Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £142,997, 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, 1940, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Transport, including expenses of the Railway Rates Tribunal, of the Road and Rail Appeal Tribunal, and of maintaining Holyhead Harbour, the Caledonian and Crinan Can Is; annuities in respect of Light Railways; and other services."—[Note: £200,000 has been voted on account.]
I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if, with your permission, Colonel Clifton Brown, we discussed the Vote for the Ministry of Transport and the Roads Vote together, as we did last year and the year before. If that is agreed on all sides I should like to say that in introducing the Estimates for the Ministry of Transport I am sure I shall be voicing the feelings of all hon. Members in expressing deep regret at the death of Lord Mount Temple, which occurred last Monday. As Colonel Wilfrid Ashley he was a Member of this House for over 25 years, and I hope the Committee will allow me to pay tribute to one who did much to place the Ministry of Transport on a sound foundation during his tenure of office, first as Parliamentary Secretary from 1922 to 1923 and then as Minister from 1924 to 1929.
With the permission of the Committee I propose, first, to run briefly through the two Estimates that we are taking together, to draw attention to points of particular importance. and then to discuss in more detail some of the different aspects of the Ministry's work which I hope may be of special interest to the Committee. If the Committee will turn to page 136 of Class VI of the Estimates they will see that the gross estimated ex- penditure for the Ministry of Transport is£1,030,297, and that Appropriations in Aid for the current year are expected to amount to £687,300, leaving a net charge on the Exchequer of £342,997. The Committee will no doubt observe that this year the general taxpayer is being asked to provide £40,533 less for the expenses of this particular Ministry than he did last year. The reason for this decrease is that Appropriations in Aid have increased by £72,860, as against an increase in the gross estimated expenditure of £32,327. This increase of over £72,000 in the Appropriations in Aid, which the Committee will see dealt with on page 148, is mainly due to increases of £69,000 in the fees and incidental receipts of the Traffic Commissioners and the Traffic Area Licensing Authorities, and to an increase of £17,000 in the fees for driving tests. This is offset by a reduction of £16,000 in respect of a grant from the Road Fund for the reconstruction of a bridge over the Caledonian Canal.
The increase in the gross estimated expenditure comes mainly under the head of "General Administration"—£58,000, offset by a decrease of some £26,000 in the provision for the Caledonian Canal, due to the completion last year of certain works of a non-recurring nature. The total staff provided for in these Estimates is 3,244 for the current year, at a gross cost of £867,000, compared with 3,010 last year and a gross cost of £815,000. This increase in staff is due to three main causes: first of all the development of work on trunk roads and other highways; secondly, the necessity for more effective enforcement throughout the country of regulations as to the condition of commercial vehicles and the hours of work of drivers; and, thirdly, to Defence preparations, about which I shall have something more to say later.
I think it would be better if the Committee would allow me to display my Estimates first, and then if hon. Gentlemen will ask any particular questions during their speeches they can be answered at the end of the Debate. I have no objection myself to a catechismic form of presenting Estimates, but very often it makes a Minister's speech intolerably long.
The Roads Vote begins on page 149 and the Committee will no doubt remember that Parliament decided in 1936 that the Government's future expenditure in connection with highways should be voted annually in the same way as funds are voted for all other Supply Services. The assignment to the Road Fund of the major part of the proceeds of licence duties on motor vehicles ceased, but the fund itself was not abolished. The Parliamentary grant is now in the form of a "grant-in-aid," which means for practical purposes that any unexpended balance of the sum voted is retained in the Road Fund instead of being surrendered to my right hon Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The grant-in-aid of the Road Fund appears under sub-head A and amounts to £23,540,000, a larger contribution by £1,890,000 than was made last year. The estimated expenditure out of the fund this year is £26,050,000, or nearly £2,500,000 more than the Estimate for 1938; and the difference of £545,000 between this figure and the increase in the grant-in-aid is covered by the larger balance which we had in the fund at the beginning of this year compared with what we had at the beginning of last year.
I do not propose to deal with the subheads in detail unless the Committee particularly wish it, but I would mention that under sub-head B provision is made for expenditure on the reconstruction of the Menai Bridge. This bridge is over 100 years old, and owing to its exposed position it is subject to very severe stresses in stormy weather, with the result that for many years past it has been necessary to limit the laden weight of any vehicle going over it to 4¼ tons. This may be perfectly adequate to convey the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) but is a considerable inconvenience to some persons who want to use the London-Holyhead trunk road. The new bridge, which I hope will be finished in January, 1941, will be as far as possible an exact copy of the beautiful bridge erected by Telford, which was opened to traffic in 1826.
I turn a little further on to the appendices on page 151 and the following pages of the Estimates. Appendix 1 gives details of the estimated outgoings of the Road Fund, and I shall have more to say on this subject when I come to discuss the maintenance and improvement of our highway system. Appendix 2, pages 152 to 156, gives a list of major works authorised or in progress at the end of the last financial year, which are being carried out by highway authorities with the aid of grants from the Road Fund. Appendix 3, on pages 157 to 162, gives details of major works of improvement and new construction on trunk roads. This particular appendix is an innovation and is intended to give to the Committee the more detailed information which the Select Committee on Estimates desired.
There is, of course, a great deal more which could be said on these actual Votes as they are printed, but I feel that the Committee will probably prefer me to devote the remainder of the time at my disposal to the discussion of certain general questions which I believe are of special interest, and so far as queries on the Estimates are concerned, I think the Committee will probably share my confidence that I can leave the answers very safely in the experienced hands of my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who will wind up.
The first matter with which I wish to deal is road safety. No Member of Parliament, and certainly no Minister of Transport, can fail to be appalled at a casualty list which ran to 6,648 killed and 226,711 injured during the year 1938. We in this country are not alone in having this particular difficulty to face, for road accidents are a problem in every civilised community where motor vehicles are extensively used. The only small modicum of comfort at the moment seems to me to come from the fact that the number of persons killed in road accidents in 1938 was slightly less than the number killed in 1929, despite an increase of 40 percent. in the number of motor vehicles.
An important contribution has recently been made to the investigation of this tragic problem. It has been made by a Select Committee set up in another place under the chairmanship of Lord Alness. I should like to take this opportunity of repeating here a tribute which I have already paid in public to the thoroughness and the industry with which that Select Committee discharged their task. There is no difference of opinion as to the urgency of reducing the number of accidents on our roads. There are, however, very considerable divergences of view as to the most suitable methods of doing so, and the real fact is, I think, in the words of the Alness Committee themselves, that "there is no single or sovereign remedy."
It seems to me that there are three factors which we must consider—the vehicle, the road, and the user, whether motorist, cyclist or pedestrian. I will take these three factors in order. I think it will be generally agreed that the modern motor vehicle is extremely efficient and, if properly handled, remarkably safe. Motor manufacturers have always been ready to incorporate in their products the latest safety devices which ingenuity and experience can evolve, and an analysis of some 200,000 accidents involving death or personal injury which occurred in the year ended 31st March, 1937, showed that only 2.4 per cent. of these accidents were ascribed primarily to mechanical failures. It seems clear, therefore, that we cannot look here for a really substantial reduction of accidents. The extent to which the roads themselves are responsible for accidents is a very much more controversial question. The analysis of accidents to which I have just referred gives as less than 2 per cent. the accidents attributable primarily to road conditions. That is not a mere expression of opinion on the part of the Ministry of Transport. The analysis was compiled on the basis of the views expressed by the police as a result of their investigation of all these individual accidents.
It takes into consideration the primary cause of the accident according to the view expressed by the police, and I do not think it would be possible to find any better lot of people to express an opinion on the cause of any given accident than the police who investigate it on the spot.
I have a great deal to get through, and I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I could be allowed to make my speech as I planned it. All these points can be raised later and they will be answered. I am not suggesting that, because the police ascribe less than 2 per cent. of these investigated accidents primarily to road conditions, accidents could not be reduced by more than 2 per cent. if we could make our road system as perfect as we should all like to see it, and, I would add, as perfect as the Minister of Transport would like to make it. The principle of segregation of traffic is accepted by the Ministry for the trunk roads for which they are directly responsible, and we do our best to impress upon highway authorities the desirability of adopting it for their roads whenever possible. A great deal has already been done by eliminating blind corners and other dangerous points, and by remedial measures such as traffic lights and warning signs, and I can assure the Committee that work upon these lines will be continued to the full limit of our resources. But the point I wish to make is that however much could be done by physical improvements on our road system it would not provide a complete solution of the accident problem. No road can be made absolutely foolproof. Further, even if we had unlimited money to spend on our roads the removal of every feature which might, given a careless driver, contribute to an accident could not be accomplished within the lifetime of the present generation.
We are, therefore, thrown back on the third of the factors which I have mentioned, the road user, and it certainly is significant, although I do not for one moment wish to claim that it is conclusive, that the accident analysis to which I have already referred attributes the cause of go per cent. of the accidents to what is described as the human factor. If by some means all the people who use the roads, and that means pedestrians and cyclists as well as motorists, could be induced to be unselfish, considerate and circumspect on all occasions, there would be no road accident problem as we know it; but I fully realise that this is a counsel of perfection. Of course, if we could do away with human frailties we should eliminate a great many other problems besides that of road accidents.
Education, judicious propaganda and the development of a system of co-operation between road users of all classes seem to me to offer the best prospects of an early and substantial reduction in the tragic toll of death and injury on the roads; and here we have at any rate something encouraging to go on. Of recent years particular attention has been paid by education authorities to the training of school children in road sense and road conduct, and it is a hopeful sign that in the Registrar-General's figures for deaths due to road transport those for children of under 15 years of age have dropped by one-third in the seven years from 1930 to 1937, and 1937 is the latest year for which the figures are available. I hope that I shall not be accused of stressing the importance of the human element because I am complacent about the present state of our highway system or of stressing it as a means of justifying a lesser expenditure on the improvement of roads than some hon. Members no doubt believe to be possible at the present moment. I should like to assure the Committee that what I have said about the human element arises from a profound personal conviction acquired over 30 years as a motorist and even longer as a pedestrian.
Unless and until we can make our roads completely foolproof they must be used with regard to their actual condition, and if a driver takes a chance at a cross roads in spite of having been clearly warned of what is ahead of him, surely it is fairer to attribute to him an accident which results from his lack of ordinary care rather than to attribute it to the fact that he was not physically prevented by a flyover or a roundabout from taking a very obvious risk. I am very sorry that I am not yet in a position to give the Committee a fully considered view on all the recommendations for the prevention of road accidents which were made in the report of this Select Committee. There are, as hon. Members who have read the report will know, some 250 recommendations. Some of them are highly controversial; some of them would require legislative action and in consequence could not be discussed this afternoon; and some of them affect other Departments besides the Ministry of Transport, notably the question of what are usually called "courtesy cops," which comes under the Home Office. The Alness Report obviously merits the most careful examination by the Government—
—and I feel that it is due to Lord Alness and his colleagues that each one of their recommendations should receive full and unprejudiced consideration. In normal circumstances the three months which have elapsed since the report of the Select Committee was made public might have been sufficient for this purpose, although it is a pretty formidable task; but circumstances to-day are not normal, and the calls upon the Ministry in connection with defence plans have made it impossible to give to our consideration of all those recommendations of the Select Committee the degree of priority which they certainly otherwise would have had. I hope it will be possible to make available to Parliament the views of His Majesty's Government on the Alness Report in the not far-distant future, but on thinking it over I do not see how any speech of tolerable length could serve to deal with that report, and it will probably be necessary to give the House something in the shape of a printed document.
I turn now to the highways themselves, and I should like at the outset to state our policy as to trunk roads. It is to prepare a long-term programme which can be carried out as quickly as financial circumstances permit. Our ambition is to have a number of major schemes worked out in detail for each of our 30 trunk roads and to have these schemes carried to such a stage that constructional work can be undertaken as and when the money is available. I think the Committee will appreciate that this policy has the added advantage that if, as we all firmly hope, international relations improve and the need for the present gigantic expenditure on armaments diminishes, these road schemes will then be available to absorb some of the surplus labour and energy which would thus be released. In the meantime we are pushing on with the more urgent of these schemes as quickly as we can.
During the past year good progress has been made in the formulation of schemes and the carrying out of works of major improvement on trunk roads. By major improvement I do not mean small schemes of resurfacing or reconstruction carried on within the limits of the existing highway, but large schemes of reconstruction either on the line of the existing road or on a new line, that is to say a by-pass or a diversion which involves the acquisition and the throwing into the highway of new land. When the trunk roads became the responsibility of the Minister of Transport on 1st April, 1937, the former highway authorities had a number of such schemes in hand or in contemplation. All these, including such works as the Winchester and the Crawley Bypasses, were adopted and have now been proceeded with. In' some cases the schemes were considerably enlarged. The total cost of these schemes which we took over and enlarged represents an estimated liability to the Road Fund of about£4,750,000.
During the first year after the transfer, that is the first year when the trunk roads came actually into the Ministry of Transport, we put in hand a survey of the 4,500 miles of trunk roads with a view to the formulation of the long-term programme to which I have just referred. That survey has been completed and the long-term programme for some 3,000 miles of trunk road is now ready. Where by-passes or diversions of the existing road are considered to be necessary, Orders have to be made under Section 1 (3) of the Trunk Roads Act to safeguard the line of the proposed road. In the year 1938–39 we announced our intention to make 187 Orders; actually we made 154. These figures compare with 73 and 33 respectively for the previous years, showing, as I think the Committee will agree, a remarkable acceleration.
In addition to the schemes which we took over from the highway authorities many new ones have been prepared. During the first year of our ownership of the trunk roads, that was 1937–38, commitments were entered into to the extent of £5,500,000. During the second year, additional schemes were added, costing in the aggregate about another £6,700,000 on top of that. Land acquisition on all these schemes has been begun and on a number of them we have reached the stage of constructional work. For each of the first two years therefore we have added to our commitments works costing more than the whole of the commitments handed over to us by the former highway authorities. The Committee will no doubt also observe from the Estimates that for the current year provision is made for further commitments up to a total of £15,000,000. The descriptions of the larger of these schemes, that is, those costing more than £100,000, are set out in Part II of Appendix III of the Estimates. Of course, I am still referring to trunk roads.
An aspect of this work which I should like to mention for a moment or two is the acquisition of the land necessary for these schemes. Land acquisition in this country is not a rapid process. [Hon. Members: "Or a cheap one."] The Minister possesses compulsory powers of acquisition, but these cannot be exercised until negotiations, frequently prolonged, have taken place with the interests involved. There may be as many as 150 interests per mile of road concerned. Broadly speaking, it takes anything up to two years to acquire the whole of the land for a scheme of any magnitude. I should like to give a few figures to show the extent of the progress of land acquisition. On 31st March, 1938, 303 interests had been acquired and 7,500 were in various stages of acquisition. By 31st March, this year, 2,250 interests had been acquired and nearly 14,000 were in process of acquisition. Our present output is at the rate of over 300 cases a month. The position at the end of last month was that entry had been secured on no less than 415 complete schemes and over 2,000 individual plots connected with 92 other schemes. The rate of progress in land acquisition is now nearly 10 times what it was a year ago.
Now, as to constructional works. This year everything will be ready to start on a substantial number of schemes of major improvement. The determining factor as to which work shall be put in hand is simply finance. In addition to major improvements which, as I hope I have made clear, can be delayed or hastened according to the circumstances, there is the maintenance and minor improvement of this existing trunk roads, which we estimate to cost this year £3,250,000. This expenditure is necessary to keep our main highways in proper condition. If we neglect maintenance we shall be laying up trouble for ourselves in the future. We have, quite rightly, a high standard of maintenance in this country, and I think it justifies our claim that our roads, whether they are trunk roads, classified roads or unclassified roads, are kept in a better condition than those of any other country in the world.
So far, I have been dealing with trunk roads, but, important as they are, they represent a part only of the national expenditure on highways. In Appendix 1 of the Estimates the Committee will find some details of the expenditure upon other roads. The estimated payment from the Road Fund in 1939 in respect of grants to highway authorities for the maintenance and minor improvement of classified roads amounts to £6,750,000. Hon. Members will appreciate that that represents grants at the rate of 60 per cent. in the case of Class 1 roads and at the rate of 50 per cent. in the case of Class 2 roads. Similar expenditure by the local authorities on unclassified roads comes under the block grant. Major improvements and new construction, in so far as the estimated expenditure from the Road Fund is concerned, are estimated to amount this year to nearly £11,000,000, towards a total expenditure which is somewhere in the neighbourhood of £18,000,000.
Criticism in connection with this matter is sometimes levelled at our highway policy on the ground that the proportion of new mileage constructed is very low in comparison with that of other countries. That criticism seems to overlook three vital factors. First of all, this country already possesses a greater mileage of roads in proportion to its area than any other country in the world.
Secondly, there is the high standard of our secondary roads, which form an essential part of the network, and thirdly, the fact that effective road space is constantly being increased by the widening and improvement of existing roads. Many hon. Members will agree with me that if you can widen and improve an existing road it is often much better than putting a new one parallel to it not far away.
Before I leave the subject of road construction I want to say a few words about the Bressey Report. The Committee will be aware that difficulties have arisen with the local authorities concerned, who have not so far felt able to proceed with further major schemes of improvement in the greater London area on the basis of the grants which the Minister has been authorised to offer. This does not mean that the Bressey Report is in any sense dead. I sincerely hope not. On the contrary a number of important schemes which are among those recommended by Sir Charles Bressey—this was brought out in a question by the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith)—are in fact now in process of being carried out. Perhaps on further reflection the local authorities will feel able to undertake some further schemes with the not ungenerous financial help which the Government are prepared to furnish.
There is yet another topic in connection with roads on which I want to touch and that is the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935. The primary object of that Act was to protect our roads from the evils of unregulated building development. The Act itself covered 43,000 miles of classified road. Since 1935, my predecessors and I have approved resolutions giving the same protection to a further 29,000 miles of road, so that in all over 70,000 miles of road are protected. When Parliament passed that Act, the experimental nature of the proposals was generally realised. It was recognised that in many respects the effectiveness of the provisions which Parliament made in it could be tested only by actual use. Experience has shown that some of those provisions could with advantage be modified. The highway authority associations have represented that the objects of the Act are not being achieved as fully as we originally expected and that this is due to a large extent to its financial provisions.
The Committee will probably recall that I have power under the Act to make a grant towards compensation only in cases arising from "standard-width" restrictions. I have not the slightest doubt that it was hoped on all sides that speedy progress would be made in the adoption of standard widths, which are designed to safeguard the land required for the improvement of existing roads and the construction of new ones. Up to the present moment, 1,250 miles of road are subject to "standard-width" restrictions. This is not the time to go in detail into why this has happened. As soon as Parliamentary time permits, the Government intend to introduce an amending Bill. I should be out of order if I were to attempt to explain the Amendments contemplated, but I hope that I can be allowed to indicate in the most general terms their main objects. They are to enable me to make grants towards compensation payable as a result of the restriction of access to all roads to which the provisions of the Act apply, and to simplify the present machinery and procedure.
Before I come to the very important subject of Defence preparations I want to turn for a moment or two to one or two other matters which are engaging the attention of the Ministry at the present moment. With regard to railways, the Government have decided, as the Committee knows, to accept in principle the recommendations of the Transport Advisory Council in their report on the proposals of the main-line railways, now generally known as the "Square Deal." It is intended to introduce appropriate legislation as soon as possible next Session. In this matter I personally believe that the spirit is of more importance than the letter, and I am delighted to see that road and rail interests are getting together and are progressing with the groundwork of co-ordination, without waiting for the passage of an Act of Parliament.
Overcrowding on the London railways during the rush hours is an urgent personal problem for many workers. Some measures have already been taken to mitigate it, in the shape of longer platforms and improved rolling stock. My predecessor instituted a series of conferences at which proposals to lessen this evil by the staggering of working hours were discussed, and I propose to follow those up as far as I can do so. Obviously, the staggering of working hours is a common-sense solution, but I do not wish for a moment to disguise from the Committee the difficulties that stand in the way. In addition, the London Passenger Transport Board and the main line railway companies are well on the way with a number of important schemes of development and improvement in the London area, and these have been put into force under an agreement by which the Government guarantee the principal and interest on the capital required.
Considerable progress has been made recently with the electrification of railways. Anybody who changes over from travelling in a steam train to travelling in an electric train will, like myself, appreciate the very great advantages that there are in electrification. A number of schemes have been put in hand, again with capital raised with Government credit. These include the Wirral Railway from Birkenhead Park to West Kirby and New Brighton, with through running over the Mersey Railway into Liverpool; the line from Newcastle to South Shields; the two alternative routes from London to Portsmouth via Guildford and Dorking respectively with branches from Three Bridges to Horsham; and the electrification that has taken place along the South Coast from Hastings to Portsmouth. Last Friday I was present at the inauguration of the Southern Railway's latest scheme, by which the line between Otford, Maid-stone, Chatham, Gillingham, Swanley Junction and Gravesend has all been electrified. This scheme brings the Southern Railway's electrified area up to 770 route miles, which is the most extensive suburban and outer suburban electrified system in the world. As recently as the day before yesterday, the Underground extension to East Finchley was opened to the public.
The extension of electricity supplies in rural areas is another question to which my attention is frequently directed at Question Time. I do not see in the Committee my hon. Friend who regards this business as so extremely unsatisfactory, but, whatever he or any other Member of the Committee may say, it is not true to say that electrical development in the rural areas is not proceeding. There is a progressive increase in the number of applications for consent to the erection of overhead lines, and planned yearly programmes are being carried out by the different supply authorities. These must in due course result in greater availability of supplies, even in the more outlying areas, although there will inevitably be small hamlets or isolated individual premises which, owing to their position, cannot be served on an economic basis. I realise that much remains to be done in this field, but let me remind the Committee that neither I nor the Electricity Commissioners have any power to require undertakers to give a supply, or to lay down the terms on which supplies are to be given. That means that many of our difficulties cannot be removed without legislation. As the Committee will be aware, the Government published, in June, 1937, an outline of their proposals for legislation on the general lines recommended by the McGowan Committee. Unfortunately it has not so far been possible to proceed with this legislation, but, as I have already said, we regard the matter as one of great importance, and we intend to deal with it as soon as circumstances permit.
Finally, I come to an aspect of the work of the Ministry of Transport to which for many months past we have been forced to devote a great deal of special attention. An efficient transport system is an essential ingredient in our economic life in peace. In case of war, its ability to continue functioning on a scale adequate to cope with the demands which would be made upon it becomes, as I think the Committee will agree, of absolutely vital importance. The Minister of Transport is the responsible Minister for the railways, canals, docks, harbours, and roads of this country, as well as the electricity supply, and it is not surprising that in these circumstances the preparation of the necessary plans for the maintenance of all these in an emergency has lately become the most important work of the Ministry. The reference to the special Defence Plans Section which is shown on page 139 of the Estimates is no true indication at all of the staff of the Ministry employed on defence preparations. In the Railways Department, the Road Transport Department, the Harbours and Canals Department, the Road Engineering Department and the Establishment Department of the Ministry, and in the Traffic Commissioners' offices, a large number of officers are engaged, either wholly or part-time, on this kind of work, and I should like to pay a tribute to the unremitting labour of all ranks for many months past. I am glad to say that, as a result of their intensive and ungrudging work, a position has now been reached where it can be said with confidence that, if the need should unhappily arise, the Ministry of Transport would be well able to play its part in the national effort. Electricity also is receiving full attention, but that is done through the Electricity Commissioners, and their expenses are not included on my Vote.
