Orders of the Day — Roads Programme

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22 July 1957.

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3.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

We start this debate with a large measure of agreement. Every hon. Member must agree that our present roads system is hopelessly inadequate and if allowed to grow worse or even to continue as it is will gravely threaten the nation's welfare. I think, too, that there is general agreement in all parts of the Committee, apart from those who occupy the Ministerial Bench, that the Government's roads programme does not go far enough or fast enough to cope with the serious situation that confronts us—a situation which is bound to deteriorate alarmingly during the next eight years. I say eight years because at the present rate of increase, the number of vehicles on our roads will double in that period.

Our imagination boggles at the prospect of double the number of cars in the streets of London or on the main industrial roads that traverse the Midlands. Yet this is not a fantastic nightmare that will disappear in the morning. The doubling of the number of vehicles on the roads is practically certain, and it is a horrible certainty that has to be accepted and dealt with. Moreover, there is this to be borne in mind. Doubling the number of cars on the roads does not mean doubling the traffic congestion. It will probably mean trebling it.

The importance of having a roads system which enables traffic to flow freely is obvious, but it can also be supported by statistical evidence. Two figures are particularly revelant. One is that we spend 14 per cent, of our net national income on road transport and road travel. That is the proportion calculated by the Road Research Laboratory. The other is that three-quarters of all our expenditure on transport is on road transport.

But it does not require statistics to prove that our economy is being damaged by the present inadequacy of our roads. It is plain to anyone who drives on a route frequented by heavy industrial traffic. He will get all the evidence he needs, by painful personal experience, that owing to the narrowness of our roads, the constant cross-roads and the congested towns and villages through which our main roads pass, vehicles are taking twice as long as necessary to complete their journeys.

Let us forget for the moment the consequence in increased road accidents and the maddening annoyance to private motorists in their leisure hours, and consider what the delay in the flow of commercial traffic means in purely economic terms. It means, of course, that far more men are employed far longer hours than are necessary to transport the goods that have to go by road. It means that the consumption of oil and petrol—expensive imported products—is much higher than it need be. It means that the increased wear and tear of all vehicles materially reduces their useful life.

But what does all this boil down to in figures? According to Dr. Glanville, the Director of the Road Research Laboratory, the economic loss from delays amounts to nearly £30 million a year for each mile per hour dropped in speed due to congestion, and that does not include anything for travel outside working time. If we had motorways, as many Continental countries have, our traffic would be able to travel at a speed of at least 10 m.p.h. faster; but supposing we had roads that enabled our industrial traffic to move at 5 m.p.h. faster, that would save the country £150 million a year now, and by 1965, when the number of vehicles is likely to be doubled and delays are likely to be trebled, there would be a saving of £450 million a year—a formidable figure.

Yet it is a realistic and, as far as possible in this field, a scientifically accurate forecast, made by the Government's own Research Laboratory, of the appalling burden that will be put on Britain's industry in a few years to come unless, by that time, there is a transformation in our roads system. An annual burden of £450 million on British industry means that the resources of the nation as a whole and all its people will be diminished by that amount each year.

There is, I think, one other figure which is worth mentioning in this connection. Dr. Glanville reckons that the loss calculated on the same basis, but including people travelling outside as well as inside working hours, would be not £450 million a year but £1,350 million a year.

That is the extent of the problem stated in cold, economic terms. No one can or will deny its seriousness. The question we have to consider is whether the Government's programme is large and bold enough to deal with this critical situation. In other words, in 1965 will the congestion on our roads be less, as we hope, or, as many of us fear, much worse?

It is not possible categorically to say to what extent the Government's programme will meet or fail to meet the crisis. One can, however, make certain comparisons, the most obvious being that with the amount of new roadwork being done in other countries. For this purpose, it is, perhaps, fair to leave out the United States, whose roads programme is immensely greater than ours, but whose resources are, of course, also, immensely greater.

Let us take the major European countries. They are not as wealthy as we are, and their road problems are not as serious as ours, yet we find that they have spent, are spending, and intend to spend in the coming years comparatively much larger sums in road development than we in Great Britain.

Take, first, recent expenditure. According to figures published in the E.C.E. Economic Report for 1956, in the three years 1953–55 the percentage of gross national product invested in new roads in various European countries was as follows: Sweden, 1·12; Belgium, 0·60; France, 0·69; Netherlands, 1; West Germany, 0·75; Italy, 0·74. For the United Kingdom, the figure was 0·09, less than one-ninth of the average for those European countries.

When these figures were quoted in the House a little time ago, the Minister said that that was in the past, and that we were spending much more today. That is all very well, but there was no reason why we should not have had as big a roads programme as these other countries during those past years. Even today, however, our performance comparatively, although not as bad, is still bad.

True, this year we are spending very much more, but most of these European countries also have expanded their road-making activities, as many of us in the House saw for ourselves during recent visits to the Continent, when we were all greatly impressed by the ambitious and rapidly increasing road programmes of a number of European Governments. We are still lagging behind, although we have a far greater backlog than most European countries and—I re-emphasise this—their traffic problems as a whole are not as acute and urgent as ours.

So much for the past. What of the future? At present, we are working on a five-year programme for 1955–59 in which about £250 million of schemes will be authorised, about one-quarter of it, I understand, being on large projects. Authorisation, of course, is not the same as execution. Nevertheless, it is expected that, by 1959, actual expenditure may amount to £50 million a year, nearly double the expenditure of this year. It is not only the belief of the Opposition, but it is the belief of many outside authorities concerned in this matter, that even this peak expenditure will be well below what is required even to prevent present congestion becoming worse, to say nothing of reducing it.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I think that the right hon. Gentleman's figure is wrong. He said £250 million, but I think that it is, in fact, £150 million.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

I read a report of something said by the Minister himself, in which he said that our present scheme envisaged the authorisationof £250 million during this present period.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

Yes, but not in the current four years.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

No; "authorisation" is the word I used.

Why have the Government been so backward, timid and slothful in their road programme? Incidentally, I hope that we shall not hear the debating point so often put forward in this connection, that the Labour Government spent far less during the immediate post-war years.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

No European Government was able to spend anything at all, or hardly anything, during that period.

I suggest that the answer to the general question I put is that the "powers-that-be" in this country, the financial powers, still have an antiquated and wholly false approach to this problem. Money is made available for our national industries and services because they can show that such new capital investment will pay. They can draw up carefully worked out estimates showing that the investment of so much money in new mining equipment, in new power stations, or in modernising the railways will result in an increased earning capacity of so much per cent. each year.

For such approved capital expenditure the nationalised industries obtain the money either from their own resources or by borrowing over a long period. All is well; they get the money they want. In fact, three-quarters of their new capital requirements have been raised by borrowing.

In building new roads, there is no direct, tangible financial return. According to normal accountancy, expenditure on new roads is a dead loss, a dead loss, moreover, which falls on the Budget. No wonder, therefore, that spending money on roads is, apparently, unattractive and road transport has become the Cinderella of our national services. Yet the provision of roads is as essential a service to industry and the public as the provision of power.

For new roads we have a capital investment programme for the present five-year period amounting to about £250 million, while that of each one of the other nationalised services is immensely greater. The electricity programme, for instance, for the eight years 1957–65, envisages a total of nearly £5,000 million.

Whether this delay in getting on with a large and adequate roads programme arises from the fact that, in the provision of capital for new roads, the incidental financial benefits which flow to the nation are ignored, or from the fact that such expenditure is an immediate burden on the budget, I do not know. Perhaps the Government will tell us; they are responsible. What is certain is the serious effect on Britain's industrial prospects and general prosperity if this neglect continues.

We are all aware, of course, that making new roads may have a certain inflationary effect, but no more than any other capital expenditure, private or public. Our charge is that, out of the total capital expenditure in recent years, new road making has not had its proper priority; indeed, it has had no priority at all. When opening the Road Exhibition on 24th June, the Minister stated: It is my job, as a member of the Government, to see that roads get their fair share of the general capital development programme, taking all other demands into account. My comment is that that certainly is his job, and it is equally certain that he has fallen down on it.

Recently, the desirability of new road construction through loans has been advocated in many responsible quarters. It is done in this way in many Continental countries. In principle, there is no difference between raising money by long-term loan for a new power station and raising it for a new road. Raising money for road making in this way would certainly be rather more expensive, but, if the burden on the annual Budget is the obstacle to a truly adequate roads programme, then, for heaven's sake, let the Government adopt a road loan policy.

As far as I am aware, there is no other obstacle. The engineers are there, ready to do the work. Equipment in quantity and quality is available. The necessary raw materials do not have to be imported. None of these things is holding back the Government from taking the obviously necessary action to prevent the whole of Britain's traffic being reduced, in eight years' time, to a snail-like pace or even to one vast traffic jam. Do the Government, I wonder, appreciate that, with the European Free Trade Area by that time in operation, any additional burden on industry such as this may have dire consequences?

I want to say two things more before I sit down. I have been very brief because I am anxious that as many hon. Members as possible may be able to speak in this debate. I know that many on both sides want to do so. First, is it not the utmost folly to build roads now that are out of date even before they are finished? On Friday, I saw the Minister, on television, opening the new Markyate by-pass.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

I thought it was Markyate. I think that that road, like the Markyate road, is one with only three lines of traffic.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

I am very glad to hear it, because my reference was to the Markyate road, which many of us saw a little time ago. It seems to be utter lunacy to build an important bit of road like that, which is to form a link in one of our principal main roads, capable of carrying only three lines of traffic. That is not the only road which is being built that way today and which is so obviously wholly inadequate to modern traffic requirements.

My second point can be mentioned in one sentence. It has been the universal experience that where motorways are built the number of road accidents falls substantially and immediately. The question of road accidents uppermost in the minds of all of us.

For all these reasons, we take this opportunity today of asking the Government to shake themselves out of their complacency. We ask the Minister when he replies not merely to enumerate the number of road schemes which are in operation—we know that there are many road schemes in the present programme—but rather to tell us how far short that total programme is of our minimum requirements and what drastic new steps he proposes to overtake the arrears and to measure up to the future.

