances. An expenditure of £12,500,000 on this purpose is an expenditure which has to be considered with the greatest responsibility at a time when the national finances are in the condition in which they are at the present moment, and obviously the new situation as regards international relationships, in their financial reactions, has made additional difficulties for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in some ways. It is perfectly obvious that the Government must consider the matter with a sense of responsibility from the point of view of the national resources. But I hope we shall come to a decision quite soon, and if the right hon. Gentleman cares to put down a question for next Wednesday, while I cannot promise it may be that I shall be able to give him an answer as to the decision of the Government on the communication from the London County Council.
May I just remind the right hon. Gentleman that the money will not have to be found in one year? The building of the new bridge will take seven or eight years at least, and so the expenditure would be spread over a long time.
That is perfectly true, and that is one aspect to be considered. But, on the other hand, it is a little bit dangerous, when considering the national finances, to forget the sum you are spending and only to remember that you are going to spread it over a number of years. But it is a consideration which it is legitimate to take into account.
I was asked a question about electrical development. Consumption of electricity in Britain is increasing year by year; despite the slump it went up last year by about 6 per cent., whereas consumption decreased in Germany and America. With regard to the estimates of the Central Electricity Board, the programme of transmission construction is going forward as arranged, and I think it can be said, although things are not yet final—the slump is making things difficult—that the right hon. Gentleman can take it that nothing has happened so far which indicates that his estimates made in 1926 were gravely wrong. I think that, substantially, his estimates have stood the test, and he need not in any way hang his head in shame about the Act of 1926. It was an Act which was technically sound and for which he is entitled to take credit. From a technical aspect—I will not say anything about questions of more fundamental policy and of a more controversial character that may be involved—I think the Act of 1926 was of substantial advantage to the industry, was well founded and is going to be useful.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Kensington (Mr. West) asked me about electricity prices, but I must not go very far, because he did not get very far before Mr. Dunnico pulled him up. I would only say that it is open to local authorities, or 20 consumers, to make application to the Minister and the Minister may make an inquiry and fix maximum prices. I will not pretend that the present arrangements or the present law are satisfactory. Having said that, I will say no more. We are doing the best we can under existing conditions.
Yes. I do not think it is a statutory right, but, in practice, if 20 consumers make a proper application, prima facie the Ministry are disposed to take the application seriously and to institute an inquiry, and to fix a limit. I am surprised that the people and the local authorities in districts where electricity prices are notoriously high have not exercised their rights in this respect. It is their duty to do it, they ought to do it, because it is not in the interests of the industry or anybody else that electricity charges should be unduly high. [Interruption.] I am now informed that 20 consumers have a statutory right in the matter. The only other subject of substance was the matter introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul), with which my right hon. Friend (Colonel Ashley) dealt, namely, the question of the Weir report. The House and the country as a whole is under a debt of gratitude to Lord Weir, to Sir William McLintock, whose name appears now as prominently as that of Sir Bernard Spilsbury himself as a person who gets called in on certain subjects, and to Sir Ralph Wedgwood. We are all very much indebted to them for the admirable work which they have done. I have never apologised for appointing that committee or for making Lord Weir chairman. I am a great admirer of the other Weir report which led up to the Electricity Act. That is still one of the finest simple statements of the problem of electrical generation which one can read, and I was glad to ask him to follow it up with a report on the question of railway electrification.
The problem of railway electrification is a problem of the greatest importance, and it raises important issues of industrial policy. The Committee need not think for a moment that I am going to sneeze at the recommendations of the Weir report. That report has to be taken into careful consideration by the Government in dealing with the future of the railways, with how far they can be re-equipped, and with other similar matters. It is perfectly true that the committee indicates that coal consumption will, as a result, be reduced by over 3 per cent., or by 10,000,000 tons a year. That is a great consideration which must be taken into account. It is perfectly true that part of the economies which will be secured will be the result of reorganisation of the locomotive side of the industry. One must not be afraid of carrying through a big scheme of industrial re-equipment because of those two facts. In the end, the problem of making our industry efficient is bound to be solved in the same way in which the old problem was solved. The Committee may take it that the Government will consider the report very seriously and with every sense of responsibility. It is a report which, although it deals with big figures, must not frighten us merely because the figures are big.