To come to actual details, it is proposed, as regards the railways, that in time of war the undertakings of the main line railway companies and the London Passenger Transport Board should be controlled by the Minister on behalf of the Government. The machinery and procedure of control have been settled, and instructions have been issued to the railway companies and the Government Departments concerned. A great deal of planning of movements for which the railways would be needed in case of emergency has already taken place, and it will continue as further needs in the various Departments arise. Detailed plans for rail transport in connection with civil evacuation have been prepared, and are ready for use if required. Work on air raid precautionary measures on the railways includes both the provision of protection and the accumulation of stocks of plant and stores for necessary and urgent repair work. The value of works of this kind, completed or in hand, and of the stores purchased or on order, runs into several million pounds, and it is considered that the railways will be well prepared and equipped to meet an emergency and to maintain the essential services required.
As regards docks and harbours, there is a complete organisation, both at headquarters and at the ports, for dealing with the diversion of shipping should this become necessary, and for securing the most effective operation of all the ports. Port Emergency Committees have been established at all the principal commercial ports, and machinery has been set up to secure effective co-operation between the Port Emergency Committees and all Departments concerned. Special attention has been given to measures to secure what we called, in the discussions on the Civil Defence Bill, the "due functioning" of all ports in war-time, and the provision of additional facilities at the ports which may be required for the handling of traffic diverted to the ports from the more vulnerable areas. In the case of canals, an advisory committee comprising representatives of the Canal Association, the Association of Canal Carriers, and the Government Departments mainly interested has been set up; air raid precautionary measures have been under examination, and considerable progress has been made in the provision of such matters as stop gates and machinery for carrying out emergency repairs to locks.
As regards roads, a Road Transport Defence Advisory Committee was set up last September, and that committee is consulted on all schemes devised for the organisation and control of road transport in time of war. A scheme of organisation for goods vehicles was announced in February. This provided for the division of the country into about 500 sub-districts, within which operators were asked to form shadow groups of vehicles which would be manageable road transport units in time of war. At the end of May, over 316,000 vehicles had been grouped into about 7,000 groups, representing approximately 65 per cent. of the vehicles to which the scheme applies, and I think I can say, without having any additional figures to give to the Committee, that we are getting on very well with the grouping of the remaining 35 per cent. In order to provide a register in which all reserves of vehicles for war purposes would be recorded, with the object of preventing overlapping, operators were asked to complete census forms. I think the Committee will appreciate the danger of overlapping when various organisations think they have commandeered the same lorry. At the end of May, particulars of 441,770 vehicles were registered in traffic area offices, and these are estimated to represent 89 per cent. of all the goods vehicles in the country, I should like to pay a tribute to the public spirit, promptitude and efficiency with which these road transport people have come forward. What are called public service vehicles—which means passenger vehicles like coaches, charabancs and so on—do not present the same problem. They run on recognised routes, and it is not necessary to provide for them the same kind of local organisation; but a certain measure of control will undoubtedly be necessary, and I have actually issued a pamphlet on the subject this morning. As part of the scheme of control of both goods and public service vehicles, a scheme of fuel rationing has been completed, and can be put into operation when required.
In connection with the schemes for the construction and improvement of roads, war-time requirements receive regular attention, and priority is being given to works of importance on roads which will be essential for defence purposes. Plans will be completed for organisations to supervise Government road works in wartime, and for dealing with matters relating to the supply of road materials. Under the powers conferred by the Civil Defence Bill, reserves of bridge repair material have been accumulated by the Ministry in order to facilitate the prompt repair and replacement of road bridges which may be damaged by enemy action, and arrangements have been made whereby a number of highway authorities throughout the country are also accumulating bridge repair materials for this purpose. Special measures are to be put in hand to ensure the continued functioning of electricity supply undertakings in time of war. The most important of these are the creation of a national reserve of transformers and switchgear and the duplication or provision of additional connections to vital factories and other premises, as well as protective measures for individual undertakings. Measures have been taken also for the protection of the grid sub-stations, and for the safeguarding of supplies to vital factories.
I hope and believe that the Committee will sympathise with me on an occasion like this. One has to choose between being accused of being too casual on the Estimates, if one goes through them too quickly, or, on the other hand—and this is more likely—being accused of being a bore. The Ministry of Transport is one of the youngest of the Departments of State, but its activities touch many aspects of our national life. I have tried to give the Committee, within a reasonable compass, some account of its work. To do so it is necessary to select certain subjects to the exclusion of many others. The problems with which this Ministry is faced in many directions are, I think, none of them capable of easy and drastic solution. I hope that what I have said this afternoon will be enough to show that the Ministry which is concerned with the provision of transport is itself not static but on the move.
Miss Lloyd George:
I should like, first, to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on assuming his new office, and to wish him a successful and, if I may say so, a fruitful tenure of office. He has spoken about many aspects of the work of the Department. He has spoken about the Square Deal. I hope that it will be a square deal not only for the railways, but for the public and the roads as well. He mentioned electrical development in rural areas, and assured us that it was proceeding. He said that he hoped they would tackle the problem when circumstances permitted. I have an uncomfortable feeling that those circumstances will not permit as long as this Government is in office.
Of the many aspects of his work which the right hon. Gentleman has touched upon this afternoon, none is so vitally important as the heavy toll of life on the roads of this country. He spoke of the figures—6,000 killed and 226,000 injured in 1938. When we heard that nearly 4,000 people had been killed in air raids in Spain in four months, I remember the indignation that was felt all over the world. The British Government proposed an inquiry to see whether this frightful slaughter of 4,000 people in four months in war time might not be stopped. Yet we have had 6,000 people killed on the roads of this country every year for the last 10 years. We lose more lives each year on the roads than the Italians lost in two wars—in Abyssinia and in Spain. A disaster in the mines, the sinking of a great liner or a tragic occurrence such as happened recently to the "Thetis" arouses tremendous feeling in this country and a determination that an inquiry must be set on foot to see that such occurrences cannot take place again.
I believe that, in spite of the fact that there appears to be, because this has been happening so long, a certain complacency, there is a growing feeling in this country that action of a far more radical and drastic character should be taken in order to curtail this loss of life on the roads. The Minister has told us of a good many things which have been, and are being done, in order to bring down the figures, but the test of what is being done is whether the figures are on the decrease. I think that the figures themselves show that the measures which are being taken are totally inadequate. It seems to me that the question that hon. Members must put to themselves is whether everything is being done that can humanly be done to reduce the casualties. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the very wide divergence of opinion that undoubtedly exists as to how this can be done, and as to the main factors that are responsible for the accidents. I do not think anyone could deny that the human element has played a very large part in the tragic figures, but when the right hon. Gentleman puts the figure, as he did this afternoon as high as 90 per cent., he put it very much too high.
Miss Lloyd George:
That brings us back to the same point. The right hon. Gentleman does not repudiate the figure. Therefore, I take it that he accepts it. I would bring in some evidence, if I might, of an expert character. I believe that a great deal can be done to neutralise what the right hon. Gentleman calls human frailty. A good deal can be done by propaganda, by example, and, above all—the right hon. Gentleman did not mention this—by penalty, to improve the conduct of the motorist and of the pedestrian. There are many of us who would like to see the punishment fit the crime more often. Many of us would like to see severer sentences on motorists who inflict injury through sheer callousness and recklessness. I believe some more heavy, but quite just, sentences would save more lives than any number of circulars issued by the Ministry. It will be very difficult to deal with these cases in a satisfactory way until you have special courts to deal with motoring offences. But although you may have powerful deterrents, erect your signs, issue your warnings and have your patrols, the reckless and foolish driver is not going to be radically altered by any psychological process devised by the Minister, and certainly not by any legislation passed by this House. The Minister said, "Yes, but if you cannot adapt the roads to the drivers, you must adapt men to the roads." I suggest that the roads must be made for man, and not man for the roads. If he follows that principle he will be able to reduce the accidents far better.
The second question is that of inadequate roads. There is very great divergence of view, again, on this. The Minister of Transport—and here I get myself into the same controversy with him as I did before—accepts the view that only 2 per cent. of accidents on the roads are directly traceable to bad roads. The figure actually given in evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Lords was only 1.5 per cent. I am glad that he has accepted a higher figure than that, even if it is only a little higher. The late Minister of Transport said that only three out of every 200 accidents are due to bad roads. On the other side, we have the evidence of the county surveyor of Oxfordshire, who, after very detailed inquiry in his own county, came to the conclusion that four out of every five accidents in the county would not have happened if the roads had been constructed on the lines recommended by the Ministry itself; and two out of every four, he said, would have been prevented if defects in the roads had been removed. That would not be a matter of very heavy expenditure. When these statements were pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, he dismissed them very summarily, saying that he did not want to be easily led aside from the task of improving the standard of driving by will o' the wisps, laying the blame at other doors. I do not know whether the Minister is of the same opinion as his predecessor, but I gather from his speech this afternoon that he is.
That evidence should not be dismissed so summarily. There is the evidence that comes from Germany that the construction of the Autobahns there resulted in a reduction of 34 per cent. In two years in the number of persons killed—and that was at a time when the number of motor vehicles had increased by 32 per cent. A comparable reduction in this
country would have meant a saving of 2,000 lives in two years. That would have been a remarkable achievement. There is also, finally, the evidence of the Select Committee itself. They had the benefit of expert evidence, both from the Ministry and from practical motorists and associations of motorists. I do not know whether the Select Committee of the House of Lords were the will-o'-the-wisps to which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's predecessor was referring, but the Select Committee, after hearing all that evidence, came to the definite conclusion that bad and inadequate road conditions are important contributory factors in the accident problem. They stated categorically that if these road defects were rectified, there would be a substantial reduction in the number of accidents. That is the first conclusion to which they came after hearing all that evidence. The second conclusion was that, unless more rapid progress—and I would ask the Government to notice this—was made in remedying these defects, there must come, with the increase in traffic, a further increase in the number of accidents. That is a very serious consideration. Their final conclusion—and these are the words of the Committee themselves—was that
nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of a very greatly accelerated programme of road construction and improvement.
It was in February or March of this year, when we were spending enormous sums on armaments, when they decided that, so serious was the congestion, nothing should stand in the way of a greatly accelerated programme of road construction. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he contemplated issuing some kind of a document showing the view of the Government on the conclusions of the Select Committee. I very much hope that he will issue a White Paper of that kind, and trust that he will not make it an excuse for further delay. I hope that a White Paper will be issued as soon as possible so that action may be taken upon it.
There is a great deal to be done to improve existing roads. We have the evidence of experts, and of our own eyes, that there is a tremendous field of work to be done in removing road defects. There are the questions of bad surfacing, narrow roads, lack of roundabouts, and high hedges at cross roads, and hon. Members in all parts of the Committee could point to instances of which they know. I have in mind at this moment one of the main arterial roads of this country—Watling Street—where there are four or five highly dangerous bridges, one hunchback, and two or three where it is quite impossible for two cars to pass each other. This is on one of the great highways of the country. There are countless examples of that kind.
I cannot conceive why we cannot put these things right now, and why there should be delay. We need new roads as well; no one will dispute that fact. Our roads are more densely crowded with cars than the roads of any other country, and the congestion is increasing. I believe that during the last seven years the number of cars has increased by 800,000, and that only 280 miles of important new roads have been constructed. That means about 3,000 new cars for every additional mile of new road construction. I hope that I am not doing the right hon. and gallant Gentleman an injustice, but I do not think that he mentioned the question of rural roads. I am sure that Members on all sides of the Committee will deprecate the suggestion that the need for new roads and better roads in rural areas is not quite as urgent as it is in the urban areas. We have to remember the exodus that takes place into the country places from the towns every week-end, and particularly in the holiday periods. Apart from that, if the agricultural marketing system of this country is to be made efficient—and it is one of the first essentials of a prosperous agriculture that it should be—then the whole rural road system of this country will have to be completely reorganised.
There is also the question to which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred, of traffic congestion in and around London. It is growing. It causes enormous delay, as he said, and entails great loss to the business community. It is not only so in London. The approaches to London are also congested. I heard of a woman only last Saturday, on one of the roads leading out of London, who was able to do the "Times" cross-word puzzle in one traffic block. It happened on the Staines—Basingstoke road, one of the main roads out to the west. The traffic block lasted 40 minutes, and I think that that was pretty good going—I mean for the "Times" cross-word puzzle. Extensive tests as to the traffic blocks in London are dealt with in the Bressey Report. It was found that the average speed in Ludgate Circus and Commercial Road is only five miles an hour. I believe that the slowest journey recorded was three miles an hour. Between Euston Road and Trafalgar Square the average was seven miles an hour, and on the slowest journey it was six miles an hour.
The Bressey Report pointed out the urgent need for an alternative thorough-fare which would relieve the existing lines of traffic from Ludgate Circus to the Mansion House. I do not think that there is any hon. Member in this Committee who will deny the vital and urgent necessity for that. They have made, as the Minister said, many other major recommendations for the relief of traffic in London. So far, I believe it is true to say, hardly one of these recommendations has been implemented. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman tried to ride away on that by saying that there were certain difficulties with local authorities, which is, I believe, correct, and that they are not satisfied with the grants that have been offered to them. In all these fields, particularly in fields of a very large character, the Government ought to undertake a far larger proportion of the financial responsibility than they are doing at the moment.
It is vitally necessary that these improvements should be made, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider the decision which has been taken on this matter up to date. It is a vital consideration in peace-time, but it has become a vital matter in Defence. Imagine what might well happen in London in the first few hours and days of war. You will have a vast population going from the centre of the Metropolis out into the country. If the average speed, travelling East and West, is less than six miles an hour in the normal, peace-time conditions, what will it be like in the first rush of an evacuation? If general mobilisation is in progress, you will have large-scale troop movements, with equipment, and it is possible that the elaborate scheme of the Minister of Health will break down.
It is more than a possibility that, owing to this great evacuation being carried out, the railroads and the railway stations will be among the first objectives of enemy air attack. If there should be a direct hit at one or two points, it may delay the thing for an hour or two, or for very much longer. The delay of an hour or two might throw out of gear the whole of the evacuation scheme, and it might be necessary to use the roads in order to carry out the scheme. There might easily be a very dangerous situation in those circumstances, and a disaster of the first magnitude. We have only to remember what happened in Spain when refugees going from Barcelona were machine-gunned and bombed. Everyone knows, whether you consider it as a Defence or a peace-time measure, there is a vital and an urgent necessity to improve the roads that serve London in order to allow the free flow of traffic out into the country.
There is one other point on the question of Defence to which the Minister referred, and with which I should like to deal. I refer to the question of the diversion of sea traffic in war-time. It is obvious that there are ports which will be so vulnerable that their use will have to be restricted in time of war. The Port of London will, I suppose, be the most vulnerable in the country. I understand that a committee has been set up by the Minister of Transport, with representatives of the Board of Trade sitting on it, to look into this matter. I do not know how far its deliberations have gone, but an eminent shipowner said the other day that, if an emergency arose—and we do not know how many days or weeks we may be from such an event—no one yet knew what the plans were and whether there were facilities available in the ports to which it is intended to divert the traffic.
I hope that we may get some information later on with regard to that matter. I only know of one instance, and that is Holyhead, where in the last War the harbour was used to a very great extent both by merchant ships and ships of war. The facilities that were available at that time no longer exist. Since then one pier has gone, and another pier is in process of being taken down by the L.M.S. Railway Company, and when this is done there will be no berthing facilities for any ships at all, except the mail boats between this country and Ireland, which will need all the berthing facilities which are available. I do not know whether there are examples of that kind in other ports in the West, but I realise the importance of this matter. The Minister may not want to give the disposition of these docks, or to give a very detailed answer upon this question, but we ought to know whether in fact this is merely a paper plan, or whether the facilities are actually there if an emergency arises and traffic has to be diverted.
I would like to refer once more to the question of road accidents. I believe that the test of the policy of the Government must be found in the figures, and there is no indication, as far as I can see, that any impression is being made upon them. Before the last election, the Prime Minister, in a broadcast, announced that the five-year plan which was to be launched by his Government was to cost £100,000,000. The Secretary of State for War, who was then Minister of Transport, went further still, as he so often does, and said that the programme was the greatest ever contemplated. He said that it would cost £130,000,000. The other day, when three years of the five-year plan had gone, nearly four years, we were told that the total amount expended on the scheme had been £31,000,000. The Government have re-fused, I understand, even to spend £2,000,000 in giving a grant to increase the number of motor patrols, a measure which the Select Committee recommended as a safety measure of vital importance. The matter was discussed in another place, and the answer given was that the increase of these patrols was turned down on the question of expense. I do not say that that is the fault of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman; it rests with the Treasury. I hope, how-ever, that the Minister will make it one of his most important functions to impress himself upon the Treasury.
Miss Lloyd George:
I will not pursue the matter any further, but I would say that the Minister made it perfectly clear in his speech that finance was the deter mining factor in regard to the construction of roads or the improvement of existing roads. Therefore, whether it is on one side or the other, we come back to the same point from which we started. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that safety on the roads should be the determining factor. I cannot believe that we cannot afford to make the roads of this country safe, although we are spending a great deal of money on armaments. Germany is spending astronomical sums on armaments, and yet she manages to build great roads. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tackle this problem in earnest. The local authorities, particularly in the rural areas, are so overburdened that they cannot take up any more financial commitments. Motorists pay very generously towards the general revenue, but they get only 3d. out of every Is. they contribute put back on to the roads. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will resume a policy of road construction, which I believe to be still the major factor in this heavy toll of human life on the roads.
The hon. Lady apologised to the Committee for the length of her speech. May I assure her that the speech was not one minute too long? We should have liked to have heard more of it. It was an exceedingly valuable contribution to the discussion of these vital matters, and I am sure that I speak for the whole Committee when I congratulate her upon her able and important contribution to the Debate. I join with her in welcoming the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to the Committee in making his first exposition of the Estimates of the Ministry of Transport, and in wishing him a happy tenure of office until the moment comes when, if the policy of the present Government is pursued, he will soon be transferred somewhere else, and he lays down his office and either goes up or down, according to the luck of things at the moment.
Conservative Governments tend a little to play about with the Ministry of Transport. Ministers come and Ministers go. Some of them know what they are doing when they arrive, some of them know what they are doing by the time they have left, and some of them do not know what they are doing at any time. Instead of using this office as one of convenience and transit the Government ought to take it seriously as a very important institu- tion of State, which requires continuous and informed attention. I am sure that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will energetically set about mastering the affairs of his Department, some of the activities of which, as he will know from his experience at the Treasury, are frustrated by the Treasury. It may be that having been in the past an instrument of frustration there and knowing the tricks of the Treasury he will be effective in doing battle with them.
I should like to know what has become of the £100,000,000 or the £130,000,000 for the five years road programme— £100,000,000 according to the Prime Minister and £130,000,000 according to the present Secretary of State for War. We should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary why the promise was made and what was the information and the policy upon which the promise was based. It was a promise to the country made at the General Election and one must presume that the Prime Minister would not make that promise unless he believed it could be carried out. What were the factors which caused him to believe it could be carried out? As it has not been carried out and is not in fact within miles of being carried out, what are the factors which prevent it from being carried out? After the Parliamentary Secretary has explained away the £100,000,000 mentioned by the Prime Minister, perhaps he will do the same in regard to the £130,000000 mentioned by the present Secretary of State for War.
The Secretary of State for War when he was at the Ministry of Transport made all the promises and got all the headlines, and he is leaving his unfortunate successors to face up to the non-delivery of the goods. I would advise the present Minister of Transport to settle scores with the Secretary of State for War as soon as he can. It was the same in connection with the Bressey Report. That inquiry was instituted in a terrible hurry, as a result, I think, of a private conversation I had with the Minister at the time. I expected to hear more of it from him, but it was such a good idea that he ran away with it really before I knew where he was, and he took the whole credit for it. That inquiry was made and the report was produced. I am not sure that the Minister of Health knew about it before it was done, despite its town planning features. The headlines were there, great things were to follow, and we know what has been the result. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, as was the case with his immediate predecessor, will take his job seriously, and regard it as an opportunity to do a job of work and not merely as an opportunity to get headlines, which I suggest was the case with the present Secretary of State for War.
Reference has been made by the Minister and the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) to the casualties on the roads. I need not add anything material to what has been said on that matter, because there are other matters which I wish to introduce into the discussion. I should like the Minister to examine whether all the relevant provisions of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and any amending legislation that has been passed are being fully utilised and administered by his Department. I do not wish to refer to the matter in detail, but in the Debate last year I gave particulars of a great series of provisions in existing legislation which I thought the Ministry had not yet utilised. I hope very much that all this legislation is being looked over by the Department with a view to seeing whether the powers which they now have are being fully utilised and administered in the interests of safety.
There is another subject I wish to discuss which has been outside the field of Debate so far, but I shall not spend a great deal of time on it. I refer to the staffing of those public corporations for which the Ministry of Transport is responsible. The right hon. Gentleman is answerable in greater or lesser degree for two of these corporations, the Central Electricity Board and the London Passenger Transport Board. There is another corporation of very great importance, the British Broadcasting Corporation, for which the Postmaster-General is responsible. These public corporations, which are tending to increase, are a new form of public administration of economic and trading undertakings of the very greatest importance. Another one is about to be set up for the management of air transport services. I am a little concerned as to the method of recruitment, training and promotion of the staffs of these public corporations. I have no doubt that much of it is done in a very good way. I have no reason to suggest that there are any irregularities in the recruitment or promotion of staff; nevertheless, it is the case that if the work were done badly and if the recruitment were incompetently done, so that there was an insufficiency of competent and able people recruited to these public corporations, or if there were jobbery, political favouritism or personal favouritism in the making of appointments to these public corporations, I do not know of any way, as things are, whereby the public interest could jump in and promptly deal with the situation and put things right.
The Minister has no power of intervention as to appointments, and I think that is right, because I do not see that any political Minister should be responsible for the detailed management of these great economic undertakings. One cannot put a question in the House because the Minister has no direct responsibility. Therefore, if these things did become the subject of improper influence in the making of appointments or, apart from improper influence, if the system of recruitment and promotion were such that the best service was not being obtained for these corporations, a serious situation would arise in the undertakings. As I have said, these public corporations are a new form of economic management on a large scale, and they are public authorities, public institutions, and the Government ought not to be indifferent as to their methods of recruitment and promotion.
There is a vital need in industry generally, and in the growing number of public concerns, for the attraction to them of men of competence and ability, and for the training of those men, to ensure that there is a proper supply of them. Take the London Passenger Transport Board. There is at the head of that Board two exceptionally able men, Lord Ashfield and Mr. Frank Pick. They are not reproductions of each other, they are different men, but between the two of them they make a great combination and possess very great qualities. There are other able men in the London Passenger Transport Board, but when Lord Ashfield and Mr. Pick leave the undertaking, or pass away for some reason or another, I am not sure whether first-class men are going to be there to take charge of that undertaking at the top. It is not healthy for any undertaking that there should be two first-class men at the top, and that there should not be a dozen first-class men im- mediately below them. The bigger the undertaking the more essential it is that in the second grade of officers and in the third grade of officers there should be exceedingly able and competent men who are able to take responsible decisions on their own responsibility, because the vastness of the undertaking makes it inevitable that one or two men at the top cannot and ought not to try to manage the undertaking in detail.
