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Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £39,098, 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, 1936, 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, the London Passenger Transport Act, 1933, and the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933; Expenses in respect of Advances under the Light Railways Act, 1896; Expenses of maintaining Holyhead Harbour, the Caledonian Canal, Crinan Canal, and Menai Bridge."— [NoTE: £70,000 has been voted on account.]
During the 15 years since its creation the Ministry of Transport has been responsible for no fewer than 12 important Acts dealing with electricity supply, railways, highways and bridges, the regulation of road vehicles and road traffic and the co-ordination of traffic. Its activities touch the lives and habits of the citizen at so many points that it may with truth be said that from the moment he emerges from his house in the morning, whether as a pedestrian, cyclist., or motorist, to the moment when, as a consumer of electricity, he switches off the light before going to bed, he rarely ceases to come within the sphere of influence of my Department. May it not even be added that the Department has now assisted him to sleep peacefully at night? It is perhaps not inappropriate to this trend of reflection to notice that all these great services, the conditions of whose growth and development have been adjusted under the aegis of the Ministry to meet the requirements of a modern State, have advanced in convenience and efficiency. Recognition is due to the foresight of my predecessors and to those who carry on its day-to-day work.
That intricate network of high transmission lines known as the Grid, for which the Act of 1926 provided, now covers the whole country and is in full operation in seven out of nine areas, with the result that the generation of electricity, previously in the hands of 600 independent undertakers, has in Great Britain become a national system, correlated under a central control. The enterprise has made widespread demands on the resources and ingenuity of British manufacture. Since 1929 the public supply of electricity has expanded by about 50 per cent., whereas the similar expansion for The world at large has been only about 10 per cent. At Bournemouth this week there is to take place the first National Convention of all branches of the industry, and I have no doubt that attention will be turned towards means of improving distribution and unifying the basis of charges. In the meantime we must recognise the progress which has been made in distribution. The additional number of consumers is increasing at the rate of 600,000 a year.
An earlier reform which took place under the aegis of my Department was the co-ordination in four groups of the 120 separate railway companies, and the Minister was given power to require or authorise measures to effect the standardisation of ways, plant, and equipment. While much has been recently done to regularise the carriage of goods and passengers by road, these services are still free from certain obligations under which the railway companies labour, such as having to carry all passengers and virtually all goods offered to them at published rates. At a time when road transport is coming under supervision, it is opportune to bear in mind that the railways, as common carriers, have for a century been subjected to statutory duties, comprehensively providing for the safety and convenience of their employés and the public.
Despite, or perhaps encouraged by, reduced charges the receipts from passenger train traffic increased during 1934 by over £1,200,000 and 64,000,000 more passengers were carried by the railways in 1934 than in 1933. This recoupment was not merely at the expense of road transport, for about 150.000,000 more passengers were carried by omnibuses, coaches, tramcars and trolley vehicles during the year 1933-34 than in the previous 12 months. On the goods side the improvement in trade and industry was reflected in an increased tonnage, particularly of iron and steel carried by rail, of 19,000,000 tons, or 72 per cent., and increased receipts of approximately £4,550,000. It is particularly gratifying to notice that there was an increase of 8,750 in the staff employed by the railway companies, the railway clearing house, and the London Passenger Transport Board
. The canals too had their best year since the financial crisis in 1931, and conveyed 480,000 tons more traffic than in 7933. It should not be forgotten that about 12,000,000 tons of traffic passes annually by canal, nearly half being coal. The revival of interest in inland water borne traffic is exemplified by the important improvements on the Grand Union Canal, which were opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent last summer.
Another group of enactments is concerned with the regulation of motor transport. Both on the passenger and the goods sides it has been sought to secure the orderly provision of services in good conditions. Two of the chief abuses which it was desired to abate were the overworking of drivers and the overloading of vehicles, and conditions aimed at the prevention of these abuses are now attached to every licence. I might mention here that while I have, on the application of the employers and the employed, granted a variation of the permitted hours of driving in the case of vehicles authorised to carry goods for hire or reward, I have not seen my way to grant an application to extend these increased hours to all the 400,000 goods vehicles on the road. To do so at this stage would seem to me to be thwarting the humane intention of Parliament, which was to preserve the public safety.
Drivers of ordinary motor cars, like drivers of public service vehicles, are in future to be subjected to a driving test, which became compulsory as from the 1st June in the case of all applicants for licences on and after that date who bad not held a licence before the 1st April, 1934. During the last three months a voluntary system has been in operation, during which 35,000 persons have taken the test and nearly one in every 10 has failed—an illustration of the needless risks which were taken previously in permitting any one to take a powerful machine on to the road on the simple payment of 5s. An organisation of examiners supported out of fees, has been established by the Ministry throughout the country. While we are taking steps to ensure a reasonable efficiency in driving, means have not yet been found of subjecting private vehicles to a test for brake and tyre defects. That is for the future.
In addition to securing a proper standard of driving it is necessary to provide for a more orderly and methodical use of the roads. The new Highway Code, which Parliament has just approved, will, if studied and observed, create a. sound road practice. Every means will be taken to make the public acquainted with its contents, and, as the House knows, every householder in the country will receive a free copy and 15,000,000 copies are to be distributed. This will be the biggest issue of a publication ever made by a Government Department.
As regards particular measures undoubtedly the pedestrian crossings have been responsible for the saving of life and limb. We managed to get about 10,000 of these put down in London within a period of three months, owing to an offer, with a fixed time limit, which I made to the London Boroughs. I am now making a similar offer to the Provinces, calling their attention to the success of the London experiment. It is noteworthy that in London, where the safety measures have been chiefly concentrated, there has been a far greater percentage reduction in accidents than in the country as a whole. There has been a reduction in London in the number of killed of 31 per cent., and of injured 16 per cent, in the last eleven weeks of this year, as compared with the same period last year. The reductions for the country as a whole in the last eleven weeks has been 16 per cent. in killed and 114 per cent. in injured, as compared with the same period last year.
The speed limit, which came into operation on the 18th March, has made for the safer and more agreeable flow of traffic. The number of casualties which have occurred in City, Metropolitan and Borough Police areas has fallen by 14½ per cent. as compared with 8 per cent. in the County Police areas. That is a rough indication—of course, there are other factors involved—of the success of the speed limit. In the light of experience I am hoping to de-restrict further numbers of roads where the limit has been unnecessarily applied.
The most distressing feature of the accident returns is the number of children involved. Out of 3,517 pedestrians killed on our roads in 1933, no fewer than 1,171, or one-third, were under the age of 15. In conjunction with the President of the Board of Education and the Secretary of State for Scotland, I have appointed two Departmental Committees to draw up a curriculum for teaching road safety in schools. This will reinforce the efforts made in many individual schools. Undoubtedly, many accidents occur owing to the lack of playing grounds for children. They have nowhere to play except in the public carriage way. While I am most anxious not to take any steps which will delay their extended provision, I feel I must meanwhile take the step of closing certain streets in London to motor traffic, except when it is proceeding to premises in those streets. Notice of a regulation will, therefore, be given this week converting, as an experiment, certain streets in Southwark and Paddington into children's play streets. It is intended to erect notices at the ends of the streets and to paint the kerbs with green paint. While I do not anticipate any objections from residents I shall, of course, take into careful account any that I may receive observing that the system has already been tried in Salford and Manchester with success.
The campaign for road safety is the most human part of my task, and I am grateful to acknowledge the widespread sympathy with and understanding of its purpose. The intensity of the campaign has coincided with, and not in any way checked, the rapid extension of the use of the roads by mechanical transport. At the end of February there were 224,000 more vehicles licensed than at the corresponding date in 1934; and 441,000 more than at the same period in 1931. The rate at which new vehicles are coming upon the roads exceeds all previous records, and already during the first four months of this year 151,268 new vehicles have been registered. There is every indication that this Jubilee Year will prove to be a year of unexampled expansion in motoring.
We must do everything we can to provide for this great expansion and see to it that the motor vehicle, like every other road using interest, has all the facilities it can reasonably require from the points of view of both convenience and safety. With this intention in mind, the Government decided on their five-year plan for the roads. Highway authorities have been invited to send in their proposals on this basis, and up to the present we have received programmes from about half of them. Further programmes are being received almost daily, and there is every indication that the scope of the plan will be in excess of anything we have yet achieved in a similar period of time. None of the work on current applications is being delayed, and we have approved, since the beginning of the financial year, grants amounting in all to £2,500,000 for major improvements, as compared with £600,000 during the same period last year—four times as much. The standards laid down are, wherever the traffic conditions require, dual carriageways, footpaths, cycling tracks, removal of blind corners, circumventing the dangers of cross roads, reducing camber and effecting super-elevation, together other improvements. Considerable progress has been made in the provision of non-skid surfaces, and which experimental work has been done in various parts of the country, and this is being conducted by the Ministry's experimental committee in conjunction with the Road Research Board. The object aimed at is the production of a surfacing material which will remain non-skid for a period of at least five years.
I have also appointed a departmental committee with the following terms of reference:
To examine and report what steps can be taken for securing more efficient and uniform street lighting, with particular reference to the convenience and safety of traffic and with due regard to the requirements of residential and shopping areas and to make recommendations.
The Committee, I understand, are about to consider their interim report.
We hope within the five years to eliminate all those weak bridges in the possession of railway and other statutory owners which most seriously affect the flow of traffic. Priority lists have been prepared by 61 counties out of 93, for the reconstruction of 1,068 bridges. Up to the present we have been told that the reconstruction of 226, or 20 per cent. of the whole number, will be put in hand during the current financial year. There are 1,385 level crossings on classified roads. I hope that the 75 per cent. grants which are available for work of this nature will induce highway authorities to accelerate progress towards their elimination.
London experience indicates that the tramcar, taken in conjunction with its track, has a higher accident ratio than the trolley vehicle, and is a greater hindrance to the free flow of traffic. The number of accidents involving personal injury per 100,000 car miles run is slightly over 6 per cent, in the case of trolley vehicles, and over 9 per cent, in the case of tramcars. Although the London Passenger Transport Board only assumed its responsibilities two years ago it has already formulated plans for the substitution of over 40 per cent, of its tramways by trolley vehicles. I am pleased to say that between 1929 and 1934 the mileage of routes operated by trolley vehicles throughout the country doubled, and there are now over 350 miles of trolley routes. Where the routes are suitable for its operation this type of vehicle helps home industries and particularly the coal trade, in that electricity is still used as the motive power and the load is thus retained. It has the additional advantages of silence, quickness of acceleration and freedom from fumes. A comprehensive and systematic survey of the highway developments required in the London traffic area in order to keep pace with the expansion of traffic is now being undertaken by Sir Charles Bressey, in conjunction with Sir Edwin Lutyens and is an attempt to avoid for the future the neglects of the past. I hope that their report will be both imaginative and practical. It is fortunate that the determination to replan our highways coincides with the introduction of the Ribbon Development Bill, which will lay down the standard widths to be preserved for the future widening of roads, and, if its provisions are used to good advantage by the highway authorities, will preserve the amenities of the countryside.
The whole of the work of the Ministry of Transport is conducted by a staff of about 2,100 persons, both inside and outside, and including the staff engaged to test drivers and the staffs of the Traffic Commissioners, the Divisional Road Engineers, and the undertakings of the Crinan and Caledonian Canals and Holyhead Harbour. There is an increase in the gross Estimates of some £172,000 which, being offset by increased appropriations in aid of 175,000, results in a net decrease of £3,000 in the charge on the Exchequer. The explanation of the gross increase is, in the main, the establishment of the new staff for carrying out of driving tests.
The Ministry of Transport is a modern Department busily engaged in providing for the changing needs of the time. It must be its constant concern to secure facilities for the public in conditions of safety, and its duties, I am glad to feel, while they have an economic and a social aspect, are almost free from partisan considerations. They call for the co-operation, as they serve the interests, of the whole community.
The Minister has put his statement in a very concise form and with that we do not complain, but there is a large part of the work of the Department on which he has not touched at all, although, on the other hand, he has given a very good report of some sections of the work. He spoke of the Electricity Board in connection with the development of the supply of electricity, and referred to an increase of 50 per cent. in development, but he did not enter into the question of the cost of electricity to consumers. Many different prices are being charged for electricity in what are, practically speaking, similar areas, and the time has arrived when there ought to be some uniformity in the price of current. I should like to ask the Minister whether he has made any survey of the charges in the different areas in the country, because if he has and could give us that information it would not only help myself and my party but would be of interest to a large number of people who are smarting under the present inequalities and feel that it is time something was done. He spoke, also, of the improvement in canal traffic, and I for one was delighted to hear it, because it has been disappointing to see really good canals going out of use, to a large extent, when one feels they could have rendered good service to the country. I hope the improvement will he continued and that the canals will become arteries of industrial transport, as they really ought to be. Another point mentioned by the Minister was the number of children killed on the roads. I know that the Minister is as much concerned about that as any Member in the House, and I am sure that all our sympathies are with the children in the terrible conditions under which some of them have to live and play at the moment. We wish him well in his efforts, and hope that the new system of teaching the children in school may have the desired effect, and that many of the existing obstacles in the way of securing the safety of the children will be removed. Lack of playgrounds is one of the chief causes of accidents to the children. They have nowhere but the streets in which to play, and his scheme for play streets for children will certainly relieve the situation, and be a boon not only to the children but to their parents.
The Minister also spoke about the five-year plan. I shall probably have to deal with some of these things later. He said that they were making very great progress with the five-year plan, that about half the authorities have already sent in schemes and that grants for £2,500,000 have been approved. The Minister, however, did not tell us what had become of the plans that were abandoned or taken out of active operation in 1931. Neither did he tell us whether those schemes which had undergone a certain amount of preparation were to be restarted at the point where they left off. In a speech I pointed out at that time that a large number of the local authorities, both large and small, had submitted schemes which were practically sanctioned by the Treasury and the Ministry of Transport, and upon which thousands of pounds had been spent in their preparation up to that point, and I asked whether the Ministry of Transport or the Treasury were going to refund that money to the local authorities, or whether the local authorities had to bear the burden of that cost? I do not remember getting any reply, and I should like the Minister to consider what is going to be done in that respect, because he knows quite as well as I do— perhaps better—the very large number of schemes which have been dropped, and on which large expenditure had been incurred and had to be borne by the local authorities.