4.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak shortly now, because there are one or two things that I should like the Committee to know, and when my hon. Friend winds up at the end of the debate he can deal with specific points on which hon. Members require an answer. I do not think that the position is quite clear and I should like to make it so.

I do not disagree at all with the views of the Road Research Laboratory. It is the Laboratory's job to advise the Government on these matters and its views on the importance of increasing the roads programme because of the actual and prospective increase in traffic are very important. I have taken careful note of them.

There is one point which I must make before dealing with the future. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss)was correct in saying that there should not be a lot of politics in the road argument. If so, we must, as a House of Commons and as a country, look for the reasons—they are not entirely the concern of any one party—why the roads programme is not further forward today than it is.

The first reason is a world war, in which no road works of any significance were done. The second reason is that in 1947 the Socialist Party, then the Government of the country, brought forward what then was known as the Barnes plan for a complete network of motor roads. It was a very good plan. Today, of course, it is already out of date. Although at the time that it was brought forward it was a good plan, it is only right to say that it was never implemented and, therefore, the present Minister of Transport faces the fact that he has a backlog of twenty years in which no major road building has been done. Whether one likes it or not, that is the fact.

Bearing in mind that a useful by-product of our present prosperity—and I am delighted to see it—is the increasing amount of car ownership, of all kinds and in all sections of the population, it is not surprising that our roads are extremely congested, particularly at weekends. I am not a bit surprised, nor do I wonder at all at the complaints of motorists and motoring associations and other interested parties who say that is high time that something was done about it. I agree with that entirely, subject only, as I have said, to the fact that it must be realised that we are trying to overtake a period of twenty years when no significant work on roads was done at all.

The authorisations by the Labour Government of the day, after the Barnes plan was dropped in the financial crisis of that year, amounted to less than £20 million. The Labour Party is now grumbling because we are building up those authorisations to £60 to £70 million a year. Perhaps that is not fast enough, but we must start from the factual statement that we cannot overtake a twenty years' backlog in no time at all and, of course, the present roads programme began only in 1954. It has not, therefore, been running for very long.

I do not apologise for saying that there are other things that the Government have to consider. In my own sphere, as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall said, there is the modernisation of the railways. There is the building of new airports. There is the new airport at Gatwick, for example, which will bring us an immediate return in more air traffic, more tourist traffic, and so on. There is the enlargement of harbours and many other projects, to say nothing of the atomic energy programme. If, therefore, we are to keep a fair balance, we must measure the progress with the other capital tasks that have to be performed.

Let us look for a moment at the authorisations in the roads programme as far as it has gone. I take little notice of the E.C.E. report. It is a valuable document, but it goes only to 1955 and the roads programme started only in the middle of 1954. That document, therefore, is not a very accurate record of how our performance compares with other countries. I do not believe that our roads programme is lagging, as, I think, hon. Members will realise before I finish my remarks.

Authorisations during the first year of the programme, 1954–55, amounted to £19 million, a very small sum; in the second year, 1955–56, £28 million; and in the third year, 1956–57, £34 million. In the current year, the total will be over £65 million and I can tell the Committee that next year it will be substantially more than £65 million.

Photo of Mr Ernest Davies Mr Ernest Davies , Enfield East

Is that expenditure or authorisations?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I have just said, authorisations. Nobody can carry out a roads scheme unless the Ministry authorises it. Therefore, that is the best measure to take.

Let us look, also, at schemes actually started. I have taken out a convenient period from March, 1955, to June, 1957. In round figures, 2,500 schemes have been started at a cost of £42 million. Those are starts, not authorisations. Work has started on nearly 2,500 schemes in that period of only just over two years which will cost the country £42 million. I do not make any apology for that.

As to the future, which is why I thought I would intervene shortly at this stage, because I thought that I might enable the debate to be more objective, I cannot help saying that it is not often that HANSARD presents us with many gems which are worth recording, but for a moment the oracle has slipped. HANSARD the other day, speaking, presumably, of myself, said that I can reasonably be expected to have a life of not less than ten to fifteen years even under heavy traffic."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1957; Vol. 573, c. 34.] I hope it is true; that is all I can say.

In all roads programmes we must look ahead and plan over a cycle of years, as, I am sure, all hon. Members recognise. Therefore, what I have tried to do is to lay down some general guiding principles on which the Ministry can work, which, I hope, will give us the best roads system in the shortest possible time. It is worth mentioning those principles briefly.

My predecessors, the present Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, did an immense amount of work and laid the foundation for this programme. Indeed, when I went to Ashford on Friday, to open the new by-pass, which I am glad to tell the right hon. Member for Vauxhall is a double-track road of the highest motor road standards—I was only getting the benefit of the work of my predecessors. I wanted to try to draw together all the immense amount of work which they started in the planning stage into a specific plan which would give us immediate results. As to the very long-term plan, I have set up a small planning section in the Ministry which is considering roads over a cycle of twenty years and is trying to do all the slide-rule calculations about increased traffic.

I wanted to try to give the Department and the local authorities, who, after all, matter because they build the roads in most cases, a specific plan for the immediate future. That plan is a three-point plan. It is to try to make a start on a major network of trunk roads, many of them built to motor road standards, which means that no other traffic but motors will be on them. Secondly, to clear away urban bottle-necks, because if we do not clear them away we shall be very disappointed with the economic effects we get from the motor roads. Thirdly, to try also to have a reasonable amount of smaller works, that is, something costing under £100,000 all over the country, to try to make a contribution to specific problems in specific places.

That is the programme which has been initiated and which I want to carry forward as quickly as we can. I will not delay the Committee with many details at this stage, but it might show that this is a serious programme if I say that a great many of these schemes are at least started, or have been planned. They mean eventual double-tracking, by which I mean twin roads, on the Great North Road from London to Newcastle—and the building as soon as possible of a motor road, including the St. Albans bypass, which will go from south of St. Albans to just south of Birmingham. I hope that we shall be able to start letting the contracts for that road before the end of this year, so that work may start at the best climatic moment next year. This is a road of 55 to 60 miles which will cost well over £250,000 a mile.

There is also the continuance of that road north-westward to Preston. The Preston by-pass, a motor road, is well under construction and the Lancaster bypass which will lead on to it is now under way, too. The authorities are working on the line of the road between Birmingham and Preston. It will cost a great sum of money. It will be about 95 miles long and will cost over £30 million. A draft scheme was published in April and if all goes well it should be possible to start constructional work by the end of the financial year 1958–59.

Then there is the Midlands-South Wales Road, to which I attach great importance because I think that it could bring new life to the South Wales ports by making them more accessible to the industrial Midlands. The work on the Ross Spur, the remainder of that road, 23 miles long and costing about £6 million, should be started before the end of the year if I can overcome the few remaining objections.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall mentioned the European Free Trade market. We must have a better road to the Channel ports. The Medway towns by-pass will be a motor road which will fit in and give better access from the south to the Channel ports.

Photo of Mr Percy Wells Mr Percy Wells , Faversham

Can the right hon. Gentleman give a starting date for the Medway towns by-pass?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

Certainly not, because I have not managed to persuade all the agricultural and other interests involved as to the line of the road.

Finally, comes the road to the West, making five main projects.

The most recent of the urban bottleneck schemes is the Hyde Park Corner scheme, which, as soon as the L.C.C. obtains its Parliamentary powers, will be started. There is also the Cromwell Road extension, which is well known to hon. Members, the Birmingham inner ring road, started early this year, and the Stretford-Eccles by-pass.

Photo of Mr William Cove Mr William Cove , Aberavon

Is the right hon. Gentleman tackling the Port Talbot scheme?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

That is being delayed because local interests wanted a revision——

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I cannot go through the catalogue of schemes, otherwise I shall delay the Committee. I am quite prepared to deal with the general subject. Hon. Members can then make their speeches and if specific questions are asked my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can answer them at the end of the debate.

All I say at this stage is that this main programme is not insignificant. I think that the priorities are right, and the programme will be pressed forward. In addition, each year £80 million have to be found for maintenance and minor improvements. I know that the Government do not find all that, but they find a large proportion of it. Therefore, it is nonsense to say that this country already—and I will come to the future in a moment—is not spending a very substantial sum each year on its roads. The £80 million a year on maintenance and minor improvements bring the figure actually spent to well over £100 million and it will soon rise very much higher still. In addition, authorisations, which are the beginnings of all road works, are rising at a very fast rate indeed.

A roads loan and many other devices proffered to me would not help. If I thought that they would I should certainly consider them most carefully. I have already examined the roads loan proposition. I am not entirely satisfied that it might not be possible to develop some kind of loan specifically for specific projects, such as bridges and tunnels, but I do not think that at this stage in the roads programme a roads loan would expedite the building of roads at all, because roads have to have a share of the capital investment programme and I think that we are getting for the roads a fair share of that programme.

For the future, I have said what my priorities are and I hope that hon. Members will understand if I do not propose to issue lists of specific schemes, large and small, stretching years into the future. Therefore, if hon. Members ask whether such and such a road can be included they may receive a disappointing answer, because I have come to the conclusion that we must set our main priorities. I have set mine—work on motor roads, clearing of urban bottlenecks, and then as many smaller schemes all over the country as we can manage. If we do not keep the programme flexible in that way we shall be disappointed with our progress.

The last snag is that in this country—and in this we differ from practically every other—we face an immense task of orders, inquiries, and so on, before we can even buy the land; and until we buy the land we cannot build the roads. Many people say that we should legislate to sweep some of these difficulties away, which I assure the Committee cannot be swept away without legislation. I have considered that many times, but I am not prepared to take away from people the right to complain and object if their lands and buildings are taken from them. I do not think it right to deprive them of that right. Perhaps I can encourage the Committee a little by saying that in the long term it will not affect the speed of the roads programme. It is like a problem of inertia, in mechanics. It does not limit the top speed, but it takes longer to get there. Because we wasted many years after the war in getting on with the job we have been longer in starting.

I want to make my position perfectly plain. I am not prepared to over-ride rights to objection. I am not prepared to cut down the legislative safeguards which people ought to have if their property and land is taken away from them. Therefore, we must proceed merely by trying to get enough schemes going forward so that we avoid delays.