It may be so. I am no saying whether that is so or not. I cannot speak with authority for what is in the mind of Lord Ashfield, but in my judgment there is a case for inquiry in regard to these public corporations generally, and I believe there is a case for inquiry in regard to the London Passenger Transport Board. We must try to attract to the services of these vast undertakings in the various grades of management and responsibility men and women who are fully suitable and fully competent for the tasks that are to be done. There are first-class people in the Transport Board and in other great undertakings, very able people, but what I am not satisfied about is whether the whole system of recruitment and promotion of staff has been comprehensively considered and developed. What did the London Passenger Transport Board take over? They took over a vast miscellany of undertakings. They took over, for instance, the London County Council tramways. The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) will know that in the administrative staff of the London County Council, as in the case of His Majesty's Civil Service, there is an elaborate and carefully thought out system of recruitment and promotion, calculated to get the right men in the right positions and to train men of ability, and so on. There was nothing of that kind in the Metropolitan Railway. I would not trust myself to say what I thought of the old Metropolitan Railway. If I was asked how they did their recruitment I should say some brutal things.
No, the Metropolitan Railway. There was a traffic combine including the Metropolitan District Railway and the District Railway. There was no doubt about the system of recruitment and promotion, but it was nothing like that which obtains in the Civil Service. I doubt whether it was properly thought out. Is it not time that the Ministry of Transport, in conjunction with the Treasury, asked whether, since this great merger came about, there has been an adequate inquiry into the recruitment and promotion of the staffs? I do not think there has been any such inquiry. It may be that an inquiry will find that everything is all right. I am not convinced it is, and I suggest that the right hon. and gallant Member should collaborate with the Treasury and consider whether a Departmental Committee should be appointed to carry out such an inquiry, with two first-class business men accustomed to big undertakings, two first-class municipal officers, members of the Civil Service Commission.
Yes, as I was about to say, representatives of the trade unions. You must have individuals with exceptional business aptitude. Civil servants sometimes show that, but sometimes they cannot; they are not encouraged by Conservative Governments. It is a different problem from that of the Civil Service, but in the general run the administrative and clerical staff problem is the same as in the Civil Service and, therefore, I think the Civil Service Commission can function in regard to these appointments. I beg of the Committee not to think that I am attacking anybody, certainly not Lord Ashfield and Mr. Pick, for whom I have a very high regard. I am putting forward a problem which, I think, is worth consideration and investigation. There are problems of management as well which are worth consideration. This is important when you have this development of public corporations. The Government are bringing forward yet another, and if you get a Labour Government there will be a whole series of them in the process of socialisation, which will come with great speed. It is, therefore, of the most profound importance, whether we have a Conservative Government or a Labour Government, that these problems in respect of this new form of quasi-public enterprise should be investigated so that we can get the best out of them.
I want to refer to certain problems in connection with road and bridge works. Reference has been made by the Minister and the hon. Member for Anglesey to the Bressey Report. Sir Charles Bressey was an exceedingly able and conscientious officer of the Ministry of Transport as chief engineer when I and my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) were there. We thought a lot of him, and his report is an exceedingly valuable contribution to a comprehensive study in regard to the things needed to be done in connection with the highways and bridge problems of the Greater London area. The report was very well done. There are differences of opinion on details—that is inevitable—but it was competently written and will be of great value to the Minister and to the authorities in the Greater London area. But little is happening under that report, for which I am very sorry. When we have to face expenditure of this vast character ought we not to realise that we cannot handle the negotiations on the basis of a normal grant? The capital cost of this job will be £80,000,000 to £120,000,000. It is true that there will be a grant, but that is an enormous sum of money, and it would mean a vast sum of indebtedness being placed upon the ratepayers. When you get into such enormous amounts, sums running into many millions of pounds, and you are also faced with compensation for property owners, I must tell the Minister quite frankly that we just cannot do it; we cannot contemplate it on the basis of an ordinary grant.
I also say quite frankly, that unless we are assured of very generous terms, I would not put that vast amount of capital expenditure in front of, or equal to, capital expenditure for the clearance of the slums of London. If it comes to making roads for a motorist to reach the place where he wants to get 10 or 15 minutes earlier or clearing the slums of London, rebuilding the schools and assisting the vital services, I say that as a matter of social priority I cannot put that highway matter first. It would be wrong, and I think most hon. Members will agree it would be wrong. I cannot expect the Minister to agree, and it is right that he should not agree. He is the Minister of Transport and he puts transport first. But local authorities, who are charged with a whole series of services and are faced with capital expenditure, must have an order of priority, and unless the grant is exceptionally good we just cannot contemplate going on with it, with all the good will in the world; and I can assure the Minister that there is no lack of good will. I hope to be able to have conversations with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to see if we cannot arrive at an equitable and fair financial agreement about these great projects, in which case no one would be more happier to proceed with them than I.
When the Ministry or the Treasury—I do not know which it was, but most likely it was the Treasury, because I have found the Ministry of Transport more reasonable in recent years than they were some time back—fixed the grant, they knew perfectly well that they were sentencing the Bressey Report to death. If the Treasury said they would like to do this but that there were enormous demands on their capital and revenue resources, and they would have to hold it over, it would be a fair proposition, and I would not argue too much about it. I know the grave financial problems which are facing the Treasury. If they mean that, why do they not say so, instead of offering the normal amount which they know we cannot accept and putting the responsibility of saying "no" on the authority? If the Treasury want it done they will have to talk a financial language which we can understand. The dangers of compensation in these Bressey proposals are enormous. I ask the Minister to consider the problem of the extraordinarily high compensation costs we shall have to pay for these improvements. We are demolishing an old bridge and building a new bridge over the Thames at Waterloo Bridge, which the Committee has already heard about. We are doing that at a total cost of about £1,250,000. We are now to get a grant, although not as much as we ought to get.
On the north side of a river a development is taking place in connection with the Lyceum Theatre with a big roundabout in the Strand. It is quite right that the work should be done, but we should have preferred to wait until the new traffic bridge over the Thames had been completed and then see what is necessary to be done on the north side. We are asking for special powers; and we are getting them. But what have we to pay for this construction, including compensation for property, and the making of a big roundabout at the northern side of Waterloo Bridge? We are building a new bridge for £1,250,000 but we have to pay over £2,000,000 for one roundabout. It makes my heart bleed. It is only after negotiations with all the resources and ingenuity on both sides, County Hall and the Ministry of Transport, that we have a grant which will make it possible for us to do this and not make more than a reasonable call upon the ratepayers. We are going ahead. We have to buy the land, and it is very expensive. We have to buy the buildings, but we have to do more than that. We have not only to compensate people for their property and reimburse them for any expenditure that they have already incurred. I can understand that. If a man has spent money he is entitled to be compensated, as things are: I am not going to argue that point. But we have also had to compensate people for profits they have never made, but which they might make in the future when that property was developed. We have had to sign on the dotted line because we knew that unless we did, the Bill would not get through Parliament.
I say that Parliament as an institution is one of the biggest conspirators against public improvements being made, because when Parliament has the choice between compensation for private interest, not only up to what is reasonable but up to speculative amounts in the future; when Parliament has to choose between private and public interests, Parliament gives it to private interests nearly every time. As long as Parliament does that and is anti-social-minded, as long as Parliament has a bias in favour of private interests, we are going to be robbed in these public improvements and their speedy development is going to be obstructed.
Apart from those things, there is the difficulty of loans. We float loans, and sometimes we do well, and sometimes not so well. The last loan, a part of which was required for highway purposes and a part for Civil Defence purposes, was floated at an unlucky moment and a difficult time. The trouble had nothing to do with the credit of London, which everybody knows is first-class, whether there be a Labour majority or a Conservative majority on the Council. The Conservative newspapers have been good enough to say that it had nothing to do with the credit of the Council. If I thought that there had been any jiggery-pokery about the business last week, I should have been up in the air about it at once, but I am assured that was not so, although unfortunately the hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe), who is the leader of the opposition on the London County Council, very foolishly tried yesterday to make political capital out of it. It is no good the Government or the Minister asking us to raise money for capital expenditure, for we cannot raise an unlimited amount. Consequently, the question of finance is of great importance.
There is another point I want to mention in connection with highway improvements in general and in relation to the Bressey Report. It is that it is important, in considering these schemes, that the amenities of public open spaces should be considered. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who is intimately connected with the county government of Surrey, tells me that there is a scheme by which it is proposed to cut right across some Green-Belt land. I should not like that. Obviously, the highways ought to go on the edge of or round Green-Belt land, and not through it; and I hope that the Minister will be very careful about these things.
I suggest to the Minister that he and his Department might well give consideration to highway and bridge works, and other employment-making schemes in relation to the whole problem of employment and unemployment. Frankly, in view of the present problems of public finance and the present state of employment, which still leaves us with about 1,500,000 unemployed, and in view of the fact that many unemployed could be absorbed on work that is, on the whole, of a more urgent character, in the construction of adequate defence against enemy aircraft by way of shelters and so on, I do not intend to press the Minister to go forward at this moment with gigantic schemes of road and bridge improvement. Blind corners and dangerous roads require immediate attention and the Minister ought at all times to go on with that work. There are other urgent things that ought to be done. As was indicated by the hon. Member for Anglesey, there may be some specific problems in connection with particular roads which require to be dealt with urgently. The Minister will realise that if he wants a road for military purposes, he will not have an earthly chance in his negotiations with the local authorities as to the allocation of cost between the State and the local authorities. All those things are perfectly open for consideration, but I would not press the Minister at the present time to go in for a wholesale scheme of highway and bridge development, for there are other things that are more urgent.
There is also another reason of profound importance. Not only in relation to roads and bridges, but in other respects as well, the Department ought to be preparing for that day, which is inevitable under the present social and economic conditions, when unemployment will again become a grave and serious menace to the country. A time must come when rearmament will slow down or stop—and we all hope that the state of the world will make that a quick possibility rather than a slow one—but whatever happens, we know that, by the working of the present social order, a time will come when grave unemployment will exist again. It may come with the cessation of rearmament. Indeed, the financial and economic repercussions of this vast rearmament expenditure may intensify the problem, and there may be a terrific figure of unemployment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan and I were at the Ministry of Transport during the last big unemployment crisis. Everybody, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), was clamouring that we should put into operation a large-scale road, highway and bridge improvement and construction programme in order to provide employment. What was the problem? It was that when we came into office no schemes, or at any rate very few, were adequately ready. We were criticised and denounced in the House because we did not move more quickly, but it is true to say with regard to big railway improvement and railway electrification schemes, or big dock and harbour schemes, that from the moment one decides to go forward with the scheme, and it passes through the stages of the engineers getting to work on the plans, the various interests being settled, the arguments of the people concerned with amenities being settled, and all the other things being dealt with, including possibly legislation, two years may elapse before work on the scheme can begin. Consequently, the Labour Government could not get to the peak employment in respect of roads and bridges until they were almost out of office. I am not making a political argument. It was rough luck on us and life was hard, but it was not our fault.
It is administratively indefensible that such should be the position. It is wrong. Everybody knows that within a limited time, we shall somehow or other drift into another period of unemployment, no matter what may be the colour of the Government, unless we prepare, and the moment for making preparations is now. Now is the moment for working out details for having investigations by engineers, and settling, as far as possible, with the interests, and investigating what legislation may be needed to speed up the machinery. I beg the right hon. and gallant Gentleman not to regard the Department to which he has been appointed, and in which we wish him all luck, as a Department that lives for to-day; I beg him to regard it as one of the key Departments of to-morrow, when the crisis of unemployment may come. I beg him to do that for his own sake, or for the sake of his successors, whoever they may be, whether Tory or Labour—he ought not to worry about that, and I am sure he will not. I am gravely concerned about this, and I want the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to be concerned about it, as I believe he will, so that when the time comes, whoever holds that office will have no reason to curse the memory of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for not having made as much preparation as possible in the time at his disposal. I have had such an experience once, and I hope it will not be the lot of any other Minister to go through it.
There is also work that ought to be done in respect of electrical development. The electrical supply industry has made great progress, but relatively it is in its infancy when one thinks of what can be done. There is almost no limit to the possible expansion of the electrical supply industry. This question ought to be looked at from the point of view of the time that is coming. I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will drop the feeling that he must go easy with things and not be too drastic. I believe that in this Ministry there is everything to be said for being comprehensive, thorough-going, vigorous and imaginative. If the Government failed in their scheme of electrical reform, it was because they did not take a broad national view. The question of electrical supply should be looked at from the point of view of the nation organising a great industry. If I want to send a letter from here to the North of Scotland, it costs me three-halfpence, and if I send a letter round the corner, it costs me three-halfpence. That is the sort of economics that we must have in the electrical supply industry. It is only if the industry is running as a national concern, with a regional organisation, if you like, that the rural areas, for which the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey spoke, can be treated, not at once, but in due time, on a basis of equality, from the point of view of tariffs and supply, with the built-up urban areas. Let the right hon. and gallant Gentleman press on with that.
So it is with docks, harbours, inland waterways and railway improvements. So it is in the case of what I want to see, and what I believe will come—a complete link-up between the main-line suburban railways in Greater London and the underground railways. I want to see the day when there will not be a single mainline terminus left in London, except for long-distance journeys. I believe that every suburban terminus should be linked up with the tube railways so that we may have through runs in all directions. This would of itself quadruple the value of the railway and underground transport system of London. That is useful work to which the unemployed can be put in future.
In the Potteries, it applies on a smaller scale. In South-east Lancashire, in particular, there is a problem almost identical to that of Greater London. Let the right hon. and gallant Gentleman be making preparations with regard to this, and also with regard to railway electrification. The Southern Railway has set a very fine example, and they have not had to be kicked into it by this Government or any other Government. They have done it as a matter of good business. It is rare that one finds in the railways business men with courage and initiative, and I want particularly to compliment the Capitalist Southern Railway on their pluck and enterprise in going in for electrification.
Why do not the other railways do the same thing? The London and North-Eastern are slowly coming on, pulled on by the Transport Board and a certain amount of State guarantee. The whole matter was investigated by the Weir Committee when I was at the Department, and a case was made for it. It was estimated that there would be a 7 per cent. return. The railway companies came to my doorstep and said, "You want us to do it—how much will you give us?" I asked them when they were going to get into a decent business enterprise frame of mind, instead of a public assistance frame of mind. "If you cannot run the railways efficiently, tell me," I said, "and I shall know what to do with them; but if you can do it, if there is a 7 per cent. return, you ought to go ahead and electrify the railways." But they would not do it. They had got into the mood that the capitalist in trouble has to be subsidised out of public funds. People talk about persons not genuinely seeking work—I would like to apply a proper test to capitalists who do not genuinely seek enterprise. I got tired of those railway directors who came to me, and I asked, "Can you or can you not run your undertaking? If you can, then do it; if you tell me that you cannot, I will draw a Socialist deduction from that answer before you are out of the door"
We cannot in this matter discuss the legislative stage, but there is here an administrative problem for the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to consider. I feel that he ought to run the Department in the spirit, not only of meeting the troubles of to-day and settling the problems that come to him in the minutes from the permanent officials of the Department and otherwise, but to look ahead in respect of all the industries and services for which he is responsible, and in particular to look ahead in connection with that evil day, which, unfortunately, almost inevitably will come, of depression and unemployment, and see to it that, whether he or somebody else is at the Department, the Department, which on the whole is a very enterprising and praiseworthy one, will be ready for speedy action, instead of being delayed because preparations have not been made.
Most of us will agree with the ideas which have been put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), though not perhaps the personal views which were expressed by him on certain questions. I am certain he must realise that hon. Members are with him in feeling that we have to set our minds to forming "a sort of "to-morrow" committee. We must look ahead to that time which will strain the patience of everybody, and do what is possible to give a chance to inventive power, to absorb not only the labour but, to a great extent, the material as well, which will then be available. My right hon. and gallant Friend the new Minister of Transport has come into that office at a time of exceptional importance. Some of us who know the work which has been done in connection with war preparations feel the utmost confidence in the officers of his Department. They have worked extraordinarily well with the railway officers concerned, and if, as I trust may not be the case, those preparations are put to the test of war, I think people will be surprised to find the length to which they have gone.
That all points to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney mentioned just now, namely, the importance of recruitment for such organisations as the London Passenger Transport Board. The right hon. Gentleman knows the work which has been done by Lord Ashfield and Mr. Pick. I have had experience of it, both in the past and recently, and I know that one of the features of Lord Ashfield's administration is the way in which it has picked up young men of promise wherever they are to be found, and enabled them to go through all the different departments. Those young men will, I am sure, in due course be worthy successors to the present administrators. It is not an easy business running the transport of London. People are very ready to complain, but those who complain sometimes overlook such matters as the cost of making tubes. The difficulties in the way of getting ex-tensions made, in the public interest, is not confined to roads. It applies also to the extension of railway facilities.
I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about distributive termini. We no longer want termini of the old type, except for long-distance trains. But when the right hon. Gentleman blames some people for not having jumped into electrification on the lines of Lord Weir's report, I would remind him that the 7 per cent. was a speculative estimate and also that electrification has a detrimental effect on the coal industry. There is another matter which must be remembered. Since the right hon. Gentleman's tenure of office improvements in the steam locomotive have been abnormal. Now the period during which a locomotive can operate without going into the shop has been extended by nearly 35 per cent. and in the last three years far greater tractor power has been developed, to the advantage not only of the railway industry but of the mining industry as well.
In all these matters we must remember that a proposition which looks simple may have repercussions and effects on other industries which cannot be overlooked. It is in that connection that the advice of the Ministry of Transport has been of great service. It is essential that schemes should be got out now in complete detail, in regard to the development of railway and road communications, harbours and electricity undertakings. We must be prepared to face a time when it will be essential to throw aside all prejudices and old political ideas, in order to provide work for men who will be thrown out of work as a result of the present armament programme. We shall have to utilise, as far as we can, the plant and the tools in these factories for more useful purposes, and I am sure that can be done in many cases. The essential thing, however, is to be ready. It is not the slightest use merely talking about these things. We ought to be satisfied that schemes are in existence and I believe that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Transport will find a readiness on the part of all public utility undertakings to come forward with such schemes. Then it would be possible to have a priority list and see exactly what can be done, so that when the moment comes, as come it will, when peace breaks out—because peace must break out some time, although we are living in a sort of semi-war condition now—we shall be ready for it. The greatest test of statesmanship will be to be ready for that time. Therefore I hope that the words uttered by the right hon. Gentleman who has had experience as a Minister of Transport will be taken to heart and that we can look to the present Minister to keep Parliament informed of the progress which is being made along the fines indicated.
Several hon. Members in all parts of the Committee have referred to the question of road accidents. It is an astonishing fact that far more people are killed and injured on the roads of this island every year than were killed and injured in the South African War. That seems to be due to many causes. One, undoubtedly, is the difficulty of controlling "the speed of vehicles which ought to be limited as to speed. I see no use in putting the figure "20" on the back of a lorry which, when you are travelling behind it you find to be going at 55 miles an hour. Either take off the figure "20" and let it travel at 55 miles an hour, or limit it strictly, but do not let us delude ourselves about these things. If the speed limit is the law, let it be carried out. It should not be beyond the wit of man to devise something which would make a screaming noise if a vehicle went beyond a certain speed. The police should be provided with some instrument of that kind, to be put on to such vehicles. Then the public would know whether the drivers of those vehicles were conforming to the law or not.
There is, as a result of what is called the "square deal," a real prospect of such an association between road and rail that the hours of workers on the roads will be regulated so as to overcome the danger of accidents due to fatigue. I believe we shall establish a system which will bring about a collaboration between rail and road for the benefit of the public, and if my right hon. and gallant Friend can see his way to the introduction of the necessary legislation at the earliest possible moment, it will be to the advantage of all concerned. As he said, during this interval committees are meeting and work is progressing. Those concerned are receiving the utmost help from the officers of the Ministry, which shows that it is not their fault that this legislation has not been introduced but that it is owing to the congestion of business in Parliament.
As regards the question of electricity supply, I happen to be a member of the original Committee of the House of Commons which set up the electricity scheme. We have learned a lot since then. All sorts of predictions were made, but the experience which we have had has taught some of us, even if we did not feel like it at that time, that this matter of electricity supply transcends any party prejudice. This is a national service and as such must be used for the good of the country. Just as the London Passenger Transport Board has now been accepted by everybody, so, I believe, we shall arrive at a time when regional authorities will be set up throughout the country to undertake the supply of electricity to all who require it, both for light and for power. It is obvious that unless you have a paying load by day, thrown into your distributive area, in rural districts, you cannot provide current at a price which the consumer will pay. As I say, we are not living in normal conditions. We have to face these things and carry them out irrespective of what people used to think 50 years ago. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered the possibility of having a sort of revival of the McGowan Commission, to see how far the situation has deteriorated or improved since that body reported.
There is one curious aspect of this risk of war which we are all considering. One has read in history about the old fire-ships which used to be sent out when wind and tide were favourable to set the enemy's ships alight. I notice that the Air Ministry's balloons when they break loose do infinitely more damage to our own cables than the old fire-ships ever did to the enemy. It is clear that you get "shorts" in those circumstances and not only is railway traction interfered with, but there is also serious interference in certain districts with the supply of light and power. An enemy might feel that, with a favourable wind, he could send some of these things drifting down on us with the result that our present overhead equipment would be interfered with seriously.
There is an enormous amount of work to be done by all who are interested in these matters, apart from the schemes which it will be necessary to take into consideration when employment becomes a difficult problem. In the meantime I urge my right hon. and gallant Friend to consider what he can do at present to allay the anxieties of many electricity undertakers by seeing that the present appalling number of companies is not increased. I think there are about too now. If the power to purchase is allowed to continue, that number in the next five years may be something like 200. At any rate we want to stop the extension of this system. We want to rationalise it and to bring the private companies and the local authority undertakings into a common scheme in which nobody will suffer, because the consumers will increase their consumption. This is a vital service in peace or in war and should be properly organised. I urge my right hon. and gallant Friend to consider the representations which have been made by electricity undertakings of all kinds and I trust he will be able to give some assurance that the two outstanding cases, namely Notts and Derby, and Wessex, are being seriously considered with a view to seeing that the legislative delay—which is not the fault of the consumer or the companies but is due to pressure of business in Parliament—is overcome and the matter met fairly and squarely. This question of electricity supply is of greater importance than ever and I envy the right hon. Gentleman the chance of tackling this question on national lines. If he does so, I am sure he will go down to history as a Minister of Transport who was very sorry to leave his job, and whose job was very sorry to leave him.
I do not propose to talk about road accidents because other hon. Members have already done so much more ably than I could. I propose to
quote only one sentence from the Alness Report to which the Minister referred:
The committee also realise that many of their recommendations have already been made by other committees, but that is no reason why these recommendations should not be endorsed by them, for all too few of the recommendations made by committees in the past have been acted upon
I hope that, having reflected on that passage, the new Minister will decide to do very much better than his predecessor. He has, as others have pointed out, not merely the immediate task of improving road conditions and so on, but he has the long-distant one to which the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) referred—and I am very glad that he did, because I believe that it is one of the vital problems of this country to-day—that we should, as far as possible, be planning for that time when the armament machine is put into reverse gear.