A very alarming statement was made by the Minister when he said there were 1,385 level crossings in this country. When one realises that in a country like this, taking one of the foremost positions in the world, in which the road transport system is developing at, shall I say, such a terribly rapid rate, we should have, practically speaking, 1,400 level crossings, I am sure not only this Government, but every other Government, ought to do all it possibly can to do away with these level crossings, which are a positive danger and menace to the community. I certainly hope that 1934-5 will find at least that very rapid action has been taken on the part of the Minister to see that these level crossings are removed, so that the roads may be made completely safe for vehicular traffic and pedestrians. Reference has been made to the Crinan Canal, the Caledonian Canal and Menai Bridge. What is going to be done with these? These things have been on the books for a very long time and are generally a costly kind of luxury.
I particularly want to mention the Menai Bridge. I would ask whether it is to remain as at present, or whether immediate action is to be taken? The toll, of course, is still in operation. The bridge and the question of a new one being built has been talked about for a considerable time, and I would like the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to tell us exactly what is the position. I know it is looked upon as a beautiful piece of work. Architecturally it may be. I know it looks very nice from my point.of view, and I am not an architect. But we cannot maintain for all time things which are not meeting the requirements of the districts, and which are not up to the standard which necessity requires.
Then there is the question of new work. What has been done with a view to developing new schemes? I think a question was put not many weeks ago with regard to the Everton tunnel, Liverpool, which is very necessary to connect Kingsway tunnel with the East Lancashire Road which cannot meet the needs of the traffic in present conditions. Unless a tunnel or some other outlet is provided there, there is going to be congestion right along the line for some considerable time to come. Although the work is a big one and requires a good deal of consideration, I think it has been under consideration sufficiently long for us to know exactly both the volume of the traffic and the cost which the scheme would be to the Liverpool Corporation and to the Treasury, and also the damage which might be done to the surface during its preparation. That is a thing which, of course, I know is necessary; at the same time, I am sure the Minister knows it as well, and in reply to a question he said—I am speaking from memory—that a census would be taken of the traffic, and that after that the matter would be further considered. I think it is very necessary that it should be considered as early as possible.
One of the main subjects about which I want to speak is the necessity for the construction of new bridges, and for the repair or reconstruction of other bridges. That has been a burning topic in this House for the last eight, nine or 10 years. We have a large number of weak bridges in the country. We have a large number of bridges banned by the railway companies, who put up notices that only vehicles of not more than five tons shall go over the bridges. That is putting a burden not only upon road traffic but upon industrial development from many points of view. I would ask the Minister whether he has anything particular he would like to say about it, because we cannot get away from the fact that the Royal Commission, reporting in December, 1930, made certain recommendations. They strongly recommended that the numerous weak and inadequate bridges should form part of a concentrated programme of bridge work
which would provide for the work to be done at the rate of not less than 1,000 bridges a year; and that special sums from the Road Fund should be definitely set aside for the purpose.
Then, in July, 1932, the Salter Report said:
In particular, we consider it highly desirable that the by-passes already begun should be rapidly completed, and that steps should be taken to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Transport in regard to the strengthening of weak bridges.
The Royal Commission received evidence that we had something like 7,000 weak bridges in this country. Then the Lord President of the Council, in a speech to the Worcestershire Association last year, commented on a circular on the design of road bridges in which it was said:
It is necessary to call attention to the aspect of the design of road bridges owing to the very large number of weak or dangerous bridges which are likely to be reconstructed under the Government's five-year plan for roads.
Further on it said:
Of recent years the rapid increase of traffic has impelled highway authorities to undertake the strengthening of many ancient bridges, and the building of many additional structures, with the aid of substantial contributions from the Road Fund.
Therefore, we cannot get away from the fact that the Government are fully aware of all that I am saying this afternoon, and probably have been aware of it longer than I have. But, being aware of an evil and not doing something to remedy it, is really worse than not knowing about the evil at all. I hope that the Government will do something, therefore, to help forward this necessary work.
I spoke just now about railway bridges being banned against vehicles of over five tons. In Lancashire we have 254 bridges to-day penalised in that way by the railway companies. In Yorkshire, there are 122. Altogether on the list I have there are something like 500 bridges of this sort. Does the Minister think that it is reasonable and fair that railway companies should be allowed to block a road at their own desire and whim, when that road is an artery for industrial work? I have in mind a bridge between Wigan and Preston, 15 feet wide on a very important road where every vehicle has to get at a right angle before it can cross the bridge, and where, sooner or later, we shall have an accident, a calamity, and a number of people killed, when something will be done to put that bridge right. It is worse than closing a bridge for vehicular traffic.
Something must be done, because by scheduling these bridges under the Act, the railway companies effectually debar heavy lorries, their competitors, from using them. I am not going to infer that the railway companies are doing this simply to prevent traffic, but it lends itself to that interpretation, and anyone looking at it from that angle might say it was being done purposely. I do not think they ought to have the power or right to do it, and, sooner or later, the Minister will have to take steps in this direction. As a rule, when these bridges are closed, no alternative route is available, and so road transport finds itself seriously handicapped. From the point of view of lorry drivers the position is alarming, because they, as well as their employers, are liable to penalties for crossing forbidden bridges. So that railway companies hold over the heads of other people a sort of sword of Damocles. They tell them, "You cannot do this without our consent, no matter how great the need of the nation." I want the Minister to do something to relieve the position.
I have a statement here to the effect that the abolition of all crossings and weak bridges would cost something like 100,000,000. Whatever it costs, if this country has recovered, as we are told, 80 per cent. of its prosperity, we are getting very near to the limit. What would do for the country when we were 60 per cent. below the prosperity level will not do for it now, and if we are rising to the height of prosperity, we think it is up to. the Government to make every provision in order that that prosperity shall not be checked because of the need for facilities. According to the Ministry's five-year plan:
The Minister of Transport attaches particular importance to works directed to reducing the dangers of the road and to the reconstruction of weak bridges. The Government, he stated, aims at eliminating within five years all those weak bridges which most seriously limit the free flow of traffic, and, wherever the traffic conditions require, at providing dual carriageways, footpaths and cycle tracks, at removing blind corners, circumventing the dangers of cross-roads, reducing camber and effecting super-elevation.
He has expressed that view in this House on more than one occasion, and, speaking honestly, I believe he has a great desire to do all that can be done, but, unless action is there, unless the Minister insists upon this work being done, he can be as sympathetic as he likes, but the whole thing remains as a standing monument, I will not say of incompetence, but of neglect. I find that the Minister, in a reply not long ago, said
that we had still three toll roads and 34 toll bridges on classified roads. Is it not about time that this kind of thing was done away with 4 It may be a source of income to certain people, but there is nothing to prevent the country buying them out and making the roads belong to the country, and not to individuals. They cannot stand for progress, but only as a block to the free flow of traffic and the free movement of people in order to provide those individuals with an income, which may or may not be justified. In the construction of new roads beside bridges, I think there is a great deal to be done. I do not think we are progressing with the classification of roads anything like quickly enough. We have about 178,000 miles of roads, end of those only 27,000 are Class I roads and 16,000 Class II roads; so that about four-fifths of the roads of the country are unclassified. I do not believe in unnecessary work being done, but where work is necessary, it ought to be taken in hand and carried through.
It has been said that the cost of new roads is very heavy, and probably the breaking up of old roads and replacing them with new means a still heavier cost, but, if that cost be necessary in the interest of the country, it should be undertaken. There should be a considerable increase in Class 1 and Class 2 roads. Statistics show that those classifications have increased by just over 6,000 miles during the last 10 years. That is not a very rapid growth in a country with a population of nearly 50,000,000 people and in view of the fact that the cost of making roads is much lower than it used to be. In 1922-1923, the cost of Class 1 roads was £648 per mile. In 4932-1933, the cost was down to about £386 per mile. Here is an opportunity for the Government to spend some of their money, to provide work for the unemployed and confer a benefit upon the country. I want the Minister to understand that nobody in the country is satisfied with the present rate of progress in the making of roads and the repairing of bridges. I hope he will also do what he can to bring the canals into greater use.
Certain aspects of the Road Traffic Act are giving trouble. In particular, Section 93, in regard to the fair wages clause, is found difficult to apply. The trade union organisations in the industry sent a deputation to the Minister of Transport on this matter, and requested him to consider amending the Section. He promised that whenever amending legislation was being considered their suggestions would have attention. That is not very much, but we sincerely hope that the fair wages clause will receive more consideration in the future. Some employers are breaking the law. The passing of the Fair Wages Resolution in 1909 and the passing of the Road Traffic Act of 1935 are a very long way apart, but there is plenty of opportunity for that distance to be covered and there should be a review of the present situation. The work of the Industrial Court is giving a certain amount of trouble to the workmen, who do not agree with some of the decisions of the court. In one case, that of the Transport and General Workers' Union versus the Thames Valley Traction Company, it was decided by the court that men employed in the garages were not employed on work in connection with the operation of a public service vehicle. That decision is objected to by the men who feel that it neither complies with the Act nor with the intention of Parliament, and they claim that the men who are working in garages upon the vehicles which are in service should be included as members of the staff.
Collective bargaining is not being carried out as it ought to be. Many employers, although their number is decreasing year by year, I am glad to say, are not doing what they should in this matter. The workers have the right to present their case before the Industrial Court, and I hope the Minister will look into their case in order to give satisfaction to the men. There is also dissatisfaction in regard to the hours of work which are being worked by motor drivers, despite the provisions of Section 19 of the Road and Rail Act, 1933. In almost every newspaper one can read cases in which there has been a breach of the Act, and, instead of fines being imposed which the employers will remember, the latter are let off with nominal fines which do not hurt them. I have a statement here which was made by an ex-Member of this House, who understands what he is talking about. Speaking on the sub ject of the so-called lorry drivers' charter, he says:
The Minister of Transport should immediately put at least 500 examiners on to the job of scrutinising road transport licences and lorrymens waybills. The scrutiny should take place throughout the entire country, and without previous warning. It would show that violations of the provisions of the Road Traffic Acts with regard to hours at the wheel are rampant. The worst offenders are the farmers who hold Class C licences (for persons who use road transport as a subsidiary to their business). Men are terrorised through fear of unemployment into.working far more hours than the Act allows.
I do not think the Minister desires that, any more than we, and if he would undertake the work of looking into the matter he would be doing good service. It is no use Parliament making laws unless the Departments see that the laws are carried out as far as possible. Another question on "C" licences, is that of trade union rates of wages. The holders of those licences are exempt from doing what other people have to do in that respect, and I hope that position will soon be brought to an end. It was not the intention of Parliament that the Act should be preyed upon by people who did not intend to pay their men a fair rate of wages.
I now turn to the question of electricity extension. In London there has been a certain amount of development. A question was put to the Minister of Transport on 10th April this year about the new holding company, the London Associated Electricity Undertakings Limited. The question appears in the (OFFICIAL REPORT as follows:
Mr. BANFIELD (for Mr. WEST) asked the Minister of Transport whether, in connection with the proposed arrangements for merging or amalgamating a number of electricity undertakings in the London area, he will take steps to ensure that any such arrangements include provisions in the interest of employés who might be found to be redundant?
Mr. HORE-BELISHA: The new company formed to bring about a merger of interests is not an authorised undertaker within the meaning of the Electricity (Supply) Acts, and, therefore, I have no jurisdiction in the sense suggested."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1935; col. 1149, Vol. 300.]
The Minister will remember that it was 'stated during a recent Debate on electricity matters that where a worker be comes redundant he has as much right to compensation as employers have for a loss of supplies or the closing down of
part of their business. The principle that a workman who is displaced is entitled to compensation was accepted in the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1925, and in the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1926. Section 13 of the former Act provides for compensation for deprivation of employment brought about by amalgamation. Not very long ago the same principle was included in a small Railway Bill. In all those cases it was found possible to compensate workmen for loss of employment. In any large scale development, there should also be a similar right to compensation. A statement issued on behalf of the London Associated Electricity Undertakings Limited declared:
It should he possible to effect savings in management charges and office expenses and generally to co-ordinate the distribution resources of the various companies. The policy will be to provide electricity throughout the whole area at more uniform prices.
Something should be done wherever these companies are combining and taking over large areas, to secure compensation to displaced workmen, and to see also that a uniform price is established and that one side of a street should not be paying twice the price for electricity that is being paid on the other side.
In regard to electric railways, which were referred to by the Minister, I have a statement by the General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen who said, according to a newspaper report:
The Southern Railway had spent £12,000,000 on the electrification of 360 miles and the year's passenger receipts on the electrified sections showed an increase of £1,850,000, or over 25 per cent. over the last year of steam working.
There was a guarantee of compensation for workmen who were displaced. I suppose compensation means being provided with other work. It is, at any rate, a protection against being unemployed. I suggest that the Minister should lay a statement in regard to present electricity conditions, showing the number of companies who are operating, the number of news associations and how they react upon the interests of the community. We are entitled also to ask for a census of electricity charges over the whole country. We have a right to know exactly what electricity charges are imposed for the consumption of electricity. Electricity charges are becoming a scandal, and sooner or later we shall have
to discuss them, unless ameliorative measures are taken which will give greater confidence to consumers.
In introducing the Vote, the Minister touched on almost every department of activity of his Ministry. They were extremely interesting, and it is very difficult to avoid the temptation of commenting upon the lot. The first question that the Minister mentioned was that of electricity. I had no intention at all of dealing with the question of electricity this afternoon, but the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) has already said a number of things about it with which I entirely agree, and I am sure that the Minister will forgive me for feeling a little sceptical about the hopes he has expressed as to the outcome of the electricity conference which is about to be held. He told us that he thought that as a result we might get a little nearer to the unification of electricity charges. That is a very desirable thing, if we can get it, but I remember the discussions about six months ago in this House on the last Electricity (Supply) Bill, and there did not then seem to be very much hope, from what we were told on that occasion, of the principle being so altered that unification of charges would become possible.