If we accept this scheme as a blueprint for the future and try to press on with it, is it the right thing to do? I believe that it is very necessary to examine the roads programme from the point of view of its economic benefit to the country. The right hon. Gentleman was correct in saying that that should be the yardstick by which we should judge a roads programme. The kind of programme which I have tried to outline is one which will certainly continue beyond 1958–59, the end of the present four-year programme, which incidentally, has committed about £150 million worth of road works, or will have done by the time the end of the programme comes.

It has been necessary, therefore, for the Government to examine the implications of continuing the programme in relation to the capital investment programme as a whole. Perhaps I ought to say that "capital investment" is, I think, often a misleading term. There are many kinds of capital investment. Some pay off quickly, while others do not. It is obvious that some are more remunerative than others.

I have always felt strongly that transport, speaking of it as a whole, must be modernised and must, therefore, have a reasonably large capital injection in the next few years if we are to remain a competitive Power in a very competitive world; and when I refer to transport I certainly do not exclude roads. It is also helpful in that respect to point out that a roads scheme brings its benefit quickly, because it makes an immediate effect on the flow of traffic. Take, for example, the situation at Ashford, where there have been many time-wasting, and thus money-wasting, delays. The opening of that road on Friday means an immediate end to all those problems.

Therefore, roads are not a form of capital investment which does not bring a reasonably quick return, and as it is the Government's view that the nation's most immediate need is a very rapid upswing in efficiency and productivity, and that that is the right way to secure our continuing prosperity, the roads programme is a form of capital investment which, in the Government's view, certainly ought to be continued.

If that is so, how do we propose to do it? What I propose to do—the Government agree that it is the right policy—is to try to get on with the broad programme that I have outlined as quickly as ever I can. The Ministry will try to advance as rapidly as possible the programme which I have outlined this afternoon. I have not gone into immense detail, because we must keep ourselves flexible. We can always put a scheme into operation as soon as it is ready, and other schemes which may have been promised may have to be delayed for reasons outside the control of my Department, perhaps because of objections or for other reasons. So I will not particularise more than I have already done in the broad outline which I have given to the Committee.

It may give the Committee some idea of the size of the programme if I say that I should propose to put in hand over the next four years—that is to say, from 1958–59 to 1961–62—road improvement works which will ultimately cost the Exchequer about £240 million. That is a very considerable advance on the present programme, and a very considerable advance on anything that this country has so far done on roads, and in my view it compares more than favourably with what any other comparative country is doing, except, perhaps, America.

This is the cost of doing what I want to do, namely, to keep the pipeline of road schemes full and thus obtain the maximum rate of actual road construction. That is what we want, not more plans. We have had too many plans in the past, too many which were not implemented. What we want now is some road construction so that the country can see and realise its benefits. The price of keeping the pipeline full is to put in hand schemes which will ultimately cost the Exchequer some £240 million.

That I shall do, subject only to one thing, something to which all capital investment programmes are subject, and that is that the country's economy is prosperous and buoyant enough to stand it when it has to be committed. That is the background against which one must see every capital investment programme, and it is certainly the background against which one must see this one. I am clearly on the record as saying that I will not build roads at the expense of increasing a runaway inflation or prejudicing our export programme. Subject to that requirement, I want to get on with the job. I hope that the figure which I have given the Committee will be taken as an earnest of the fact that we will get on with it and that the tempo of road building will be increased.

Some criticise our civil engineering industry. They are wrong to do so Some criticise our road engineers. The only trouble is that these people have never had enough work to do. I hope that my Ministry will now give them a great deal to do. We shall also give the local authorities and their county engineers and expert staffs a great deal of work to do. The House of Commons will expect—I know I shall—those responsible to do the work as quickly and as expeditiously as they possibly can.

That is the challenge that I should like to issue today to all those concerned with building roads. They have at last got a chance to get on with the job that I know they want to do.

The more quickly they get on with it the better I shall be pleased and the more economic benefit shall we get at a time when we shall need it very greatly—over the next few years when our competitive power in the world will, perhaps, be the one thing which stands between us and complete and utter disaster. Therefore, the Government feel that this expanded roads programme is justifiable in the economic climate of the time, and the sooner we get on with it the quicker shall we draw the benefit from it. I hope that all concerned will press on, and if they do no one will be more pleased than I and the Ministry.

I thought it was a courtesy to the Committee for me to intervene at this stage to outline the future. I have done it very sketchily and very quickly. Those who want to ask questions will no doubt do so, and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will answer them at the end of the debate, although neither of us is anxious to stand in the way of those who want to make their own speeches.

This afternoon I have announced a very material increase in our road building programme. I have also announced the general way in which we propose to press it forward. I am not prepared to go further than that because, as I have said, what the country now wants is more roads and not more plans; it wants something ascertainable and, if I may use the word, concrete to see and use.

Photo of Mr Frank Hayman Mr Frank Hayman , Falmouth and Camborne

The right hon. Gentleman made a reference to a road to the West, but did not go beyond that. Would he amplify it sufficiently to enable us to know whether he meant the road would end at Bristol, or whether it would continue beyond there to the South-West?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

The end of that motor road project is either Bristol or a Severn bridge. As planned at the moment, it does not continue beyond that to Cornwall.

4.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Holt Mr Arthur Holt , Bolton West

It is with some relief that we have heard the Minister's speech this afternoon, because it had been put out to the Press that the right hon. Gentleman was to announce a cut in the roads programme. Whether that rumour was carefully put out by his Department to make his speech appear all the more acceptable to the Committee, I do not know, but for what other reason this rumour should have been started I cannot think.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he has made the most extraordinary statement. If he really thinks that the Department acts in the way he suggests, I must ask him to withdraw what he said. The Department is not in the habit of misinforming the Press, and the Press must draw its own conclusions. I have taken the earliest opportunity to inform the Committee of the roads programme on which the Government have decided.

Photo of Mr Arthur Holt Mr Arthur Holt , Bolton West

I will certainly withdraw any serious implications in what, I agree, was a rather facetious remark, but what appeared in the Press did seem a little odd, and I am sure that many hon. Members have been greatly relieved to hear what the Minister has said.

I am particularly glad that the right hon. Gentleman was able to indicate that the north-south motor road through Lancashire may be started in 1958–59. People in Lancashire were particularly pleased to hear this, because some disappointment was caused by a remark made at the recent opening of the Lancaster by-pass. I think it is well to draw attention to the importance of developing these motorways in a fairly continuous process. As far as the North-West is concerned, the Preston by-pass and then the Lancaster by-pass are the most important parts of that new road and it is perfectly right and proper that they should have been tackled first. However, the great benefits that will be obtained from these by-passes will be lost if the remainder of the motorway is not very soon to follow.

I am particularly glad that the right hon. Gentleman has indicated not the detail but the scope of the plans which he proposes for the future. It is the scope of the programme for the future about which we are all concerned. Anyone can argue whether it is better to start a scheme this year rather than next, but there can be very little argument about how unsatisfactory, even at the present time, is the programme of new construction.

One can be misled by making too many comparisons with Continental countries. The terrific congestion from which we in this country suffer is quite apparent, and I think that we must look at the matter from a British point of view alone. Whether what is proposed is twice the size of what is being done in France or only half the size of what is being done in Belgium is largely irrelevant. As the Minister said, it is a question of the return that can be obtained from capital invested in roads and also of urgent needs.

The right hon. Gentleman very nearly, but not quite, cleared up a remark which he is reported in the Press to have made recently to the effect that it was not his job to build roads for pleasure purposes. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can deal with the point when he replies. The Minister made a comment towards the end of his speech today which seemed to refer to that matter. I gather that what he really meant was that roads for pleasure purposes were secondary requirements and that he proposed to build roads where they were most required for commercial. including export, purposes. As reported in the Press, it appeared that he was unconcerned with providing new roads required primarily to take people to the South Coast resorts or to resorts on the East and the West Coasts.

Pleasure is very important. There is really no point in having great capital expansion and in vastly increasing the standard of living—perhaps even doubling it in twenty-five years—if people cannot get some enjoyment out of it. Enjoyment to many people is the possession of a car for the first time. If, when they go out at the weekends, they spend most of their time stationary in a queue they will consider that their extra efforts to increase their standard of living have been hardly worth while.

There are one or two questions I wish to put to the Minister upon which, perhaps, the Parliamentary Secretary might make some observations when he replies to the debate. I entirely agree with the comments which the Minister has made from time to time that it is not only a matter of building motorways; that we have got to do something about our cities. I should like to know more about several things.

First, what is the right hon. Gentleman doing in connection with the powers already possessed for the setting up of parking meters? What is being done about the building of multi-storey garages? Have any specific directives been sent out from the Ministry? Have any plans been made? Has it been suggested to local planning authorities that a number of areas should be earmarked per acre per city for multi-storey garages and how many cars should be able to be parked in one given acre of a city? Have there been any detailed talks on the matter, and, if so, have they gone further than the Minister's office?

I should also like to know what progress has been made concerning testing stations of the type set up at Hendon? Is there now any liaison between the Ministry and the planning authorities with reference to the creation of precincts to deal with the problem in cities? I know that in the town plan for Bolton it is envisaged that certain areas in the centre of the town will be cut off to through traffic and that there will be a small precinct into which vehicles may come to offload goods. The area itself will not he available for ordinary private transport. It seems to me that this is the natural and "absolute must" as far as the development of our cities is concerned. I should like to know whether the Ministry is in the closest possible contact with the planning authorities regarding the creation of precincts and the segregation of vehicular traffic from, for example, shopping traffic, either on bicycle or foot.

There is one last point I wish to raise, and I hope that it will be in order. It is a matter which is, perhaps, not the responsibility of the Minister of Transport although it is connected with roads. I suspect that it really comes under the Home Office. Last Friday, the Chief Constable of Lancashire announced that he was setting up a radar system for catching speeding motorists in the county. This radar eye can apparently detect vehicles travelling at more than 30 miles an hour.

Photo of Mr Gordon Touche Mr Gordon Touche , Dorking

The hon. Member is not in order in discussing that matter on this Vote.