I wish to talk about the intermediate period of national emergency. We seem to be reaching a stage when every expenditure will be considered justifiable under the heading of "National emergency," and every expenditure which cannot come under that heading will have to be postponed to a remote and happier time. It seems to me to be essential that, as far as possible, since we cannot hope to protect every interest and every individual in the event of war, in this armament expenditure, we should select those forms of expenditure which also have a peace-time value, and which will ultimately enrich the nation; and in that respect I think a great deal can be done with regard to transport facilities. In war it is obviously essential to have the greatest possible mobility. The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) drew attention to the terrific chaos and pressure of traffic on roads out of London, and every Member of this House must have thought at different times of the terrible chaos that there might be at the outbreak of war on account of traffic jams. The hon. Lady referred to somebody who during a traffic jam was able to do a cross-word puzzle while waiting in her father's car. In the event of war presumably we should not have cross-word puzzles even in the "Times."
The Minister referred to the number of authorities with whom he had to deal before new roads could be built, and I think that is the main obstacle to progress in this question of road building. He said that "the determining factor is finance, and nothing else," and that does suggest that there must be some change in the existing method of expropriation and compensation. During his speech I heard one hon. Member use the word "nationalisation," and another hon. Member said that that would involve kicking out tenants. If we go on like this, with increasing pressure on the roads, the choice will have to be between kicking them out and killing them off.
I want to refer now to another matter which has been discussed, namely, the supply of electricity. Over three years ago we had the publication of the McGowan report. It was not a very drastic or a very revolutionary report, or so it seemed to us on this side of the House, but, as far as I can make out, nothing has been done to convert its recommendations into legislation. I have the honour to represent a rural area, and on Monday of this week the Minister of Agriculture, in reply to a question, said:
The importance to agriculture of the application of electricity is fully recognised, and it is hoped that the Government's proposals for the reorganisation of electrical distribution will stimulate the development of supplies in rural areas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd July; col. 910, Vol. 349.]
But what are the Government's proposals? We do not know, even three years after the publication of that report. What we do know is that at a time when more people than ever before realise the vital importance of agriculture to this country and deplore the drift from the land to the urban areas, very little progress indeed is being made in supplying electric current to increase the comforts of the agricultural worker or to simplify work and cleanliness on the farm. The earliest legislation on electricity supply, to quote from the McGowan report, was the Electric Lighting Act of 1882, which was based on the idea that
the supply of electricity should be regarded as a public service
That is surely what most hon. Members on this side would feel, that the supply of electricity should be regarded as a public service. But as time went on this service came more and more under the control of private companies, which obviously have to make a profit, and it is asking too much of them, under the
present decentralised scheme, to expect that they can worry as much as they should, from the national interest point of view, about the rural areas. Every Member of this House, probably, has had case after case of people in rural areas who have written to find out how much it would cost them to get electricity supplied to their house, and who have had quotations sometimes running into three figures, or sometimes, as in the case of many people in my constituency, have been unable to get a definite quotation at all, yet the McGowan report recommended that if
other consumers are within a period of three years supplied through the same main,
the people who had put up the money to get electricity brought to their homes ought to get a refund. As it is, they get no refund at all, and I should have thought that that is one step which could have been taken without very great difficulty and which might help a good deal in bringing a supply of electricity to the rural areas. The report also talks about the necessity for "commercial enterprise, including salesmanship." Is it an example of commercial enterprise to charge people for meters? It certainly discourages people. Nobody wants to pay a rent to hear a clock ticking away in the kitchen to remind him of how much he is spending on electricity. Is it commercial enterprise to discourage would-be new subscribers by putting on them the entire burden of paying for a new supply and not giving them a refund if that supply later benefits others as well? Yet despite that lack of commercial enterprise, on the whole a lot of these companies are doing very well. There is, to my mind, a sinister and significant passage in the McGowan Report which runs:
Any attempt to carry through a scheme of reorganisation on a voluntary basis is bound to fail, and legislation must confer definite and adequate compulsory powers.
I have been studying the figures of some of the West of England enterprises, and I believe that over the last three years the average dividend they have paid has been over 7 per cent., and that on the whole the tendency of the dividend is to rise. The figure of 7 per cent. is not very high if you compare it with some of the armament dividends that have been discussed in this House recently, but it seems to me to be too high for what is
called a public utility and is fast becoming a public necessity. While consumers have to pay a flat rate of 8d. a unit for lighting, that interest seems definitely too high. The Electricity Commissioners, as far as I can make out, do their best to see that the community gets a square deal, but far too much is left to gentle persuasion, and it is not easy to persuade people gently, at any rate where dividends are concerned.
It seems to me more than ever important now to improve and increase electricity supplies. It will probably be easier, despite the rather alarming idea of deliberately escaped balloons drifting across the countryside, to maintain electricity supplies in war time throughout the country than to maintain adequate supplies of coal or certainly of gas. As I understand it, the grid system would enable London, for example, to be supplied with power, in spite of air raids, with the help of generating stations in other parts of the country. I hope the Minister who winds up the Debate will be able to give the Committee a few more details as to what these war emergency plans really are, to cover electricity, roads, railways, harbours, and so on. If that could be done, I think the ordinary people in the country would be more willing to see a postponement of other transport improvements which they badly need, but which cannot come under the national emergency programme.
We need to bear in mind the improvements that have been brought about in road conditions as well as to emphasise the difficulties that still remain. We have surely got to the stage when we regard these improvements as a guide to better things rather than with any sense of complacency, into which the present figures would never allow us to fall. Therefore, I would suggest, for example, to the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) that there is another aspect of the German experience than that which she put before the Committee. She mentioned that the fall in the German accident figures was 34 per cent. since the institution of the Autobahn road, but taking the number of motor cars on the road, the figures fell during the period to which the hon. Lady referred from 4 per 1,000 cars to 2.68. That was a high initial figure. In this country in 1930 the figure was only 2.8 per 1,000, and we have, with all our difficulties, achieved a reduction to 2.1 per 1,000, or nearly 25 per cent., in the period from 1930 to 1937. Therefore, one has to consider, when we regard the problem in its essential proportions, that these factors on which we have concentrated, have definitely contributed and got their value.
Again, if the hon. Lady looks at the emphasis which is given in the Alness Report to the human factor and to the state of the roads, she will find that the committee emphasise, just as my right hon. and gallant Friend did to-day, that the greatest proportion of accidents still remains due to the human factor. Therefore, when we are considering the hopes that we can rest on the two suggested solutions of segregation and education of the users of the roads, I still come back in my mind to consider that it is on the education of all forms of users of the roads that we can pin our hopes for the future. I feel—and here I am in entire agreement with the hon. Lady—that the figure of 280 miles increase in improved roads over seven years was one which did require a great deal of looking into, and I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will maintain the start that was suggested. It was stated in another place that 883 miles were included in the schemes at present under contemplation. In Lancashire we are rather sad to feel that the North and South road is not to be proceeded with. We realise the necessity for giving priority to Defence matters, but we hope, and after what my right hon. and gallant Friend has said to-day we are assured, that when the first opportunity comes such a scheme as that will receive his immediate attention.
I feel that when we consider the other side of the matter, namely, the practical method of dealing with the human factor, we have had some guidance with regard to the motorists which is most valuable at the present time. Although I saw my right hon. and gallant Friend rather smilingly put the responsibility first on to the Treasury and then on to the Home Office, I am sure that as an administrative problem the question of motor patrols cannot be absent from his mind. Therefore, I would again emphasise strongly the success which the Lancashire experiment has had. When we have an experiment like that, which in the two years which it has operated has reduced the accidents over a comparative period by no less than 46 per cent., as against 5 per cent. for the rest of the country, we have indeed something which is producing a practical result. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will not be content with having continued his pressure to maintain the scheme in operation up to September this year, but will see that it goes on and is continued in other counties. Further, we want to press, and the Minister wants to press, as far as he in his Department can secure administrative measures, to see that the system of motor patrols is not allowed to become a matter of routine, but that shock tactics are definitely employed on the various roads, not merely in special places, but throughout the country, where we ought to know by now that accidents do occur, have occurred, and are likely to occur in future. The Lancashire experience in that regard does show us a way which has brought about practical results, and it can give some guidance to the rest of the country. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will not merely continue it for a time but will see that it is increased throughout the land.
There is one other aspect of the matter which ought to receive his administrative consideration. I was impressed by what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) said about the unexplored possibilities of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. I am sure that if the Road Traffic Act has unexplored possibilities, its powers and regulations must have still greater possibilities inherent in them. I feel that cyclists, who are without legislation, might receive some regulative attention. It seems absurd that the absence of bells, the state of their brakes, and the absence of any duty to report accidents, should obtain today when cyclists are not only concerned in some 70,000 accidents, but are held to be responsible for 22 per cent. of those that occur. I suggest that these points might be considered so that these small duties, which no serious minded cyclist would resent, should be put upon them in the general interest.
In regard to the last class of road users, the pedestrians, if I may again be excused for a little optimism, I think there is one bright patch. We have seen during the past year or two a distinct improvement in the number of children involved in fatal accidents. Taking the age group, 5 to 15, the improvement is something like 25 per cent. That, I am sure, is due in no small degree to the fact that 92 per cent. of the local authorities have taken the trouble to ensure that the teaching of road dangers and road behaviour has been brought into the schools and impressed on the children, that there has been co-operation between teachers and parents to bring the training practically before their eyes, and that in general a sense of road consciousness has begun to develop.
It is easy for any one of us to be cynical or pessimistic from our experiences on a motor drive or from experiences that are brought to our attention, but when we sit back in a calmer frame of mind and compare conditions to-day with what they were a few years ago, and look at the statistics, not from the point of view of finding one special cause, but from the point of view of a general improvement or otherwise, then we are bound to note that the advance is going on. We are bound to note something else, that even with the enormous increase of motor vehicles and the consequent increase of our difficulties, there are certain lines of approach which are becoming manifestly the best for us to follow at the present time. While I am prepared to consider and advocate the policy of segregation to which the Alness Committee referred, I feel that education and continually impressing on all users of the road other people's problems and points of view, is the only method by which we shall achieve the greater results. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will not rest on what he has expressed to-day, but will see that this education is widened in extent and increased in volume until the results are such that we can look at road transport without feeling the disquiet which we still experience to-day.
I want to raise two or three practical points on which I should like a reply from the Minister. I refer to the problem of river crossings in the big towns. I have had several questions down to the Minister with regard to the crossings on the Tyne east of Newcastle without getting much satisfaction. One of the difficulties of those of us who come from the north is to impress on the Minister that, although it is 300 miles away, it is an important area, and its traffic problems are just as important as those of London and of the south and south-east areas. The River Tyne is divided into two main areas. There is the north bank, which is one series of important munition works and includes the important shipping yards of Swan, Hunter and others. Across the river we have in North Durham what has been a depressed area, and Jarrow the classic distressed area, with a high unemployment rate, and a great deal of encouragement has been given to men on the south bank to get jobs on the north bank. A great deal has been done by the employers on the more prosperous bank to bring workers across. They are in the position, however, of having no crossing of the Tyne between Newcastle and the sea except the Hebburn ferry. It has been run by one of the firms, and they have now decided that it does not pay to run, and it is being closed this week.
That must be later information. The last letter I had stated that it was closing on 7th July. We cannot go on in this condition of uncertainty. The ferry was to close in the earlier part of this year. It was then postponed until 7th July, and now the Minister informs me it is to be carried on until 30th September. This ferry carries 1,500,000 passengers a year, and an important ferry like this cannot be carried on a basis of short periods in this way. We want some sort of finality. With regard to the Jarrow ferry, I have been in communication with the Ministry for the last three years. Here is a position which is getting increasingly dangerous. We are running a ferry which the Minister has been warned is not in a fit condition to carry the enormous amount of traffic that is passing across. The Minister's predecessor gave a grant which enabled this ferry to continue, but as it is a heavy burden on the rates, the local authority could not provide another boat. We have been in discussion with the Minister's predecessor about the possibility of a tunnel. It is true that there have been discussions between the Northumberland County Council and the Durham County Council with regard to a tunnel, and the Minister is giving a grant for the survey, but I would remind him that a considerable time has been spent on this question. If we are to have a tunnel within an appreciable time it seems to me that the Minister might make some further effort to get the project expedited.
While we are waiting for a tunnel we have this ferry whose gangways, pontoons, and everything connected with it are dropping to pieces. I am sorry to be so blunt, but that is the fact. I took the Minister's predecessor down and he was horrified. I am prepared to horrify the present Minister if he will come there for that purpose. The fact is that the pressure on the Jarrow ferry is increasing not only from passengers but from vehicles, and very heavy vehicles are being carried although a certain limit has been placed upon them. I do not want to horrify the Minister too much, but may I ask what will happen if I have to put a private notice question one day because the Jarrow ferry has foundered with some 200 workmen and five or six vehicles? I am not exaggerating when I say that the position is very nearly as serious as that.
The Jarrow Corporation will not get into trouble, because the matter is now in the hands of the Ministry of Transport. The Jarrow Corporation can do no more. It has had 10½d. added to its rates, which are already 22s. Until recently it has borne an important national burden which ought not to have been placed on one town which was providing an absolutely necessary traffic service. The Minister, perhaps, does not realise that there is no crossing of the whole of the important stretch between Newcastle and the sea. This is really 100 years out of date. If, in addition, we have the foundering of the Jarrow ferry it will not be the Jarrow Corporation that will be in trouble, because the Jarrow Corporation, through me, has over and over again pointed out this danger, and it has positively washed its hands of the job. It cannot do anything else. Unless the Minister will provide the town with the means by which this can be done, he cannot say that the corporation will be in trouble. It is the Minister who will be in trouble, and I shall have the greatest pleasure in seeing that he is unless something is done about it. He has shrugged his shoulders too long.
I do not know whether etiquette prevents my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench speaking, but I hope he will be able to say a word, because the whole position is really serious. When the Jarrow ferry is packed, the only other means of crossing is to go all the way to Newcastle and back, an expenditure of time and money that these people cannot afford. Many of the men who live between Jarrow and Hebburn have to go a long distance and then have to travel in this open boat in all weathers to get to their work in winter, wet through, and come back under similar conditions. These are not things that promote national efficiency, and I do not know anything more inefficient than the way the Ministry of Transport has dealt with this whole problem. I appeal to him to see whether something cannot be done. I can almost repeat the form of reply which the Ministry will give him—that the matter is under consideration, that a grant has been made, that the matter is being inquired into, that the engineering suggestions are being considered—but this is the reply that has been given for so long. I should like him to see whether he cannot exercise pressure, to put it no higher.
I hope the Minister and the Committee will forgive me if I follow the example of the hon. Lady and deal with a matter of local interest, though one of considerable concern to the whole of the West and East Ridings of Yorkshire. I refer to the long-standing scandal of Selby toll bridge, and in particular I desire to ask the Minister whether he really has no means of compelling the West Riding County Council to adopt a more helpful attitude instead of pursuing the course of obstruction which it has followed for so long. I will not attempt to describe in detail the very considerable inconvenience and expense entailed by the existence of this toll bridge. A moment's examination of the question would show anyone that all the inhabitants of the district suffer, that trade and industry are handicapped and that the normal development of the town is made infinitely more difficult by the existence of this toll bridge. Nor will I ask the Committee to listen to a detailed account of the efforts that have been made for a large number of years to get redress of this grievance. It will suffice for me to say that I know that Lord Bingley, for the whole of the 25 years during which he represented the Barkston Ash Division, and myself for the last eight years, have devoted a large amount of time and trouble to endeavouring to find a solution of this problem.
I must, however, go back as far as 1936, for in that year an eminent firm of civil engineers recommended to a joint committee of the East and West Riding Councils a plan the execution of which would have entailed the provision of a new toll free bridge very near the existing structure and, secondly, the widening and improving of the approaches on each side of the bridge. I may remind the Minister that the River Ouse is the boundary between the East and West Ridings. This scheme was approved by the West Riding Council which, however, since that date has become the villain of the piece. In March or April, 1937, certain roads became scheduled as trunk roads for which the Minister's Department became responsible. The road through Selby and over the toll bridge became one of the trunk roads and, as the Minister had become responsible for this road, he did what I think the law compelled him to do. He held a local inquiry, as the result of which the plan which had been approved by the West Riding Council was scrapped, and in March, 1938—I would ask the Committee to note how the years pass—the Minister announced that the trunk road would be diverted and that a new bridge would be constructed lower down the river, about a mile outside Selby. Of course, that gave the Minister his trunk road, but it did not give Selby a free bridge, and I think it was for that reason that at the time of his announcement the Minister also said that, in spite of the fact that that part of the old road which will be by-passed, including the approaches to the toll bridge, and the bridge itself will become once again the responsibility of the County Council, as soon as the by-pass and the new bridge are completed he would make a grant of 60 per cent. of the cost of buying the tolls and 75 per cent. of the cost of constructing the new bridge if the councils would find half each of the remaining sum.
I have said in Selby, and I am glad to repeat it here, that I have always considered that offer extremely generous, and I have consistently refused to press the Minister to increase the amount. It was very quickly accepted by the East Riding Council, which is the poorer of the two, but unhappily for Selby it was turned down by the West Riding Council, the Highways Committee of which, it appears to me and many others, are acting like a lot of spoilt children who will not play at all unless they can have the toy which they liked best three years ago. The Minister and his predecessor, and I think probably two or three Ministers before him, have told me that they have no power to compel the West Riding Council to accept the Minister's offer, but I have known occasions upon which, when Ministers have been pressed, they have discovered powers the existence of which they had not previously appreciated and I very much hope that, if the Minister has no direct power of making the West Riding Council co-operate with his Department and the East Riding Council, he will find some way of bringing indirect pressure to bear. I presume that the West Riding Council frequently asks his Ministry for grants from the Road Fund. I know how difficult it would be for the present Minister to act in an unreasonable manner or with a hard heart, but I hope that in dealing with this unreasonable council he will act in an unreasonable way and will put every difficulty in the way of making grants to it. Nothing is more certain than that the West Riding will eventually have to co-operate in freeing the toll bridge and constructing a new one, but I want to see, if I can, that Selby does not have to wait another 30, 40 or 50 years before this grievance is put right. I should add that I have never even met anyone who has any financial interest in the bridge but the harm it does is a grievance from which this not unimportant town has suffered far too long. I do not know that I am very hopeful that the Minister will give me grounds to suppose that he can act in the way that I should hope, but perhaps he will assure me that he is not altogether powerless in face of the stupid stubbornness of the West Riding Council.
I rise to bring to the attention of the Minister two or three questions which, I think, are of consider-
able importance. On 8th February, this year, I addressed a question to his predecessor in these terms:
To ask the Minister of Transport upon whose instructions are summonses in connection with the keeping of records and working excessive hours instituted in the north-western traffic area.
The reply I got was:
Proceedings for the offences to which the hon. Member refers are instituted by the traffic area licensing authority or the police authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1939; col. 961, Vol. 343.]
I had put that question because I had a suspicion that instructions to prosecute were not always given by the traffic area licensing authority, but by certain underlings. These prosecutions bring considerable hardship upon a body of men who are very hard working and generally possess no more than a lorry or two. They are often fined very heavily, in some cases so heavily that they have had to leave the business altogether. Shortly after that question was put I got a letter from a gentleman in London, who was quite unknown to me, saying bluntly that the answer which I had been given was quite untrue, and that 99 per cent. of the summonses were instituted by a body of clerks who had set themselves up as the enforcement officers in respect of this Act. He added that the police instituted proceedings in a very small number of these cases and were reluctant to do so as long as the "enforcement officer stunt continues." He added:
No one has authorised these clerks to act in this way and in some cases they often institute legal proceedings themselves.
I have made inquiries and have no reason to doubt the bona fides of that gentleman, and I am quite prepared to give a copy of the letter to the Minister. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to reveal the writer's name, because he happens to be a public official, and it is marked "Private." He goes on to give details of a case that took place in London:
On 12th December, 1938, at the Thames Police Court, a small man of the working class with a few lorries was fined with costs a total amount of £20 because he did not keep a record as he might have done, and the driver was fined as well. The summons was obtained improperly, that is, it was applied for by a person with no knowledge of the facts, and, further, the examiner who saw and copied the records was an essential witness, and for him was substituted an official who
was not a witness in the case at all. The latter went into the box on oath, and the wretched defendant had no grounds to suspect the Ministry of Transport of such deception and was convicted. Subsequently the magistrate, Mr. Harris, reopened the case and asked the false witness to tell him the truth. He then publicly rebuked the Traffic Commissioners and said these matters were most irregular, and at a later stage he interrogated the solicitor's partner and expressed his great anxiety at such conduct.
I have evidence of something of the kind in the north-western area and here is evidence, at first-hand apparently, from London, and I have thought it my duty to bring this serious matter to the attention of the Minister.
The second matter which I wish to bring to his attention concerns the general attitude of the Department towards county councils. I have no specific case to put forward like that which has just been presented by the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), but I feel that the attitude of the Ministry to-words county councils requires some justification. Until quite recently district roads or by-roads were the concern of district councils. I am not here to say that the district councils looked after those roads as we expect them to be looked after to-day, but after they had passed from the control of the district councils, with their parish politics, and had been taken over by the county councils we found that in some cases this happened: men were taken away from the district roads altogether and the county councils concentrated their activities entirely upon the main roads. I know several by-roads on which no man is employed and to which no attention is being paid, though those are the roads which the country people use. They use the main roads occasionally, but they are not so vitally interested in them.
The main roads are built largely for motorists who merely want to pass through the district, and the local people are more vitally interested in the roads that lead to their homes and to their villages. In a great many cases these roads are absolutely neglected by the county councils. At the same time the county councils will spend thousands of pounds upon cutting off a corner or widening a main road, and if we ask why that is done the answer is that they get a grant from the Ministry of Transport for it but no grant for the by-roads. I think that is very wicked. It is misleading the county council into spending extravagant sums upon widening corners, whereas if the same money had been spent on improving the by-roads it would have done a much greater service to the people of the district. It is rather natural that the Ministry, and in some cases the county councils, should be concerned with these main roads, but the border counties in Wales have to supply good roads for the motorist, who simply passes on and leaves behind very little that is of any benefit to the district. I take it that the function of a county council is to provide roads first for the people of its own area and not to think primarily of the people who only whizz through the district as fast as they can.
I regard the Minister of Transport as in a very real sense the custodian of the aesthetic values and beauties of this country and we feel concerned about the way in which some of our old roads are being spoiled by the activities of his Department. I often feel thankful that we have in this country none of the so-called national roads of the Continent. There is nothing more charming than some of the Welsh lanes and English country roads, and the Minister ought to do all he can to preserve the amenities of the country districts in that respect. I am no enthusiast for the German ideas, of which we have heard something to-day. It will be a sad day for England when we have roads of that kind and not the meandering English and Welsh lanes to which we are accustomed. I was rather disappointed by what the predecessor of the present Minister said one day in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) about a new bridge in Carmarthen. The Minister said proudly that he had spent nearly £100,000 in putting up what he called a magnificent bridge. While it is true that he had put up a fairly decent bridge and an efficient bridge he had destroyed an essential link in the history of that old town by destroying the old bridge.