The Minister tells us that since 1929 there has been an increase of 50 per cent. in the electrical output, and in ordinary business one would imagine that that would at once produce a lower charge for current. So far, however, as the part of the world with which I am more closely connected is concerned, we do not get any reduction at all; we still have the same grievance, which was placed before the House last December, that the charges for electricity in North Wales are about double what they are in the rest of the North Western area. I hope the Minister has some grounds for the optimism which he has expressed in regard to the unification of charges and that the Parliamentary Secretary, if he has the opportunity, will be able to give us some idea as to whether it is really practicable, and not merely a pious hope.
Another reference made by the Minister which I had not anticipated hearing this afternoon, because I thought it was rather a dangerous thing to do, was his reference to the efforts which had been made by the Ministry towards co-ordination of transport. I should have thought that it might have been better to leave that for the time being, because, so far as I recollect the discussions on the Road and _Rail Traffic Bill, a Measure which was brought in with that object in view, the then Minister of Transport, in winding-up the Debate on the Third Reading, said he hoped that the Traffic Advisory Council was going to do all that was necessary to co-ordinate traffic facilities and that he hoped that the various interests concerned would come together on this plan very quickly, because otherwise, if they did not do so, the House would be forced to take measures which, beside the powers of that Bill, would seem pale and ineffective.
The Traffic Advisory Council has been in existence for 18 months, which in my opinion, with an urgent problem like this, is a long time, but I do not recollect having seen anything emerge from its discussions. The question of transport coordination was a burning one at the time of the introduction of the Road and Rail Traffic Bill. We were told that it was partly for that reason and partly for road safety that the Bill was so urgently required. I do not know much about road safety, because apparently the number of vehicles on the road is increasing all the time. I do not know whether the number of haulage contractors' vehicles is increasing or not, but certainly the number of vehicles generally is increasing. We were told that there was congestion on the roads, and that the Measure was designed to deal with that question. So far as general co-ordination is concerned, if one judges from the proceedings in the Traffic Commissioners' Courts, co-ordination between road and rail is as far away now as ever. I should be glad if the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary could give us some information as to whether the Transport Advisory Council have taken any steps at all to go into this matter, and, if they have, when we are likely to hear about them.
The main activities of the Minister have been devoted during the last 12 months to the question of road safety, and I am sure that, in his willingness to receive every idea and every suggestion which would help towards bringing about that desirable state of affairs, the whole House will be prepared to give him backing. I should like to deal with one or two of the points which the Minister himself has raised, and which I think ought to be dealt with more particularly, with a view to reducing accidents on the roads. It is all very well to talk in general terms about reducing accidents on the roads, and to have experiments like pedestrian crossing-places in London and things of that kind. One may get figures from them, or one may not, but I am one of those who always draw a distinction between London and England. London is not England. It is but one part of England, and there are conditions in London which are not to be found any where else. Therefore, an experiment might be tried here, and might be successful, which would simply be a waste of time in another part of the country because of the difference in conditions.
There are, however, some factors which are the same all over the country. One of these, to which the Minister has already referred, is that of brake tests. I remember referring to this question a year ago, when the Road Traffic Bill of last year was introduced. At the present time there are, and have been for some time, brake tests for certain classes of vehicles, but the Act of 1930, which authorised the making of these tests, does not lay down any standard. So far as I can remember, it simply lays down that brakes must be in efficient working order and must be properly adjusted. "Efficient working order" and "properly adjusted" are very wide phrases, and their interpretation is apt to depend upon the particular individual who examines the vehicle. As the Minister is no doubt aware, a paper was presented last week to which I think the attention of Members of the House ought to be drawn. It gave the results of experiments carried out in Toronto on the testing of the brakes of private vehicles. I am sure that the Minister knows of these experiments, and probably he has seen the paper, though I do not know that it has had general publicity. It bears out the very argument that I used last year.
In Toronto, in 1928, 8,000 vehicles were subjected to brake tests, and 81 per cent. of the vehicles so tested were found to have defective brakes. In 1929, a voluntary testing service was set up by motorists in Toronto for the testing of brakes. From that year until last year, the number of vehicles tested has varied from 100,000 to 166,000 each year, and in no year were more than 10 per cent. of the brakes found to be defective. There has been no commercialisation of this testing; the motorists themselves have forced their own garages into providing a service of this kind, which would enable them to have their brakes tested so that they could pass the official police test at any time. For a test of this character to be of any use, it must not be sporadic; it must be continuous, and it must be persisted in. Whether the two things can be taken together or not I do not know, but it is strange that, of all the cities on the North American Continent with a population of 500,000 and upwards, Toronto, during the last five years, has had the lowest number of fatalities and injuries on a pro rata basis of any city in North America. That may not be the real cause, but probably it is a contributory cause, and I think the Minister ought to consider very seriously whether he will not do something of the same kind here. There is no reason at all why brakes should not be tested continuously, and, as I have said before, it is better to test the brakes before an accident happens than to find out afterwards that they were defective. You may fine the owner of the vehicle, but you cannot bring the dead man back to life. It is a step that ought to be taken without delay.
Even with the best brakes in the world, however, it is not possible to pull up a car with safety unless there is a proper road surface. That question has been laboured time and again in this House. One imagines that it is not often that the present Minister of Transport is caught napping, but I believe he has been caught napping this year. If he had been doing what he intended to do, he would not have had £4,500,000 in his fund for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take, and I am amazed, when Ministers of Transport in the past have had millions filched from their funds, that any Minister of Transport should contemplate to-day leaving anything in his fund which could be taken. The Minister tells us that he is giving £2,500,000 in grants this year, which is so many times more than the amount granted last year, but it is only about half of what has been taken from him. Certainly, there is nobody here who would not agree that that money could be well spent, and profitably spent, on the roads of this country at any given moment. As the hon. Member for Wigan has said, many schemes have been shelved for a long time waiting for money. There was one in my own Division, where two years ago a small grant was applied for in order to remove a dangerous corner. We were told that there was no money left, though I believe the cost was only £250 or £260. A year ago I again made application, and received the same reply. Now, two years afterwards, the money is forthcoming, and the road at that corner is going to be widened, but it is very annoying to think that we have had to wait two years for £250 when there was £4,500,000 lying idle all the time.
The Minister, in speaking about his safety measures, referred to the immense increase in the number of vehicles that were being licensed. It may be a very good argument to say that the Act passed last year, with the 30 miles an hour speed limit, has not had the effect of reducing the number of vehicles on the roads—that it has not worried the motorists, or discouraged them from buying cars; but it is a very much stronger argument in favour of dealing at once with the road system. The roads are already enormously congested, and, as everybody knows, that is a contributory cause of accidents. If the Ministry of Transport is going to continue the policy which it has adopted during the last three or four years, I think the time will arrive when the whole of that policy will have to be reversed.
The Acts of 1930, 1933 and 1934 have all one principle in common, and that is the placing of restrictions upon this new form of transport; and each time restrictions are imposed the same argument is adduced in favour of them, namely, that the roads are congested and that regard must be had to the question of safety on the roads. The result is that we are really trying to make road transport fit old roads, instead of making the roads fit the new type of transport which obviously has to use them. You cannot stand in 'the way of development of this kind for very long without suffering. This industry is now a great industry, and it demands that steps should be taken without further delay to develop the roads on sensible lines. The hon. Member for Wigan has referred to the Everton tunnel proposal, to connect the Kingsway Tunnel with the East Lancashire Road. I see no reason why the Minister cannot be bold over these matters, and really go "all out" to get his job done. There is no difficulty about money. I understand that, in the case of the Mersey Tunnel, the proportion which is to be paid by the Liverpool Corporation, and is not provided for out of the tolls, is spread over a period of 60 or more years, and the annual charges are very light. Every- one who lives in that neighbourhood and who uses the tunnel knows what an immense advantage it is to the city of Liver- pool and to the whole district. Similar developments are required in other places. If ever there was a time when they might be carried out with profit, now is the time, and, if that principle was adopted in paying for the Mersey Tunnel, I can- not see why it should not be adopted for other schemes which are equally necessary and urgent.
Sometimes one hears people giving the:Minister of Transport great credit for the introduction of the 30-miles speed limit, and on another occasion the remarks are not quite so complimentary, but most people seem to forget that they are crediting or discrediting him according to taste, when really he has had nothing at all to do with it, and it was his predecessor who carried the job through. He has assured the House on many occasions that he is very anxious that the thing should work smoothly and that people should not become irritated. There is a great deal in trying to prevent motorists from becoming irritated unnecessarily, because the psychological effect of irritation on a motor driver is very bad for public safety. I have watched drivers come out of 30-miles speed limits, and where the restricted areas are what I would call common sense areas, that is to say, where restriction begins with the congested area and ceases with the end of the congestion, the motor driver comes out of the area in a perfectly normal manner and resumes his way without any possible trouble or bother. I have also noticed that where a restricted area is continued for a mile or a mile and a half along a 60-foot road, without any housing and no lighting, as happens in so many cases, the motorist goes along the road fuming the whole time against the Minister of Transport and the people who made the restrictions, and when he gets to the end of the 30-miles limit down goes his foot and away he goes That is the psychological effect which people cannot afford to ignore. It is bound to have an effect. I have watched it so often myself. I am not going to say that I have been guilty of it, but the temptation is certainly there.
I mention that matter, because there are so many of these restricted places; they are scattered all over the country. The Minister has told us that he has had these places submitted to him and that he has made representations to the local authorities, but I wish that he would try and get some of these things done a little quicker. After all, now is the time, for it is during the summer time that there are more people on the road. It is rumoured that these people may have to express their opinion on the Government before next summer, and I should have thought that the Minister would have been careful to remove all cases of irritation as quickly as possible.
I have seen some statements, and in fact I have heard that the Minister has been interesting himself in the psychology of motor drivers with regard to motor accidents and has been consulting, and trying to obtain information from, people whom I said last year ought to be consulted. I do not know whether he has had any reply, but I feel very strongly that the question of following up and sorting out motor drivers is going to be more important every year. The Minister has told us that in the voluntary tests which have already taken place for drivers, 10 per cent. of the applicants have failed to pass the driving test. These are the people who have come forward on their own free will because they think that they are capable of passing, and yet 10 per cent. of them have failed. The others are only going to come when they must. The statement I made last year, and which I repeat now, is that however severe a test you put upon new drivers, after all, you only prevent the people from coming on to the roads who are not fit to drive. That is a great gain as far as it goes, but it does not remove from the road the people who have caused and are still causing accidents. They are there all the time, and there is no means, as far as I see, of getting at them, unless you have an all round test. Some sort of collaboration ought to take place between the Minister and the insurance companies. I am sorry to have to labour the point, but I feel that it is important. Under present regulations, if any motorist hits a person or a vehicle or an animal a report must be made to the police, and it is from those statistics, I presume, that the Home Office and the Minister of Transport obtain the figures with which they supply the House and the country. But it is purely fortuitous if a motorist happens to hit an individual or a vehicle. It is as easy to hit a man as it is to hit a lamp post. If you look through the records of motoring insurance claims you will see that many cases of personal injury arise from, smaller and minor accidents. The Minister ought to collaborate with the insurance companies and see whether some method can be arrived at which will give him more information than he has now. He cannot demand the notification of very accident, but he could get a great deal of information from the insurance companies.
I feel that some day he may have to change his whole idea with regard to this insurance question and the third party insurance certificate. At the present time the third party insurance follows the car. The car is insured, and it cannot be licensed until it has a third party insurance. That is presumably to protect the public. The third party insurance gives no information with regard to the driver. Ultimately, I am convinced Parliament will have to deal with the matter on a new line, and probably it will have to make third party insurance follow the driver instead of the car. If you make third party insurance follow the driver, you will have the whole of the history as to driving and third party accidents and be able to sort out these people. I should like to congratulate the Minister not only upon what has happened to him to-day, but upon his energy and the very kind way he has treated everybody who has tried to approach him on transport matters during his term of office, and I hope that the efforts which he is making in his Department will be successful.
I should like to preface my remarks by offering my sincere congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport upon the great distinction which has been conferred upon him. He and his Department have shown conspicuous activity, intelligence and energy, and, above all Departments, it appears to he moving with the spirit of the times, and the speech to which we have just listened was an example of oratory, admirably compact and foreshadowing great improvements and reforms in the future. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Roberts), nor indeed the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) except to disagree with him in his view with regard to canals in this country. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) would agree with me in saying that he did not wish the Crinan Canal to be blocked, nor do I wish to see the Caledonian Canal blocked. They indeed serve their purpose in their day and generation and my information is that recently the amount of traffic going up and down those canals has very greatly increased.
I listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend very carefully, and I was astonished to find the ratio in which the roads of this country exist. The first-class road is a very small proportion, and the second-class road is very little larger, but the third-class or the unscheduled road really amounts to four-fifths of the roads of this country. That is a very remarkable fact which is borne in on those of us who represent rural constituencies. While the Ministry of Transport, as at present constituted, are perfectly prepared to give a great deal of support to the arterial and luxury roads, the first-class roads, and indeed to give a grant of 75 per cent. downwards to the second-class roads, nothing whatever is done for the main part of the roads of this country, namely, the unscheduled or unclassified roads in the rural districts. I should like to make a plea to my right hon. Friend upon this very point. In every parish, whether in England, Scotland or Wales, there is the country road. We do not want a luxury road or one of those fine, beautiful arterial roads. All that we want is a serviceable road which will enable the farmer to use his light motor car or to bring his loaded carts into market. As things are we do not get a grant at all from the Ministry of Transport for these roads. If they are to be kept in repair, the burden must be upon the local rates, and with depopulation increasing every day, the rateable value of the country parish is infinitesimal. You find probably an area of something like 20 square miles where a id. in the pound would produce only £20. How can you expect people to live in country districts with conditions such as these?