Photo of Mr Arthur Holt Mr Arthur Holt , Bolton West

I will not pursue the details of it, Sir Gordon, but it seemed to me that it was related to the traffic problem with which we are dealing. I only wish to say that it does not seem to me that our traffic problem will be solved by the kind of secret police effort which it is proposed to start in Lancashire, and that it is far more important that we should get on with the expansion of our new road construction work. The kind of thing which the Lancashire County Police—

Photo of Mr Gordon Touche Mr Gordon Touche , Dorking

The Lancashire County Police have nothing to do with this Vote.

Photo of Mr Arthur Holt Mr Arthur Holt , Bolton West

I am sorry, Sir Gordon, I will now finish on that point. There cannot be a solution to our roads problem other than the building of new and bigger roads. Any idea that there is a cheap way of solving our traffic problem, whether it is congestion or accidents on the road, other than by spending vast sums of money, is, I think, a complete illusion.

4.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ronald Russell Mr Ronald Russell , Wembley South

I am sure that we are all grateful to both the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss)and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport for the brevity with which they have opened this debate and I will follow their very excellent example.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall mentioned the estimate made by Dr. Glanville about the loss due to congestion and things of that kind. I think that one of the main problems from which we are now suffering is that in the past we have underestimated both the loss due to traffic congestion and the rate of growth of traffic. Even Dr. Glanville, in 1950, apparently was wrong when he estimated that by 1960 there would be 61 million vehicles in this country, whereas today already we know that there are over 7 million. I think that congestion is one of the chief drawbacks in this country and that we have hitherto hopelessly underestimated this problem. I hope that we are not still underestimating it today.

Perhaps an example of that is, as many of us have seen, the far greater advance made in Paris and in Brussels in the building of underpasses. Even before the war, in Paris, there were nine underpasses at various places in the centre and on the outskirts of Paris. There is not one here except, presumably, the Holborn Viaduct, which was built about 1870 and had nothing to do with traffic congestion at all—it was merely a matter of levels—and perhaps the Archway, at Highgate.

It seems appalling that we in this country should be so behind places like Paris and Brussels in matters like that. Again, I only hope that we shall not underestimate this problem today.

On the question of expenditure, I should like my right hon. Friend to say that he would not rule out the question of a roads loan in the end. He said that he was against it at present because it was not possible, but I hope that he will bear such a loan in mind, because other countries seem to be using that method successfully. If it is possible to speed up our roads programme by methods involving loans, I hope that we shall not be backward in doing so. We were told when we were in Brussels, a short time ago, that the expenditure on building the Brussels—Ostend motorway is expected to redeem itself completely within ten years. I think that that shows how great the return is on building new roads of that kind and in the colossal relief to traffic congestion.

My right hon. Friend also mentioned the amount being spent on other programmes like coal, electricity, gas and railways and said that we had to compare our expenditure on roads in the main with all those things. I think that the amount that we are spending on roads is very small compared with the £6,000 million which is to be spent on coal, electricity, gas and railways up to 1970, on top of about £2,400 million already spent on those four industries since 1948.

I wonder whether our road expenditure is adequate when we bear in mind that this sum is being spent on those four industries in twenty-two years. Our roads are a vital method of communication and the extent to which they are being used has grown enormously in the last few years and is likely to go on growing.

Finally, I should like to mention the question of underpasses, in which I take a particular interest, because I believe that they are a method of solving the traffic problem on roads leading out of cities, as has been done in other countries. The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt)stressed the need of dealing with this problem of traffic in the cities. It is not much good building new motorways to connect places like London and Birmingham if it takes half an hour or more to get to the beginning of the roadway from the centre of London and perhaps the same time from Birmingham. We have to try to improve the ways out of cities as well and I suggest that instead of thinking of building huge new roads inside cities, costing enormous sums, we should eliminate the cross traffic which is the main cause of congestion and thereby achieve our object more cheaply.

If anyone doubts whether cross traffic is the chief cause of congestion in cities I would mention two examples. One is Oxford Street, where there are very few parked cars and where the no-waiting regulations are obeyed better than anywhere else. There, there is still an enormous amount of congestion caused by cross traffic. If my right hon. Friend could arrange to have all the traffic lights in Oxford Street switched to green for ten minutes on one day, I am sure that the traffic would move at a pace which would surprise everyone; but I should not like to be in one of the side streets at the time.

Another example is the Great West Road. I think I am right in saying that there are 11 sets of traffic lights there between one end and the other. The Great West Road is wide enough for three lines of traffic in each direction yet it still takes, for the distance covered, an inordinate length of time to travel over that road. That is because one is stopped every so often by the traffic lights. That goes to prove that the main cause of traffic congestion is not the narrow streets, or the amount of traffic parked in them, but the fact that one gets stopped at traffic lights at numerous intervals.

About two months ago I put down a Question to my right hon. Friend asking whether underpasses could be made at a number of road junctions in and around London in future years. I am sure that that is the way to solve this problem and I hope that my right hon. Friend will press on with this as speedily as possible and give as much thought to the problem of getting out of cities as to travelling faster between cities.

4.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

I wish to take up the Minister on one point which he made concerning the necessity of getting consents and rights. I remember that when he made his initial announcement about the great new motor roads to the North, he gave a figure, which I cannot recall at the moment, comparing the time that it would take to obtain the consents necessary with the amount of time required to build the roads. At the time I made a mental reservation that, generally speaking, if the navvies worked no harder than the solicitors we should never get the roads built at all.

It seems to me that, although we must cherish rates, as things are at the present, particularly in regard to road making, there are far too many facilities for those people who will impede the building of roads. I speak of this as one who has been a member of a local authority and who has had to negotiate over long periods of time. I think that the old adage that, while minorities have their rights, majorities must govern, applies in this field as in many others.

Let us consider the question of speed in relation to the roads programme. I sat as a member of the Kent County Council from 1946 to 1949. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells)was also a member. Whatever may be said against the Labour Government and the Barnes plan introduced at that time, we had not then to reconcile all sorts of local committees with regard to the by-pass road for the Medway towns. I consider that an outstandingly shocking example of a problem which should have been overcome by now.

There was an occasion when my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)was Home Secretary and he travelled to Folkestone to perform the opening ceremony at a new police headquarters. My right hon. Friend took so long to get to Folkestone—because he could not get through Rochester—that he arrived when the proceedings were over. That was an occasion when, presumably, as Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend had the usual classy military outriders to accompany him: but even so he could not arrive on time. In Kent today no one, if he knows the road, tries to go to Margate or Ramsgate on a Sunday. Those who do try do it because they do not know the road or, alternatively, because they need their heads examined.

A similar problem confronts people travelling to the North of England over the question of the Doncaster by-pass. One has to wait minutes or hours outside Doncaster. This is fantastic; and yet these things have gone on for a period of years. I do not wish to make political points when discussing the roads programme—although it appears to me that the Minister attempted to make one or two—but I consider that we should draw a sharp distinction between the position which existed at the end of the war, when there were shortages and it was necessary to have priorities, with the position today.

In 1945–46, when the Labour Government came to office, they had two jobs to do. One was to pull up the economy by its boot straps, bearing in mind the imminence of the American loan and things of that kind, and the second was to create the foundations of the Welfare State as we know it today. I do not know what would have been the programme of priorities adopted by the party opposite, had they been returned to power at that time, but I am fairly sure that the roads programme would not have been high on the list.

There is no question that today this is an aspect of capital expenditure which deserves the highest priority. As I have said before, I think it ridiculous, when in our factories and production plants we endeavour by time and motion study to save a fraction of a second of time on this or that operation, that when the capital goods come to be transferred to the ports we are prepared to waste minutes and hours on the journey. I cannot imagine a greater time waster than the conditions which exist on our roads today.

I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell the Committee something about the Blackwall Tunnel and the Rotherhithe Tunnel, and whether it would be possible to have one-way traffic through those two tunnels at certain peak hours of traffic. In 1935–36 I travelled every day through the Black-wall Tunnel, and there was a time in 1931–32 when I used to travel over the river to Croydon, so that I think I am familiar with the conditions in that area as well as anyone else. In view of the improvements which are being made I cannot imagine why the Government should not analyse the peak hours for traffic through the Rotherhithe and Blackwall Tunnels and decree that within those hours there shall be one-way traffic. That would result in a considerable speed up. I would not advocate one-way traffic for all hours of the day, and one knows also that there are occasions at night when there is not a great deal of traffic through the tunnels.

As a resident in Kent, I know that if one wishes to travel to the north side of the river, and it is necessary to use the Woolwich Ferry, even when three ferries are being operated it is still quicker to go through Blackwall Tunnel. I appreciate, however, that big lorries can save a great deal by waiting to be ferried across. Perhaps the Minister will inquire into this matter. Before coming to this House, my work was connected with transport on the south side of the River Thames and I claim to know South-East London fairly well, particularly the Kent area.

Is the Minister satisfied that we are pressing on with the Dartford Tunnel as fast as we should in order to deal with the traffic to London? Bearing in mind that that scheme was on the way and that there was a pilot scheme before the war, it seems to me that if there has not been procrastination, at any rate there has not been feverish activity over the building of this tunnel. The provision of the Dartford Tunnel for traffic from south-east London would do more to relieve the traffic problem than anything else I can think of, and the Minister might indicate when we can expect to see that tunnel in use.

I conclude by returning to the point I made at the beginning of my speech. It seems to many of us, particularly those hon. Members who have had experience of local government, that it is the legal gentry rather than the navvies and road builders who are the biggest proscrastinators when it comes to building roads.

5.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Roger Cooke Mr Roger Cooke , Twickenham

I wish to be the first to congratulate my right hon. Friend—I am sorry that he is not at present in the Chamber—on being the first Minister actually to carry out a roads programme of any size in this country since the war; and also on being the first Minister of Transport to announce a second stage of authorisations in a plan which he has already carried out. In that connection we should not forget that three years ago my right hon. Friend the present Colonial Secretary obtained the first authorisation of £50 million from the Government for a substantial roads programme; so that both the present Minister and the present Colonial Secretary can share the credit for getting road building started in Britain.