At Atcham, near Shrewsbury, the Ministry had the wisdom when putting up its own bridge to preserve the old bridge, and we have an opportunity there of comparing the aesthetic values of the two, and anyone who has passed that way can have no doubt that the old bridge is far superior to the new from the aesthetic standpoint. I venture to say that the same thing was true of the old Carmarthen Bridge. In its situation across the river, just below the castle, it was an essential part of the life of that town. When he has proposals of that kind before him the Minister ought to consider carefully whether in building the new he cannot retain the old for future generations. I am tempted to say that because I understand that the county council of Caernarvon are very anxious that a new main road should be driven through the ancient town of Conway. Conway is one of the most beautiful towns in this country; it has no parallel, except, possibly, on the Continent. It is the most perfect medieval town in the whole kingdom. Perhaps as a Welshman I have no great reason to be proud of the past history of Conway, because it reflects rather a dark chapter in the history of my nation. At the same time we have forgotten all that, we have absorbed the conquerors of Conway and the other towns of North Wales and we regard them now as an essential part of the Welsh community, and it is an interesting fact that a great number of those Norman-French people who came to Wales with Edward I have played an important part in Welsh life. From that point of view we value the old castle and the old town of Conway tremendously, and I think it is part of the duty of the Minister to resist county councils when they want to do a mad thing like driving a main road through that ancient and beautiful town. County councils are in many cases simply Philistia incorporated and incarnate, and from the national point of view I hope the Minister will stand up to them, and will, when introducing his new and very necessary schemes, do everything to preserve the charms of the old.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) has made an interesting speech and raised some questions of great importance. In particular I should like to support his plea to the Minister to maintain the amenities of our countryside, though he will probably find it extremely difficult to reconcile the preservation of our winding, meandering English lanes with demands to round-off corners? I hope that he will resist some of those demands to round off blind corners. We are told that they are made in the interests of safety, but I am not sure that they make for safety. When a driver comes to a blind corner he realises that there is a considerable amount of danger unless he drives with very great care. I think the evidence of accidents show that accidents occur on open roads where the drivers can disregard reasonable precautions and can go as fast as they like. Therefore, it is in the interests not only of aesthetic beauty, but of safety that I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the plea that has been made to him.
The hon. Member raised, also, the interesting point of the relationship between the Ministry and the county councils. Our experiences in Gloucestershire of expenditure on rural roads are rather the reverse of those which apparently apply in the Welsh counties which the hon. Member had in mind. Since our rural roads have been taken over by the county council we spend very considerably more than was spent upon those roads by the district councils and we do not get a specific grant for that purpose.
When we raised that point we were told that the grant is included in the block grant, and that really there is some kind of grant for the purpose. I would like the Minister also to bear in mind what was said by the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) with regard to the choice which the London County Council would have to make if it were asked to spend millions of pounds on implementing the Bressey Report as against the claims of housing, health and education services. That is the problem which faces every local authority in the country. The heavy expenditure of county councils in regard to the roads is at the expense of many other vital services. I hope that the Minister will try to be as generous as he can in his grants to the local authorities in the schemes that they put up.
I believe that road safety is the biggest problem with which the Minister has to deal. It is a legacy—I suppose he would call it a damnosa hereditas—from his predecessors. His reputation as a Minister of Transport will depend very largely on his success on tackling this problem. His predecessors have failed to bring down the actual number of casualties on the roads, but their failure is only comparative when one takes into account the large increase of motor cars. We are told that 1,000 new cars go out on the roads every day. It is something to have checked the increases in road casualties, but we cannot be content with figures of over 6,000 deaths in a year and about 220,000 injuries. I hope that the public will be reminded forcibly and effectively of those figures. I would like to know whether it would be possible to distinguish, in publishing the number of the injured, between injuries of a mild kind and those which have involved treatment in hospital. Many of the 220,000 injuries may have been minor casualties. Perhaps the figures do not make the impression upon the public mind that would be made if it were stated in any particular return how many of the cases were of people who had been injured so seriously that hospital treatment was necessary.
Some controversy arose between the Minister and the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) as to the value of the police returns of the factors responsible for accidents. The Minister must accept those returns, because the police have no interest in weighting one factor against another. Though there may be a difference between the Minister and the hon. Lady as to the actual percentage, it must be clear to everybody that the human element is overwhelmingly the biggest factor in producing these accidents. Whether you take the figure as 90 per cent., which is given by the police, or some smaller percentage without the specialised investigation which the police have made and put forward as true, one has to look to the human element. The Minister has referred to the Alness Report, and I hope that some action will be taken to deal with the recommendations in that report. The report should not be pigeon-holed, nor should we be told that for some reason or other it is not possible to take action. Some of the recommendations require the spending of money and others require legislation, but others can be carried out without action of either of those kinds.
In particular, I recommend the proposal that there should be a round-table conference of the three users of the roads: motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. It is not quite accurate to divide people into those three categories, because some of us belong to all three and most of us belong at least to two, but all three have a common interest in safety on the roads. At present too often they are at cross-purposes. I believe that some good might come of a conference between the representatives of the three organisations which speak for these bodies. Anyhow I appeal to the Minister to try to bring them together. At least he would have the satisfaction of knowing that he had done something which could not do any harm and might possibly have good results.
The Minister has told us that the question of motor patrols rests with the Home Office. Of course there is co-operation between Government Departments, and I trust that the Minister will impress upon the Home Office that, from the point of view of the Ministry of Transport, the Lancashire experiment is of very considerable value in saving life on the roads and that it should therefore be supported, encouraged and extended. I hope also that the Minister will bring to the notice of the Home Office another recommendation of the Alness Report about the way in which offences should be dealt with when they are of a minor kind and when the offender is willing to plead" Guilty" The suggestion is that it ought not to be necessary for the offender to appear in court in person.
Does the hon. Member realise that unless the defendant appears in court the police cannot recite his previous convictions? That is the difficulty, if one wishes to inflict an adequate penalty upon motorists who are persistent offenders against the law. A motorist can prevent that now, merely by staying away from the court.
The Alness Report suggests that this should be done for trivial offences. I have in mind road obstruction or going the wrong way in a one-way street. Does not the Minister think that his task would be made much easier too if the penalty for a serious offence such as driving a motor vehicle when under the influence of drink were dealt with in some cases by confiscation and in other cases by the impounding for a time of the motor vehicle? I believe that this practice is in force on the Continent. It follows an old Greek tradition that when a crime is committed you deal not only with the person who has committed the crime, but with the instrument of the crime. If a punishment of that kind were inflicted, I believe it would have a strong deterrent effect.
Another matter to which I wish to draw attention is the registration of cyclists. This reform is long overdue. When an accident takes place in which a cyclist is involved it is possible for the cyclist to get away and there is no means of identifying him. If it is necessary to have all motor cars and motor cycles registered, I do not see why the ordinary cyclist should not be registered too. In conclusion, if the Minister can do anything to deal with this great evil of road accidents and to lessen the great tragedy which exists today, he will have the co-operation of Members in all parts of the House, and if he succeeds in his task he will win the gratitude of the whole country.
I would add my congratulations to those which other hon. Members have addressed to the Minister on his accession to his present office. He starts with very considerable advantages in that his two predecessors were neither of them brilliant successes. If he will forgive my striking the personal note I would say also that he is regarded as a favourite in this House. I was very sorry indeed to hear him admit, in his opening remarks to-day, that he is a motorist, and has been for 30 years. It is true that he qualified the statement by saying that he was also a pedestrian, but in point of fact that is a meaningless qualification, because, once the pedestrian becomes a motorist, in 99½ per cent. of the cases the pedestrian side of him becomes from that time totally submerged. I do not envy the Minister in the work that lies ahead of him. He is faced, as many Members have already pointed out, with a very tragic problem of road fatalities, against which the whole of the measures employed by his Department up to now have completely failed. And he has a lot of very bad and false advisers seeking his ear. They include, in far too many instances, Members on the back benches on his own side; and they include the swagger Automobile Club, who want a paradise for the motorist. They include county surveyors, and a number of chief constables who have wrong ideas about winding roads and the sins of pedestrians and the sins of children. Probably the worst of all his advisers, and the most mischievous, are the seven peers who have issued a report on the prevention of road accidents.
The Minister has promised us to-day that he will produce a paper giving the Government's opinions on the Alness Report, and he even went to the length of paying tribute to the thoroughness of the way in which the Committee have done their work. I want to present another side to that glowing testimonial, and to the belief, which the Minister clearly holds, that this report is a document which is very seriously worth his attention. Many newspapers are pressing very hard that legal effect shall be given to the findings of this Select Committee; I hope the Minister will pause for quite a long time before he obliges them. There may be in this document, among the 231 recommendations—I understand that the Minister counted 250, but I have counted 231—there may be, among that lot, a few minor ones that are worthy of consideration. I think the Minister will have no difficulty in spotting those, but I want to deal with the key recommendations contained in this document.
According to their Lordships, there are no road-hogs in this country, but only so-called road-hogs. Nowhere is it admitted that speed has anything to do with. road fatalities; and I was gravely concerned to note that, when the Minister himself was discussing this tragic problem a little while ago, he never used the word "speed" either. It is significant. So their Lordships want a lessened imposition of the speed limit, with a view to its ultimate elimination. They want restricted speed areas to be reduced in number or extent; they want the complete segregation of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians; and it is to be noted that several Members of the House have agreed quite warmly with that recommendation this evening. On the sins of cyclists, pedestrians and children, my Lords waxed really eloquent. I ask hon. Members to listen to this:
Children under seven cause 23.9 per cent. of the accidents to pedestrians.
So we are led to suppose, from this statement, that the responsibility of infants and tiny children for avoiding accidents is exactly the same as that of the motorist. Any legislation passed on that supposi-
tion would be a wicked innovation in British law. Having let go on the sins of babies, their Lordships say, on the shortcomings of pedestrians and cyclists:
It would seem…that many pedestrians are unwilling to sacrifice any of their rights to the common cause of safety.…There is much thoughtless conduct amongst cyclists which is responsible for many accidents.
There you have the key-note to all the recommendations which follow in this report. They go on to make them. They recommend that no cycling under 10 years of age should be allowed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I hear approval of that recommendation in the Committee, and I ask the Minister to note it. The Committee recommend that all child cyclists should be banned. They also recommend that all cyclists should be registered and compulsorily insured. It might be thought, of course, from that recommendation in regard to insurance, that their Lordships meant a life insurance for the benefit of the widows or relatives of the cyclists. They do not. They specify third party risks, so that, if the cyclist should run down and kill a motorist, he should be made to pay.
Other recommendations are that cyclists must carry white patches, and red reflectors or red rear lamps, as well as two brakes and a bell. All these things are imposed upon the cyclist in order to enable the motorist to drive as fast in the dark as in daylight. Further, cyclists must not carry bulky luggage, or ride more than two abreast, and, if there is a cycle track, they must come off the highway.
Now as to the unfortunate pedestrian. If the pedestrian steps heedlessly off the causeway, he is to be prosecuted. That is, of course, supposing he is still alive. The motorist who is driving a silent car at 50 close to the kerb to avoid the road camber, is relieved of all responsibility; presumably no prosecution will lie if the heedless pedestrian is killed, whether he is a full-grown man or a baby of two. Their lordships do not define the term "pedestrian," and it necessarily follows, I think, that it would be open for the courts to punish a child of seven or under for heedlessly stepping off the kerb. Where an accident occurs to a pedestrian who is on the highway where a footpath is available, his right to damages is to be denied. He is to be forced to use pedestrian crossings only at dangerous places, but wherever there is a pedestrian crossing and he fails to use it, his right to damages in the event of accident to himself is to be taken away. One sees from this report that it is the view of their lordships that the chief menaces, indeed almost the only menaces, to road safety, are children, pedestrians and cyclists. In other words, the principal sinners are the victims themselves. For every motorist killed on the highways, 20 other people die on the highways, and their lordships blame the 20 others.
Let us leave for a while this tale of deaths and manglings, and the extraordinary conclusions reached in the Alness Report, and turn to what the Committee have to say in regard to roads and road improvements. They recommend that no main roads should be less than 300 feet wide, and that a vast new construction programme should be undertaken, that bridges and tunnels should be provided for pedestrians to take them off the roads altogether, and cycle tracks to take the cyclists off as well. They recommend multitudes of traffic lights and road signs, and bars and barrier rails in the streets of towns. They want more arcaded streets, as at Chester, a permanent army of road inspectors and accident officers, and greatly improved road surfaces. They want lay-bys and draw-ins every few miles, and the removal of telephone and telegraph poles and electricity standards wherever they are by the side of the road
I have in mind a road made by the Manchester Corporation by Lake Thirlmere, on its western side. It is the most beautiful road in England. It is only a few miles long. On one side are over-hanging rocks and steeply rising hills and forests, and on the other side is the Lake, with magnificent views of Helvellyn. The road winds and twists so that you can rarely see more than 30 yards ahead of you. It contains no pedestrian paths, no cycle tracks and no Belisha crossings. It contains all the defects which the seven peers point out in this report, and of which they seek to get rid. But nobody gets killed on it. It would cost at least £10,000,000, I estimate, to put it right in accordance with the terms of this report. Further, these gentlemen want roadside trees removed. No doubt that would provide a lot of work for the unemployed, because there are millions of roadside trees. They want humps taken out of bridges. The practical difficulties in the way of doing that are not mentioned—
There is a great deal of difficulty. Then they want more roads that are exclusively for the use of motorists, on the German plan. They demand service roads for lorries and vans and more ring roads and hundred-yard-wide by-passes. Suddenly it seems to have occurred to these gentlemen that the proposals they are making in regard to road safety, as they see it, are going to be a trifle costly. What do they say about that? They put in a naive little after-thought paragraph, which is, I think, the gem of the whole report. Here it is:
The Committee have not carefully considered the question of the cost of giving effect to their recommendations.
That appears to be the truest and most uncontrovertible statement in the whole document. I ask the Minister to envisage the prospect of all the recommendations of this report being put into law and practice. Thousands of millions of pounds will have been expended in the process. A vast network of broad, straight highways with surfaces like billiard tables will cover the land, with tunnels and bridges every 200 or 300 yards, at which will cower the unfortunate pedestrians. A few million acres of agricultural land will have totally disappeared. Cycling paths will be empty, because cycling will then have become too hazardous for anyone to undertake. The nation's beauty spots will have become things of horror, advertised by flaming petrol stations and gorgeous hotels. All the main streets of the principal cities will be railed off by steel and wooden barriers. The reign of the motorist will have become supreme. What trees and vegetation are still left will be away from the ordinary means of communication. Our water supplies will have become seriously menaced; an arid wilderness of roads will ensure that.
Will road fatalities have been prevented by these—what the seven Lords think are improvements? Of course not. It is along the highways that death most commonly occurs in its worst form. The winding village street may entail a few bumps, but no deaths. The seven Lords envisage the complete disappearance of all speed limits, and that traffic on the roads will have become faster than on the railways. [Laughter] If that appears amusing, I recommend hon. Members to read advertisements which appear in the motoring journals as to the capacity of up-to-date motor cars on a free highway. They are commonly advertised to do 100 miles an hour, and up to now no trains are doing that. Fewer pedestrians will be killed, because they will not be there to be killed; the motorists will kill one another. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Do not lead me into temptation. The motorists will kill one another, as they do in America and on the autobahnen of the German State. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman, who begins his office under such auspicious conditions, will see that precious few of these mischievous recommendations are adopted by him.
The only statistics I have seen in motoring papers and so forth—I cannot vouch for them—lead me to the conclusion that more people are killed as a result of accidents in Germany.
From time to time various Ministers of Transport inform us that there is to be a rationing of oil fuel in the event of war. On several occasions in this House I have advocated the greater use of home-produced fuel. Unfortunately, although the Minister on each occasion has looked into the matter, nothing further has been done, but I am convinced, from the correspondence I have received on each occasion I have mentioned the matter in the House, that a large number of firms are very anxious to do something about the development of an engine suitable for using gas and producer-gas. I have received a letter from the Research Department in Birmingham, and I will, if I may, read an extract:
During the last two months we have had a very large number of inquiries from firms and transport and gas undertakings all over the country. These include: the Birmingham and Midland Omnibus Company; Messrs. Cadbury Brothers, Limited; South Metropolitan Company, London; Stewarts and Lloyds. In the case of Cadbury Brothers they have definitely decided to convert one of their vehicles to run on gas as an experiment, and are actually proceeding with this at the present time. The Birmingham and Midland Motoi Omnibus Company are also looking into the possibility of a quick method of conversion of Diesel engines. With regard to engine makers, Messrs. Crossley Motors, of Manchester, are giving special attention to the converting of Diesel engines to run on gas, and you will be interested to hear that Messrs. Roots—as a result of tests on engines from Messrs. Cadbury Brothers—have decided to produce at the Humber Works, Coventry, a private car for operating on gas, which is stored in special lightweight steel containers.
The difficulty about using this type of vehicle is that the gas bottles increase its weight, and hence increase the taxation, I am not asking the Minister to alter the taxation; that is beyond his sphere. But he is in a position to grant a remission of taxation to experimental vehicles, so that the matter may be investigated. In the case of a steam vehicle there is a remission of taxation on one ton. Why cannot something similar be done in regard to these vehicles? Experiments will not be seriously developed until this omission is rectified. These vehicles are running in Germany. Twelve months ago there were more than 1,000 vehicles there, and there were 40 filling stations. In France there were 120 vehicles running, and 25 filling stations. Again in France all owners of 10 vehicles or more have to use one vehicle running on home-produced fuel.
We all remember how during the last War gas was used by means of a bag on the top of the vehicle, and during the crisis last year the Birmingham Research Laboratory received quite a number of inquiries with regard to the conversion of their vehicles. It is possible to convert a vehicle with very slight minor alterations. I am not asking the Government to carry out experiments, but only to encourage the carrying out of experiments, and to grant remission of taxation on a certain number of vehicles. The cost of running vehicles on gas is less than that of running them on petrol. The Government at present are to a great extent subsidising hydrogenation; and why they should not consider this to be in the same category I cannot understand. In this country a large number of lorries and delivery vans often have to run 40 to 60 miles a day. These vehicles are very suitable for work of that description, as they could run 100 miles on one charge. I understand that the cost of running would be about equivalent to that of running on petrol at Is. a gallon. In the Research Laboratory something like £5,000 or £6,000 is being spent on this experiment. What they are asking for is further experiment, and I am convinced that a large number of firms will be prepared to go in for experiments.
During the Debate, hon. Members have referred to casualties on the roads. I do not think the picture is quite as black as it is painted. It is serious enough certainly, but we must give the Minister credit for improvements. In 1934 there was one casualty to every 10 vehicles, in 1936 one to every 12 vehicles, and in 1938 one to every 13 vehicles. Looked at in that light, surely there is an improvement. We are not satisfied with the conditions as they are, but the Minister must be given credit for such an improvement. I wish also to refer to the question of pedestrian crossings. We had in Birmingham last week an experiment which was successful to a certain extent. In my experience, pedestrian crossings are recognised far better in Birmingham than they are in London. One day last week I endeavoured in London to cross at 15 of these crossings, and in no case did I get an uninterrupted passage. It is no use spending money on these crossings unless their use is enforced. The Minister should give a lead in the direction of helping pedestrians to get about in the manner they are entitled to do. Public vehicles, in particular, should set the example.
I had an opportunity last year of speaking on this Vote, and I mentioned the matter of "halt" signs. I congratulate the Department on having increased the number since then, and I hope they will continue to make progress. It is most difficult for the motorist to know who has the right of way when he is crossing a main road. I cannot see why still more use cannot be made of road signs. Where the word "Halt" is painted on the road, it has to be repainted every few months. Surely there is some method of giving a clear indication of which vehicle has the right of way without going to the expense of painting the roads in the way they are painted at the present time.
Another matter which I wish to bring to the notice of the Minister—already several questions have been asked in this House about it—is the reduction of the age limit of children who are carried free on omnibuses. Until recently it has been the custom to carry children up to the age of five free on omnibuses in Birmingham and district, and now by Order of the Minister the age has been reduced on omnibuses from five years to three years. The Minister has said that he has not power to alter the age limit, but I believe that the age has been reduced by his order. It is causing considerable dissatisfaction in cities like Birmingham and in other large areas, where mothers have to travel eight or nine miles into the town to do their shopping and cannot bring their children with them as they used to do. It is a ridiculous anomaly that the age limit of five still remains on the tram-cars. It is absurd that women living in one district can bring their children into the city, and women in other districts cannot. I believe that there are ways of getting round this problem if the Minister wished to do so. I have no doubt that if he could find a way out, it would give considerable satisfaction to a large percentage of the population in and around Birmingham.
Most of the items concerning cyclists in the Alness Report have already been referred to, but I would remind the Minister that in 1926 the Transport Advisory Council were asked to report upon the subject. The Minister, in presenting his report last year, referred to what the Advisory Council had reported, and their report with regard to cyclists was practically the same as that contained in the Alness Report. Why is it that some of these recommendations have not been put into force during the last 12 months? I have asked the Minister several questions to-night, and I do not expect to receive a reply to all of them. I know the impossibility, in the short time at his disposal, of his being able to do so, but I beseech him to say at least a few words in reply to what I have said with regard to the gas-producer vehicles
I appreciate that the Minister, with the enormous amount of ground which of necessity he has to cover in a job such as his, was not able to refer specifically and in detail to many of the points with which perhaps some of us would have liked him to have dealt. Perhaps I may be pardoned if I touch upon one or two subjects to which he referred only very indirectly. I support very heartily the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs) regarding the lowering of the free travel age limit on the omnibuses of Birmingham. I know that it has been done through the application of the Traffic Commissioners, and that the position of the Minister is difficult, but I believe that a way can and ought to be found to get over the difficulty, unless the Minister desires to put upon the people who have been forced to go from the centre of that city to live on outlying housing estates an intolerable burden whenever they require to go into the city for shopping and other purposes.
The question of the safety of the roads has been the favourite subject of hon. Members' observations to-day, and there is very little that I desire to add. But in view of the precedent which has been established by at least two hon. Members in referring to specific cases in their own divisions, I venture once again to bring to the attention of the Minister the case of two particular roads, which I ask him again to consider with the authorities concerned in order that the matter may be dealt with expeditiously. I refer to the kingstanding Road and the Walsall Road, Birmingham. Both of these roads are scheduled to be dual carriage-ways, and in both cases the dual carriage-way has been left partially completed. There is nothing more calculated to cause danger than to have a section of a road with a dual carriage-way which merges into a single carriage-way and which again, a few hundred yards away, becomes a dual carriage-way. The. kingstanding Road, in particular, carries an enormous omnibus traffic, a large number of cyclists use the road, which has no cycle track, and a portion of it is a dual carriageway, while on other portions it is a single carriage-way. I have myself, when motoring on that road, made the mistake of failing to observe that the road had again become a dual carriage-way, thus finding myself going along the wrong side of the road. There is a grave risk to users of the road, and there have been numerous accidents both to pedestrians and cyclists. I have asked questions of the Minister several times, and I have been assured that the City Council are proposing to do something in the matter. I now ask him to request the City Council to get a move on and to complete the dual carriage-ways on both the Kingstanding Road and the Walsall Road at an early date.
The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) and the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) spoke of drunken drivers. A driver convicted of driving under the influence of drink ought automatically to lose his licence. There ought to be no question about it. While there is probably a unanimity of opinion on the desirability of that, is it not strange that in every case where a local authority is called upon to approve of plans for new licensed premises, one of the things they invariably specify is the provision of a good pull-in for motorists. It is an anomalous position to compel all licensed premises to provide a good pull-in for motorists and then to say to a motorist who has been convicted of driving under the influence of drink that he has committed a bad offence and ought to lose his licence. This is an interesting point upon which I should welcome the observations of the Minister.
It would be far better for passengers to put up with the inconvenience of going without drink rather than to tempt the driver or cause him to suffer the agony of seeing his passengers have a drink and not have one himself. It is better to go without your drink than that some one should be hastened into eternity as a result of an accident caused by the driver being under the influence of drink.