The present position is that the report has been sent to the railway companies for their observations. They have had their technical people busily examining the report, and I believe they are still, probably in some subsidiary respects, examining the report. Although, of course, it is signed by the General Manager of the London and North Eastern Railway, that does not necessarily commit the railway companies to it in every respect. The railway companies have communicated to the Government, not their detailed views on the report or on the problem, but a letter which indicates certain broad considerations. The question has been raised by the hon. and learned Member as to the publication of the letter. I thought it right that the question of publication should not be considered until I had had an opportunity of consulting with the railway companies and given them an opportunity of further elaborating their point of view. I want a considerable amount of information from them as to their attitude, and they can no doubt advise me as to the technical and operating side of the problem. I have now arranged to meet them on Friday next week when the whole problem will be discussed between myself and the railway companies, and I think the letter had best not be published in the meantime. The Committee will forgive me if I do not go any further into detail as I do not want to prejudge the meeting with the railway companies. The Committee may, however, be fully assured that we shall take the report submitted to us into the fullest consideration.
With regard to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe, he need not assume that the question of speedometers on public service vehicles is finally decided. He has still hope for I have not turned it down, and I shall take it into consideration. I am surprised to hear him advising me to appoint another committee. I notice that the suggestion was not received with hostility by the Opposition, but I am not going to appoint a committee on road signs; I am going to call certain people into consultation. I shall not appoint a committee, because if anything we have been accused of being a little generous in appointing committees. I have taken the matter to heart myself. In conclusion, I would thank the Committee for the way in which they have received the Estimates of the Department, and I would express the hope that, having been pronounced not guilty of any grave crime or rather a verdict "not proven," the verdict of the hon. and learned Gentlemen, having been returned, they will now give us the money.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any information as to the policy which the commissioners have adopted with regard to making licences in larger industrial centres, such as the one I represent, conditional on adequate provision being made for the needs of working-class people who are travellers. Since the commissioners have been appointed, there has been no alteration in the fares of omnibuses in my city, no workmen's fares, and no penny fares. We were hoping that the commissioners would take that into consideration and make these fares a condition.
With regard to the latter question, I am afraid there is difficulty about enforcing uniformity of charge. The only way it can be dealt with is by an amendment of the law, which I cannot discuss now. The existing law is very weak on the subject, and that is the only way it can be done. With regard to the point raised in the previous question, local authorities can appear before the Commissioners—as can also certain other people—and can argue that the fares are too high. The Commissioners can fix both maximum fares and minimum fares in order to prevent uneconomic working. It is perfectly competent for the Commissioners to do it. It is probable that they will not be desirous of doing it in the earlier months. The thing to do will be for the local authorities to appear before the Commissioners and ask them that such a step should be taken.
The Debate to-day has shown what a wide range of subjects the Ministry of Transport covers, but there is one aspect of it which has not been mentioned to-day, the question of horse traffic on the roads. I would like to say a word or two with regard to the views of the Shire Horse Society and of the National Horse Association, on behalf of whom I speak, about the restrictions in Oxford Street; and I would like to add a consideration or two with regard to horse traffic in general. There are really two aspects of this subject, including the agricultural, which it would not be proper to discuss to-night, but which is one of very great importance. I need only remind the Committee that two or three days ago we were lamenting the fact that agriculture was in such a parlous condition. If I might give one illustration only by way of making clear the importance of horse transport to agriculture, I would quote the report of the United States Department of Agriculture for a year ago, which says that they estimate that the horse and mule population there has been reduced by no less than 6,250,000 in the last 10 years and that the effect of that was that 18,000,000 acres—it would, of course, be a smaller amount here—had been taken out of cultivation, for that purpose and had been thrown into the cultivation of products in a market which was already glutted. I mention that just in passing, to show the effect which the motor, in superseding horses, has upon the agricultural community. That sort of thing which has happened in the United States is happening the world over. It is rather wide of the point we have under discussion to-day.