The war years and the post-war period, and indeed a hundred years of the railway age, has left us with much to do and a long way to go. On 28th November last year I asked a Question of my right hon. Friend about the 8,270 miles of trunk roads in this country. I elicited the very important and astonishing fact—I think it will surprise hon. Members on both sides of the Committee—that as much as 80 per cent. of our trunk roads are still only two-lane highways—that is, with one carriageway in each direction. Only 5 per cent. are four-lane carriageways and the remaining 15 per cent. are three-lane roads. This means that four-fifths of our arterial roads have yet to be brought up even to a three-lane standard, let alone a four-lane standard.

Let me give an example which is probably well known to hon. Members, the road from Southampton to London, the A.33 and the A.30. It is an arterial road of strategic importance and one of the first roads seen by American visitors to this country. Apart from the Winchester by-pass and the Great West Road, the whole of that road is a narrow, dangerous twisting two-way highway. It must be a shock to visitors from abroad.

Many people loosely describe expenditure on roads as inflation. That is not my view. If expenditure on roads be inflationary, it is equally inflationary to spend money on electricity, coal, gas and so on.

Photo of Mr Albert Cooper Mr Albert Cooper , Ilford South

I do not think anybody would suggest that the expenditure of money on roads of itself is inflationary. What is suggested is that the aggregate expenditure on the services is inflationary, unless it is matched by a comparable amount of saving.

Photo of Mr Roger Cooke Mr Roger Cooke , Twickenham

My hon. Friend may be right, if we consider the total in relation to savings, but I suggest that, taking each specific item of capital expenditure, if it brings in a return, it is not inflationary. For example, is it suggested for a moment that the £1,400 million we have spent on electricity supplies since the war, if it continues to bring in a return, is really inflationary? I do not believe so. It may be arguable whether the money spent on the coal industry is a little inflationary, because we have not yet had the return from it, although we are hoping for it. When we consider that over £3,000 million has been spent in the last nine years upon four industries, as compared with only £125 million on roads, it will be seen that roads have not had their fair share of capital expenditure since the war.

I hope to prove to the Committee that capital expenditure upon roads shows a proper return. Dr. Glanville, Director of the Road Research Laboratory, has estimated that, on the average, roads provide a return of 10 per cent. upon expenditure. I have been favoured with some facts and figures supplied by the Highways Administration of Holland, which made a detailed investigation of certain matters concerned with the motorway which runs between Amsterdam and Utrecht, as compared with the old road. The old one was 23·5 miles in length and the new motorway is 19·8 miles long. The average time taken by a motor car to travel the old road, going through the towns and villages, was 46 minutes, whereas the average time taken on the new road is 26 minutes.

The remarkable fact is that owing to the lack of delays upon the new road the fuel consumption at the higher speeds is 4·2 litres for a car, as compared with 5·3 for the old road. The figures are even more remarkable for heavy lorries. In that case the time has been reduced, as between the old road and the new, from 58 to 36 minutes, and the fuel consumption from 8·1 to 6·5 litres. Therefore, on that 20-miles long stretch of motorway, there is a saving in time of about 40 per cent. and in fuel of 20 per cent., as compared with the old road.

If we were to relate those figures to a stretch of arterial road in this country, which carries at least 4,000 lorries a day, we would see that there would be a saving in wages of one-third every hour and if my calculations are correct a saving in fuel which together would total at least £250,000 a year. On top of that there would be the savings made by motor cars and motor cycles. I am sure that the total fuel saving and the saving of wages would give a much bigger return than the 10 per cent. modestly claimed by Dr. Glanville.

That is the reason why Holland, which, after all, has a hard-headed race of inhabitants, has built 300 kilometres of new motorway since the end of the war. We have not managed to complete one new motorway. Germany is building at the rate of 100 kilometres of new motorway every year, on top of the 3,000 built before the war. Both those countries, which must have some regard to the business side of affairs, have road programmes about five times larger than ours, in relation to their own national incomes.

I will not make any pungent remarks about the speed of road building, or compare the time taken over the Markyate by-pass with the fact that Germany is building new roads at the rate of six miles a month. We could not build six miles in two years at the present rate.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

Has the hon. Gentleman estimated any write-down as between the road builders and the legal gentlemen?

Photo of Mr Roger Cooke Mr Roger Cooke , Twickenham

I shall come to that point in a moment. I am now talking of the actual rate of construction. I realise the difficulties that we have, in having had only short lengths to give to contractors up to date, in being more heavily built up than Germany, and having the difficulties of underground drains, telephone wires and the rest, going through some built-up areas, but I think that we could make much greater progress than we have made in the past.

It is very sad to think that four years must elapse from the planning of a road to the time when it is opened, even if it is only a mile long. As the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell)has said, there is first all the legal work, the inquiries and the planning to be done, and all that takes about two years. Even allowing an interval of nine months for inquiries, I suggest that the legal and planning work could be done in parallel and more quickly than in the two years which is now normally taken. A year is then taken up in placing the contracts and a further year or so for the actual construction. That is how the four years are taken up.

My constituents in Twickenham, which is ten miles south-west of London, use the Cromwell Road extension a good deal. They are asking why it is taking so long to complete. Last January some very quick progress had been made on this road. Dual carriageway lengths were opened for half a mile or so, and then there were half mile lengths, and other distances, of single carriageway. But since last January hardly any progress has been made along the Cromwell Road extension beyond Hammersmith. Indeed, because of the work to be done at Hammersmith the traffic congestion there at present is considerably worse than it was a year ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am pleased to know that I have some support from my hon. Friends. I hope that during the Recess my right hon. Friend will visit some of these sites and ask the contractors why it is taking so long.

I know that hon. Members on this side of the Committee are sometimes blamed for picking holes in workmen for not working hard enough. This has nothing to do with workmen; it is purely a question for surveyors and managements. They should be sufficiently alive, to be able to complete a few miles of road out of London quicker than they are now doing.

The debate is of necessity a short one, so I will not speak for more than another minute or two. We have the most congested roads in the world, and we have a road problem which we have failed to solve in this century. I believe that the Victorians would have treated this problem more vigorously and in a more thrusting manner, judging by the way they built the railway lines in the last century. It is purely a matter of internal economy. The public keeps telling us that it is never jam tomorrow but always jam today, on the roads. We are, however, looking forward with considerable expectation to the completion of the present programme, pushed on by my right hon. Friend with the greatest speed and celerity, and we are also looking forward to the completion of the further programme of £250 million which he has just announced, from 1958 onwards.

5.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Christopher Boyd Mr Christopher Boyd , Bristol North West

I cannot hope to speak with any thing like the authority or expert knowledge of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), but it is a pleasure to follow him and to take up one or two of his points. He said that in proportion to national income Germany was spending five times as much on roads as we were. However, that may be an over-statement of the case. A country with a larger area has to have a larger mileage of roads in proportion to the population in order to maintain communications. We probably have to spend more per mile in this country, especially in the most congested areas, as we can spare the land less easily.

None of us wants to push that argument too far. We are facing increasingly stiff competition, especially from European competitors and, most of all, from Germany. During the next twenty years that competition will gradually increase as plans for the European Free Trade Area come into operation. Industrialists everywhere are rolling up their sleeves and, in many ways, getting ready for stiffer competition in which there will be great opportunities for some industries to expand their sales, but dangers for others.

If we are to make the most of those opportunities and to guard against those dangers, we shall have to remove obstacles to our trade. It is well known that we are often hampered by having longer delivery periods, a factor in that being the difficulty of getting vital components from one industrial region of the country to another. We should not bother overmuch about congestion on roads leading to holiday resorts. There are other ways for people to get recreation and, anyway, people can drive to holiday resorts at different times of the day or even on different days of the week. If there is congestion because of holiday traffic, there is no great loss to the country. People can always amuse themselves by the roadside.

But any delay in communications between industrial regions is very serious. I am puzzled whether the Minister intends to build roads where they are needed, or where he will find the fewest obstacles from local interests. I hope that we can be assured that the roads will be built where they are most needed. I was puzzled by his reference to the road from London to the Midlands and Lancashire. He said that it started from St. Albans——

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

It starts from St. Albans as a motor road. The "dualing" of the road between there and London is now proceeding, but that part cannot be a motor road because of the densely populated areas through which it passes.

Photo of Mr Christopher Boyd Mr Christopher Boyd , Bristol North West

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for elucidating that point.

Can he assure us that the Ministry is regularly analysing the amount of traffic and congestion at certain points on the main routes through industrial regions, and that priority for clearing certain sections of congestion is based on scientific analysis of the traffic, the degrees of congestion and on the necessity to give priority to industrial traffic with a definite export content?

As an occasional user of the roads, it has occurred to be that we are not always spending where it is most needed and that in remoter districts we may be spending a little extravagantly. Travelling about the remoter country districts, one is impressed by the standard of roads in the countryside. The difference between German and English country roads is impressive. Our rural roads are outstanding, whereas in Germany, apart from the autobahnen, the roads are very often bad. The Germans' problem is opposite to ours. They have to bring their local lesser roads up to standard, whereas we need trunk roads to enable us to compete on equal terms with the Germans.

Is sufficient attention being given to trunk roads designed to carry fast moving traffic? There was a hint in the Minister's speech about banning stationary vehicles on main trunk roads. Can he assure us that he has something in mind about that? One of the most serious obstructions on main trunk roads is parked vehicles. Trunk roads should have sufficient lay-bys and that before anyone drives on a major road he should understand that it is a vital industrial artery and that there is no question of being allowed to stop, except in a lay-by, without a very good excuse. I understand that on the German autobahnen there is a moderate lowest permitted speed which serves to clear the road of horse traffic and any other non-motorised traffic. If anyone wants to stop to look at the view, he has to go to a lay-by, out of the way of other traffic.

A key point in planning trunk roads is whether bends can be negotiated at reasonable speed. A great volume of traffic can travel German autobahnen at high speed because for hundreds of kilometres bends are curved gradually and are correctly cambered so that drivers know they will not suddenly meet an unexpectedly sharp bend but can go, for example, from Cologne to Munich and Salzburg—about 700 or 800 kilometres—without meeting more than a slight bend. Timetables are thus enormously reduced.

Going westwards out of London, one has hardly moved away from one traffic light before one has to start slowing down to negotiate a roundabout. We have been told that in eight years we will have twice as many vehicles on the roads as we now have; possibly it will be four times as many in a limited period after that. We are getting to the stage when we cannot carry traffic without absurd congestion completely jamming up our cities and main traffic routes. We will have to have traffic travelling on two levels.