I confess that I am not an authority on the question of drink, and I must yield to the hon. Member in his greater knowledge of the subject. I really want to speak on the importance of an efficient transport system in this country. The prime job of the Minister of Transport is to see that we get an efficient transport system. It is abundantly necessary in peace, for the sake of the industrial life of this nation, and it will be more abundantly necessary should we ever unfortunately find ourselves at war. The whole of the supplies for this country, the whole problem of evacuation from our large cities, is bound up with a satisfactory and efficient transport undertaking.
I was pleased to hear the Minister refer to the Transport Advisory Council and its recent sittings. I should like to refer to certain findings of that Council in their bearings on the question of an efficient transport system. One of the tragedies of the post-war years has been the haphazard way in which transport has been allowed to develop in this country. Because of the rapid development of the internal combustion engine, we had a new form of transport which was allowed to develop for many years, willy-nilly. I am not stating any case against road transport. There is a great place for road transport in the life of the nation; but we have allowed haphazard methods to creep in, and now, somewhat belatedly, an attempt is being made to put our house in order.
Until 1918 the railway companies enjoyed a transport monopoly and regulations were formed on the basis of a transport monopoly for the railways. In 1921 we had the Act which put the railway companies under specific charges. I must refer to this question in order to emphasise what I desire to say. Under these regulations the railway company in charging for the transport of commodities was compelled to establish standard rates, based on a classification which was extremely involved and which had many defects. It was, however, a definite classification, which was available, and anyone on making a study could, with difficulty, arrive eventually at the actual charge for the transport of the particular commodities which he desired to send from one part of the country to another. Along with the Act of 1921 standard rates, exceptional rates, period rates, bulk rates and all sorts of other rates were laid down. Subsequently, there came very fierce road competition, which has resulted in the last few months in the demand for a square deal for the railway companies, which was referred to the Transport Advisory Council. We have now the report of the Transport Advisory Council.
I hope that the Minister of Transport will follow the precedent set by members of the Government on many occasions, and that is, that having appointed a committee to inquire into a case they take no notice of the findings of the committee but frame their legislation on completely different lines. I hope the Minister will do that. I hope that he will not accept the findings of the Transport Advisory Council on this matter, because if he does he will perpetuate the chaotic conditions of the transport industry, and the result will be great hardships to many users of transport in the country. The findings of the committee in certain specific directions are bound up with the question of an efficient transport system. Two of their major findings are that classification and the fixing of standard rates should be repealed, together with the exceptional rates and agreed charges. That is a very sweeping suggestion to make, and I am wondering whether this body is the most competent to consider the matter.
I know the composition of the Transport Advisory Council, and I do not agree that railway managers, members of the Society of Road Operators, and even the general secretaries of trade unions are the best people to form a judgment as to what is the best thing to happen to the transport industry. In every case you have a vested interest. You have specific vested interests concerned in this problem. I have yet to learn that if you put in one room the various people with vested interests concerned in a problem and expect them to bring out the best for the industry, you are in the long run to bring about the best thing for the industry. I believe that what has been brought out by this Council is not something which is in the best interest of the industry but something which will give a reasonable measure of agreement between the vested interests concerned. The old system of rating was cumbersome and the charges depended to a certain extent on the influence of the person who made the application for the rate. That may seem a sweeping thing to say, but I assert that under the old classifications of rates it was possible for influence to have a bearing. I know it was so from some years experience of railway rating; but for the Council to suggest the alteration which they have done is one of the most dangerous recommendations that have ever been made. The railway companies now, not the Railway Rates Tribunal, and the road operators also, will decide their own charges. Without reference to anybody, without reference to any scale, without reference to any classification; they will decide what is the charge for the transportation of any commodity between any two given points.
I know that the right of traders to appeal to the Railway Rates Tribunal remains, but that is an onus upon industry—an onus to appeal against what they consider to be an unfair charge. I do not think that it is an onus that rightly ought to be placed upon industry. The result will probably be that industry will pay the charge fixed by the railway companies and the road operators, and will pass the charge, be it reasonable or excessive, to the consumer, who will ultimately have to pay it in the price of the commodity that he buys. One of the most sinister things in the whole of the recommendations is that there is no recommendation made regarding the publication of the charges. That is extremely important. The one safeguard to members of the public against exploitation in transport charges is that there should be published the charges operative between any two given points for any special sets of commodities. Does the Minister realise what will happen if he implements the findings of this Transport Council? It will be possible for one man to have offered to him a charge for a particular commodity and for another man to have a totally different charge offered to him for the same kind of commodity between two given points, because there will be no compulsion upon either of the transport industries concerned to publish its charges. That will lend itself to a very dangerous practice and make it possible for influence to govern the charges which will be made. There will be no guarantee that all men will get equality of treatment.
There is much more that I should like to say. I should like to ask the Minister a question. He will agree with me that it is desirable that there should be the greatest measure of efficiency in our transport industry. Will he also agree with me that the transport industry is of much more importance, say, than the British Broadcasting Corporation or even of greater importance than the Post Office? If it has been considered necessary that the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Post Office should be placed under some form of co-ordinated ownership and control, why is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman proposing to tinker with the transport industry? Why is he allowing two sections of the industry to drift into the position into which they have drifted, rather than taking the bold step of co-ordinating the whole transport system under public ownership and control?
I bow to your Ruling, but what I desire to say will be apparent to the Committee. One essential factor in a satisfactory and efficient transport system is a satisfied and properly treated staff.
I want to refer to the problem which is facing one section of the transport industry and to appeal to the Minister to use his influence in the matter. I refer to the men who are employed in the railway industry. They are recognised as a fine body of men, who have always played their part in the industrial life and have given public service in local government and also in this House. A month or two ago, in the year1939, in the 20th century, an application was made on behalf of these men that the minimum rate of wages payable to any adult employed should not be less than 50s. a week. I ask whether 50s. a week is a reasonable rate of pay to men engaged in the transport industry of the country? There are to-day 101,000 such men who are on a rate of pay less than 50s. a week, and I ask the Minister of Transport to use his influence and see that the 50s. minimum is given to them. You cannot expect men to play their part in the transport system unless you are prepared to do the right thing for them. A square deal should not only be given to the owners but to the men employed. Granted that it will cost over £1,000,000; is that too much to ask the transport industry to pay to those men who have less than 50s. a week on which to live? If any square deals are to be conceded,
then I think the square deal should first be given to these men. The tribunal said:
After careful examination of minimum rates in large ranges of different trades and industries and making full allowance for the special factors referred to, the Tribunal are of opinion that a strong case has been presented for making an increase on the lowest rates a first claim as soon as the financial position makes any substantial concession possible.
The Tribunal admit the claim but refuse it at the moment because they say the financial position does not allow it. I suggest that the first charge on the industry should be the lives of the men who are engaged in the industry, their wives and children. They have invested everything they have in the industry. It is an industry which has always been loyal and not one to exploit the national situation. I am not speaking at the moment for any of the trade unions which are operative in the industry. I am speaking purely on my own responsibility and as one who has served the whole of his industrial life in the industry. I know these men. The Minister will want these men probably in the days which lie ahead, and I warn the Minister that there is a feeling among them that they are not prepared to be exploited much longer, and they are going to demand that there shall be a 50s. minimum for all men. It is a reasonable demand. Many of them are in blind-alley occupations and have no hope of promotion. There are 41,000 labourers in the engineering departments and 8,000 gangers. The chance of promotion is one in seven, therefore, six out of seven are doomed as long as they stay in the transport industry to remain on a basic rate which is less than 50s. a week, and in some cases as low as 42s. For men with wives and families that is much too low a rate to be paid in one of the most important industries of the country.
I want to touch on the general question of the motorist and to ask the Minister exactly what rights the motorist has. I find that he pays in taxation about £47,000,000, and in Petrol Duty about £10,000,000. That is a total contribution, through these two taxes, of about £58,000,000. The Minister of Transport says that he is proposing to spend £18,000,000 in road construction during the year, so that the Exchequer is going to make a substantial profit out of the motorist. I do not think the motorist would mind paying for the roads, which everybody uses, if he felt that he had some right on the road. I know that the pedestrian is in the same position. When we are pedestrians we curse the motorist, and when we are motorists we curse the pedestrian. I am both, and perhaps my sympathies are in the main with the pedestrian. I give this figure of taxation as to the amount which the motorist contributes, only in order to ask the Minister of Transport a question. I want to bring him back to the city of Birmingham, and I want to ask him whether the motorist has any rights on the roads and streets of our cities. If he has none, or only very limited rights, I want him to explain to the motorist the extent of his rights.
The rights are given in the Highway Code of which I am speaking, and that is a matter with which the Minister of Transport has to deal. Under the Highway Code there is an instruction—it is also mentioned in the Road and Rail Traffic Act—that a motorist may leave his vehicle just for so long as is a" reasonable time" The interpretation of what is a reasonable time is left in every case to the local authority, and I want to ask the Minister whether he is not prepared to compel the local authority to define what is a "reasonable time," and not leave the motorist at the mercy of the police in any particular locality. In Birmingham a man can leave his car for what is a reasonable time, but no one will define it or define what has been the measure of obstruction.
In conclusion I want to ask the Minister whether he will consider extending the provision of courtesy "cops." I should like to see more courtesy "cops" on our roads, and fewer motorists being "copped." I hope we shall have an extension of these courtesy road patrols and that the motorist will get a warning instead of being persecuted as he is at the present time. May I remind the Minister again of the very grave situation which is growing up in the railway industry and ask him to make inquiries and find out whether what I have stated is not the present situation? I would ask him to realise that there is a great responsibility on the Minister of Transport to see that the country is not involved in a major industrial dispute in the next few months, which will be the result if the matter is allowed to drift and the trade unions are left to decide this question with the railway companies, who have met them in every case with a blank refusal. In order that we may be saved this industrial struggle when we can ill afford it, I would appeal to the Minister to direct his attention to the conditions of employment on the railways of this country.
Colonel Sandeman Allen:
The Committee has had a variety of problems placed before it this afternoon. I was interested to hear a number of hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), predict that there will be a great depression and great unemployment when rearmament ceases. That is a problem which needs consideration. I do not think it will be as bad as some hon. Members believe. I feel that if rearmament ceases, it will be because we have before us an assured period of peace, and undoubtedly that will bring a world trade boom. Trade is being held up because of a threat of war, and once that threat is removed, there will be a trade boom. Therefore, I think we ought to avoid being Jeremiahs and to look forward to the future more cheerfully. Obviously, when rearmament ceases, there may be a short period during which there will be a readjustment of industry, and during such a time, if the Minister has plans ready, they can be used to great effect and value.
I wish to congratulate the Minister of Transport on the new method of presenting the Estimates. That method is a great improvement, but I wish that the Department would adopt the practice that is followed in the Service Estimates, and interleave the Estimates with coloured pages giving detailed descriptions of some of the progress that is being made. On 15th May when my right hon. and gallant Friend made his first public appearance as Minister of Transport before the industry, he said in the course of his remarks that up to the present plans have been approved for dealing with over 3,000 miles of trunk roads, of which 885 miles will be by way of new construction, comprising diversions varying from a quarter of a mile to 15 miles. The promise of this new construction is encouraging, but I should be glad if we could hear a little more about it. I asked the Minister whether he will issue a White paper describing the plans, so that we may be able to form a much more accurate judgment of what is to happen in future. I know that there are a great many difficulties in building new roads, such as the difficulty of land acquisition, to which the right hon. Member for South Hackney referred, but surely, in a great many cases, it is easier to plan new roads and routes and avoid built-up areas than it is to widen existing roads or to use an existing road for one-way traffic when another road is built perhaps a quarter of a mile away. I want to raise one matter which enters very much into the question of road accidents. The new Act enforcing parking for lorries during the rest period necessitates a far greater laying out of lay-bys and draw-ins for lorries. On the new by-passes, there are not nearly enough draw-ins which would enable the men, when taking compulsory rest, to take the lorries off the road and thus make the road less dangerous for ordinary traffic.
When the Finance Bill was in Committee, I tabled an Amendment for the purpose of enabling monthly licences for motor cars to be issued. That Amendment was not called, and I was given to understand that the Minister already has the power to issue regulations for monthly licences for motor cars. I hope he will use that power. In the Budget, there was a very big rise in the tax to be paid by motorists, and this year undoubtedly the motorists have to pay a very large proportion of the increase of taxation. It is time that Government Departments began to study the convenience of the public to a far greater extent and to give the public greater facilities, particularly in these difficult times. During four months of the year, it is possible to get monthly licences, and therefore, the principle is established. At the present time, the issue of quartely and monthly licences costs the Government £747,000 in collection expenses. Practically the whole of that amount is covered by the 10 per cent. surcharge on the quarterly and monthly licences. There is no reason from the point of view of expense why the Minister should not permit the issue of monthly licences throughout the year. I do not ask for a decrease in the surcharge, although I think that ought to be considered; but I do not think it is within the power of the Minister to decrease it. A surcharge of 10 per cent. on the annual licences is a great deal of money, and covers the cost of collection of the motoring taxes. Therefore, it is of no use the Minister arguing that he would lose a great deal of money by allowing monthly licences to be issued during the whole year.
If this were done, I do not believe the Treasury would lose any money because at the present time a great many people take out licences from April to the end of September only. If there were a fine September, a great many motorists would take out a licence for an extra month, and the same would apply at the end of February and at Christmas time. It is not only the owners of the cars, but the manufacturers and the agents who would like to see monthly licences issued. Even with the quarterly licences, one can see in the sales of cars a check between each quarter and a hold-up until the next quarterly licences are due to be issued. If there were monthly licences, there would be a much more even flow of sales of both new and second-hand cars. It cannot be argued that it would not be easy to have a system of monthly licences, for the machinery would be quite simple, and would not substantially increase the cost of collection. I could give the Minister half a dozen schemes that would be easy to work. For instance, it could be done by means of stamps. There could be 12 stamps on the licence; each year would have its own coloured stamps, and each month there would be a new shape so that the police could easily see whether the car was duly licensed for a given month. There is no reasonable excuse for denying to the public this privilege to which it is more than ever entitled at the present time.
Before the hon. and gallant Member leaves this subject, may I ask whether he would suggest that there should be monthly dog licences, monthly wireless licences, and so on?
Colonel Sandeman Allen:
The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Poole) mentioned the Transport Advisory Council and the Square Deal. I cannot understand why the powers of reference of that committee included the power to examine matters concerning a Square Deal for the railways, but no power to examine road restrictions, so that the question of road restrictions could not be discussed. There seems to be far too much bias towards the railways in our transport arrangements to-day, not only at the expense of traders, but also at the expense of coastal shipping. Coastal shipping is subject to foreign competition and it is a disgraceful thing that to-day practically all ships of 200 tons and under engaged in the coastal trade are foreign-owned. Hardly one is British-owned. They are mainly Dutch and are going in and out of our small ports all the time. This is a matter which is not, I suggest, being seriously enough considered in consultation between the Minister of Transport and the President of the Board of Trade. I think we ought to put our heads together to see what can be done to improve the condition of coastal shipping.
There is one other question which I would put to the Parliamentary Secretary. Can he give an assurance that commercial vehicles which have been approved for allocation by the Traffic Commissioners will not be commandeered by the Service Departments without reference to the Traffic Commissioners? I have been told that the Service Departments may take these vehicles as and when they require them. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will look into that point and that he will be able to allay the misgivings which exist on this subject at present.
I desire at the outset to congratulate the Minister on his first speech in his new position and to assure him that he enters upon the duties of his office with the good feeling of all Members of the Committee. We realise that there is a lot of work to be done in his Department. One thing which struck me forcibly was the Minister's reference to the enforcement of regulations. That seemed to suggest the idea that regulations are not being enforced at the moment to the knowledge of the Department. I hope it also means that if regulations are not being enforced, the matter will be dealt with by the Minister.
I wish now to return to the question of accidents on roads to which so many references have been made. The Minister said that in 1938 there were 6,648 fatal accidents on the roads, and he mentioned that that number was slightly less than the number in 1929. I am not sure that that is a fair comparison. I shall be told that there are more cars on the road to-day than there were in 1929, but there has been an interval of 10 years in which to remodel existing roads and make new and better roads. Another statement which interested me was that less than 2 per cent. of the accidents were due to road conditions. What did the Minister intend to imply by that? Did he refer to conditions of surface only, or to lay-out, lighting, and so forth? I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to give us, if he can, some idea of what is meant by "road conditions" in this connection.
The Minister also said that in the event of war the railways would play their part, but in case of a national emergency there are other things besides the railways to be considered. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned the canals, but he did not say anything about the construction of new heavy roads in order to relieve the railway system in the event of a national emergency. It is only to be expected that if such a calamity as war did occur, the railways would be liable to be broken here and there as the result of air attacks. If the railways are broken, what alternative lines of supply will be available? It appears to me that we ought to have some large, major, strongly-built roads for use in case of necessity. I do not suggest that this is absolutely essential, but, in my view, it would be a good thing to have an alternative system in case the railways were broken.
I have in mind the case of the great factory which is being built at Chorley. The railway runs through the centre of that area, but I do not know what would be done if that railway were broken as a result of aerial bombing. It is very difficult to envisage how supplies would be got out from that great factory and distributed through the country wherever they were needed. I do not know of any great road in existence which would relieve the railway in that case. I do know that on the main road running through Wigan and Preston to the North, within 100 or 200 yards of this great munition works, there is a railway bridge where the road is so narrow that it is not safe for two cars to pass on it. I raised this question two or three years ago with the present Secretary of State for War, who promised that the matter would be attended to and, later, sent me a letter to the effect that the railway company were to take the matter up as an alteration was due. That alteration has not taken place yet. I hope the Minister will have some inquiries made into that and see what can be done.
Almost every speaker in this Debate so far has referred to the total of road accidents as appalling. I want hon. Members to understand that the accident rate during the last three months has been going up. When are we to expect a substantial reduction? Each month we receive startling figures of the number of deaths due to road accidents. In May the number was 553, which is an increase of 25 per cent. over the total in the same month of last year. The Alness Report on the Prevention of Road Accidents was published at the end of March. In that month the number of deaths on the road was 457. In April, while the Government were considering the report, the number of deaths rose to 513. Now we have a figure of 553. What figures may we expect for June and July? I do not know how it works out, but I am told that there is a greater number of accidents during the midsummer months than at other periods of the year, and one will not be surprised to find an increased figure for those two months. The Government are still considering the report which finds that our present road system is inadequate. I do not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) on this matter. I
think that the report contains some valuable recommendations which, if put into operation, would help to reduce the number of road accidents. The present road system is agreed to be inadequate and out-of-date. The report concludes:
Nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of a vastly accelerated programme of road construction and improvement.
We have been having a vastly accelerated programme during the last eight to ten years. Every year the Minister has come to this Table and made a statement as to what was going to be done in the coming year. Not very long ago we had a five-year programme laid down. Has that been justified? Has it been carried out as it ought to have been carried out? Are they so far forward with the work of the five-year programme as to satisfy the Department? If not, they are very much lagging behind. What stands in the way? Not finance, surely, when we observe that road transport now pays to the Revenue sums greatly in excess of the present expenditure on the roads. Nor would there appear to be any legal or administrative difficulties in the way so far as trunk roads are concerned. The Minister has full power to build and improve trunk roads and to acquire land for the purpose wherever he considers it necessary. The Minister to-day said something about the acquisition of land and what a very difficult matter it is. I think there ought to be some short cut whereby the Minister could earmark any land required for public services and let questions of arbitration and that kind of thing be considered afterwards.
There is also the question of the secondary roads, because not many improvements have been made on Class 2 roads. A large number of these Class 2 roads really ought to be transformed into main roads and something done to make them better. As to the congested areas in the Northern part of England, I do not know whether the Minister is aware of them, but there is a large number of bottlenecks where traffic is held up regularly, and where that happens and there comes a whole line of cars, the danger of accidents, of course, is very much greater. I think the time has arrived when in the large towns in the North of England, and in other places besides the large towns, something definite should be done whereby there could be that steady flow
of traffic which would not cause such congestion. I am sure that casualties on the roads are greater than they ought to be. I know that I cannot debate the question of the patrol system in parts of Lancashire and elsewhere in Great Britain, but I want to call attention to the statements by Earl Howe, Chairman of the British Road Federation, that the experiment had shown that casualties on the road could be reduced by 46 per cent. The Government ought, therefore, not only to continue the experiment, but to extend it throughout the country. Earl De La Warr, replying for the Government, agreed that where the mobile police had been tried they had been successful. He refused, however, to accept the motion that the Government should pay the whole cost of motor patrols on the ground that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was already faced with very heavy expenditure in other directions. If one cared to be cynical or critical, one could read into that statement that money is of greater value than life, and that the Government are not prepared to find the money necessary to protect the citizens of this country, even on the roads. I have every sympathy with the patrol experiment. I know what it has meant in Lancashire. I have been among it, more or less, and the way in which it has been carried out there is a great credit to the chief constable, the deputy chief constable and every officer who has taken part in the work. They have done their work well, and I am sure that, having done their work so well, it is something which ought to give the Government, or at least the Department, heart to see that something more is done in that direction. At the bottom of page 35 of the Report on the Prevention of Road Accidents there is the statement:
One witness—the County Surveyor of Oxfordshire—affirmed that in his county 76 per cent, of the fatal accidents might have been prevented by road improvement, and that dual carriageways alone would have reduced the accident toll by 42 per cent. The Committee realise that these are two extreme points of view. The truth, as so often happens, probably lies between them.
That is a glaring example of bad roads, or else a glaring misstatement by a man in charge and responsible. Whichever way it is, I hope the Minister will do something to make things better for the future. Next I want to raise the question of level crossings, about which the British
Road Federation made a very striking statement. They said:
It is not sufficiently realised that, even exclusive of 'occupational' crossings…of which it is estimated that there are 10,000 or more, there are still over 4,000 public level crossings in Great Britain, of which 200 are in Greater London. Moreover, on our main trunk roads, which are under the direct control of the Minister of Transport, there are 112 level crossings, making one for every forty miles of such roads.
They go on to say that at the present rate of clearing these crossings away, it will be done in about 200 years. We know that these things are a danger, and why they are tolerated I do not know. They ought to have been dealt with in earnest a long time ago with a view to the danger which they create being removed at the earliest possible moment. They go on to say:
Apart from the danger at the actual crossing, an investigation carried out by the Automobile Association in 1938 on 380 such crossings showed that traffic on the most important roads in Great Britain is interrupted nearly 8,000 times daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. by the closing of level crossing gates
I think we are agreed that that is something which ought to be dealt with. It is a positive danger; it has been a danger for a large number of years, and no great attempt has been made to deal with it. I hope the new Minister will accept the responsibility for doing something really to overcome this difficulty.
I have not said anything about bridges yet, but there is a large number of weak bridges in this country. It is quite a common thing to find on a bridge a notice stating that vehicles of over five tons in weight must not go over it. All these things want wiping out. There ought to be something of greater security, something which will meet the traffic needs of the country, and if a bridge is not strong enough, it ought to be cleared away. Recommendation No. 130, on page 51, is as follows:
The committee recommend that all level crossings on main roads should be bridged or tunnelled as soon as possible.
In paragraph 131 they recommend:
The committee recommend that on important roads hump-back bridges should be abolished as soon as may be, for it is impossible to see approaching traffic until their summit has been reached.