I would say that horse transport quite rightly can only survive on its merits, and therefore I would like the House for a few moments to consider what its merits
are. I would like to remind the Committee that a question was asked of the Minister of Transport with regard to this matter, and his reply was as follows:
There can be no question that, as a matter of sheer transport economics, for short distances and frequent stoppages the horse is still the more economic.
I can assure the Committee that the Shire Horse Society have for many years taken out a comparison of costs between motor and horse transport. Quite recently the National Horse Association have made a very full inquiry. I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee with a number of examples, but I shall quote one, which is typical of a large number. It relates to a large transport firm in London, who operate both horses and motors, and they have been kind enough to supply us with the following figures of their actual costings of the two different forms of transport. Their figures are really rather striking and show about a 25 per cent. advantage in favour of horse transport for, of course, the class of work for which it is suitable. Their figures show that the cost for a single horse vehicle is 17s. 9d. a day and that for a 2S-cwt. motor, which would be a moderately close comparison, is 24s. 2d. If we come to a larger-sized form of transport, their figures show that a pair-horse van costs 25s. 7d., while the 4-ton lorry runs out at 36s. 6d. Whether you take the single horse or the pair of horses, you find a very large advantage in favour of horse transport on the ground of cheapness as against the motor.
I come to the Oxford Street restrictions. These societies feel a sense of gratitude to the Minister of Transport for the very careful consideration he has given to the point of view they have put before him, and they feel grateful, too, for the concession which has been made, the requirements being of such a kind that, in point of fact, the Oxford Street position is really of little consequence. But I must say that, although that particular experiment has not caused us damage, it has caused us a fright. Of course, we feel that, although it may be quite unintentional, it may, nevertheless, actually happen that repetitions of such experiments would, in the ordinary way, bring a sort of pressure on mechanical transport to supersede horse-drawn vehicles. I do not wish to make any prophecy as to how well the Oxford Street experiment will answer, but I ask the Minister of Transport, before he repeats or extends that experiment, very fully to weigh up the effect of such a changeover. I admit that it is a great advantage to get a more rapid transport, but as against that you have to weigh up and take a national view of the question, the damage it would do to our agricultural industry, and above all the extra cost that it would imply in regard to transport. If transport is going to be put up in price, that extra cost must be inevitably passed on to the goods that are transported, and that is a very serious item which must be taken into account.
There is one other matter of quite a different kind to which I wish to refer. The Minister of Transport, in his concluding remarks, referred to the financial position of the country and the urgent need for wise economies wherever they could be carried out. The other day I came across an example in the country which needs to be investigated. It is the case of a country road 12 feet wide, which is in a very bad condition. It was obvious that something would have to be done with it, and the local authority, probably quite wisely, decided that while they were about it they would increase the width of the road and make it 14 feet wide. They approached the Ministry of Transport on the question of grants, and discovered that, instead of making it a 14-feet road, if they made it 16 feet wide, they would get a very much larger grant, so much more in fact that it would be cheaper for them to have the 16-feet road than the 14 feet. That may be very wise economy from the point of view of the local authority, but we must remember that it is public money, whether it comes from the local authority or the Treasury, and I submit that it would be much better for us to secure economy in cases of that kind. This road is a couple of miles long and probably it is not the only one which has been dealt with in that way.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Smith-Carington) appealed to the Minister of Transport to repeat the Oxford Street experiment in other parts of London, but I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman practically to exclude the horse-drawn vehicle from the streets of London altogether, and I do so for this reason. The Minister of Transport has no doubt read of the agitation in a number of London papers in which they state that you cannot alter the streets of London, and therefore something has to be done to speed up the traffic. The obvious thing to do is to remove the slowest moving traffic off the streets, and that happens to be the horse-drawn vehicle. It is a well-known fact that a horse-drawn vehicle in a stream of traffic at Charing Cross affects that stream as far back as Ludgate Circus. That being so, if we do not remove the horse-drawn vehicle entirely, we should restrict it to certain hours of the day. Two years ago I suggested to the Minister of Transport that this should be done, and I pointed out that it was done in Paris. The right hon. Gentleman replied that he was not Minister of Transport for Paris, but I am glad to see that he has now taken some action along the very lines which I suggested two years ago. I now suggest that he should extend that practice, and bring the same rules and regulations into operation in other streets.