In parts of London we may have to develop a system whereby north-south roads are at one level and east-west roads at another level. Footpaths could be at different levels so that pedestrians would be safer while they were shopping and such a system would also give more shopping space. We have to consider drastic solutions, especially for getting into London and out of London quickly.

I was very struck by the way our roads have been built in bits and pieces. We have excellent stretches of highway which are better than autobahnen, but which suddenly come to an end leading into single line traffic with road works on one side. Is tie Minister working to a plan by which he intends to make long stretches of 50 to 100 miles continuous dual carriageway with two lines of traffic, with a proper barrier, hedges or walls, in between to prevent head lights dazzling oncoming vehicles? Or is the work going on in bits and pieces? Are they to be linked up by a long-term plan even if it has to be spread over ten or twenty years?

We would like to be assured that the Minister is thinking and planning that there shall be long stretches of main road from London to beyond the Home Counties, where the traffic can keep going at its own cruising speed. There should not be traffic lights or cross roads, which should go either over or under. I recognise that the Minister cannot do this all at once, but there are lots of ways of tackling the difficulties and linking all these sections up into a general plan.

The Minister mentioned the West Road going as far as Bristol, but did not seem to have made up his mind whether the road went over a Severn bridge or down to Cornwall from there. Can he clarify that point? I should think it clear that South Wales and Bristol together were an industrial region of sufficient importance to be connected with London by one of our major industrial arteries. There should be a proper trunk road or motorway going right through from Swansea to London, passing close to Cardiff and Bristol and over the Severn Bridge, to service all those towns.

Our connections with the Continent need to be improved a great deal. I hope that London will become more and more the political centre of Europe, and especially of N.A.T.O. There ought to be first-class highways between London and the principal capitals of the Continent. How far is the Minister including the Channel tunnel in his plan? Sections of the road from here to Bonn anyway—not so much to Paris—are already in a good state, and the Minister has just been opening another section of it, in the Ashford by-pass. Are these isolated bits, or part of a scheme which will ease the traffic south-east as it passes through London, which is very bad at the moment?

The whole approach to the Continent gives a bad impression to visitors to this country. The road from London to Dover is, in particular, very forbidding, quite apart from the question of passports and the Customs formalities at Dover. British Customs officials have the reputation now of being the only ones in Europe who take their work seriously, and make it difficult for people to travel. The passport people do the same with the questions they ask.

Apart from all that, the roads should be there. We should now be planning a completely modern highway through the middle of London to the South-East, down to the Channel tunnel and from there to Paris in one direction and to Brussels and Bonn in the other. A lot of the work has already been done. There is a very fine highway already from Brussels to Ostend. We can soon make up the road on either side of the Channel tunnel. We must connect up the bits and pieces, which are in good shape, and so enormously speed up traffic. I hope that all these things are going ahead; I quite understand that we cannot do it all at once.

Is the Minister thinking of the inner sections in the middle of London which form part of the trunk routes? I understand that he takes responsibility for the trunk routes outside London, but that, inside, he leaves the responsibility to local authorities. I am sure that local people will not be willing to spend money on other people's traffic going through trunk roads in their locality. The road deteriorates when it comes to the middle of London, where traffic is heaviest and road making is rather expensive. This should continue to be a Ministry of Transport route right through the middle of London as well as outside.

Those are all the points I want to make. We all know that the country has neglected its roads for twenty years. We had a very good system at one time especially our rural roads, which are still of high standard by comparison with the rural roads of other countries. We are badly behind only in regard to trunk roads. It was possible to live on our fat through a period of crisis and war and of the post-war aftermath, but in the next twenty years we should be ready to spend at twice the normal rate to make up for the twenty years of neglect. I hope that the Minister will do his work not merely in bits and pieces but will plan highways on which fast-moving traffic can travel long distances without interruption.

5.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Cole Mr Norman Cole , Bedfordshire South

The view has been expressed in some quarters as mentioned in this debate, by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), that a new road programme has an inflationary effect. This is presumably because of the money spent on the rebuilding of the roads. I would voice my opinion most strongly that such is not the case. Merely because the immediate effect of the expenditure is not visible is not to say that the expenditure is inflationary. In terms of both direct and indirect results, a road programme can pay for itself in the course of ten years.

The life of a major road in this country is far in excess of ten years. The road programme on which my right hon. Friend is embarking is far from being inflationary; on the contrary, it is the most anti-inflationary project imaginable. In our researches into this matter, we must take account of some of the fantastic figures of the growth in the number of vehicles. It is stated, as a limited estimate, that we shall have 10 million vehicles on the road by 1965, which will be another 2¾ million in the next eight years. What is to happen after 1965? The ownership and use of road vehicles will go side by side with what, I hope and trust, will be the prosperity of this country. It should not be our object to interfere with the right of anyone, man or woman, who wishes, in his personal degree of prosperity, to purchase a motor car. Our object should be to do our best to provide roads on which the vehicles can travel.

I put in a plea in regard to the development of the industrial area of South Bedfordshire. I hope that in any money which my right hon. Friend obtains for the road programme the needs of that fast growing and important area of South Bedfordshire will be in mind. I hope that it will have its fair share of the money spent on the road programme.

In his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend referred to urban road facilities in and around towns in our country. I hope that one of the first priorities will be the provision of adequate facilities in urban areas. This is a very great modern problem. We have an increasing number of people in urban areas owning vehicles of their own. The more quickly we deal with the priorities of motor roads the more quickly shall we have all these vehicles debouching into towns and cities and increasing the congestion. Therefore the more we deal with problem number one, of motor roads and fast moving traffic, the more acute we make problem number two, the question of new roads in and around our towns.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell)mentioned the question of solving cross traffic in towns. Whether that may be a solution or not I do not know, but before 1965 we shall have a problem of major importance in deciding how to deal with the cars of those who live in cities and the cars of those who come into those cities. We must remember that the great centres of life in this country where people are concentrated are our towns and cities and the greatest number of vehicles are already there, apart from those which come to those centres in the course of journeys.

I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that he had no intention of changing the very proper rights of those who wish to raise objections when their property or land is being acquired. I wish to add a plea that the fullest possible compensation should be given to owners of property and land when, because of road programmes, they are to lose some or all of that property. I speak feelingly about this, because part of the London-Yorkshire Motorway will go through my constituency and a number of my constituents will lose part, or the whole, of their property. In some cases, they are elderly people who have put their savings into that property. I hope they will be granted all the compensation and assistance that is possible.

I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he has been able to get in the way of money for the new programme—£240 million between 1959 and 1963. He said that he is satisfied that the road programme is being given a fair share in the investment projects of the country. I should point out that the more we devote to investment in roads the better will be the value obtained from other investments. The roads of this country are, as it were, a basic raw material. We have to provide them, but they are as basic to our prosperity as are coal and iron which we find in the ground because, without those roads, just as much as without other raw materials, our prosperity would vanish.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he is doing. He made it quite clear in his speech today, as he has in the past, that his heart and soul is in this all- important matter of providing roads. I hope he will not think that we have now solved this hydra-headed problem, for it will go on until 1965 and thereafter. It is a problem which goes with the economy of the country. The more prosperous we are and the more we take our place in the competitive markets of the world, the more shall we be faced with this problem. We cannot solve it overnight, nor in a measurable number of years. To my right hon. Friend and all those engaged on this problem, we look forward to every endeavour and effort to solve it.

5.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

I am, of course, bound to be in agreement with the main points made by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole). I cannot answer his first point of whether the building of roads is inflationary or not. I am not an economist, but I am absolutely positive that we cannot improve the standard of living of this country unless we invest and develop our capital equipment. Part of the investment must clearly be in modernised forms of transport and transport facilities.

Anyone who knows anything about the economic history of the country must realise that we could never have developed as we have done in the past century if railway development had not preceded and so made possible economic development. You, Mr. Williams, know that my interest in transport is that of a railwayman. I want to see the railways modernised. I want to see all the plan that has been devised put into operation, but I do not want to see that happening to the exclusion of capital development of the roads. I am sufficiently a transport man to look at the problem as a whole and to realise that there ought to be a balanced development going on side by side.

We should modernise the railways and do everything necessary to bring them up to a decent standard, but at the same time if we neglect our roads in modern conditions we shall be heading for disaster. Everyone is bound to realise and appreciate that in the sort of conditions in which we are now living and the conditions of the future, in order to keep 50 million people on a reasonable standard of living, capital development of the roads applies equally to modernisation of the railways. So, whether it is initially inflationary or not, the Government must go forward with a reasonably-sized road programme at the same time as they are developing railways. Let us have these two programmes running together and to the maximum possible extent that the economy will stand.

There is a place within our economy for transport of goods by rail, using the old facilities we have developed and new ones which undoubtedly will develop under the Railways Modernisation Plan, and side by side with that we should have a programme for roads which can carry goods different from those best carried by rail. It is not for me to divide the functions of the two forms of transport. It is quite clear that this country cannot exist on a decent standard of living if in modern conditions we neglect development of our highways.

In saying that, I join other hon. Members who have seen something of developments on the Continent. One is bound to find dissatisfaction with what has been done up to now. We all know of the difficulties which are consequent on the war and its immediate aftermath, but after all those countries suffered in the war much in the same way as we did and have devoted considerable resources to building up their highways.

I wish to make one or two minor points in connection with the programme. I was glad to hear the Minister express confidence in our highway engineers and their ability to do the job he is giving them and any additions he might pile on to them. There seems no doubt that the men are there and the skill is there. They want the full opportunity to develop that skill. It is undoubtedly a fact, as we have heard from the president of the highway engineers organisation, that they are getting heartily sick of preparing schemes which eventually they are not allowed to carry out. This is an important matter. It is part of their professional skill and their professional desire to express themselves. They prepare schemes but are not able to develop them into the wide ribbons of road on which we should like to see our traffic moving freely.