I wish to make a special appeal to the Minister of Transport on behalf of my colleagues in the North of Scotland particularly, and of my colleagues in the rural parishes of England and Wales to consider these special roads. It is no good him talking about a happy and a, contented peasantry and largely about commercial enterprises. It must be remembered that the basis of the industry of this country is agriculture, and nothing has been done with all these millions in the fund which has sometimes been robbed and raided. We want part of that money to be spent on the rural roads, which are really the life blood of the people who work hard in the main industry in the country districts of this country. I know that at 7.30 there is to be a break in the Debate, and, consequently having made my point, I am going to sit down with an appeal to my right hon. Friend, who is so full of new ideas and has the courage to come forward and carry them into actual working effect, specially to consider the request that I have made to him not for my own constituency only but for every rural constituency in the country.
I should like to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir Ian Macpherson) by first congratulating personally the Minister upon his promotion. I also welcome the fact that, owing largely to the Act of 1934, it has been possible to reduce accidents in spite of the increase of traffic, but I am not entirely satisfied with the progress that has been made, or that every possible effort is being made. I ask the Minister whether the Road Traffic Safety Advisory Council are satisfied. It seemed to me that when the council were appointed that they might well perform very useful work, and I am not sure that that has been the case. I would ask whoever replies to this Debate how often that council have sat, what recommendations they have made, whether their recommendations have been complied with, and, if not, why not? Has it been purely on grounds of expense or have they just been overruled by the Minister? In short, I would ask whether the Safety Advisory Council are functioning I do this not because I want to detract from the efforts which the Minister is making, but I feel that there is room for such a body because I do not believe that all suggestions regarding safety have met with quite the attention they deserve.
I will give a few instances. There is the question of motor car construction. In a great many of the new types of car it is impossible from the driver's seat to see either of the front mudguards. People may say that they may know their car and know instinctively where the mudguard is, but there are a great many people driving to-day who do not know their cars, a great many of them driving half a dozen cars in a week, and they do not know where their mudguard is, and whether they miss a thing by two inches or hit it is largely a matter of chance. Then there is the point about square kerb-stones on rural roads. Where there is no foot-path I can see no advantage in having a square kerb-stone. Obviously if a car skids and runs into the square kerb, it is going to overturn. I know that people say there are few occasions when cars actually overturn. I agree, but the fear of overturning makes people drive in the middle of the road instead of close to the kerb—and this happens even more with bicycles than with cars. The cyclist, because he is afraid of running into the kerb, rides in the middle of the road where you do not want him to be.
There is also the old question of footpaths. I welcome the Minister's statement regarding footpaths, but I would like an assurance that he is pressing upon local authorities the importance of these footpaths being footpaths with a really good surface. It is no good providing a rough path for, people to walk upon. Women, especially, walking in thin shoes, will not use it; they will walk on the road instead. Money spent on footpaths of that sort is doing no good to anyone. These last two points I know are points for the responsible local authorities, but I do think that where the number of accidents has proved that sufficient steps are not being taken the Minister must not hesitate to step in himself. That is why I feel that a properly functioning Safety Advisory Council might strengthen the hands of the Minister. I would even suggest that a Royal Commission or a Committee should be appointed with terms of reference to tour every road in the country—or with a sub-committee to tour every road in the country—and to make recommendations on what they see.
It is all very well talking about accidents, but a great many accidents are not accidents at all; they are inevitable certainties. Everyone knows that when you drive over many roads you come to places where obviously it is only a question of time before somebody has a crash there. There are blind corners, corners not banked up, signs wrongly placed, skidding surfaces, alley-ways where children run out and which ought to be protected by railings. Although the Ministry is meeting these dangers step by step, there is room for more urgent progress and the Minister, should not allow £4,000,000 from the Road Fund to be taken away while dangers like that remain.
The only other point I would deal with is the question of cycle tracks. I believe the Minister is meeting with opposition from cycling associations. I do hope he will not allow that opposition to worry him. I would be the last person to say anything against cycling clubs; but I believe the opposition is prompted very largely by the fear that when the cycling tracks have been built the time may come when the Government might call upon cyclists to contribute towards the upkeep of their tracks. I am not suggesting that this fear is well-founded, or that it might be right for cyclists to be called upon to do so, but I would say to the Minister that any such considerations must not be allowed to weigh with him when he is up against the question of the safety of cyclists, hundreds of whom now get killed every year.
Finally, I would urge—and this is perhaps unnecessary in the right hon. Gentleman's case—that the Minister should not be afraid of experimenting. There are still a lot of expedients which might be given a try-out. There is the question of compulsory stopping of motors where the "major road ahead" signal is placed. I do not mean by that that motors should stop compulsorily when going out of every small lane or country road. There, the motorist emerging on to the main road knows it is his duty to see that all is clear. But where a secondary road in constant use crosses a more important road and the "major road ahead" sign is used, I do believe we might be well advised to follow the American example of compelling cars to come to a full stop before crossing the major road. The possibility of having compulsory pedestrian crossings—either across or over, or under roads—is well worth exploring. I think,.also, that the Minister might consider the possibility of publishing annually a map of the road accidents in each county, so that this might be put up in the hotels and other prominent places to remind people of the death-traps there are around them in their own neighbourhood. Those are some of the things in the Minister's power, and I would urge him to try them out if he think they are useful. The public conscience is so shocked by this toll of the roads, that I am sure the public would give him full support, and that the only thing that they would not tolerate would be inaction.
I should like to congratulate the Minister on his decision to reserve certain streets in London as play streets for children. I think that is an admirable idea, and I wish it could be extended on a large scale in the poor parts of London, both in East and West London. That would lead to a great deal more happiness, and I am certain that there would be fewer accidents in the streets. The Minister referred to the successful completion of the electricity grid. I should like to make one extra point about that. The materials used in constructing the grid were practically 100 per cent. British. That is an important point, because hon. Members often urge the importance of "buying British," and here we have a public authority going to the 100 per cent. limit—which is far better than the private enterprise company does in this country. I hope that hon. Members who argue against public ownership will remember that important point.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about the expansion of the consumption of electricity in this country by 50 per cent. over a recent period and compared this with a 10 per cent. average increase in consumption throughout the world. I think that is not a fair comparison. I think a better comparison would be to take developed countries only, and not the whole world. It is true to say, I think, that this is not an advanced country from an electrical point of view. If the Minister compares our consumption per head of the population with the consumption in Canada, Norway or Sweden, he would have a very great surprise. I think that he would discover that these countries, not to mention the United States, have doubled or trebled their consumption of electricity per head. It is true that consumption here may have increased considerably in comparison with some other countries because we were at the bottom of the league, so to speak, and the club at the bottom can advance a long way, whereas the club at the top cannot go very far. As we were one of the backward countries we may very well go up 50 per cent. compared with other countries without this being a very remarkable achievement.
The Minister also referred to the important matter of the distribution of electricity, and to the need for more unification and co-ordination generally. In Greater London we have scores of electricity undertakings with different voltages, different frequencies, and different charges. If some co-ordination could be achieved among these undertakings it is obvious that great economies would result to the consumers. Here is an example of the differences in charges. The area served by the Notting Hill Company adjoins Hammersmith, part of which is in my division. The standard price for lighting in Notting Hill is 40½. per unit, while in the locality next door it is only 20½. per unit. The only difference between those two undertakings is that the Notting Hill Company is a private company, and across the road is a public ownership company. I believe that 2½d. is less than 4½d. That being so, do not let us hear again that the public ownership company cannot compete with the private company. The Minister referred to the substitution of trolley omnibuses for trams. I think that is a sound idea, but there is a difficulty about it. What is happening in London is that when you tell a local authority that you are going to change over from trams to trolley omnibuses, the road seems to go out of repair for two or three years. In Gold-hawk Road, in my division, I believe the road has not been really repaired for many years because it is known that the Transport Board some day some years from now is going to change over to trolley omnibuses. In the meantime, the road is in a shocking state from the point of view both of the pedestrian and the motorist. I hope the Minister will use any means in his power for ensuring that such roads are kept in repair when the change-over is not to come for a few years.
The Minister referred to the reduction in the number of accidents, and thought that this was due to the restriction of speed in built-up areas. I think so, too. But if that is true, I do not see that there is any sound argument for de-restricting so many roads. It always strikes me that when a road is de-restricted the average motorist thinks that means he can go at any speed he likes. I notice that the motoring correspondent of the "Evening Standard" few days ago mentioned a car which was going at a "cruising" speed of 65 miles an hour. I saw that even in the "Daily Herald" the motoring correspondent said that this new car is capable of doing 90 or 95 miles an hour, and "cruises" along at from 70 to 80 miles an hour. I think that a speed of over 60 miles an hour on a main road in this country is very dangerous and wrong. The hon. Member who has just sat down talked about cycling tracks. Cyclists do not go at 60 miles an hour. On an average they do not go at more than 15 miles an hour; and I never did an average speed of more than 12 miles an hour. But in motoring papers I have seen references to some cyclists doing 25 miles an hour. It is a miracle if cyclists do that. The hon. Member just said that he wanted cycle tracks to get cyclists off the road. I do not think that the cyclist going at even 25 miles an hour is nearly as dangerous as the motorist "cruising" at over 70 miles an hour. I was told recently, in answer to a question, that cycle tracks would cost something like £4,000 a mile if they are well made; and that cycling tracks alongside only the first-class roads would cost something over £100,000,000. I suggest that if you want to segregate anybody you should not segregate the more or less harmless cyclist, and that you might be better employed in segregating the dangerous person who is "cruising" at 70 or 80 miles an hour in a motor-car.
Surely the safety speed of the car depends upon its efficiency. One car travelling at 60 miles an hour might be safer than a small and badly constructed car travelling at 30 miles an hour.
I have heard that argument before. At the same time we have been told this afternoon that 10 per cent. of those who have gone in for the driving tests fail. That 10 per cent. represents mainly the younger entrants to motoring, and if 10 per cent. of the younger generation fail, how many would fail among the men and women over 50 years of age who are now driving? At least a big percentage. Taking one per cent. of our million motorists it means that 100,000 of the present motorists are unfit to drive. When I read of motorists cruising at 70 miles an hour—the hon. Member opposite suggested that it might be safer going fast in a big car—I wonder if the person who drives at such a speed is one of the 10 per cent. of persons unfit to drive.
I am sorry to be out of order, and therefore I will come to my final point. If anyone goes for a ride on the top of an omnibus in London he will be surprised in the congested periods to find a tremendous number of private motor cars in the central area. There may be 40 persons on the omnibus and only on the average 1 persons in the private motor car. The Minister suggested closing certain streets as play streets. I suggest that certain central and other areas in London ought to be closed to private motorists. The Minister may not be willing to adopt this suggestion at the present time but in a very short period the congestion will become so severe and the speed will become so slow that something will have to be done to lessen the number of private motor cars on the roads and streets of London.
The Minister gave us a clear, deeply interesting and wide-ranging survey of the problems and responsibilities of his Ministry and showed that grasp and mastery of the administration of his Department which has won him that recognition of which we all read this morning with so much gratification. I do not propose to follow him into the various interesting issues of policy which he raised in his speech, but, as there are many hon. Members who wish to take part in the Debate, I want to confine myself to one problem, a very difficult and refractory one, with which his Department has to deal, and that is the problem of the roads in the Highlands of Scotland.
The main roads in the Highlands are more and more being used by heavy traffic. We have now regular lines of big charabancs coming right into the Highlands from many of the main centres of population in the south of Scotland and in England, and there is also fast traffic moving about from great centres of the south coming on to our roads touring or doing trial runs. On the main road through our country districts cars travel from John o'Groats to almost every possible destination in this and other coun tries. lip till, now we have received a grant as high as 95 per cent. for our main trunk roads but in the centre and the south of Scotland they have been more fortunate and have received 100 per cent. grants. With regard to the 95 per cent. grant the Committee will realise, when I point out the figures to them, that even the remaining 5 per cent., when it comes to 5 per cent. of the cost of reconstructing a great trunk road for great distances at a cost of £2,500 a mile, is an immense burden upon a county like Sutherland, where the yield of a penny rate is only £250, or in a county like Caithness where the yield of a penny rate is only £125 You cannot do, it out of the annual yield of the rates, and therefore the county councils have been compelled to borrow for a period of 15 years. The Minister will see what unsound finance it is to borrow for a period of 15 years for expenditure upon an asset which wastes far more rapidly than that. Therefore, so far as our main roads are concerned I would urge upon the Minister that there is no solution of the problem of our main trunk roads in the Highlands of Scotland except to give us 100 per cent. grants. I. shall revert to finance a little later.
There are also the classified roads other than the main trunk roads, and here again we have the same story of increasing use and therefore increasing cost of upkeep. Many of the roads which are called classified are now so narrow that in that, and in many other respects they would be regarded as dangerous further south in other counties. When I come to the unclassified roads I associate myself with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir Ian Macpherson). It is an urgent problem to deal with the unclassified roads in the Highlands of Scotland. We used to get a grant for them but that is now merged in the block grant and our resources are wholly inadequate for dealing with these roads. It is not merely that it is impossible to reconstruct them and bring them 'up to improved modern standards like the roads in the more prosperous counties further south. The point is that these roads are growing worse. For example, the road surveyor reported to the Sutherland County Council two or three months ago that the conditions are growing worse from month to month and from year to year. The roads are not standing up to the traffic and there is urgent need for reconstruction of these unclassified roads. I know that to some extent I am forcing an open door, but I want to force it quickly and to open it wide. The Minister of Transport in a circular letter which he recently issued to the local authorities said, dealing with the five year programme, that a separate list should be submitted in respect of improvements to unclassified roads and that it was intended to increase the allocation for unclassified rural roads for the benefit of the agricultural community. I want to hang on to that and to impress upon the Minister the great importance of these unclassified roads for the benefit of the agricultural and fishing communities.