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford has pointed out that a horse-drawn vehicle is very much more economical. I dare say that is so for the particular people who are using the horse-drawn vehicle, but it is not so for the ordinary person who is trying to get from one part of London to another in the shortest space of time, either on an omnibus, walking, or in a taxi-cab, because the horse-drawn vehicle holds up the traffic. Another argument which has been used is that a horse-drawn vehicle can turn round in a very much smaller space than a motor vehicle. I was waiting for the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford to make that point, but I would like to remind him that the new six-wheeled motor vehicle which is now in operation can turn round in exactly the same space as a horse drawn vehicle.
I was arguing that they should be restricted to certain hours of the day. I am speaking more of the centre of London than districts like the East End, where the streets are wider than in the West End. Therefore, that objection to the motor vehicle has been disposed of in regard to the turning circle. The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) said that the Minister of Transport moved too slowly for his liking, but I really cannot agree that the Minister of Transport moves anything like as slowly as his predecessor the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Christchurch (Colonel Ashley). The whole tone of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech was in favour of caution and not moving too fast. I think the present Minister of Transport has actually done more in the two years during which he has been in office than his predecessors did in 10 years. I do not say that I agree that all that the Minister has done is good, but I think a great deal of it is good. Surely it is better to do something, even if you make occasional mistakes, and get on with the job. I congratulate the Minister of Transport and his Department most heartily on the work that they have done. The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe referred to the regulation of traffic and he said that traffic was regulated better in Paris than in London. There seems to be a prevalent opinion among some hon. Members that that is not so, but I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe on that point. I believe that the traffic in Paris is better regulated than it is in London. The reason for that may be hard to find, but one of the reasons is that the police in Paris are very definite when they give their instructions for the traffic to stop, and they use their white batons. You think that they are going to hit you on the head. I think some regulation of that kind might be adopted in regard to our own traffic.
I hope the Minister of Transport will not alter his regulations in regard to the use of motor headlights. It has been suggested that we should adopt the French method. I think the French method is not as good as the English method, but the dipping headlight ought also to swivel to the left. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not adopt the French method. I would like to refer to the banking of roads at corners. In Scotland quite a number of corners have been banked. This policy has been adopted in countries like Spain, and I think it might more largely be carried out in this country. With regard to insurance premiums, I interrupted by saying that I understood that the insurance companies were going to raise their premiums. I have read a statement to that efiect in motor papers and in the daily papers, and I was very glad to hear the Minister of Transport say that accidents had decreased and not increased. If there is any attempt on the part of insurance companies to raise premiums, I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will take some action to prevent it. With a decrease of accidents, premiums ought to come down and not rise. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to do something in regard to the point I have raised with regard to horse traffic.
As to the Oxford Street signalling experiment, I congratulate the Minister of Transport upon having brought those signals into operation, and I hope he will bring the same system into operation in other streets, possibly the Strand. I know it is difficult to apply those signals in some parts of London, because London is not like New York where the traffic goes north, south, east and west, and where the whole place is constructed in blocks. London is badly planned from an architectural point of view so far as its streets are concerned, and therefore it is very awkward to have these light signals in some parts, but, where-ever it is possible to use them, I hope they will be used. I have discovered that it is possible now to drive down Oxford Street at a reasonable speed in half the time that it took 12 months ago, and that, shows how this system has speeded up the traffic. For these reasons, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will adopt that system in other parts of London.