Full opportunity for these people to develop their skill depends on the size of the job they are given to do, and the size of the job must have some relation to the standard of equipment which we expect them to use. If we give a highway engineer the job of providing a scheme which is a "tuppeny ha'penny" one, he will have to use a bucket and spade to carry it out. If we give him a full size job to do, he will be able to plan the necessary equipment and machinery to lay down that road economically and swiftly. These things are the very life and soul of a professional man, particularly a professional man on this level. Therefore, I say to the Minister that he should ensure that the jobs which he gives to the engineers are, in the main, big enough to justify the use of modern methods.

I turn to another comparatively small point. Is the Minister satisfied with the present state of legislation on roads and highways, under which he and all the people in his Department concerned with the future of our highways have to work? We have had a series of Acts over the past 70 years, and I am thinking that, despite the fact that there will probably be a fairly full legislative programme for the next Session, it is time that an amending and consolidating Bill was brought in. Many of the provisions under which these engineers and others have to work are clumsy and cause all manner of difficulties.

There are some cases in which the engineers and others have to work under provisions which are positively archaic. I am told, for instance, that under the existing Highways Acts a parish meeting can be the final authority to decide whether an old and unsafe bridge is to be demolished, despite the fact that a new bridge has been built to carry the traffic. This is a nonsensical situation, indicative of much of the existing legislation under which the people concerned have to work. I think that a greater simplification of the law would be beneficial to everybody concerned, and not only helpful to those which have to carry out the maintenance of the roads and indeed the Ministerial programme.

Land acquisition is a point upon which there is bound to be some discussion and disagreement. Land acquisition in this country is such that it takes anything from nine to eighteen months, and in some cases from two to three years, to acquire a bit of land for highway purposes. I agree that we must not ride roughshod over local and private interests, but there are still a lot of quite unnecessary delays at administrative level. The fact is that land acquisition takes place at a fairly late stage in the programme itself. Surely, after it has been decided what the road programme is and where the roads are to go, a fairly early approach should be made to the interests concerned? The acquisition of the land should begin then, at a fairly early stage, not after all the rest has been decided upon.

In the main, it is true to say that it has long since been decided where our roads ought to go and the sort of pattern which they ought to have, and therefore we ought to get on to this job of land acquisition early so that the interests concerned, the highway engineers and the rest, will not be held up unduly and unnecessarily. I know that farming interests tend to oppose the taking of good, or even bad, agricultural land, in many cases, for the building of new roads. That opposition is understandable from the point of view of the interests concerned, but the value to the community in this matter ought and must be the over-riding factor. I think this is one of the cases in which one has to take decisions which occasionally have to over-rule local and private interests.

Some of us had the opportunity recently of looking at the roads of other countries and what they are doing. The most striking example of the use of land for road purposes in the interests of the economy was shown in Holland, where land has been hardly won from the sea by the efforts which the Dutch people have made—and they really are magnificent efforts which they make to win a bit of land from the sea. Yet they have found themselves able, in the interests of their economy, their people and their future, to devote a reasonable amount of that land to the purpose of building the better roads which they are now providing. They provide an illustration of something which is well worth while.

Finally, I welcome the Minister's reference to the Midlands-South Wales project. I believe that this development is vital to the South Wales ports, which have been so hardly hit by the change in the pattern of the coal trade and by losses of exports. Developments which have taken place have struck a severe blow at these ports, which, it is true, are capable of development. Indeed, they have done much already in the direction of development so that other types of cargoes may be handled there. I believe that it would be in the interests of South Wales and of the economy generally that this project should go ahead, because it would be of benefit to the nation to have a speedy and better haul to the ports than it has at the present time. I am thinking not only of the interests of South Wales but also of the Midlands, with which I am more particularly associated.

The Minister led us along the new West Road which he is constructing up to the brink of the Severn bridge, but he did not take us over the bridge. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies to the debate, will be able to say whether this new road will go that little bit further and over the Severn bridge, which is so vital to our economy.

5.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Gough Mr Frederick Gough , Horsham

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), like so many of the hon. Members who have spoken before him, began his speech on the question of whether or not a road programme is inflationary. I make no apology for starting my speech on the same lines, but I would put it a different way.

I would say that the statement made by my right hon. Friend that we as a nation have disregarded our roads for twenty years is true, and that that fact has itself been a very definite factor in the inflationary situation of the past few years. It is because our roads have become more and more congested and less and less modern year by year that some of the most precious fuel has been allowed to evaporate into thin air. I am not in the least surprised by the figure quoted by Dr. Glanville, of the Road Research Laboratory, who provided some staggering figures to show that between £500 and £1,000 million a year were being wasted by this nation because of the lack of a good road system.

The system announced by my right hon. Friend this afternoon will do something, but not nearly enough, to eliminate this waste, and therefore I think we would all look upon it as being disinflationary, for four very good reasons. First, as I have already said, it eliminates waste; secondly, good roads preserve the life of vehicles, and that is an important point as well; thirdly, and this is very important and a matter in which I have a personal interest, it prevents accidents, and increasing accidents means that insurance premiums are increased, while when there are fewer accidents those premiums are decreased, and that factor, also, has its effect.

The fourth point and, of course, the most important of all is that a good road system speeds up deliveries between the factories and the ports. Several hon. Members have pointed out that we have a brake on our export efforts in that we have such inadequate roads leading from our industrial centres to the ports.

My right hon. Friend dealt mostly with his long-term policy, and I want to say a word or two about that, but I feel that, in the meantime, there are one or two comments which should be made about the short-term policy. It seems to me that wherever there is a traffic jam a roundabout is built. The latest roundabout, on which I have tabled a Question for next Wednesday—perhaps my hon. Friend might save trouble by answering it this evening—is at the south of Lambeth Bridge. Many hon. Members use that bridge and they will remember that in the old days, when we had traffic lights there, the situation was not too bad. Now we have a mammoth rock garden.

If anybody's vehicle gets out of control he is almost bound to end up at St. Thomas's Hospital, which, fortunately, is quite near. Every day there is a jam of traffic the length of Lambeth Bridge. Do not let us get into the horse and buggy age. Let us look forward. I was very interested in the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell)about underpasses, because I think that there is no better place for an underpass than the southern end of Lambeth Bridge.

May I now turn to the more constructive steps which the Minister has announced from time to time and ask a few questions, because some of these projects do not seem to be going ahead as quickly as I know he had hoped? Some time ago my right hon. Friend pointed out to the House and the country the fact that a large proportion of our roads and streets today are rendered nugatory because they are occupied by stationary vehicles. In other words, we have a very bad and growing parking problem. I have a personal interest in this, as many hon. Members know, because I am interested in multi-storey parking, a subject which has been mentioned today by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Boyd).

What steps are being taken by local authorities to go ahead with modern mechanical multi-storey garages? I cannot believe that the parking meter will be anything other than an extremely disagreeable and extremely unpopular temporary measure, and until we provide suitable facilities in order that stationary cars may be taken off the streets of our modern cities we shall not get very far in keeping the traffic moving as it grows year by year.

I suggest to my right hon. Friend that there are other cheap expedients which might be adopted during the interim while his major programme is being developed. The first could be adopted to deal with bottlenecks in smaller towns. We have heard a good deal about the large developments which are taking place, and rightly taking place, from the major manufacturing centres to the ports, but there are smaller towns where congestion occurs. I have two in my constituency, Horsham and Midhurst.

If any hon. Member wants a pleasant week-end on the South Coast, he may well travel through those two towns. I can assure him that without exception he will be caught in a major traffic jam. I believe that in both cases, and probably in hundreds of similar small towns, a week-end by-pass arrangement could be used, making use of the back streets, and could become perfectly normal. That is the sort of thing which could be done without any large financial outlay.

On many of our roads we run into trouble on the hills, where traffic is held up. We are told that 80 per cent, of our roads are only two-way roads, but generally they are quite adequate until one reaches a hill. Then, in the distance, one often sees an enormous 12-ton lorry belching out black smoke, and behind it an ever-growing queue of traffic. Slowly the queue crawls up the hill. I suggest that it might be simple to widen the road on the hill, with a temporary surface, so that the lorry may move on one side to enable the other traffic to pass.

Rivers are another cause of bottlenecks. There are several in the country, and one of the very worst is Staines, where the bridge lies on an extremely important road. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke)referred to this road to Southampton. Of all the awful experiences one has on that road, Staines is probably the worst, suggest that a Bailey bridge could be thrown across the Thames somewhere in Staines. There could be one road for the up traffic and one for the down traffic. I believe that Bailey bridges could be used as a temporary measure in many towns through which rivers pass and that they could help materially in reducing traffic congestion and delay.

Photo of Mr Roger Cooke Mr Roger Cooke , Twickenham

I believe that there was a Bailey bridge—and it may even be there today—on the bank of the River Thames at Staines. It was put there in case the road bridge was knocked down during the war.

Photo of Mr Frederick Gough Mr Frederick Gough , Horsham

That is perfectly true. I have seen the bridge. It looks a little rusty, and I wondered whether we might have gone to the expense of having a new one. That bridge could be used, but it is not used.

Not long ago I was travelling along the road to Southampton to visit Southampton University and I noticed that an enormous amount of the traffic was Army and R.A.F. traffic. There was a line of tank transporters, for instance. Recently, we had a debate on rail transport, in which many hon. Members were thinking out means of increasing rail traffic. I think that if my right hon. Friend spoke to the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary of State for Air on the subject it might be possible to arrange for a great deal of that traffic to be moved by rail.

The important subject, however, is that to which my right hon. Friend referred today, the major developments and the major plans. I have written down some priorities, and I am delighted that he gave the same priorities. Personally, I believe that the first priority must be first-class roads from our manufacturing centres to the docks and ports, and I was glad to hear about the road from the Midlands to South Wales. I, too, shall be interested to hear whether that road is to cross the River Severn.

The next major priority is that when we build and improve these roads we must deal with the exits from and the entries to large cities. If we overlook that, we shall merely get traffic going faster and faster and then crowding up even worse than before at the entrances to the cities. I wonder whether any thought has been given to the building of overhead roads. I did not have the opportunity of going to Brussels to inspect the roads there, but the other day I saw a picture which showed that they are building an overhead road in Brussels.