I want also to refer to a particular class of unclassified road, to which my right hon. Friend referred, and that is the township or parish road in the Highland counties. Up to now these roads have been left out because it has been said that they only serve small scattered communities. They are not left out further south, because there you have not the same problem. You have these roads connecting the villages in the southern counties but there you do not have the small scattered communities which you have in the Highlands, with their little parish road, without any contribution from the Minister of Transport to help the local authority to keep it up. While these roads fulfil a real public service—from the standpoint of the local people they perform a greater public service than the luxury main roads—they are the roads upon which the fishermen, the farmers and the smallholders depend when they are going about their daily avocations—the attitude of the Ministry of Transport is: "Put your road in a condition fit for motor traffic and then we will consider whether we will give you a grant to keep it up." But we have not the resources to put these roads into a condition fit for motor traffic. The Department of Agriculture for Scotland helps us here and there with a little grant, but the available resources are hopelessly inadequate to deal with this problem, and the Minister of Transport ought to give us some help out of the Road Fund. These roads are getting into a very much worse condition than they have ever been, because although they are not supposed to be used by motor traffic, they are so used. The traders are more and more using motor traffic when they bring supplies to the homes of the people. Moreover, many of these little roads lead to objects of exceptional interest and beauty, ruined castles, broths and objects of archaeological interest and a good many heavy touring cars are hammering down the roads and breaking them up until they are now worse than they have ever been, with the result that there is a crying need for help to be given from the Road Fund for the reconstruction of these parish roads.
I was dealing with the main roads just now and I would ask the Minister whether it would not be possible to relax a little the standards of construction on the main trunk roads in the Highlands. It seems to us in the Highlands to be unduly luxurious that money should be spent on these extraordinarily easy gradients and such like luxuries. Could not the standard be relaxed in the Highlands and the money saved by such relaxation be spent on the provision of ordinary good roads for the people of the country districts on which they go about their business. The contrast between the great luxury main roads which the people see going through the country and the broken tracks which are all that the local people have seems unfair and unpleasant, and therefore to give these township roads a share from the Road Fund would be a wise and politic act on the part of the Minister of Transport.
If there is any idea lurking in the mind of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport or of any hon. Member that these people should pay for their roads, let me reply that they are paying now, paying more relatively to their resources than the people further south, and paying undesirably more in relation to the cost of other public services than the people further south. I have a schedule of the roads in my own county of Caithness, where we have a rate of over 11s. On housing we spend an amount equal to a rate of 2½d., on the police 6d., on public health—which means the provision of water supply, or such provision as we can make, for it is painfully inadequate-10d., on public assistance is. 9d., on education 2s. 6d., and on the roads 3s. 10d., or 50 per cent. more than we spend on education. Surely, it is undesirable that we should be starving public health and housing in this way and that we should be spending on education an amount equivalent to a rate of 2s. 6d., while we are spending 50 per cent, more on the roads. There is therefore a clear case for giving us this additional help.
On the other hand, our resources are small and dwindling. Agriculture is depressed, the fishing industry is in even a worse condition, and the next most lucrative source of revenue, sporting rentals, have been declining in recent years. There are signs that the tide of prosperity is beginning to flow again in this and other countries and, we hope that it will soon reach the Highlands of Scotland, but in the meantime they are deeply depressed and it will be a long time before local resources are replenished. We have this problem constituted by the heavy tourist traffic—and according to the Minister of Transport an increasing tourist traffic because he says that there will be a fresh influx of vehicles on the road this year—coupled with the low valuation of the districts. Although improved communications are an urgent need of the people and indeed a condition of recovery, the burden of road construction is excessive and out of proportion to that of other public services. Therefore, I beg the Minister to give us this relief. I saw in a newspaper only yesterday that the London County Council proposes to ask for increased grants on the ground that they pay 13.5 per cent of the road taxation. If other cities made the same claim nothing would be left for the counties at all; and it is the vehicles from the cities which do the destruction to the roads in the counties. I hope that the Minister will turn a deaf ear to that claim and give us help in the counties where we need it. We need a 100 per cent. grant for main roads, and a special grant for unclassified roads and for parish roads in particular, because they are so much heeded by the people.
We must all rejoice with the Minister of Transport that there has been a steady improvement in the number of accidents on the road, but we cannot be satisfied with the reduction that has up to the present taken place. An hon. Member has said that it is easy to detect where the accidents are coming from, but that we can do nothing for the moment. I want to urge the immediate necessity of doing the obvious thing, and not wait until we have made safe every dangerous corner or straightened every bend. I want the Minister, if he will, to exercise the powers which have been given him under Sections 11 and 12 of the 1930 Act. Over 90 per cent. of the charges laid under those two Sections are laid after the accident has taken place, after the dead have been buried and the injured in hospital. It is too late. If any hon. Member cares to go upon the roads of the country, it does not matter in what county, and stand at a dangerous crossroad, somebody within a comparatively short time will be doing a dangerous act. It does not result in an accident because a car is not coming in the opposite direction, but sooner or later that man is going to cause an accident. If you once get into the state of mind of approaching cross-roads too fast or going round a blind corner passing another vehicle you will do it habitually until you are pulled up. There are some people on the road who do it habitually, and these people who sooner or later have a small accident will sooner or later have a larger one. They are in a state of mind when they think that they can go round corners on the wrong side, or approach cross-roads too fast. It, therefore, seems to me that the necessary and obvious thing is to watch these dangerous corners. Police should be stationed there for the purpose, instead of spending their time in dealing with minor and petty offences, If they were set to watch dangerous cross roads and bends where accidents happen, we should have a prosecution before the accident happened, and dangerous and careless motorists would be taught their lesson. What are the police doing to-day? I have two examples from one district. A lady driving a car fainted, and the result was 'that she collided with a telegraph pole. An anxious policeman arrived on the scene. What did he find? He found that, although she had signed four of her driving licences, she had not signed the last one, and the police afterwards were occupied in taking particulars for a summons for not having signed her licence. In the other case, the driver of a public service vehicle, owned by a well-known omnibus company, had an accident. Who caused the accident does not matter. After the accident, the driver of the car with which the public service vehicle had collided gave his card to the driver of that vehicle, but although he could see the name of the owner of the omnibus written largely on the vehicle, its driver did not happen to give his name. Of course, the driver ought to have reported the accident within 48 hours. He was 24 hours late, and again the police were occupied with a prosecution for being 24 hours late in making the necessary report. During that time someone in that county was killed, because a motorist who was habitually in the habit of driving round corners on his wrong side was not caught.
The time has come when the Minister should urge on the police authorities that they can do their duty to the community much better by using trained men—not the village constable who rides a bicycle—men who have learned to drive a car and who have had experience on the roads, to watch these dangerous points so as to detect the causer of accidents before they happen. If a motorist knows that at any cross roads he is likely to be pulled up if he is guilty of dangerous driving, or is likely to be caught when going round blind corners on his wrong side, he will not do it, and we shall see the number of accidents go down.
Those who spend a considerable portion of their time in taking part in prosecutions as the result of motor accidents on the road know that it is difficult to get fair play from public tribunals in petty sessions who have no training or experience on the roads. I am not making any attack on individual justices of the peace, but if you get away from the South of England into the Midlands you will come before benches of magistrates not one of whom has any legal or judicial training, and upon which there is not even a magistrate who drives his own ear. When you want someone to examine an applicant for his licence you appoint a qualified man, but when you want someone to judge whether a motorist has been guilty of dangerous or negligent driving you bring the matter before a tribunal which has no experience and no knowledge, and which is bored to death in dealing with endless motor car cases. The time has come when we must have stipendiary magistrates equipped with knowledge and learning to try motor car cases, men before whom defendants can appear with the knowledge that they will have a fair trial and will be judged by people who are competent to decide a case.
It is a distressing and deplorable feature that after all the efforts that have been made there are still a great number of cases where innocent people injured on the roads cannot get compensation because the person driving the car or the motor cyclist is not insured as the company refuses liability. As a result of the decision of the High Court what is happening is that where there has been a misstatement of fact in the report, the insurance company is entitled to repudiate liability whenever they discover it. A serious accident takes place. The insurance company look at the record of the insured and asks other insurance companies if he is insured with them. They discover that he has a long record of claims and of accidents, which he has not disclosed on the proposal. The result is repudiation, and, maybe, a widow goes without compensation. An insurance company, of course, must be entitled to know the risk they are taking and have all the available information, but some method will have to be found not only to protect insurance companies but to protect the public. The time has come when there should be some protection to the public in order that they should receive the compensation to which they are entitled, and not be denied it because of some misstatement in a proposal form. There is a way by which both the public and insurance companies can be protected, and make certain that no man will dare to make a misstatement in a proposal. I ask that this matter shall be considered.
May I congratulate the Minister of Transport on the public services be has rendered in regard to various aspects of transport during his term of office? He is quite worthy the promotion which has been given him, upon which I congratulate him. I only desire to make one or two observations on some aspects of the case which have not yet been touched. The Minister has said that a means has not yet been found for dealing with inefficient brakes on cars. Hon. Members will agree that it is not only necessary but essential, if road casualties are to be reduced, that we must be sure that every mechanically propelled vehicle is efficient and roadworthy. If they are not, they are a menace and a danger. All public vehicles are examined from time to time, but, as far as I know, there is no examination of any kind of privately-owned vehicles. A little while ago I took a deal of time and pains to point out exactly the position in regard to efficient machines. Frankly, I will say that I was asked to write an article for a newspaper on this very subject. I went round to a number of garages and service garages in order to elicit some facts on the subject. I was 'surprised to find that they estimated that the vehicles which they garaged were, in the case of 40 to 70 per cent., inefficient in brakes, steering or wheel wobble. I could not get any analysis of each of these details, but I found that the vehicles were defective in one or two of those respects or in all respects.
I am sure the Committee will consider that it is perfectly right that my right hon. Friend the Minister should take what steps he considers necessary to prevent drivers taking out inefficient vehicles with guilty knowledge. I have always held that even the most efficient driver is a public danger on the road while he is in charge of an inefficient machine. It may be asked, what is the remedy? I respectfully suggest that every application for a licence should be accompanied by a certificate of efficiency. That would not call for a huge staff of inspectors to give the certificates. Any competent garage proprietor or motor manufacturer or distributor should be allowed to issue these certificates of efficiency, and it should be an offence either to issue a false certificate or to accept a certificate knowing it to be false. If that were done we should know that at the time the licence was issued the vehicle was efficient. Further, should there be an accident, arrangements should be made so that the police can order that car to be re-examined to see if it was efficient prior to the accident, and if it be found on examination that the car was not efficient, it should be an offence for a person to have driven that car upon the public road when that car was inefficient.
Let me say a few words with regard to the tests for drivers. The Minister has said that of the people who have come within the voluntary test 10 per cent. have been eliminated. We all know that there are upon the roads today drivers who are so bad that they could not pass even an elementary test of that kind. The proposition then arises, how are those bad drivers to be roped in and forced to have an examination or test? I respectfully suggest that where two drivers are involved in an accident, and when upon examination it is found that their driving licences were issued prior to the compulsory test, it should be compulsory for those drivers to go through that examination or test before their driving licences are renewed. Let me give an illustration. The other day in the Brompton Road a lady was driving a car to turn into Kensington Road. Another lady was driving a car from Hyde Park Corner to turn into Kensington Road. They were not going fast, but for some reason that I cannot imagine they both lost their heads and the cars collided. One of the cars jumped the kerb and went on to the pavement, and it was only by the grace of God that no pedestrian was killed. Those two drivers would certainly not have been allowed to control those vehicles, in my view—I have been driving for over 35 years—had they been compelled to go through a driving test. I submit that those two persons were a menace and ought to have been compelled to go through a driving test before their licences were renewed.
Let me say something about the 30miles-an-hour limit. I think I am correct in saying that when the limit was imposed it was the intention of Parliament that it should be imposed in built-up areas in the true sense of the term. The definition laid down by the Minister is much too wide, and the local authorities have interpreted it in a way quite different from the intention either of Parliament or the Minister. It is perfectly true that the Minister is doing his utmost to decontrol a large number of roads that were controlled, but I suggest that until these so-called controlled roads are decontrolled in what are known as cat-and-mouse areas, where the police lie in wait to pounce upon a motorist where there is no danger at all, and where a prosecution takes place in such circumstances, it shall be a good defence for the motorist to show that the road upon which he was caught was not a built-up area in the true sense of the word, although it might come within the definition because there were lamp-posts within the 200 yards limit.
No one knows better than the Minister that there are to-day a large number of roads which are controlled and which by the widest stretch of the imagination cannot be described as being in built-up areas in the true sense of the term. I am convinced that my right hon. Friend is just as anxious as the Members of this Committee that the motoring industry should not be adversely affected and that motorists who are law-abiding citizens should not be irritated by vexatious prosecutions where no danger at all exists. No one knows better than my right hon. Friend that a speed of 50 miles an hour in some places is less dangerous than 15 miles an hour in other places. I have made these few suggestions for the serious consideration of my right hon. Friend, and I hope that in my humble way I may have made some little contribution to the Debate.
The Minister gave to the Committee a very clear and very interesting review of the work of his Department. Quite naturally he was very enthusiastic about the success which his Department has made, and, equally naturally, he was rather silent on those aspects of the Department's work which are subject to criticism. I think that most members of the Committee and everyone who is interested in road development would agree that one side of his work have been done with a doubtful efficiency, however well the others may have been carried out. I am referring to the right hon. Gentleman's administration of the Road Fund. Everyone will agree that in the countryside and in the towns there are very many roads that require improvement. We have already had this afternoon speeches from two right hon. Gentlemen pleading for better attention to country roads and lanes, and I think that they made a very good case indeed. In the congested areas of the large towns there are still many roads that are narrow and dangerous and that hold up the traffic, and they are the roads, as well as the country lanes, on which the Road Fund money should be spent.
Everyone knows that this year the Road Fund was raided to the extent of £4,500,000, and the question must arise in the mind of all who follow road matters, how is it that where there is such a demand for road improvement, for avoiding congestion and getting rid of dangerous roads, how is it, in view of such an obvious and urgent demand, that there was such a large amount of money in the Road Fund unspent and available for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to seize in order to balance his Budget? I offer one explanation of this anomaly, and it is simply this: In his administration of the Road Fund the Minister works on such regulations and under such conditions that so far from encouraging local authorities to get. on with their road work, certainly in built-up areas—it is only of built-up areas that I can speak with any experience—his administration has discouraged the local authorities from carrying out work which is vitally necessary.