The first point that I want to address to the Minister is one that concerns my own constituency of North Hackney. I need not excuse myself to the Minister on the ground of not having given him notice of this point, as his own constituency is next door to mine, and he will know about what I am going to say. For some years past we in the north and north- east of London have complained of our lack of facilities for travelling, and it was in order to try to do something in that respect that the prolongation of the tube north from Finsbury Park was undertaken. I want, however, to impress upon the Minister that that prolongation of the tube, which is now under construction, will not affect either my constituency or his, and that the work, for which we pleaded for some time, of electrification of the London and North Eastern Railway, or the making of some tube through that district, is just as urgent now as it was then. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will not be content with the extension of the tube, but will see whether this electrification of the London and North Eastern Railway cannot be put in hand soon. It has been talked about, anyhow, for the eight or nine years that I have been in the House, and it is still very urgent. I am sure that there is a number of jobs of work which could be done, both in connection with the electrification itself and in connection with the alteration and modernisation of stations on the line. The facilities are not good in Hackney and the neighbouring districts. We have only the trams and omnibuses in a very congested thoroughfare, and this very antique steam railway, which urgently needs electrification. I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary will ask the Minister to see whether anything can be done in that respect.
I am sure we were all delighted to hear that accidents in London have gone down by about 10 per cent. That is very good news indeed. The Minister mentioned that in Oxford Street and other places he has tried the experiment of fixed crossing places for pedestrians, and I want to urge him to see whether he cannot, in conjunction with the Home Office, come to an arrangement by which pedestrians are made to cross these important thoroughfares at fixed crossing places. That has been done elsewhere, without a great deal of friction and with success. Certainly, in some cities in America, if you cross the road carelessly, you are had up by the police for causing accidents and traffic congestion, just as you would be if you crossed a main road in a motor car carelessly and thereby caused accidents. A very unfortunate example occurred only yesterday, when certain Members of the House were travelling in a motor coach in order I see one of the Government institutions Unfortunately, a woman jumped from behind a tram, not at one of these fixed crossings, and she was knocked down and ultimately died. If that woman had crossed just a little further up the road where there was a proper crossing place this unfortunate accident would not have happened. Hundreds of these accident happen because people are so terribly careless in crossing the roads, and I hope that the Minister will look into that point, and see if he cannot do some thing to force pedestrians, on these appallingly congested roads, to cross at fixed crossing points.
The Minister, in reply to a question which I put to him, said that he would look into the question of slow-moving traffic—I do not necessarily mean heavy traffic—being forced more to keep to the left-hand side of the road. Any Member of this Committee who has done any motoring knows what a lot of congestion is caused, particularly on our broad arterial roads, by small and slow cars which will stay in the middle of the road and will not keep to their own side. As a result, anything faster which has to pass such a car must either cut in on the left, which is breaking the Code, or must swing right out and risk hitting something coming the other way. Without any desire to see racing on the roads, I feel sure that every Member of the Committee will agree that that continually happens. I have asked the Minister whether he could not, in conjunction with the Home Office, use some of the present mobile police in order that on these roads they may warn traffic which follows this practice. The Englishman seems to have what no other nation possesses—a desire to keep as far from his own side of the road as he possibly can. Members who travel abroad in cars may have noticed the tendency, particularly in France, for the French driver, when another car is passing, to get as far in on his own side of the road as he can; but in England, for some extraordinary reason, when two cars are passing, they seem always to pass as close to the middle of the road as they possibly can. It would relieve congestion, and do away with a very fruitful source of accidents, if the mobile police could give an eye to this type of driving, which is really only due to carelessness and could easily be put right if the police would take it in hand.