This is the kind of thing with which we have to deal, and with which the Minister will have to deal. Really the Minister is
under the sort of challenge that is given to every new Minister to do better with his Department than those have done who have gone before him. On the question of road accidents I have just mentioned that the Minister has great powers and great opportunities to do good. When we realise that the taxation of motors provides such a tremendous amount more money than is required or spent on the roads of this country, it is time that some Minister dared to tell the Treasury people that he will not carry on as Minister of Transport unless he is permitted the kind of freedom which would enable him to deal with many things which at present are held up through lack of money. There is a need for very heavy and strong roads, because when munitions are being run about the country they cannot be taken on roads which are full of twists and turnings and bottle-necks. The roads will have to stand up to a very heavy strain and they will have to be built at the earliest possible moment. Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Shell Transport and Trading Company, Limited, on 20th June, Lord Bearsted, the Chairman, said:
Year after year the roads of this country are not only falling further behind the best modern standards but are also becoming increasingly and more dangerously inadequate for the traffic they are called upon to carry. Year after year the efforts to grapple with this problem become more out of relation to the volume of work which is obviously needed. The annual expenditure on our roads has remained practically stationary for the last 14 years.
That is the kind of statement which I hope the Minister will take into consideration, because obviously road development ought to be going on year after year giving better conditions. We ought to have stronger, wider and straighter roads. The Ministry should see some of the Clause 2 roads which I have seen built on the corkscrew pattern. Some of the main roads in the North of England used to be the same, and there are quite a large number of Class 2 roads made upon their pattern. That pattern is dangerous. Inadequate road development is false economy, and the roads constitute one of the few objects of public expenditure which can be described as directly remunerative.
The direct relationship between road expenditure and bad conditions has recently been underlined in the Alness Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Prevention of Road Accidents which, moreover, stressed the urgent necessity of inaugurating a long-range policy of road improvements. It is pointed out that since 1910 the number of vehicles on the roads has increased by over 2,000 per cent. while the increase in new road construction is only about 2 per cent. We have had a five-year programme before us now for about three years and we have not yet seen the results of the work which has been done. We have the promise that a large amount of the roads has been surveyed. I think the Minister said that 3,000 out of 4,500 miles have been surveyed and that work was ready to begin. When are we to begin that work? Shall we hear again from the Minister the same story 12 months hence or shall we be told that all the roads have been surveyed and that many miles have been put into actual condition? I hope we shall get some real help.
There is another matter I should like to raise, and that is the question of lighting. In Lancashire we have a beautiful road, which cost £5,000,000 or £6,000,000, running from Liverpool to Manchester. It is a really magnificent road through very nice country. At the Liverpool end the City of Liverpool attend to the lighting and at the Salford end the borough of Salford do the same. For probably 12 or 14 miles there is no lighting at all except at the junctions. I want to point out to the Minister that on that road there have been several terrible accidents which ought never to have occurred. Until some proper method of lighting is introduced, there will continue to be these reports about that road. What is the use of building roads if you are not going to complete them? I do not consider that a road is complete until it has been well finished and well lighted, so that drivers can see what they are doing. They cannot in this road. There are many dangerous crossings. I have been along it and I have lived in that particular area all my life with the exception of the last few years. The matter has been raised not only with the present Minister but with his two predecessors. It has been raised by questions in the House and in Debate for three or four years, but nothing has been done. The danger is there and we cannot get any move on. The Minister seems to think that the whole of this work ought to be done by the local authorities. The local authorities between Salford and Liverpool are not prepared to do it. I think the Minister ought to have the power to compel them to do it out of finance provided by the Treasury or a grant given to them by the Ministry, and they ought to be compelled to do it in the interests of the lives of the people using the road.
It is no use looking at the thing from the point of view of saying that it matters nothing at all. Every life lost matters, and is a loss to the country. Something really ought to be done. The Select Committee, in paragraph 149 on page 158, refer to the Departmental Committee on Lighting which reported 18 months before and say:
That committee recommended that street lighting should be made uniform, particularly on trunk and Class I roads.
Their report was issued two years ago, and nothing has been done. Is it not possible for the Minister to do something with a view to getting greater safety on this road? It is the worst road I know. I do know many badly-lit roads, but this is a road where we have no lighting at all, and I think that either the Minister or his officials ought to travel on it in the dark when they would see what is required in the interests of safety.
The next point to which I want to refer concerns regulations. I notice that on page 22 of the Alness Report there is a recommendation for the simplification and consolidation of existing regulations. The committee say that there are at present over100 regulations which a motor driver should observe and some 2,000 regulations which road transport as a whole, including those engaged in the manufacture of vehicles, has to master. The committee favour the simplification and consolidation of existing regulations and, even more, the elimination of many technical offences of a kind which might probably be left to the judgment and good sense of road users. That is the position that we are putting before you. The Alness Report is a very valuable one. A large number of its recommendations really go to the root of the matter, and would help in solving the excessive number of deaths on the roads. We do not want a miniature war going on in peace time. We do not want 6,000 or 7,000 of our people killed on the road, another 1,000 in the mines, and 200,000 or 300,000 injured on the roads, through being hit or knocked down. Whether carelessness is attributable to the driver or to the pedestrian, there is at least some responsibility on the Department to take in hand all the things that come to their notice with a view to working out something which will make for safety.
I am very glad that the office of Minister of Transport was not abolished some years ago, as was proposed as a protest against the increase in the number of Ministers. One of the principal reasons why I am glad is that you would not have had the present Minister. I have always had sympathy for Ministers of Transport, because they at least have never had a square deal. They have had no real power given them and the treasure chest promised them in 1909 was stolen from them. The first burglar was my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). Good roads are the essence of all civilisation. Successive Minister of Transport have never had an opportunity of carrying out the ideals which, no doubt, imagination has held out before them. They would need the support of the Cabinet, but no Government of any kind has ever shown the slightest imagination on the road question. They only seem interested in conserving the more obsolete railways. Take the horse power tax. It is a monstrosity. Far the juster tax is the petrol tax, no matter how high it be. For as the driver of a small bus said to me, "As we pay the tax we collect it, while if I have to pay a large sum at the beginning of the season it may be wet and I shall not recover it."
What we really need is proper motor roads—roads for motors and nothing else. We look on calmly at the dreadful slaughter that has been going on for all these years and do nothing drastic to stop it. This House has been since 1896 a meeting of homicides in respect to road accidents. The old oligarchic, aristocratic Parliaments in the 30's at least' had the humanity to say to the railways, "You will not run these dreadful instruments amongst the public. You will build your own roads and fence them in so that no one can be slain." Yet a railway is a far safer thing than a road, because it travels on rails; I and you have only to keep off them to be safe while on the road you may be killed at any moment on the pavement. Looking in a shop window, you may get it in the small of the back. What we should aim at is building roads restricted to road transport alone, and do not build them through the populous places but through places where there are no houses, and see that you take the land on each side so that, if there is any building, the Government will get the benefit. You should have these roads all over the countryside and when the motors come out on to the ordinary public roads, where they are mixed up with horses, cattle, human beings and children they should not be allowed to go at any high speed. That is the only remedy.
We want to get the population dispersed through the countryside and get our factories put out in rural areas. Of course, there is immense opposition in the country districts, where they do not want these things, but let the people who like to live in lonely dignified solitude go to the great wide open spaces, like Africa and Vancouver and elsewhere in Canada. They have no right to keep our poor people crowded in towns in those beastly tenements and flats, keeping them out of a goodly heritage, which is to go out to the country, to work in the country and live on their own portion of God's own land. [Interruption.] That is not revolutionary. It is only plain horse sense. It is what happened in Queen Elizabeth's time, when she ordained that no man should be employed unless he had an acre of ground of his own on which to grow his own food. It is quite a modern idea to get somebody else to grow food for another man. That is how the law vacations came in—to allow the lawyers and judges to get away to the country to grow and reap their own crops. The railway companies and the motor transport undertakings have come together to get a "Square Deal." I am very sorry, because it will be a nasty deal for the public. A thing that is square has sharp corners, and that will prove to be the case with this square deal. A great monopoly will exploit the public.
Now I wish to turn to local matters. Why does the Minister of Transport not help us in the Highlands? He is laying down 9-foot roads in place of 14-foot with a better surface, I admit, but with only a little turning place here and there for vehicles. If two indignant Highlanders meet, it is a good job they no longer have their old claymores, or there would be a lot more tragedies on our roads. Then, why does not the Ministry of Transport give us piers? There used to be lairds in Scotland who could afford to build piers, but they cannot do it now on account of the burden of death duties and high taxation. Carradale has long wanted a pier and a harbour too, and there is a place in Mull where nearly 30 lives were lost a year or two ago because there was no pier, nothing but a ferry boat 50 years old. The county councils cannot undertake to provide them. In places like Mid Argyll a penny rate yields only a few pounds. These piers are needed, especially for the summer visitors who are pouring into the Highlands. What is the good of steamer transport being provided if there are no piers? We have got the lairds still, but now they have no money. The last man who could afford to repair a pier at an expenditure of about £3,000 was a laird in Morven. Nobody else could afford to pay the money to build the piers, for timber is prohibitive, and if they are made of ferroconcrete the steamer crushes its sides in when it comes alongside.
We suffer a lot from the Minister of Transport. Let him go up to the Taynuilt-Oban road, where he will find 12 miles of road which are essential to the people of that neighbourhood dug up in summer time by contractors. They take the road up all at once. In the old days it used to be taken up by the county councils a section at a time, but now that the Ministry of Transport has come in the contractor just suits himself at his own convenience; and he brings in men from the sister isle and Scotsmen do not get the same chance of working on the road, which is another cause of complaint. I come back to the question of narrow roads. Look at what happened at Campbeltown Tarbert where there was a road 18 feet wide which has now been replaced by one only 16 feet wide, and very dangerous for charabancs. Everybody is protesting against these narrow roads.
Now I have another matter to put before the Ministry of Transport and all the county surveyors and it is a very simple proposition. I suggest to the Minister of Transport that he should see Mr. Huggins, the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, who is over here at present. In Rhodesia they do not waste money upon building great broad roads all fit for motors. They build roads with strips down the centre about two feet six inches wide and two feet nine inches apart. You can build 100 miles of that type of road for about the same cost as for 10 miles of our roads, which have the same type of surface all across the road. It is just as though the flange had not been invented for the wheels of railway trains, and we ran the trains along a broad steel plate stretching right across the track. All that is needed for the roads is two strips of chips and bitumen four or five inches deep and you can build hundreds of miles of road for a small outlay. Such roads stand up to anything. There have been enormous floods in Rhodesia, and I have just had word that the road strips have stood up to them. There is an opportunity for us to introduce such roads into the Highlands. I wrote to the road surveyors suggesting it, but they all pooh-poohed it. It was something new and they did not like it.
I do not know what they are—they are officials. Whether they are Government officials or local road surveyors they will not take up the scheme, although if it were adopted we could have our rural areas equipped with splendid roads from the point of view of motorists, and roads which would be infinitely more humane for cattle and foot passengers. As it is we have a road on which the cattle can skate but cannot walk. Could I get the local surveyors to take up my suggestion? No. It was largely a case of the official mind and official obstruction. I put the proposal up to the immediate predecessor of the present Minister, but with all his inventiveness and all his beautiful orange groves it was too new even for him, and I could not get anything done. I suggest to the present Minister that he should see Mr. Huggins, from whom he can get full information. I had the full data from the Minister of Transport in Southern Rhodesia, and I printed it and circulated it broadcast, but it has had no effect. In one or two places where they did try it they put down only a few feet and did not make it properly then, largely, I expect, because they were obstructed by road surveyors.
Then the ferry services in the Highlands ought to receive more attention. There ought to be a ferry across from Ardentinny. About a year and a half ago we could have bought two fine Dutch ferry boats for very little, but we could not get financial assistance. A ferry there would shorten the distance from Glasgow to Cowal by about 60 miles, but we could not get any assistance for that project. All we have got is something in the nature of an Irishman's rise—we have got our roads narrowed to nine feet. Certainly they are roads with a good surface, but what is the good of that if the motorist meets another car, because there is no room for one to pass the other? I ask the Minister to take notice of us in the Highlands. The Sassenach comes up in his tens of thousands in the summer, and we ought to make conditions there better as a preparation for his coming.
I am satisfied that the problem of accidents is by far the most important one with which the Ministry has to deal. When the Select Committee were appointed many of us were hopeful that it would stimulate a very resolute attitude on the part of the Ministry to tackle the problem along the lines of the recommendations in the report. My impression now is that there is a fatalistic attitude which says that, in view of the volume of traffic on the roads to-day, we must accept something like 6,000 fatal casualties a year. Not only the Minister but other speakers seemed to find some satisfaction in the fact that there has been a slight reduction. It is a fluctuating figure. We can take, as the Minister did, the figure for 1929 and claim that although there has since been an increase of 40 per cent. in the number of vehicles on the road there has nevertheless been a slight reduction in the number of casualties; or we can work it out in a ratio to the number of people, as did one hon. Member, who rejoiced in the fact that we have now got down to one casualty per 13 vehicles licensd. That is a very unhappy position to contemplate. Not only is 13 a very unlucky number but the percentage of accidents is tragically high.
We appreciate that there has been some reduction, and that is the most hopeful thing. It has demonstrated that fatalism is not justified and that there are possibilities, especially when the figures are analysed in areas and when additional precautions have been taken. It has been demonstrated not only in this country but in all the great countries of the world that it is possible by adequate care and attention definitely to reduce substantially the percentage of road accidents. I hope that the Minister will not take the fatalistic view of accidents but that he will accept that problem as his major responsibility and that he will see that he justifies his high position by reducing substantially the accident percentage.
The Minister made an almost automatic division of road accidents into three categories, those attributable to defects in the vehicles, those to defects in the road and those to the personnel. The figure given attributed to the unsatisfactory condition of the road or the construction of the road is the microscopic percentage of two. All of us who have had any experience on the roads, or who have had accidents or observed other accidents, have been overwhelmingly convinced that that figure is not correct. If you took into consideration the surface of the road, blind corners and wrong ramps it should be possible to make up a higher figure, but very few accidents can be definitely put within one of the three categories. The majority of accidents are a combination of various factors. While there is a man at the wheel it will naturally follow that the human element enters into all of them in a far greater percentage than is given in relation to the state of the roads.
Arising out of the Ministry taking over the 30 main roads two years ago, we were very hopeful that there would be a considerable acceleration in the improvement of the roads and that we should speedily see results. Two years have gone by and, with the best will in the world to see and to appreciate all the improvements, I fail to see anything substantial. The road that I know best is that between London and York where it crosses the Leeds-York Road. My definite impression is that during the past two years there has not been an improvement and that there has been a reduction in the percentage of improvement. Practically nothing has been done on that road for the past two years. In spite of the fact that it is the A.1 road and is strategically the most important road for military purposes, as it runs right to the East Coast and carries a large percentage of traffic, including very heavy industrial traffic, nothing has been done.
Those of us who have seen the major continental roads get the impression, when we come back and travel on the A1 road, that more than half of it, from London to York where it crosses the York-Leeds road, is little better than a country lane. One change that we have seen since it has been under the administration of the Ministry of Transport is a few additional big notices indicating that over certain stretches overtaking is prohibited. It may be economical to put up notices of that kind but they do not by any means increase road safety. In spite of the existence of those notices, those who use the road are aware that invariably there is overtaking, because there is no supervision of the road and there is very much slow-moving heavy industrial traffic upon it.
I am specially interested in this matter because my experience convinces me that a large part of the responsibility for road accidents is due to the unsatisfactory state of road signs. This matter does not receive very much attention in the report of the Select Committee, but at the bottom of page 51 there is a reference to this subject in these words:
The Committee recommend that signposting should be not only uniform but also more efficient.
Then it refers to the attention of the driver being diverted from the road and to the position of many of the signs. I raised the matter with the Minister's predecessor and he expressed himself as satisfied. In view of the report that is now before us I hope that we shall not get it reiterated that road-signing is satisfactory. The reply I received from the Minister's predecessor was that if I could tell him any special places he would look into the matter. The answer to that is that any cross-country run in England will reveal to any motorist the utter inadequacy of the road-signing system in this country. It is fairly good on the
main roads, but directly you get on to the cross-country roads you are always concerned as to whether you are on the right road. The driver has to stop at every turning in order to inquire from pedestrians the right way.
Only last Saturday I travelled from Burslem, the constituency of one of my hon. Friends, to York. On entering Leek the first thing you arrive at is a round-about, with a strange symbol that the motorist has no time to absorb because it looks a strangely monstrous creature. Then he passes this roundabout, and there is no sign on a single one of the main roads off that square saying where it leads. I had to stop and ask a policeman. I wanted the road to Buxton. He told me that nearly everyone finds a difficulty at this point. I complimented my hon. Friend on the beautiful town in which he lives, but I mentioned that there was this defect in the middle of it. He said: "There is not a week goes by but motorists are fined half-a-crown for getting mixed up at that roundabout."
When you get on the Buxton road you travel North-East for about a mile from Buxton, and you come suddenly to a big signpost which says: "To Derby and London." Buxton has disappeared. The motorist immediately tells himself, "I am on the wrong road. If I am on the road to London and Derby I am not travelling North-East." Once again you stop and ask: "Is this the road for Buxton?" and they say, "Yes, about a mile further on. "In Buxton you find a sign" To Glossop and Chapel-en-le-Frith." You turn into the road, but you find that it is a dead end and that the road really referred to on the signpost is the next one. A little bit farther on, through Glossop, there is a signpost that should have taken me out on to the Yorkshire moorland road, but the road is stopped. There is no alteration in the signpost. One of the Automobile Association notices is put up. It is left to the kindness of that organisation to do the Ministry's job.
I hope that the Minister will not take these criticisms as a joke, but will realise that the motorist needs to use all his attention when he is on the modern road. He does not require to be worried and concerned. If you have a worried motorist looking for the road at every notice he sees, there you have a nervous motorist who is more likely to have accidents. I appeal to the Minister to take this matter up, and see that the country is provided with better roads specifically designed for motorists. I hope, too, that when he tackles that matter he will see that no houses of any kind are built along those roads, but that they will be preserved as motor roads, in the way in which major continental roads are, and that the signing of all the remaining roads is done efficiently on a thorough-going system which will make it possible for any motorist to find out easily where he wants to get, and to get there with safety to himself and other road users.
I think it will be generally agreed that we have spent a very profitable warm July afternoon in discussing this subject of traffic and roads. I congratulate the Minister on his maiden effort in his new capacity, and on the success of his endeavour to cover the whole of the problems of his Department from every angle. He is the third occupant of his office in the present Parliament, and there were three Ministers of Transport in the last Parliament. An impression is growing up that this Department is used as a stepping-stone to higher office, and I know I am expressing the general desire of the House when I say that this Department should not be used merely as a passage for entering some higher Cabinet post. It is a job that requires special knowledge and experience, and a full grasp of every phase of a very big subject. I should like it to be regarded in the same way in which. the office of Postmaster-General is regarded—as a post to be filled by a man who is properly qualified and who, so long as he discharges his duties efficiently and competently, will be allowed to remain there.
This afternoon we have been discussing mainly, quite rightly, the Alness Report. It is a terrific indictment of the Ministry of Transport. It is not often that the other House takes the law into its own hands and decides to appoint its own Committee. It is something very suspiciously like a vote of censure on the Department. I think that any impartial person, including the Minister, will agree that the report is a very competent and capable report. The committee was a very distinguished committee, including no great revoluntionaries or impulsive Radicals, but mainly composed of members who support the Government. The chairman was particularly qualified for his job. At one time, during the critical period of the last War, he was in this House as Lord Advocate, and later he occupied the high judicial post of Lord Justice Clerk in Scotland. It can therefore be assumed that he weighed the evidence, and that he and his colleagues only came to their conclusions as a result of sifting the information, facts and figures which were brought to their attention. I suggest, therefore, that the committee's recommendations should be taken seriously.
I know that the Minister has promised us a White Paper. That is all right, but I hope it will not be used to score cheap debating points, but that the Government will either accept some of the recommendations of the committee or, where the recommendations in the opinion of the Departments are not sound, will answer them and put forward alternative constructive proposals. The committee heard evidence from 75 witnesses, and the report runs to nearly 800 pages. They took a considerable time to do their work, and they made no fewer than 200 recommendations, which is almost a record. I think they were justified in not making general, sweeping statements, but going into every point in detail and making practical proposals. It has been pointed out several times, but we are going to repeat these points until we get the Minister to be active, that our roads carry double the number of cars carried by the roads of any country in Europe—13 per mile, as against only seven in Germany, six in France, and so on. As has been pointed out already, the committee say that our present road system is inadequate and out of date, and does not meet the traffic needs, the convenience, or the safety of road users.
There was an agitation some time ago to abolish the Ministry of Transport. I remember that many people at the time suggested that the Department was superfluous. I do not agree with that view. I think that the Ministry of Transport, run by an energetic Minister who means business, can do great work. But, if the Department is not going to be active, I would like to see it swept away and its work divided between the
Home Office and the Ministry of Health. I am not advocating that; I think it would be a retrograde step; but, if the Department is not going to function, if it is not going to have a competent Minister who means business and is not merely the servant of the Treasury, we might as well be without it. Three years ago we passed an Act providing that the Minister should take over 4,500 miles of trunk roads. That was against the spirit of our local government, and I was not very much attracted by the idea, but the justification put forward for it was that the Ministry was going to be far more progressive and energetic in improving the roads than the local authorities. Our friends on the Alness Committee have, however, pointed out that, since the Act came into operation, less work has been done on trunk roads than was done during the five preceding years—that, in other words, since we have had one central authority managing these trunk roads, not more, but less work is being done. Meanwhile, the number of motors on the roads is increasing at the rate of 500 a day, and there is very little new road construction. In paragraph 12 of the report, the committee point out that:
If more vigorous action is not taken in the future than in the past, there will be complete strangulation of traffic, for saturation point has almost been reached.
That is very strong language for Noble Lords in another place who have carefully weighed their evidence, but over £100,000,000 of taxation is now being paid by motor owners and users, of which only £67,000,000 is being spent by the Department in road construction and maintenance. I think I am right in saying that in 1932, when only £55,000,000 was being raised in taxation from the motor trade, we were actually spending more than that figure, In the meantime, the toll of the roads continues. We have heard a great deal to-day about the number of killed. The figure remains static at about 6,500. Even more sinister in many ways is the number of those who are injured. Over 250,000 are injured each year in one way or another on the roads. The report points out, quite rightly, that road congestion and accidents are closely related. It is in built-up areas that most accidents occur. The Minister came here fortified by a statement from the police that, after a careful study of all the accidents, they
came to the conclusion that 92 per cent. of them were caused by pedestrians. Of course, if the pedestrians had not been on the roads there would not have been these accidents.
I certainly did not say that 92 per cent. were caused by pedestrians. What I did say was that the police had said that over 90 per cent. were caused by the human factor.
Of course. They were caused by the human factor. A large percentage were caused by children, who wish to play in the street and are rash and foolish. But it is running away from the problem to trot out a statement of that kind, which is very superficial. Controversy has also been caused by the Minister pointing out that the Select Committee has stated that only 1.2 per cent. of accidents are due to defects in road design. We do not want the Ministry to get away with that. That is a cover for their misdeeds and their failure to do their job. Reference has been made to the county surveyor of Oxfordshire, who said that 75 per cent. of the accidents were due to road defects, such things as humpback bridges and blind corners. Obviously he is talking about roads in the counties. Where there are congested streets in the towns there are other causes of accidents than road surfaces; but in the counties anyone who drives his own car as I do myself knows that many roads are simply death-traps, quite unsuited to modern conditions or the high-speed car, especially those roads where there is no speed limit outside the towns.