The right hon. Gentleman's regulations are very lengthy and detailed, and I would draw attention to two in particular which discourage the use of the Road Fund for the purpose for which it was started. The Road Fund normally makes a grant of 60 per cent. for Class I roads where a major improvement is contemplated, and 50 per cent, for Class II roads. But that grant does not go towards the cost of the improvement; it goes only towards the cost of the work and the site value of the land which is taken over for the widening of the road. That may be all right in some areas which are not built-up, but in a built-up area such as London it means that instead of 60 per cent. we get very much less. Very often the major cost of carrying out a road widening in a built-up area in cities is the cost of compensation, the buying out of existing tenants, rehousing the people living on the spot, and similar matters, towards which the Road Fund makes no contribution at all.
There are innumerable cases. A typical one in London is that in a Class I road, instead of geting 60 per cent. Road Fund grant, we get only about 20 per cent. The balance has to be paid out of the rates, so that the ratepayers, instead of being able to look to the Road Fund for a major contribution towards improvements, can only expect a very small contribution indeed. I give two examples. There was an improvement in North London in connection with which a 60 per cent. contribution, based on the total cost of the work, would have amounted to £8,551, instead of which the grant from the Road Fund was 60 per cent. on the site value which only worked out at £2,731 or 19 per cent. of the total cost. In another case which is quite typical, when the Road Fund grant was worked out, it only came to 20 per cent. instead of 60 per cent. That regulation, which was brought into effect in its present form in 1933, definitely discourages local authorities from carrying out improvements in congested areas because they have to bear almost the entire burden themselves.
Further, the Minister whose duty it is to encourage the improvement of roads is, by giving such small grants, defeating the very purpose for which the Road Fund was instituted. Let me give the example of another regulation which tends to keep the Road Fund in the bank and to prevent the money being spent on the roads. There is a regulation, which is strictly adhered to, that once works have been carried out, in no circumstances can any Road Fund grant towards them be made. It happened that during the crisis in 1931 a local authority carried out work which had been approved by the Ministry. The Ministry said to them, "We are very sorry, but we have not any money in the Road Fund and we cannot contribute." But the local authority knowing the improvement was desirable and that the Ministry had agreed to it carried out the work. About three years later, the work having been finished, they came to the Ministry and said, "Now you have money in the Road Fund; give us a contribution." But the Ministry replied, "No, we shall give you no contribution. We would rather keep the money in our pocket than allow it to be used for the roads."
A striking case occurred recently in which, through an error on the part of a local authority in London, a grant in connection with a most important improvement on a Class 1 road was not applied for. Shortly, after the work had been done they applied for the grant and the Ministry, although it was a most important road—it was Gracechurch Street as a matter of fact—refused to make the grant because they said the work had already been done. The letter of refusal is dated 23rd March this year and contains this striking phrase:
It is regretted that at the time the original application was made"—
that was in, 1933—
and when it was renewed in January last
that is January of this year
the Fund for grants for improvement schemes had been fully allocated.
So that in January of this year the Ministry said to a local authority which was carrying out a most desirable widening, and one which had the full approbation of the Ministry, "There is no money in the Fund; it has all been allocated and we cannot help you." But three months later the Fund had accumulated so much that the Chancellor of the Exchequer collared it. Therefore, I say that as regards road improvement the Minister has not carried out his duty properly, in that he has not used the funds at his disposal for the purpose for
which they were meant but has hoarded them and the hoard having reached a sufficient size, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has diverted it from the purpose for which it was supposed to exist. I hope that the regulations will be made more equitable and that they will be made to carry out the intention for which the Road Fund was formed. The Ministry of Transport, I maintain, ought to be the one body in the country concerned in encouraging proper road developments, such as widenings and the elimination of dangerous corners and the rest. Speaking with considerable personal experience, as chairman of the Highways Committee of the London County Council for the last year, I say that so far from encouraging this work the Ministry has been discouraging it, in that it has been placing the greatest difficulties in the way of getting adequate grants for road matters. In cases in which it is, I think, perfectly plain that grants ought to be made grants are refused.
I have nothing but praise for the Minister and his officials for what they have done in the way of consultation and help, but in this major matter of grants, so far from helping road improvement in London, the Minister's attitude, as I say, has been discouraging. The Minister speaks of a five-year plan. He has been speaking about it for some time. A five-year plan may be anything. It may be very desirable or it may not, but it would almost.appear from past experience as if the Minister were talking about something great in the future in order to hide present delinquencies. One thing is certain. Unless he changes his outlook towards road improvement, unless he changes the temper of the present administration in that respect, the five-year plan will be useless. It is no use having a plan on paper unless behind it there is a Ministry encouraging and helping local authorities to carry out the work. Otherwise the five-year plan will not be worth even talking about.
It is wrong, I think, to blame the Chancellor as he has been blamed for raiding the fund for his own purposes. The person to be blamed is the Minister of Transport, who allowed that accumulation to pile up, in spite of the strong demands of local authorities for more help. The Minister having allowed the fund to accumulate in that way, the Chancellor of the Exchequer can scarcely be blamed for having taken the money when he wanted it to balance the Budget. The Minister's responsibility to the Road Fund is one of the most important if not the most important of his duties. I hope he will see to it in the future that the Road Fund will be used for the purpose for which it was founded. I hope the Ministry will adopt a forward and constructive policy of helping and encouraging local authorities all over the country to carry out the road improvements which are so urgently necessay.
The Minister of Transport has had so many bouquets bestowed upon him this afternoon that by now he must be, metaphorically, almost covered by them, but I cannot help adding my word of praise. When, soon after his appointment, the right hon. Gentleman showed that he was taking his office seriously and was going to deal with the evils connected with transport, many of us felt a sense of thankfulness and satisfaction which has been increased by his achievements since. I earnestly ask the right hon. Gentleman to continue on the line he has been following hitherto, and not to listen to speeches such as that which we have just heard suggesting that he has been a failure, and that he ought to have clone this or that which he has not done. He is doing splendidly, and I wish him all success in the course which he is pursuing.
This question of transport can be approached in many ways, and the Minister is approaching it in many ways, and in some directions he is meeting with success. It is my earnest hope that he may continue to follow out those lines on which he is meeting with success. I take one example, and that is the stopping of the use of motor-horns during certain hours of the night. When the proposals was first made some people held up their hands in horror. "What," they said, "travelling at night without motor-horns. It is asking for death. What a hideous suggestion." But the Minister had the courage, in spite of hostile criticism, in spite of the opposition of the Automobile Association, to carry out his plan. It has been splendidly successful, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that at no distant date there will arise a demand for an extension of that provision in the matter of hours. There is no doubt that an extension of the period could be made with advantage, and I look to the Minister to do it.
Another matter to which reference has been made this afternoon is the institution of the test. Although the test has been adopted only in a very partial manner, it has proved valuable. Various automobile organisations were very much opposed to the test. The Royal Automobile Club in January, 1934, said it was opposed to the compulsory examination of applicants for drivers' licences, and it was of opinion that the number of serious accidents caused by lack of skill on the part of drivers was negligible. I wonder how that body and other bodies like it, such as the Scottish Automobile Club, the Commercial Motor-Users' Association and the London and Provincial Omnibus Owners' Association think of the results which have been obtained. We now know that 10 per cent. of those voluntarily coming forward and submitting themselves to what is only an elementary test, have been found to be people who cannot be trusted to drive motor vehicles. Think of what that means. Think of the danger which that 10 per cent. would offer in the old days when they could obtain licences without difficulty. Imagine that percentage of people, incapable of properly driving cars, being granted without hesitation licences to murder and slaughter—
Does my hon. Friend realise that these tests do not really decide whether a man is a capable driver or not? They apply a certain number of technical tests, but it is the fast and furious skilled driver who is far more likely to bring about Accidents than the 'cautious driver who is less skilled.
Another matter to which I would refer is the speed limit. I believe that, if persisted in, it will do a great deal to reduce the slaughter on the roads. I am sorry to learn on good authority that since the limit came into operation it has not been working quite satisfactorily. When the speed limit was introduced, drivers of cars observed it,
but as time has passed they have become less careful as to keeping the limit, and I am told that it is now being very largely exceeded. That is a very serious matter. One of the reasons is that the police are becoming less active, and they are becoming less active partly because of the slackness of the magistrates. The speed limit will not be a success unless the magistrates do their duty, and I appeal to the Minister to see that they do their duty. Whether in conjunction with the Home Office or by some other means, I appeal to the Minister to insist that the magistrates do their duty. Last year Mr. Dummett, the magistrate sitting at Bow Street Police Court, said:
My belief is—and I don't mind if I am reported or not—that the dangerous driving in this country, resulting in hundreds of thousands of mutilations and deaths, could be stopped if the Courts did their duty.
The magistrates do not do their duty. They often in the most cynical way refuse to do it, and unless the magistrates are kept to their duty, then the speed limit will not work. Give it a fair chance, and it will work.
Before I sit down I want to ask the Minister of Transport whether he thinks of the future at all—I mean in relation to transport. According to the Ministry of Transport at the end of February 224,000 mechanically propelled vehicles were licensed in this country, an increase of 12 per cent. as compared with the same date last year. The number of motor vehicles, at the present rate of increase, will be doubled in eight or nine years. Already Great Britain has more motor vehicles per mile of road than any other country in the world. What is the Minister going to do under the threat conveyed in those facts? If we double the number of our motor vehicles in eight or nine years, what will the state of things be in eight or nine years' time? My own view is—and some hon. Members. may laugh, but I ask the Minister to keep it in mind—that ultimately we shall have to ration motor cars. We shall have to have a waiting list, and people who want motor cars will have to wait their turn. An hon. Member says we shall all be flying by then, but I am not sure that flying is going to make such great progress as some people seem to think. At all events, we have to look to the future, and short of some such method as rationing and giving the people in their turn the opportunity of owning or driving motor cars, I see great difficulties ahead. With these few suggestions I leave the matter to the Minister of Transport.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), who has just spoken, has rather blotted the copybook of a Debate which otherwise must have conveyed a sense to the Committee that we are trying seriously to deal with this huge problem of safety on our roads and the legitimate use of the roads by all kinds of users. Until the hon. Member for Lichfield spoke, there had been a general feeling of unity with regard to this matter, and the congratulations which have been offered to the Minister of Transport were, I think, very well deserved. When we listened to his opening statement this afternoon we realised possibly, more than we have done in the past, that we have a man in charge of the Ministry of Transport who has indeed his heart in the matter of the improvement of the conditions on our roads throughout the country.
I am none too sure that it is right and proper, however, in any circumstances to exclude streets from the use of motor vehicles for the purpose of children playing in those streets. That is not because I am against the provision of some form of playground for children, but I think it is rather a wrong form to take to encourage the idea in the child's mind that the street is a place in which to play. I think it is rather the duty of the Minister and those with whom he has influence to endeavour to get more playing fields and open spaces for the children to play in, than to encourage them to play in the streets. After all, motor traffic is a legitimate form of road user, and I hope the Minister will give further consideration to that question. The Debate this afternoon has proved that there is an enormous awakening of a real road sense. Until we had the unfortunate speech of the hon. Member for Lichfield, we had heard nothing about motorists going out solely for the purpose of murdering people on the roads, and I think it was most unfortunate that such an element as that should have been introduced into what otherwise was a harmonious discussion.
I think the Minister has proved his skill in the things that he has done up to the present, and I am sure he will lend a sympathetic ear to one or two suggestions that one may make to him. It is to be remembered that there is a very heavy toll on the motorist himself. We hear in this House, and rightly, that pedestrians are slaughtered up and down the country by the unfortunate use of the roads, but we very seldom hear of the large number of motorists and motor cyclists who themselves pay part of the toll of the roads, and I think it is as well that that side of the question should not be lost sight of, and that some effort should be made to stop some of these accidents. One wonders why these accidents occur to the motorists themselves. In very many cases they are due to our road system, to the fact that there are still in this country dangerous corners, and that there are places and thoroughfares in our towns and cities which are death traps. Those are the things on which I think the Minister should concentrate.
An hon. Member opposite mentioned the raid on the Road Fund. I think the Committee knows my views on that matter. I think it was nothing short of a scandal that money should be taken out of a fund which was originally provided, under some sort of guarantee, for the very purpose of making our roads safer. I think the road surfaces of our country require a good deal of unification. I was delighted to hear that the Minister contemplates setting up a committee, or has already set up a committee, to consider road construction. One goes about the country and comes across roads on which tar has been spread and on which a man then comes along with a shovel and throws out a lot of flints or ground pebbles, which are more dangerous still. It is little wonder that on such surfaces as that we get many of the accidents that occur, particularly to pedal cyclists. For a pedal cyclist to go on to ground pebbles on an improperly set tarred road is nothing short of courting disaster.
I have brought forward before the question of the utter need of taking every measure possible to prevent motorists' attention being drawn off the road itself. With the plethora of signs that one sees on the road side and the host of distracting colours, particularly with regard to this latest phase of the restricting and de-restricting signs, it is impossible for a motorist to give that concentration that ought to be given to the road itself. If he has to glance out of the corner of his eye along the sides of the road to find out whether he is going into or out of a restricted area, it is almost impossible for him to devote his attention to the road directly ahead of him. I have before made the suggestion, which I commend to the Committee, that the road itself should be marked. If the sign were on the surface of the road, in a red band straight across the road, or some coloured line kept exclusively for the information of the motorist, that he was now entering into a restricted area, or that he had passed a restricted area—it would not matter whether it was daytime or nighttime—it would be an outstanding sign for him which would give him the knowledge that he had to start slowing down because in the next 50 or, 'better still, in the next 100 yards, he would be within a restricted area.
If the motorist had no need to look to the sides of the road, but only required to look at the road itself, he would see that red line across the road, and I am sure there would be very few motorists who would attempt to keep up a speed of over 30 miles an hour, any more than they ignore those white lines, which are not compulsory, but which have made our roads so very much safer, down the middle of the road. That white line is obeyed sub-consciously by almost every motorist throughout the country, and it has no penalty attached to it. The answer may be that this would be too expensive, but when we were discussing the speed limit and such matters in this House, that was the very point made, that we must not mind the expense, because human life was at stake. Human life is as much at stake to-day as it was then, and I suggest that this is one way in which safety on the roads might, be very considerably helped, and the motorist also helped not to get caught and fined and given a lot of trouble. It may be argued that we already have enough lines of various colours, but only this afternoon we had put before us a new scheme for the playing streets in London, where the kerbs are to be painted green. If they can be painted green in that case, I am certain that lines could be painted across the road in the ease which I have mentioned.