For years past I have advocated that heavy goods and merchandise should be sent by rail, to the benefit of the railways, and successive Governments have adopted that policy by putting very heavy taxes on the heavier type of road transport. I hope that the present Minister is not going to reverse that policy in his endeavour to get passengers back to the railways, but that he will realise that the railways would do better by concentrating on the heavier type of transport; and he himself can do a great deal of good, both to the railways and to the roads, by seeing that this heavy stuff is not carried on the roads, but is diverted once more to the railways.
I desire to direct attention to the subject of noise. I think it can be truthfully said that the Road Traffic Act, so far, has not resulted in a reduction of the noise of motor traffic. Those of us who study the correspondence columns of the "Times" must have seen that an immense amount of discomfort is caused throughout the country by noise. We have it all around us. We have aeroplanes above, we have motor cars on the earth, we have speed boats on the water, even on the Thames outside this House, and we have wireless everywhere. We live in an age of noise, and I want to appeal to the Minister to try to do something to deal with what is undoubtedly a very serious evil. The worst offenders are, of course, the motor cyclists. They create noise in the most wanton and unnecessary fashion. I am satisfied that it is not the machine that makes the noise, but the man who is on the machine. I am strengthened in that view by a letter which appeared the other day in the "Times" from Mr. H. R. Watney, the Director of the British Cycle and Motor Cycle Manufacturers' and Traders' Union, Limited. He wrote:
It is the driver of the machine who is responsible for the noise, and not the motor cycle itself. British manufacturers are all producing machines of such excellence that it is possible to use them in sufficient silence.
I appeal to the Ministry to take steps to compel motor cyclists to use their cycles in such a way as not to cause the widespread annoyance and discomfort to
which they lead at the present time. The dirt tracks, also, are responsible for an appalling amount of noise. Is it not possible to reduce the noise that they cause? I live in South Kensington, and at no great distance away there is a dirt track in the Fulham Road, The noise is perfectly inhuman on Wednesday and Saturday nights—
I am glad to have that pointed out. There is no doubt that an immense amount of harm is done to health by noise. I was very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Freeman) asked a question in the House of the Minister of Health on the 22nd July:
Whether he will consider the desirability of setting up an inquiry, on the lines of the Commission of Health of New York upon City Noise, into the injury done to public health by constant loud noises, such as riveting, pneumatic drills, motor horns and steam whistles? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1931; col. 1507, Vol. 255.]
Noise is undoubtedly injurious to health. People say that you get accustomed to it, and so you do, but it is only by the coarsening of the nerves. Although you may not be conscious of it, a certain amount of vitality is withdrawn and wasted in resisting the physical effects of noise, and in people who are subjected to constant noise the auditory nerves become dull, they lose the capacity for appreciating music, and undoubtedly they suffer in many ways. I appeal to the Minister to consider this question of noise. It is constantly referred to in public gatherings and in the Press, and I hope that something will be done, especially, to deal with motor cyclists.
I fully agree and sympathise with the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser). Day by day noise is increasing in the cities, and, in spite of the efforts of the Home Office, very little seems to be done nowadays to stop the noise or the vibrations which also are transmitted through the air and the earth on all sides of us. I would join with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Hackney (Captain A. Hudson) in asking the Ministry to adopt the attitude of co-ordination as far as possible with regard to all means of transport that are under his control. I do not think that we use our means of transport in the best possible fashion. We have excellent railways, we have a very good road system, and we have canals. Why should we not combine them, and use that particular form of transport which is most suited to the circumstances of the case? I hope that the tendency of the Ministry will be as far as possible to drive off the roads all heavy traffic which ought to be carried on the railways. Although, I believe, £500,000,000 has been spent on our roads, many of them even to-day are not nearly sufficient to carry the 10, 20 and even 50-ton loads which they are sometimes called upon to bear. It is not right that they should carry those loads, which ought to be carried on the railways. The railways are not paying today because so much traffic is going on the roads. The roads do not pay rates, and, therefore, the traffic on them can be carried far more cheaply than on the railways, which have to pay very heavy rates and taxes.