The Select Committee said that they were not particularly impressed by the evidence from the Minister's Department regarding the organisation and working of the Department so far as road accidents and road construction were concerned. In their report, they said that they formed the impression that there was in these matters a lack of vision and driving force in the Department. We want the Minister to provide that driving force. He has a great opportunity. If at the end of 12 months he is in his present position and has failed to show initiative and vision, we shall call him to account. He should get out of the old rut, show a new spirit, and stand up to the Treasury and other influences which are at work to curtail the activities of his Department. The Minis- ter said—perhaps because he was so recently Financial Secretary—that he would get on with much of his work as quickly as financial circumstances allowed. That shows the Treasury mind. He has to get rid of that Treasury mind. This Department is vital. I would go further, and say that it is an essential part of National Defence. A year ago I was for a couple of months a member of the Evacuation Committee. The whole problem of evacuation depends on transport. On a Sunday we see appalling congestion at the various London exits. Sometimes one is held up at one of these exits for anything up to two hours; what the traffic problem would be like at these exits in time of war, I dare not contemplate.
One of the works of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of War was to appoint the Bressey Committee. It sat for three years and produced a magnificent report, with proposals for improvement. That report, as far as I can understand, is to be pigeon-holed and forgotten. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us how many of the schemes it proposed are to be implemented. It is true that some of these things, particularly the scheme suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), to get around the congestion at the Bank of England and the Mansion House by extending the Victoria Embankment, would probably need legislation, but at least one of these things the Government already have power to carry through—that is, the Cromwell Road extension. The Minister said that it would be such a long job because of the difficulty of buying land; because there were various interests to be bought out and a number of law cases were involved. As far as I can ascertain personally, most of that property is already bought, and there is no reason why a great part of that scheme should not be pushed through without further delay. From the point of view of evacuation, that scheme is urgent and should be completed without delay, even if it means working three shifts a day and going to considerable expense. Anyone who goes through Hammersmith Broadway at any time knows the terrific congestion there.
It may be argued that the scheme of evacuation contemplated involves the use not of the roads but of the railways. Anyone who knows our underground railway services in London knows how terribly congested they are. The unfortunate victims—I think that that is the right word—who have to go to work in the early morning and return after office hours know that it is almost a life-and-death struggle. I do not suppose that the Minister ever comes to work by that particular route. I suggest that it would be very good training for him in his office if, instead of coming to the House of Commons, or going to the Ministry of Transport in his limousine, he came by District Railway and had to straphang, and had to struggle to get in and to get out. I sometimes marvel at the patience of the London public. I do not know why they put up with it. I remember the Act of Parliament which was passed by this House. I think that the Minister of Labour will also remember it because of our co-operation at that time. It is a long time ago. It was when we had a Labour Government. He co-operated with me in opposing the Bill, the object of which was to set up a complete monopoly of London traffic. Trams, omnibuses, the District Railway and the tubes were all to come under one control, and the justification for that was, first, that we were to have cheaper fares, and, secondly, more efficiency and less overcrowding. In the last few years during this monopoly we have had fewer facilities, less study of the public, and now on the top of it we have higher fares.
I ask the Minister of Transport what he is prepared to do in the matter of higher fares? He will probably say that the matter is not within his power, that it is a question for the Railway Rates Tribunal, and that he is not the responsible authority. But he is the champion and custodian of the travelling public who have a right to look to him to give a lead and to champion their cause. In view of the fact that Parliament deliberately set up this traffic monopoly, if the poor unfortunate passenger does not like the District Railway, he can go by omnibus, but even that is under the same management. If he does not like the omnibus he can turn to the tramways, but he is still at the tender mercy of the London Passenger Transport Board. The only alternative is to walk, and if you walk you are liable to get run over.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has a great opportunity. He has a great Department. We had two kinds of Ministers before him. We had a Minister who was a great artist at propaganda. He got himself over personally magnificently, but the only monuments of his work are the Belisha beacons. I do not know what is to become of them. Are they to be continued, and are they still to be entitled to grant? Does the Minister still encourage the construction of these picturesque barbers' poles with oranges upon them, as a Noble Lord in another place rightly described them? The record of the other Minister, who is now Minister of Supply designate, was masterly inactivity. Therefore the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not a very high standard to live up to, and he will justify his office if he takes his courage in both hands and is determined to spend the money that rightly belongs to his Department and carry out the five-year programme promised by the Prime Minister, but which is now four years overdue.
It is always rather a difficult task to wind up a Debate on the Ministry of Transport, owing to the diversity of subjects covered by our Votes, and today is no exception. It stands to reason, therefore, that my speech is bound to be somewhat disconnected if I am to deal, as I want to try to deal, with the majority of the questions raised by hon. Members. Naturally, most attention was paid to the appalling question of road accidents. Some 6,648 deaths on our roads last year is, indeed, a terrible figure. The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) gave some striking illustrations of what that figure means. Of that total you have 60 per cent. who were killed in a restricted area and 40 per cent. in an area not subject to the speed limit. If you again divide up the figure—I am only going, in this connection, to take the road deaths—you have 3,046 people who were pedestrians, 1,401 who were cyclists and 2,201 others.
Further, when we look at the report of road accidents we see that the tragic figure of over 6,600 can be divided into a variety of other categories. What I want the Committee to realise is that we have to see how far the different recommendations, such as those made by the Alness Committee and those that have been made in the Debate to-day, can affect one of the groups into which road casualties are divided. Often people have come to one and said, "If only you did some particular thing you could reduce these accidents by an enormous amount," but when you look at the figures you find that, unfortunately, there are only a very few who would be affected by the reform put forward. I wanted to show the Committee from how many different angles this problem has been examined, and I wish to make it quite clear, as this was asked by the hon. Member for Anglesey and also by a number of other hon. Members, that my right hon. Friend is not shelving the report. He does intend to issue his report upon it at the earliest possible moment. Whether it will be in the form of a White Paper, I do not know. When you have 250 different recommendations—I think that is the number—it is extremely difficult to know what is the best form in which to put your proposals about them, so that they can be presented to Parliament. My right hon. Friend is certainly not taking a fatalistic view. Of the recommendations I sincerely hope that we may be able to adopt a number, but there may be others which, for various reasons, we shall have to tell the House it will be impossible to carry out.
I want to say something about the police figures as to the causes of road accidents. That matter was dealt with by several hon. Members. The hon. Member for Anglesey said that she considered the figure of 90 per cent. which was given as the figure in which the human element played the predominant part was too high, just as she said that the 2 per cent. given as due to road conditions, was too low.
I think there is some confusion of thought about this matter. I was asked for some description of the road conditions which were said to be the primary cause; I am told that they include such things as the wheel of the vehicle catching in a tramway track, the tramway track being in bad repair, the view being obscured by a blind corner or a bend, a slippery road surface, a road surface in need of repair, and other road conditions. It seems to me that where road accidents occur you very often can attribute the cause to either the 90 per cent. or the 2 per cent. Suppose you have an exaggerated case where a motorist drives down a narrow road at 80 miles an hour and meets with an accident. He might say that if the road had been only a modern road and properly banked up, 80 miles an hour would have been a perfectly safe speed and that, therefore, the primary cause of the accident was the state of the road. On the other hand the common-sense view would be that he was going too fast for the road on which he found himself. That is why there may be some confusion of thought, and when divergent figures have been given in evidence, probably one of these two points of view, or something between them, was in the mind of the witnesses.
Several hon. Members have said that they consider the road patrol system, usually called "courtesy-cops," had demonstrated its usefulness and its value, and they hoped we should be able to continue them. We agree as to the value of these road patrols but their wages do not come under this Vote; they come under the Home Office Vote, and, therefore, while we appreciate the very good work which these road patrols have done, I am not in a position to say that there is anything we can do in the Ministry of Transport about them.
We are in constant touch with the Home Office, but I am explaining that on this Vote it is impossible to make any definite statement on that matter.
I do not want to say a great deal about road construction because figures were given by my right hon. and gallant Friend showing that they are going up year by year; and the various big schemes which have either been started or continued in the current year will be found in the appendix to the Estimates. I think the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) was in-accurate in saying that we are spending less on trunk roads year by year. That is not my information, and if he will look into the matter I think he will find that his statement is not correct. I must say perfectly frankly that it is no use hon. Members asking why it is that the Ministry does not get on faster with this work, suggesting finance has nothing to do with it. Of course it has. When we are having to find these enormous sums for defence it is obvious that the amount of money which will go to the roads is affected. Finance does play a very important part in the speed at which we can continue road construction.
I was dealing more with the Estimates as presented to-day. My information is that the statement is inaccurate, but, in view of what the hon. Baronet has said, I will have another look into the matter.
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) mentioned the subject of level crossings. I agree that there is a large number of them—I believe 1,300 on classified roads and 111 on the trunk roads. Twenty-five of them were eliminated in 1938 and 1939. It is not the fault of the Ministry of Transport that more were not eliminated. We want to get rid of these level crossings as quickly as possible, and, for that reason, a grant of 75 per cent. is given to the local authority for carrying out that work. Unfortunately, in many cases it is rather an expensive job, involving the making of bridges and the necessary ramps. It has been a disappointment to the Ministry that level crossings have not been eliminated much more quickly in the past, but we are hopeful that we shall be able to get on with this without undue delay.
The hon. Member for Wigan also mentioned the subject of lighting. As he probably knows, my right hon. and gallant Friend has no powers as regards the lighting of roads, except in the case of trunk roads, and there he has an express power, laid down in the Trunk Roads Act, which allows him in approved cases, to give 50 per cent. towards the lighting of trunk roads. Personally, I should like to see the local authorities take more advantage of that 50 per cent. grant. Particularly near the big towns and cities, it is an enormous boon, and helps enormously in the matter of road safety, if the main roads are adequately lighted; but certainly, to light the whole of the East Lancashire road from Liverpool to Manchester, for instance, would be a very large and expensive undertaking. It could be done, but it would be a very expensive business. At the present time, the sole power of my right hon. and gallant Friend is to give 50 per cent. in the case of trunk roads, of which the East Lancashire road is one.
I want now to deal with the Bressey Report. I was very sorry to hear the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) say that the London County Council cannot do it. As a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman went further and said that he did not think they ought to carry out their part of the work. As the Committee knows, the Ministry of Transport can only carry out the Bressey schemes as far as they affect trunk roads. In the case of trunk roads, it is within my right hon. and gallant Friend's competence to carry them out or not. But most of the schemes in the Bressey Report have to be initiated by the local authorities, and in a majority of cases the local authority is the London County Council. If they will not initiate the schemes, my right hon. and gallant Friend has no power to do so himself. I want to make one thing plain. It is not true to say that we do not want to proceed with the scheme and that we offered 60 per cent. of the total cost, knowing that it was a ridiculous offer and one that could not possibly be accepted, as a way of getting out of a very expensive scheme. We considered, and still consider, that 60 per cent. of the total cost—that is, of property and road making—is not a normal offer and is not an unreasonable offer.
We had very great hopes that the London County Council would find themselves able to go forward with the scheme on that basis. There have been several conferences with the London County Council on the matter, and I know it is a very great disappointment to my right hon. Friend that, so far, we seem to be at a deadlock. They say they are unable to proceed, and we do not find ourselves able to increase the grant. The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey said she thought the carrying out of these schemes would be a help to evacuation in time of war. I would remind her, however, that such schemes would take a long time to carry into effect and the war would have to be postponed for some 20 years, if the execution of the Bressey scheme were to have the effect which the hon. Lady suggested. I would tell her this seriously, however, as regards the roads out of our big cities—and I am thinking particularly of London in this connection—a scheme has been worked out for evacuation purposes by which a large number of these roads will be made one-way roads.
Does the Ministry intend to publish at an early date a statement showing which roads are to be restricted in the event of evacuation? If they wait to publish it on the night when the evacuation takes place, it will result in hopeless confusion.
That would have to be considered, but I am not so certain that the publication of a statement showing the roads which you intended to use for evacuation, would be quite as successful as the hon. Gentleman seems to think—and that for obvious reasons. As I say, a scheme has been worked out with the police, the A.A. and the R.A.C., and we hope that it will be such as will allow evacuation to take place without any undue congestion.
I said that I was dealing particularly with London, but such schemes have been worked out for other parts of the country. As regards the local authorities I think I am right in saying that they have been consulted. I wish to refer now to the part of the Bressey Report with which we are proceeding. The Cromwell Road extension was mentioned. We have already started work on that and a lot of property has already been bought. We hope that the whole thing will be completed in from two to three years.
It is a long time, but the scheme is a very large one. We are also proceeding with the Coulsdon to Crawley road, and the Crawley by-pass, the Staines by-pass and the Maidenhead-Slough by-pass. Works already begun or about to begin are Dartford Tunnel approach road in Kent; North Circular Road bridges in Middlesex; Blackwall tunnel duplication, Wandsworth Bridge and the Southern approach to Wands-worth Bridge. We are safeguarding routes on the south orbital road—part in Surrey—Teddington road, North orbital road. Dartford Tunnell approach road—part in Essex—Lea Valley Road, Colchester—Bishop's Stortford Road;Chelms-ford—Canvey Island Road and Waltham Abbey by-pass.
I wish now to deal with the five-year programme. I was asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney to explain exactly what was meant by the five-year programme, or as he called it, the five-year plan. We asked local authorities for schemes which they could put in hand in the next five years, and schemes have now been approved to the value of £106,000,000. We have offered the appropriate grants to those schemes, and it really is not the fault of the Ministry of Transport if the local authorities are not now proceeding with their schemes. These are all ones which are up to them. They submitted the schemes, we have approved the grants, and it is up to them now to proceed with them as quickly as they can. I was also asked whether the schemes would be ready should unemployment, unfortunately, be with us again within the next three or four years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Again?"] I think the hon. Member said "in the future," when the war preparations were out of the way. I think I can give that assurance. These plans will be ready. I appreciated what the right hon. Gentleman said; I think, if I may say so, he made a most helpful speech and did not try to make any party point. He said that the difficulty that he had when he was Minister was in having schemes ready and surveys made. We are endeavouring to get these plans ready so that they can be put in hand at the earliest moment when the money is available. In the meantime, the lists that I gave of the Bressey schemes show that in many cases we are safeguarding the route, so that houses and buildings cannot be erected on the lines which ultimately the roads will have to occupy. There was also a very interesting part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech dealing with the staffing of public corporations, and all that I would say about that is that it is a very wide question which my right hon. and gallant Friend would like to consider in all its implications.
As regards electricity supplies, that question was particularly raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) and the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett). We are well aware of the urgency of the problem, and we hope that it may be possible for legislation to be brought forward at no very distant date. We have already done a considerable amount of work, so that when legislation comes to be brought forward a good deal of the preparation will already have been done. My right hon. and gallant Friend's predecessor saw a number of deputations to try and get what agreement he could in the electrical world in order to bring forward as far as possible a non-contentious Bill, but I think the Committee knows that such a Bill is bound to be contentious. I believe that hon. Members opposite will have a certain amount to say about it. I believe they have said that they will fight it tooth and nail, and, therefore, we shall want a certain amount of Parliamentary time in order to put the Bill through. It is obvious to Members of the Committee who realise what a lot of emergency business is going on in the House at present that it would have been utterly impossible in the present Session to have carried through this House an Electricity Supply Bill. We realise its importance and its urgency, however.
As regards Jarrow ferry, the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) is not present at the moment, and I would only say exactly what she expected me to say, namely, that we are offering 75 per cent. for a consulting engineer and a mining engineer to make the preliminary survey for a tunnel at Jarrow, and that will be, I think, of assistance to them, but we cannot undertake responsibility for the ferry which is there at present.
My right hon. Friend's predecessor went into that, and finally decided on the site of the tunnel at Jarrow. He went up there himself, and although I should like notice to give an exact answer, I think after careful consideration the site of the tunnel was finally fixed at Jarrow. In regard to Selby Bridge, this has been one of the most difficult of the by-pass schemes. We propose now to make a by-pass clear of the built-up area, costing about £100,000 less than the original scheme, which would have gone through a part of the built-up area, only a quarter of a mile from the existing toll bridge. When the new by-pass and bridge are built the old road and bridge will cease to be a trunk road and will revert to the county. In spite of this, the Minister has promised to give a grant towards the purchase of the tolls of the old bridge and the construction of a new bridge in the same way as if it had been an ordinary Class 1 road. He is offering 60 per cent, for the purchase of the tolls, and 75 per cent. for the new bridge, leaving only 40 per cent. and 25 per cent. for the local authorities to find. The present position seems to be that the East Riding is prepared to co-operate, while the West Riding is not helpful and the Selby Council seems to be very doubtful about the whole thing. I hope that even now the local authorities will be able to come together and be more helpful. We will try again to see what we can do with our powers of persuasion.
In regard to the diversion of shipping, it is intended that should a port be put out of action in war time ships intended for it would be notified of their new port of call while still at sea. The places selected for them to go to would be chosen according to the size of the ship, type of cargo, and the facilities at the port. We have already had practice exercises with the various port authorities to see how this plan would work, and I am glad to inform the Committee that we have no doubt that such a plan could be operated successfully in time of war. We have discussed the matter with the shipping interests, though in the first exercises we did not notify the ships whose positions we were using for the purpose of our exercises. As regards the ports themselves, there are measures which are to be taken—as hon. Members know from the Civil Defence Bill—for the due functioning of the ports in time of trouble, and also for the provision of additional facilities for which grants can be given. Proposals have been invited in the case of Wales from Newport, Cardiff, Barry, Port Talbot, Swansea, Fish-guard and Milford Haven. We have not yet received from the first six the plans of what they want done, but we hope to do so in the near future, and Milford Haven has sent us a request which is now being considered.
I think Holyhead is one of the railway ports for which we have asked for additional facilities. We have not yet heard from Holyhead, but we hope to hear shortly what their proposals are. There is no doubt that, should war come, all these ports will be of immense value and, according to the draught of shipping that they can take, each will be able to be used, some for coasting traffic, some for passengers, others for cargo and so forth, but each is being carefully considered on its merits. I can assure the hon. Lady that we have not by any means neglected the very important ports in that part of Great Britain.
I am afraid I have to disappoint the hon. and gallant Member for Birkenhead, West (Colonel Sandeman Allen), with regard to monthly licences. We have considered the matter very carefully and come to the conclusion that it is almost impossible administratively to carry it out. We have particularly had objections from the police. If you have monthly licences, you have no fewer than 12 expiry dates. It would be almost impossible for them to check up on the licences, and I am afraid we cannot carry the suggestion into effect. The system of quarterly licences, on which you can now get a rebate, ought to meet the case. I am sorry I cannot say anything more helpful than that.
You do not carry a wireless licence about in a picture frame in a car. We have considered this sug- gestion very carefully, and it seems almost impossible to carry it into effect.
The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green raised the question of higher fares in London. My right hon. Friend has no powers in the matter, but he received a deputation on the subject and went most carefully into it. The House has decided that the question of fares should be taken away from the Minister and given to the Railway Rates Tribunal, and, therefore, whatever his own feelings might be, he has no power whatever to interfere, even if he felt that he ought to do so.
If Parliament has decided to remove the question from political influence, I do not think it would be right for a Government Department to give evidence one way or the other. That is the position at present, and I am afraid my right hon. Friend cannot be held responsible for higher fares.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) asked about instructions in prosecutions for not keeping records. I will inquire into the case, but it is a matter for the chairman of the Traffic Commissioners, who again has been made by the House an independent authority, and, therefore, it is not a matter in which my right hon. Friend could intervene. My hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs) asked my right hon. Friend whether he could remit the tax on a certain number of exceptional vehicles in order to allow them to experiment with producer gas. I am afraid that it would not be possible to do that without a new Clause in the Finance Bill.
I think I have now dealt, as far as time permitted, with the questions which have been raised by most hon. Members, and where I have not been able to deal with them I can assure hon. Members that what they have said in the Debate will be read and that we shall try to meet their point of view. I will only say in conclusion that in spite of the fact that emergency preparations are putting a heavy strain on my Department, a strain both from the point of view of personnel and finance, nevertheless we are endeavouring to see that the transport needs of the country do not suffer, but are adequately maintained and expanded to meet modern conditions.
|Division No. 219.]||AYES.||[10.59 p.m.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pearson, A.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Hayday, A.||Poole, C. C.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Price, M. P.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Barr. J.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Bartlett, C. V. O.||Isaacs, G. A,||Ridley, G.|
|Batey, J.||Jagger, J.||Ritson, J.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||John, W.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland. N.)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Broad, F. A.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|Bromfield, W.||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Sexton. T. M.|
|Buchanan, G.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Shinwell, E.|
|Burke, W. A.||Kirkwood, D.||Silkin, L.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lathan, G.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lawson, J. J,||Simpson, F. B.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Leach, W.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn s)|
|Collindridge, F.||Lee, F.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Leonard, W.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Daggar, G.||Leslie, J. R.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Dalton, H.||Logan, D. G.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Stephen, C.|
|Day, H.||McEntee, V. La T.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'rg)|
|Dobbie, W.||McGhee, H. G.||Stokes, R. R.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||McGovern, J.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Ede, J. C.||Maclean, N.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Mander, G. le M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwelty)||Marshall, F.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Mathers, G.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Maxton, J.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Frankel. D.||Messer, F.||Westwood, J.|
|Gallacher, W.||Milner, Major J.||White, H. Graham|
|Gardner, B. W.||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A||Naylor, T. E.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Owen, Major G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Paling, W.||Sir Percy Harries and Sir Hugh|
|Groves, T. E.||Parker, J.||Seely.|
|Ghost, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Adams. S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Cruddas, Col. B.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Davidson, Viscountess||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||De la Bère, R.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W)|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hambro, A. V.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Dodd, J. S.||Harmon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Duggan, H. J.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Duncan, J. A. L.||Higgs, W. F.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Eckersley, P. T.||Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Edge, Sir W.||Holdsworth, H.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Holmes, J. S.|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Emery, J F.||Hopkinson, A.|
|Bull, B. B.||Emmott, C. E G. C.||Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Howitt, Dr. A. B.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Errington, E.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack N.)|
|Cary, R. A.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Hunloke, H. P.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Everard, Sir William Lindsay||Hunter, T.|
|Channon, H.||Fildes, Sir H.||Hutchinson, G. C.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.|
|Christie, J. A.||Furness, S. N.||Jennings, R.|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Gledhill, G.||Keeling, E. H.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Gluckstein, L. H.||Kellett, Major E. O.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hon. T. M. (E'burgh, W.)||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrese)|
|Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Gower, Sir R. V.||Kerr, Sir John Graham (Sco'sh Univs.)|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Grant-Ferris, Flight-Lieutenant R.||Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Petherick, M.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Lipson, D. L.||Procter, Major H. A.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P.|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|M'Connell, Sir J.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Turton, R. H.|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Rickards, G, W. (Skipton)||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Ropner, Colonel L.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Rosbotham, Sir T.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. Harvie|
|Marsden, Commander A.||Rowlands, G,||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Maxwell, Hon. S. A.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Medlicott, F.||Salmon, Sir I.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Salt, E. W.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Samuel, M. R. A.||Wise, A. R.|
|Morrison, G. A, (Scottish Univ's.)||Selley, H. R.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Munro, P.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Nall, Sir J.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Snadden, W. McN.||York, C.|
|O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Somervell Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Peake, O.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Peat, C. U.||Spens, W. P.||Mr Grimston and Captain|
|Perkins, W. R. D.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Waterhouse.|
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.