The Minister spoke of the great benefit that the speed limit had had in levelling up traffic. As a matter of fact, the levelling up of traffic has not been carried out to the extent to which it might be. We still have certain obstacles in the way, the main cause of which, I think, is the differential speeds at which certain types of motor traffic are allowed to travel. The heavy goods vehicle is limited at the present time to 20 miles an hour. In order to pass such a vehicle, the overtaking vehicle must travel at a greater speed, and that means a cutting-out into the road, which would not be necessary if the heavy vehicle were travelling at 30 miles an hour. It may be said, "Yes, but we do not want to increase the speed of these heavy cars." It should be remembered, however, that these heavy vehicles have to pass a very severe test in addition. Brake tests, driver's tests, tests of endurance and fitness for the roads—these are all imposed very severely, and, what is more important still, passenger vehicles of the same weight on the road are allowed to go at 30 miles an hour. The passenger vehicle is often made with exactly the same engine and underworks as the heavy goods vehicle, and if the passenger vehicle and the double-decked omnibus can travel with safety at 30 miles an hour, I am certain a heavy goods vehicle can do the same. If they were both allowed to do 30 miles an hour, it would be an additional aid to safety by making an even flow of traffic and preventing cutting out.
There is another type of vehicle for which I would like to plead, namely, the articulated vehicle. It is a peculiar structure. It is a goods-carrying van which is super-mounted on an engine-bearing front, which has nothing to do with the carrying capacity of the complete vehicle. It is only the rear portion that is pivoted on to the front part, and that is the goods-carrying portion. This articulated vehicle, weighing under 22 tons, can travel at only 20 miles an hour. It is the type of road vehicle most similar to the horse-drawn vehicle. It is much more easily used in traffic and more easily turned in a, tight corner than the rigid four- or six-wheeler, and yet this vehicle can travel along the road only at 20 miles an hour, whereas a rigid four-wheeler or six-wheeler of the same weight can go at 30 miles. I have no doubt that the Minister has given matters like this his attention, and I would like to ask him whether he would give us a reason why these two types of vehicle are allowed to travel at only 20 miles an hour instead of 30. I am not bringing this forward as a criticism, but as a suggestion which will make for the more even flow of traffic.
Another matter which has a great bearing on road accidents is that of lighting. Questions have been asked in the House with regard to the rear lights of mail vans. Hon. Members who have done motoring know that the mail van has a little light about the size of a cyclist's reflector on the roof of the van. Here again the question arises of the necessity of the motorist's vision being on the road. It is not easy to look upwards to see that red light, and it is very small when you do see it. I suggest that all rear red lights should be at a certain fixed distance from the road surface so that a motorist knows at once, again subconsciously, that when he sees a red light at that distance from the road surface there is a vehicle in front of him. There is a growing practice among some vehicles, particularly goods vehicles, to put head lights in a very high position. That, again, is a source of danger. These are only a few suggestions which I should like to make in all seriousness, and which I hope will be considered by the Minister, whom I again congratulate on the successful way in which he is conducting the work of the Ministry of Transport.
This is a subject on which I should like to address the Committee for several hours, but there is only one point I shall raise, because my ration in this Debate is two minutes and I am going to stick to it. The Minister of Transport is, so to speak, the custodian for the motorist's case and for the Road Fund. I would like to remind him of the words in the Roads Act which set up the Road Fund. The words are these:
There shall be established for the purposes of this Act, in accordance with regulations to be made by the Treasury for the purpose, a fund to be called the Road
Fund, and subject to such regulations as may be made by the Treasury with respect to accounts and investments, the Road Fund shall be subject to the control and management of the Minister.
That is very definite, and I believe that those words were put in so that, once the money was segregated into this Fund, it should be entirely at the disposal of the Minister. Now we come to the speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this year, in which he said—
Accordingly, I have informed my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport that I propose to transfer it to the Exchequer.
It was a question of £4,000,000. It did not matter whether the Minister of Transport agreed or not. The Minister, however, protested, for the Chancellor went on to say—
I should say that my hon. Friend has expressed some reluctance to assume even temporarily the role of the dying Sir Philip Sydney, but I have endeavoured to console him with the assurance that if, in fact, during the course of the next year or so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1935; col. 1631, Vol. 300.]
and so on. It is clear that there was a direct disagreement in the Government, and I say emphatically that the action of the Chancellor was not according to law, it was not according to the wishes of the House of Commons, and it was not in accordance with the original Act. That Act gave the power to the Minister, and it is high time that a stop was put to this marauding of the Road Fund by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, even with the agreement of the Minister of Transport. It is clear that in this case there was no agreement and that the Minister of Transport was bullied into it. If the right hon. Gentleman represents the motoring element in this country, he will at that Box to-night say how he was bullied into parting with this £4,000,000.
I must confess to being a little surprised at the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the segregation of roads as playing places for children. I am wondering what will happen to the inhabitants of the houses in these roads with regard to removals and delivery vans. Will the tradesmen's vans be stopped at the beginning of the street and deliveries have to be made by hand? I can imagine the difficulties of the people who will be compelled to live in those streets for the rest of their lives if no removal vans are allowed. I wish to make four suggestions which, if adopted, will, I can say with assurance, reduce casualties on the road by 25 per cent. in three months. One of the suggestions has been applied in Italy and Norway and has reduced casualties 25 per cent. in three months and 50 per cent. in six months. It follows that if one of the suggestions which I have to make would have that effect, what would be the state of things if my three further suggestions were adopted?
My first suggestion may be ridiculed. As I have travelled about the country I have many times seen some deliberately reckless driving that makes me want to get out of my car and have the driver arrested. When we see such a case, what is to prevent us as Members of Parliament taking the number of the car and sending it to the Ministry of Transport or to a police station, not with the idea of making oneself a policeman and instituting a prosecution, but in order to let the drivers know that they are under the observation of some mysterious body of 600 people all over the country? Such a system would make drivers think twice before driving recklessly and Members of Parliament could in this way do their part towards making the roads safe.
My right hon. Friend knows what my next suggestion is, and I can assure him I shall keep making it as long as I am within these walls. He has got to the half-way house with his own desires, and has achieved a magnificent success. I refer, of course, to the zones of silence. The Prime Minister said last week that for the first time he could repose quietly in his bed in Hampstead without the raucous noise of horns disturbing his slumbers. May I ask my right hon. Friend to experiment with a 24-hour silence zone in one county for one month? I must thank him for the assistance he has given me. When I have approached him I have always been courteously received, and I cannot say that for some Members of the Government. He has always given me an audition, and I think that all he needs is a little bit of extra push and encouragement in order to bring upon him the blessings of the population.
My right hon. Friend has the power to carry out my suggestion and there is no need for legislation. By a stroke of the pen he can put into force a regulation which will bring silence to our roads and safety to the pedestrian and the motorist. The pedestrian now crosses the road perfectly sure that if any motorist is about he will have the blast of a strident horn to blow him off the road. We could stop the young speed merchant who dashes through traffic irrespective of what there is on the road by taking away his horn. We should then cut at the root of the trouble because he would not take the risk of dashing along without a horn. Once it is known that no horns are to be sounded, every parent would caution the children to look right and left before stepping off the footpath, because they would not get any warnings from horns. I would like my right hon. Friend to celebrate the great honour which has so rightly been bestowed upon him by adopting the suggestion and in that way save the lives of at least 1,000 people every year.
Every motor service vehicle is compelled by law to have a fire extinguisher, but the private car is not controlled in that way. It has been argued that we do not wish to trouble the motorist with too many regulations. Why is it that the only time we hesitate to control him is when he is dangerous to himself and to the public? Last week I questioned my right hon. Friend with regard to an accident in the North of England to a lady and her father who were in a car. In a collision the car turned over and the two occupants were rendered unconscious. A man from the roadside tried to get them out, but the heat from the burning car was terrifflc, and he collapsed. Providentially, another car arrived with a fire extinguisher. They could not put out the fire with one extinguisher, but it kept the flames down while they got the two unconscious persons out. One, unfortunately, had been so severely burned that she died, but the other was saved. It may be said, "What is the use of a fire extinguisher 1 It would put out only a small fire." But everyone knows that in the case of such an accident there is very soon a queue of cars drawn up, and so there would really be 20 miniature fire engines at one's service, for every car would be carrying the means of succour to the occupants of the car on fire. Surely what is required of a taxi-cab should be required in the case of other vehicles. It is incomprehensible to me that there should be any difference in the case of the two types of vehicles, and why a private individual in his car does not enjoy the same safety as the man who is riding in a taxi-cab.
It may be said that if a car-owner neglects to take care of himself it is his own look-out, but that is not the whole of the case. A car may carry a fire extinguisher, but in a collision the occupants of it may be rendered unconscious as in the case I referred to. Those people have taken steps to guard their own safety, but if the other motorists who come up have not fire extinguishers the occupants of the car in collision may be burned to death although they have taken every precaution. Has the Minister realised that he, of all men in the country, holds in his hands the lives of the thousands of people on our roads? No man in this House has ever held such a terrible responsibility for saying, "Thou shalt die," or "Thou shalt live." That is the prerogative of the Minister of Transport to-day. It is a serious position. It is a case of life and death. When accidents were at their peak things got to such a pitch that every time the clock struck the hour there was one fatality on the roads of Britain. If it were a case of war there would be casualty lists at which the whole country would be horrified, but because these fatalities are spread over the country and are not brought to our immediate notice we are apparently apathetic, callous and indifferent.
Now I come to something which has never been mentioned here, although it is insisted upon elsewhere, in India among other places, and on the Continent, that a, car ought to be parked on its correct side of the road. A car draws up on its wrong side. When it moves off again it is starting from its wrong side, and to get on to the correct side the driver has to cut right across oncoming traffic, with his glaring headlights staring into the eyes of those in the oncoming cars. All that is necessary is for the car to be turned round so that it is in the stream line of traffic when it stops, ready to follow the flow of traffic when it starts again.
I have put before the right hon. Gentleman a number of suggestions with which he could experiment. If he could realise, as I am telling him now, that in three months he would have reduced the number of casualties by 25 per cent. he would be the proudest man in the' House. I do hope that he will try the experiment of the 24-hour silence zone for even one month in one county. Let him try it in Staffordshire, my own county. We should have notices in the Press that on the first of the following month the zone of silence would be in operation throughout the 24 hours of the day. Every morning the children at school would be told what was going to happen, and the parents on their part would be certain to "rub it in" as well. Then there would be meetings. Personally, I should be willing to stay in the county for a month, addressing meetings every night in order to let the people know what was going to happen. I am certain that at the end of the experimental stage it would be found that we had inaugurated a system which would reduce fatalities and casualties by 25 per cent. at least. That being so, surely it is not too much to ask the Minister to try the experiment. If it is a failure he can stop it, and if it is a success he can extend it throughout the country, and then we should have not only a silent and peaceful countryside but one in which we were not reaping a daily harvest of human lives, a quite unnecessary sacrifice.
I do not propose to pursue the interesting practical suggestions made by the hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Hales) but I intervene in support of the point brought forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon). In calling the attention of the House to the action of the Treasury in this matter the hon. and gallant Member is bringing forward a matter which transcends any question of party politics. For some years past the Treasury has been increasing its pretensions to control all other Government Departments. On more than one occasion I have had to stand up to the Treasury against these growing pretensions. Here is a case in public which is almost more glaring than any that have been happening. There may have been many other examples, behind the scenes, of attempted invasions by the Treasury of the prerogative of Ministers, but this one is a glaringly public instance, and although, no doubt, the Minister himself did not feel able at the time to take the action he would have liked to take I think it is necessary that we in this House should protest from all sides against the action of the Treasury in endeavouring to supersede and control the action of Ministers within their own Departments. It should be the right of any Minister to put before his colleagues his own proposals and to have them discussed and decided by the Cabinet. It is not for the Treasury alone to decide questions of national policy of this importance, because, as the hon. and gallant Member pointed out, the action taken here was directly contrary to the terms, and I believe to the intention also, of an Act of Parliament. There is no suggestion that it was a Cabinet decision. If it had been the Minister would no doubt have accepted it. Here is a case where the Treasury intervenes on an act of policy and takes away from the Minister funds subscribed for a specific purpose and specifically placed in his charge. I have only intervened to add my protest to that of the hon. and gallant Member against this intrusion of the Treasury, and its improper assumption, in my opinion, of an authority which it ought not to possess.
While I entirely subscribe to the views expressed by the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) and the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) I feel that it would be placing the Minister in a somewhat difficult position to call upon him to give chapter and verse in explanation of the discussions between himself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the Road Fund was raided on the last occasion. But this is a matter of importance to other hon. Members, and of considerable importance to myself as representing a Division of Durham, for a reason which I will explain later. I should like to join in extending congratulations to the Minister on the considerable degree of success which has already attended his efforts to secure a reduction of road accidents. It has been a very difficult and thankless task, and he has incurred much criticism and ill-informed ridicule; but even his most ardent critic would not, I am sure, grudge him praise for the lives he has already succeeded in saving, and I feel that hon. Members in all parts of the House will willingly subscribe to that meed of approbation.
After that, perhaps I may be permitted to mention one or two points of criticism. A distinguished Member of this House, himself an ardent motorist, who was connected at one time with the Ministry of Transport, and who bears a strong resemblance to the hon. Member who spoke from a bench behind me just now and first raised the point further elaborated by the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison), said at a gathering last week that in regard to matters affecting the road transport industry the bulk of Members of Parliament were like a lot of blithering old women. Having sat for at least six months on Committees dealing with matters affecting the road transport industry, I am bound to say that I find myself in a large measure of agreement with him. I am not now speaking of matters concerned with road safety, but, of the wider field of legislation affecting the motor transport industry, particularly as embodied in the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933. As one who has had to deal in a professional capacity with the administration of those Acts, I find myself asking whether the monumental interference with the road transport industry by recent legislative enactments has been justified and was really worth while. What we do know is that the debit side of the ledger is of immense size, and it is to my mind somewhat problematical whether balanced to any extent by the items which can properly be set on the other side of the ledger. It is difficult to be satisfied that sufficient benefits have accrued from the repressive and burdensome legislation to which road transport in both its branches is now subject. I am not blaming the present Minister. He simply inherited certain legacies from his predecessors in office. There are, however, a number of points to which I would like to direct his attention, and, despite what may have happened in the past, I am sure he will bring a perfectly open and impartial mind to them.