We have heard about the Weir Report and the expenditure of £400,000,000. An hon. Member suggested that we should not be afraid of that amount, and said that he hoped for the support of the Liberal party in spending this vast sum. The Weir Report aims at the electrification of all the railways. I ask the Minister very seriously whether he has considered other methods. Has he noticed that in the Irish Free State they have adopted the Drumm battery, which may revolutionise the method of transport on the railways. The battery is carried in a carriage; each carriage is self-contained, and there is no need for overhead standards. It may be that the electrification of railways can be carried out at far less cost than by the method suggested in the Weir report. Again there is the question of the Diesel electric engine of which very little is known, but with which experiments are taking place. Before we commit ourselves to the vast expenditure of the Weir Report, we ought to examine all possible alternatives. Certainly we want to see the electrification of the railways to the suburbs around London and all the big towns, but on the main lines it will not pay to electrify. It would involve an enormous expense, and before it is undertaken we should make sure whether the work can be done at a far cheaper rate.
I want to raise one or two points with regard to traffic in London and the big cities. We have a great deal to learn from the Continent. Before we adopted the roundabout system, it had been in force in France for a considerable time, and it was only adopted here under pressure. Now in Oxford Street, London, we are adopting methods that have already been adopted in the great boulevards of Paris. In Paris, too, they have a system of studs across the roads to guide foot passengers, and woe betide any driver who runs down any pedestrian between those lines of studs. The Minister might well consider whether it is not worth while to make such crossings in London, with white lines or studs, and to inflict far heavier penalties upon any driver who knocks anyone down between those lines. Pedestrians ought to be able to cross a road in safety. The French police prevent people crossing at unauthorised places. I have been pulled back by a gendarme and have been asked why I was crossing at a particular place. I was told that it was dangerous and that I was risking my life. The French have a system of fines which they can impose on the spot on anyone who crosses a road in the wrong place. I was not fined, but warned and treated with great politeness. The Minister should have zones of safety where passengers can cross the street, and penalties should be inflicted on any driver who endangers a foot passenger.
One question that I would emphasise is that relating to major and minor roads. The Minister said that he proposed to have consultations with people. He would not call it a committee. But surely the Minister already has power to deal with this matter. He is making regulations every day. He might say that such and such a road is a main road, and the notices put up on the smaller roads leading to the main road should warn people that they are approaching the main road and that caution is necessary. The Minister should do that as soon as possible. More and more accidents take place at cross roads because people are not aware which is the major and which the minor road. The right hon. Gentleman has issued instructions and regulations of all sorts and kinds, many of them extremely good and useful, but he is rather apt to consider that the public are in the wrong if they do not always know new regulations that have been issued. The regulations are so multitudinous that it is impossible for anyone to keep up to date with them. I do not know how many thousands of paragraphs there are in the new regulations issued. The right hon. Gentleman told me that he has swept away a certain number to make room for new ones, but they are so numerous that people do not know what is in them.
For instance, an omnibus is allowed to carry only so many people. If it carries one person more than that total it becomes an uninsured vehicle, and if anyone is travelling in it and there is an accident, he is not insured. The Home Office then comes along and says, "During the peak hours of the day so many more people can be carried." But that makes the vehicle an uninsured vehicle. The Minister of Transport then says, "Oh, yes, you ought to amend your insurance policy." But how on earth are people to keep up to date with all this constant change that has taken place? I suggest that a little more latitude should sometimes be given to the public. Apart from these points, I must congratulate the Ministry of Transport on their very go-ahead attitude during the last few years. I think they have done much to promote the safety of the streets in London. I think that the Road Traffic Act has done a great deal of good in that way, and if the Minister would only follow it with a few of the suggestions I have put forward, I think he would still further help pedestrians.
