Roads (Improvements and Construction)

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th December 1953.

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Photo of Mr Richard Law Mr Richard Law , Kingston upon Hull Haltemprice 12:00 am, 18th December 1953

Yes, an area with which the hon. Gentleman is most closely associated.

I still maintain that that is not putting the matter into proper perspective, because there must be other industrial areas which have equal priority. To get this problem into perspective, one does not have to balance one area against the other. One has to balance the claims of road development against all the other claims being made upon the resources at the disposal of the Government.

I quite agree—and I do not suppose there is any hon. Member in the House, including my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, who does not—that the road system in this country is hopelessly inadequate, hopelessly old-fashioned and hopelessly uneconomic, but we cannot, especially at this time, have everything we want at one and the same moment. We want to clear away the slums, to build new houses, to increase our exports, and to improve and develop our Health Service. We must maintain a balance between all the demands made upon the resources of the nation.

The hon. Gentleman said—and I readily believe him—that he would have made exactly the same speech whatever Government were in power. The hon. Gentleman is always forthright, but I think there is one very great distinction between this Government and the last Government. That distinction is that whenever any problem of this kind arose, the late Government always announced, and developed in speeches, a tremendous scheme which would give us every kind of advantage within 12 months at the outside, but then nothing ever happened except another economic crisis. The present Government do not act in that way. They produce something which is modest and practicable and which can be made effective. When it has been made effective, they then take the next step towards securing the great scheme.

I sincerely believe that the statement made by my right hon. Friend 10 days ago was not inadequate when we consider the question of roads in relation to all the other problems which beset us. I believe that if we consider that statement against the background and in the context in which my right hon. Friend was speaking, it represents a notable start to solve a very difficult and tremendously important problem. But, having said that, I must say that there was one thing in my right hon. Friend's statement which literally shook me. It was not something which he said, but something which he omitted to say, and, but for the intervention of the hon. Gentleman opposite, I believe that I would have been shocked into speechlessness by this terrible omission in my right hon. Friend's statement. After developing his plan, my right hon. Friend said: These proposals, Sir, do not include provision for such major and desirable projects as the Forth and Severn Bridges."—[Official Report, 8th December, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 1823.] He said nothing more about bridges.

Has my right hon. Friend never heard of the Humber Bridge? Is he not aware that a project to build a bridge across the Humber went through both Houses of Parliament more than 20 years ago, and was only postponed because there was a General Election at that time? The fact of the matter is that Hull, which is one of our most important ports, and one on which we depend both for exports and imports, is exceedingly badly served from the point of view of transport because of its geographical position. One day—and the sooner the better—either a bridge or a tunnel will have to be built across the Humber in the interests not only of Hull, but of the whole of the country's exporting industry.

I am not saying that the Humber Bridge must have super-priority over everything else, because, quite clearly, much must be done before we get down to a project of that kind. Indeed, I think it could be argued that such a project ought to be left until there is some sign of a recession in trade, that it ought to be left as a pump-priming operation. Granted the difficulty and the fact that there must, in the nature of things, be some delay, it appears to me, to my constituents and to the city and port of Hull that this was something which was not in the mind of my right hon. Friend for a single moment.

I ask my right hon. Friend to lookup the records to see how far this project got 25 years ago, how important it was then considered to be, and to ask himself whether, since that time, any circumstances have intervened to make it any less important today. Even though I do not except that the Minister can promise very much now I hope it will be put on his list of important projects.