There is a genuine belief on the part of those engaged in the road transport industry that they have not been given a fair "crack of the whip," that their case has not been dealt with impartially, and that they have been sacrificed to the interests of the railways. Let me be perfectly frank. I completely share that view. However, as the Debate has centred largely on road safety measures, and as I know the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry wishes to reply, I will not attempt to go into those items now. I can only express the hope that opportunity will be given soon for a full day to be devoted to a Debate on the Ministry of Transport Vote. There are points I would like to have raised in connection with this opposition of the railways to road transport. I have no doubt that the Minister has had his attention drawn to an article written by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and I would also commend to him for his attention the speech which was delivered only last week by Mr. Sewell, the President of the Road Haulage Association.
As I say, I hope that another day will be given at an early date for further considering points such as the railway representation in transport commissioners' courts, appeal procedure, the period of validity of road service licences, restriction on duplication of road service vehicles, facilities for experimental services and so forth. But for the moment will confine myself to endorsing the remarks of previous speakers and urging that the question of weak bridges might be tackled more resolutely by the Minister. I have given an undertaking not to delay the Parliamentary Secretary in the making of his speech, and while there are a number of points to which I would like to have referred, I do hope that when these questions are finally brought before the Minister he will give them careful and impartial consideration.
Before the Minister replies, I would like to ask him two questions. The first is, what is the position at present with regard to the Menai Bridge? The users of that bridge are, of course, grateful to the Ministry for the reduction of the tolls that have been made, but it would be a great help to all users, and to the counties of Carnarvon and Anglesey in particular, if some definite information could be given as to what it is proposed to do with that bridge in the future. It serves as the only means of communication between the island of Anglesey and the mainland, and it is one of the main roads of this country. It would be of great assistance to all users if some definite information could be given with regard to the position or the future intention of the Ministry with regard to the bridge. Secondly, I should like to ask the Minister to inform me if he can what is the present position with regard to the proposed new road from Trevor to the main road leading from Carnarvon to Hereford. It is a minor question, but it is important in this respect, that it would enable a large number of people in the village who are not employed to get some temporary employment, and to relieve them from their difficulties.
I must, first of all, apologise to the Committee for having to speak so early, but, as the Commitee knows, we have the subject of Waterloo Bridge coming on at half-past seven, and it was felt that I should try to deal with some of the points raised in detail before the Debate comes to an end. I do not think, not having had time to look into the points raised by the last speaker, that I can give him an answer straight away. With regard to the road he mentioned I should like to have detailed information about it, and perhaps I can give the answers he asks for at some future date.
We can say that the Debate this afternoon has resolved itself into a discussion of three main topics which are dealt with in the Ministry of Transport. The Debate also shows how diverse are the various activities for which my right hon. Friend is responsible as head of that Ministry. The main topics dealt with were road construction and road safety, with one or two speakers making some references to electricity. About construction, and by construction I mean the works for which Road Fund money can be spent, I would say, as the Minister has said, that we have a five-year programme, which is the biggest thing that has ever yet been attempted. As an example of our earnestness in pursuing this policy, I would repeat, what the Minister has already said, that this financial year we have already approved some 22,500,000 as against £600,000 last year. As regards road safety, no experiment which we consider would be worth trying will be overlooked, and we are determined that the roads, as far as the Ministry is concerned, shall be made safe for people travelling on them.
Now as to questions of detail. The first is with reference to electricity. This point was raised by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. A. Roberts), and the hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. West). One hon. Member asked me about statistics—as to whether he could get any information about charges. Statistics are got out annually by the Electricity Commissioners, and he will get the information he requires there. With regard to uniformity, for which all hon. Members asked, we cannot pretend that that has yet been achieved, but we do know that, as a result of the Grid, uniformity is greater than before. One other hon. Member asked for uniform charges. I do not think it will ever be possible to get uniform charges. What we want is a uniform method of charges. There cannot very well be uniform charges when so many different factors come into consideration—density, length of line and all these different things. If we can get a uniform method to start with, that is what we must go for.
As regards the question, in London particularly, of the disparity in charges, all I can do to help the Committee is to point out to them the fact, which some of them have overlooked, that they have a right of appeal to the Minister if they think they are being unfairly treated. The actual prices and methods of charge adopted by authorised undertakers within the limits of their authorised maximum is a matter within the discretion of the undertakers, but if local authorities or the requisite number of consumers are satisfied that the maximum prices in operation in their district are excessive, it is open to them to apply to the Minister to have such maximum prices revised. That is the safety valve, if I may call it so, of the electricity consumer.
As regards road construction, first of all I should like to say a word or two about the Road Fund. That subject has been raised by a number of hon. Members, the last of whom was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison). We are glad to see him and others so solicitous about our Fund. If those hon. Members had studied the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Budget, they would have seen that we have an undertaking that the fact that this surplus was taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not make any difference to the amount of money which can be profitably spent by the Department on work of major importance. I would like to draw the attention of the Committee to the difference between commitments and expenditure. Many hon. Members have called attention to the fact that there happened to be a surplus in the Fund. Hon. Members must realise, as indeed they must know, that the cheques we pay are in respect of commitments entered into earlier, and the reason that there was a surplus in the Fund at that moment was because the cheques were being written in respect of the lean years before, when work was cut down. I will give a little example and this will interest the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. R. Strauss). Some years ago Lambeth Bridge was built, and it was opened three years ago. The London County Council have not yet applied to us for the cheque in payment for that bridge, and that money has had to be kept in the Road Fund until application is made. That is only one of a large number of cases where commitments were entered into and the money has not yet been paid.
The hon. Member who opened the Debate asked me a question about local authorities and public works. He asked the Minister whether if certain local authorities entered into and spent money on schemes that did not come to fruition owing to the lean years, they would be eligible for the Road Fund. If they had spent money they would be so eligible and could get the money back. We are hopeful that in the future working of this scheme for a five-year plan, a number of these schemes which were entered into and in regard to which money was spent in getting out plans, and so forth, will be put forward for the coming year. The hon. Member asked me about weak bridges. I can assure him that we offer 75 per cent, for such bridges not in the ownership of highway authorities, and we definitely hope to get rid of all such bridges within the next five years. As regards toll roads and bridges, the grant is 60 per cent. of the cost for Class 1 roads and 50 per cent. for Class 2 roads, and that grant is available for buying out a toll.
Two hon. Members spoke about canals. I can assure them that we are taking a great interest in canals. Recently the Crinan Canal had a certain amount of money spent on it, and probably will have more. The right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir Ian Macpherson) and the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) seemed to think that they would get no grant for unclassified roads. If they have studied the question they will find that in a circular sent out in connection with the five-year plan, we definitely say:
We also intend to increase the allocation for unclassified rural roads for the benefit of the agricultural community.
The right hon. Gentleman read out that statement, but the right hon Member for Ross and Cromarty did not seem to realise it. I want to emphasise that particular point. As regards roads in Scotland, the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness, in a very forceful speech, told us that he imagined he was forcing an open door. I think that that is so. He cannot expect me now to go into detail, but I can assure him that this question of grants to areas such as he represents is one which is constantly before the Ministry, and with regard to which we have had discussions with the Treasury.
If it applied in the case of roads in that part of the country represented by the right hon. 'and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) -would the possibility of a grant of 100 per cent, also apply, say, to the new road and bridge in Durham City which is scheduled as a distressed Area?
The only way in which I could answer my hon. Friend is to say that every case will be dealt with on its merits. The case of certain roads in Scotland is very different, and we have the matter before us and are considering it sympathetically. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned incidentally the necessity of making smooth gradients and corners of large radius. We only make stipulations about gradients and corners if in our opinion there is danger involved. Having dealt with a district which is not so densely populated, I now come to the points put by the hon. Member for North Lambeth, who was speaking from the point of view of the London County Council. I gathered from his speech that he was under the impression that no money was given for the acquisition of property. He was like Oliver Twist and like other Members of this House, asking for more. We do not blame him for that. in Circular 420 we definitely state that a grant would be given. The words are:
Net cost in non-built-up areas, or net cost or site value, whichever is the less, in built-up areas.
The hon. Member complained that no grant was given for land that was taken over. I want to make clear to the Committee that that is no so. The hon. Member made some complaint about the Department. Now that his speech has been made, I hope that the London County Council and ourselves may be able to get together upon a really good programme for the five-year plan. In the Ministry we have rather the feeling that the London County Council are not putting forward the plan which we should like to see them put forward. The hon. Member said that we are discouraging them; we feel that they are discouraging to us. Perhaps we may be able to get together in the future, I to satisfy him and he to satisfy me.
In the time that remains I wish to say a word about road safety. Two hon. Members raised the question of the efficiency of brakes. The hon. Member for Wrexham asked whether we had considered what he called the Toronto experiment. A paper on that subject was read at the road safety conference and is being studied at this moment in the Department. My right hon. Friend puts very great store upon the efficiency of brakes, but the problem becomes difficult when you look into its details. It is particularly difficult to devise some kind of test which would be the same for everybody. The question is being considered sympathetically, and I am certain that it is a line well worthy of exploration in the Department. Another aspect of road safety referred to concerned insurance. I can assure the hon. Member who asked a question about it that we are in the closest co-operation with insurance companies, in order to obtain all the information at their disposal for the prevention of road accidents. As regards that very important subject of third-party risks, in which respect certain insurance companies failed to meet their obligations, we have been in touch with the Board of Trade, whose business it is primarily to deal with the question, and I believe that some suggestions will be made by the Board in the very near future. The hon. Member for North Lambeth asked a question about the Committee on Road Safety. All I can say is that it is a committee which works hard and meets frequently. It is a confidential committee to which my right hon. Friend puts questions which he wishes discussed, and they give him their confidential advice. It would not be in the best interests if their reports were made public. It is a working committee, which works confidentially and whose mouthpiece the Minister is. Incidentally, I would say that the committee is representative of nearly every class of road user.
The hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy), in a most interesting speech, raised the question of inefficient vehicles on the road. My right hon. Friend is in agreement with him. If you could devise a system, which would need to be very carefully worked out, by which all private vehicles on the road were examined for inefficiency, as are public service vehicles and certain goods vehicles, that would undoubtedly make for road safety. All I can say now is that that is a vast subject and one which would require a great deal of thought before the Ministry could come to the House and ask.for legislative approval for a scheme of that kind. One or two hon. Members made complaints against police methods, and one hon. Member in regard to the duties of magistrates. Police methods are a matter primarily for the Home Office,.nd we cannot answer for that Department. The duties of magistrates are not debateable by us. We hope, however, that magistrates will do their utmost to carry out the provisions of the law and the regulations approved by Parliament for safety on the roads. A great many of our proposals depend upon magistrates, who can make or mar their success. We have no reason to doubt that magistrates understand the truth of what I have just said.
It was a pity, said the hon. and gallant Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland), that the Minister was reserving roads for children and closing them to motor vehicles. The Minister entirely agrees, but he has to be a realist, and he has to deal with the country as he finds it. If there were playgrounds for the children and sufficient means of getting them there, this question would not arise, but there are not sufficient playgrounds, and the Minister is acting in the only way that seems to meet a very difficult situation. I cannot go into the hon. and gallant Member's other point, on which he has kindly come to see me, about the 30-miles-an-hour sign being placed upon the roads. I would remind the Committee that a very strong recommendation was made when this matter was considered by the appropriate committee, that there should not be a number of signs on the road in order that the white lines which are there now, and the "Stop" signs, should have priority, and that everybody should recognise their importance. I think that is all I can deal with now.
May I ask the hon. and gallant Member if the Ministry will consider the method of road making in Rhodesia, by strips, because you get a better road than you have here at a. lower cost?
I should have to have notice of the question of making roads as in Rhodesia. The Ministry of Transport have to deal essentially with post-war problems. Unlike other Departments they had no precedents to guide them and no previous experience by which they can profit. Questions of road safety, road construction and reconstruction, electricity development, coordination of road and rail and ribbon development are matters which did not occur in years long gone by, and the methods adopted by the Department must be experimental. If an experiment is to be a success, it must be given a reason--able time to prove its usefulness or otherwise. I would ask the Committee that, while exercising in the freest and fullest. way their right to criticise, they should, in the old phrase, consider themselves to be a Council of State, and they should help us, as they can both in this House and in their constituency, to devise and carry through the various measures which are rendered necessary to deal with the rapidly changing circumstances of our time.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Sir G. Penny.]
I should like to suggest that we do not report Progress, because the Debate is so interesting that it ought to go on. I want to urge the Minister of Transport to consider that we have not enough roads in this country, and that we have far too many vehicles for the roads. In 10 years' time the whole place will be soaked to saturation with vehicles. The thing to do is to get money and make more and more roads. I have already supplied him with figures and ideas for the making of roads at one-tenth of the cost. In Southern Rhodesia they make far better roads. Cars run on little rails, and the rest of the road is free for other transport, instead of devoting the Whole of the road to motors. You can get 10 miles of road for the cost of one mile here. The whole of the particulars are in this month's "Road Transport." I supplied them. I got the particulars from the Government of Southern Rhodesia. By those methods we can get the whole of Britain covered with roads at one-tenth of the present cost.
The hon. and learned Member must not, make, on this Motion, the speech that he intended to make when the Estimates were before the Committee. The Question now is that I do Report Progress and ask leave to sit again. The hon. Member must do his best to address his argument to that Motion.
I think that the speech I made was the best argument against it. Someone asked me the other day, "What are platitudes" and I said, "The foundation of all speeches." I thought I would contribute my quota.