I shall not detain the Committee for long. We seem to be in a hurry to get through the business, but why, I do not know. We have the whole night before us, and I do not see why we should curtail speeches. The hon. Member who spoke last suggested that there were too many Regulations. Probably he looks at the matter from a motorist's point of view. From the pedestrian's point of view, I do not think the Regulations are enough. Another hon. Member spoke about noise. Everyone knows that the Regulations on that point might very well be strengthened. It is most difficult for a bench of magistrates to determine what is a noisy vehicle. I have sat to deal with cases and have asked whether there is any standard. I am told that there is not, that it is a question of the opinion of the person who brings a prosecution. That makes it difficult to say whether it is a nuisance or not.
There is the question of the exhaust devices on motor bicycles and motor cars. Often they let out smoke and fumes to such an extent as to be almost unbearable. I suggest that the Minister should pay attention to strengthening of the Regulations. Motor cars have come to stay, and we do not want them to be a nuisance to those people who, for the moment, do not believe in the use of motor cars. There is something to be said for the person who has taken to walking and does not want the nuisance created by too many motors. The hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Hall-Caine) has evidently got the craze of a keen motorist. He would sweep off the roads everything, judging by what ho said. Horses—they are not to be allowed anywhere. I interrupted him by asking whether he meant that all kinds of vehicles should be removed, for instance, hand-carts. To-day, in coming down Kingsway, I noticed a hand-cart amongst the other vehicles. A woman was pulling at a rope and a man was in the shafts. They seemed to me to be people working hard to get a living. Does the hon. and gallant Member mean that such people should be removed from the highways, if the horses are removed? When we deal with this matter we have to consider where we are being led. Once we restrict the liberty of anyone going on the road, there is no telling where the restriction will stop. I hope that the Committee will not listen to any suggestions for removing that kind of thing from the highway.
The Minister of Transport in surveying the effects of the Road Traffic Act, said that the number of accidents had been reduced owing to the speed limit having been removed. He added that the fears of those who had spoken against the abolition of the speed limit, such as the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) and others, had proved to be unfounded. I, too, was against the removal of the speed limit. I hope that I am like other men, who, when it is proved that what they have contended at a particular time is wrong, are willing to admit it. I now willingly agree that the Minister's proposal was the better one, and I hope that the good results will continue. I take my share of the odium for having dared to say that the speed limit ought not to be removed. The Minister also referred to third party insurance risk. I believed that that was a good thing at the time. The same principal might be applied to another industry. I refer to the miners. I think there ought to be compulsory insurance for the miners. If insurance is compulsory for one great service, it ought to be compulsory for the mines also. I know that the subject is outside the scope of this Vote, but I cannot miss the opportunity of mentioning what ought to take place.
I want to put one question to the Minister, and that is with regard to the regulations for drivers-five hours driving, five hours off, and then five hours driving again. I want to call attention to the fact that employers are engaging men to do work, either by loading or in the sheds, during the five hours when they should be resting. It is not just to the drivers, nor to those good employers who have the eight hours day, that these men should be allowed to work practically 15 hours a day. It is also a danger to the public for a man to be driving on the public roads after he has worked for 10 hours and then to have to do five hours more. Therefore, I would like to ask whether it is a violation of the regulation. There is another question that has been brought to my notice, and that is in regard to the rear lights on heavy, slow-moving vehicles. The complaint is made that they are too small, and the motorists say that there should be better lights placed upon the rear of these heavy vehicles. I draw the Minister's attention to these points.
I should like to ask whether the Minister is prepared to change the regulation with regard to the licensing of vehicles now on the roads. He is concerned with the safety of the roads, and I am concerned with the safety of the vehicles. I feel that the vehicles plying for public hire should be licensed, after inspection, by people who have served their apprenticeship in the particular trades concerned, whereas at present they are licensed by policemen. I make no great charge against them, but I say that people who have served their apprenticeship in these trades ought to license these vehicles in future. I speak as a coach-body builder, and I urge the Minister to pay attention to this regulation and to change it in future, if he can.