If my hon. Friend has any information, would he tell me what steps have been taken in conjunction with the British Transport Commission in developments over the main railway lines and main railway stations in the big cities? For several years there has been a good deal of talk about development over Victoria Station—I have an interest in the matter—of running a road over the lines and across the River Thames. I think that there is an opportunity at many of our main-line railway stations such as Kings Cross and St. Pancras to build overhead roads which could take traffic straight out of London and eventually let it join the motorways to which reference has been made.

I think that the third major priority is this—and this is not said in any spirit of carping criticism. When we decide to build a road we should get on with it and build it quickly. Every time I go to London Airport and look at the Cromwell Road extension I see two men there having a cup of tea and the rest are—I do not know where. This is not said in criticism of the people themselves, but it seems to me to be clear common sense that when we decide to build a road we should put on to work as many people as possible and get it finished as quickly as possible.

Photo of Mr Arthur Holt Mr Arthur Holt , Bolton West

Might I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to page 34 of the Estimates, in which he may find the answer to his problem with regard to the construction of the Cromwell Road extension. It is not planned that it shall be finished until 1959–60. It is probably a question of the length of time that the Ministry have allowed for it to be done.

Photo of Mr Frederick Gough Mr Frederick Gough , Horsham

I fully agree, but I still believe that the Ministry may be wrong there and that it should have another look at the question. I am sure that it is good economy, when one starts doing something, to get on and finish it. However, I am grateful to the hon. Member for referring me to the Estimates, and I shall look at that page later.

Fourthly, let us look to the future. As we are building for the future, let us do so in such a way that in fifteen or twenty years' time we shall have people coming here and saying, "What wonderful roads the British have," instead of going, as we do at present, to various European countries and wishing that we could do half as well as they.

I make no apology for ending as I began. I am convinced that we should not only be planning what my right hon. Friend has outlined, but doing a great deal more. I do not think that it is inflationary. In fact, I think that it would make one of the biggest possible contributions to our economy.

6.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton

I believe that opinion is completely unanimous that we are not making the progress we should be making with our road construction. I had the opportunity, with one or two of my colleagues, to visit the Continent, and was amazed at the force and the drive being put into the construction of first-class roads, into the reconstruction of roads, and into the easing of the flow of traffic. It made me wonder that a little country like Belgium which, like us, has full employment, should be able to find the skill and the labour necessary to bring about these great works.

I realise that from 1945 until 1951 there was a dispersal of labour from some of the great cities into County Durham and some of the old distressed areas, seeking to absorb the reservoir of male and female labour there; but if we put industry into those localities, it is incumbent on us to provide efficient means of communication. If we are to be competitive, we must have those communications, but at present industry is very badly served in that respect.

I believe that our waterways can still play a very important part. There are certain kinds of merchandise that can be carried on them, and I appreciate what the Minister has done in asking for development to be put in hand on some of our canals. I realise also the need there is for developing our railways. We all realise that the increasing traffic on our roads is causing a certain amount of strangulation to industry. I therefore hope that, whilst we are no doubt unanimous about the need for the reconstruction of our roads, we shall get the right kind of spirit behind the effort.

I want to say a word for the West Riding, and for Yorkshire in general. I was very pleased to read that the Parliamentary Secretary had visited Yorkshire, looking at the A.1 road—which is A.1 in name only—but I want to say something about a county with a population equal to that of Wales; a highly-industrialised county with its coal, its steel, its wool, and with its agriculture, too. Yorkshire is one of the most neglected counties in the country. I say this because, although the Great North Road winds its way through the county, the motorway leading from the south is to stop south of Sheffield. It should be possible for the Minister to say when that motorway is to be continued through Yorkshire, to make its link with the Great North Road somewhere near the Durham boundary.

At present, the merchandise pouring from towns like Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield has to wend its way along country roads before it reaches the Great North Road. I was shocked when it was announced that we were to be left out in the cold in the construction of this motorway. The ingenuity and drive of the West Riding deserves more consideration than it is receiving, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will at least give us a little bit of hope that something will be done in the not too far distant future.

A tremendous amount of coal is now being carried on the West Riding roads from the south to Bradford—to the mill areas. Tons and tons of coal are taken every day, and the roads that have to deal with this traffic are totally inadequate. Surely, so highly industrialised a part of the country should have real consideration in this respect. I am not parochial when I deal with these matters, but I am incensed to think that a region playing such a major part in the economic life of the country should be so neglected, and I hope that in the next few years we shall see motorways constructed throughout the West Riding. I would warn the Parliamentary Secretary that the boroughs and county boroughs in the area concerned will get together in the near future to bring pressure to bear on the right Departments.

Here I should like to digress for a moment. I believe in something that is being done on the Continent. We ought to appoint a specialised committee to deal with this subject, a committee to which money could be voted, which could be asked what its programme was, and given the power to carry out the work, because, while at present the programme may be all right, we must remember that programmes change with Governments. That is one of the weaknesses that has revealed itself so prominently in some of our major projects.

If only we can agree that these jobs have to be done, that first things must be put first, then, in a few years, we may be able to say that we have roads equal to those on the Continent. Second place is not enough. Apart altogether from any political expediency, let us see if we can construct the roads about which we all talk and which are necessary to meet the will, the desire and the needs of industry.

6.20 p.m.

Photo of Sir John Langford-Holt Sir John Langford-Holt , Shrewsbury

Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will be glad to have heard the statement by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. We had been conditioned to believe that something in the nature of a restriction or a cut was likely to be forced upon the roads programme. I will not enter into the argument as to whether this is deflationary or not.

Like other hon. Members, I have had the advantage of travelling on the Continent for the specific purpose of studying the roads programmes in various countries and the ways which have been adopted in those countries to tackle their problems. I get very bored having to quote examples from foreign countries, hut, of course, our difficulty here is that people on the Continent are the only people within reach who have tried the ex periments to which we are referring. The attitude which they adopted on the Continent fairly soon after the war was that they could not afford to leave the roads as they were. Today, they know that they were right in taking that view.

In this country, as we have heard, we are having approximately a 10 per cent. increase in traffic annually. The roads programme which has been carried out since the war, even when it is going at peak, will be only a little more than what it was before the war in terms of actual work done.

One often hears people say that on the large motorways on the Continent the accident rate is much higher. The Germans have many years of experience of this problem, and the fact is that on an autobahn the accident rate is 30 to 40 per cent. lower than on lesser roads carrying the same volume of traffic. Incidentally, I notice that we in this country are still building three-lane roads. On the Continent of Europe three-lane roads are regarded as thoroughly dangerous and a sheer menace.

On my visits to Holland, Belgium, France and Germany one thing which struck me was that within 24 hours of arriving in one of those countries I met a person who said, "I am the director of roads". We never find such a person in this country. My right hon. Friend will say that he is the director of roads. He is also the director of aeroplanes and of ships and one or two other things. It is extremely difficult in this country to find one person in one office who will say, "I am responsible for the roads and if they are a failure that is my fault."

I know that we have difficulties with our democratic system and the question of responsibility to Parliament, but it is indicative of an attitude of mind. It is one of the attitudes of mind which have borne fruit in the form of such astonishing situations as one finds in connection with the fly-over at the far end of Cromwell Road, at Hammersmith.

One hon. Member mentioned the question of the parking of vehicles. My right hon. Friend is introducing new regulations relating to the parking of vehicles in the Metropolitan area. The present regulations are not being observed. Either because they will not or they cannot, the Metropolitan Police are not enforcing the regulations which are already in existence. If they were able or willing to enforce the regulations, the traffic problem would be much less.

We have roads which date back many years and which have improved very little in the course of those years. But with the limited resources at our disposal we sometimes do extraordinary things. A friend of mine one weekend—I think it was the Whitsun weekend—went to the South Coast in a car. He may have been ill-advised, but it did not help much when he found that on that main road to the South Coast for many miles all the traffic was held up and made to form into a single line to allow a procession of penny-farthing bicycles to pass as they were engaged on a little rally. I do not wish to restrict any rally of penny-farthing or any other bicycles, but it struck me as a strange time to have such a rally on a main road.

We have heard many comments by hon. Members on the loss and damage to our economy caused by the inadequacy of our roads. The director of the Road Research Laboratory, who has been present today in everything except his personal form, has estimated the amount to be £500 million per annum. I think that in all the underestimates that we have made we have tended to underestimate what I may call the repayment value of increased money spent on the roads.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke)used the example of the road between Amsterdam and Utrecht, only 23 miles. He pointed out that the saving in time by ordinary motor cars was 20 minutes in that short distance. This is not speculation; it is fact. It has happened and it has been tested. The saving in motor fuel was just as impressive. My hon. Friend gave the figures in litres. A lorry saved 22 minutes and one-third of a gallon in those 23 miles. My hon. Friend said that a fair count on a large road would be 4,000 vehicles per hour. If those are large vehicles, that means a saving of 1,300 gallons of fuel over one stretch of road. Imagination boggles at the possibility of what might be saved on all the roads throughout the country.

We must consider the question of the standardisation of our roads. Hon. Members have mentioned that down the centre of a dual carriageway is an island of a certain width. Sometimes we find a hedge, or a small wall, or some other kind of obstruction in the centre of a dual carriageway. All those vary in width and type. The standardisation of these widths, curves and islands is necessary in the interests of safety.

My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply to the debate, knows that for a long time I have been interested in the standardisation of road signs. Only a few months ago he produced a new set of regulations governing road signs in this country. These regulations and the road signs to which they refer hark back to the middle of the 1920s. Further authority has been given to road signs which were introduced in the 1920s.

In the last eight years there have been two international conferences both of which have been attended by representatives from this country, and, broadly speaking, whatever the differences may be, they have established one sign to indicate one thing. But that does not bother the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. We have two possible signs for tramway crossings and there are five different signs to indicate road works. There are no less than three signs to indicate public conveniences.

This is not all. The general principle behind both these international conferences is that one should do away with words in road signs wherever possible and use pictures wherever pictures will do, the point being, of course, that one can look more quickly at a picture and—to use a naval expression—hoist it in more readily than one can read a lot of words. What do these signs have as provided for in the regulations? In many cases, there is a large number of words. One sign has no fewer than 38 words to it, and it is a sign usually to be found on a dual-carriageway, to be read, perhaps, at high speed at night.

Another sign has 26 words—no fewer than 137 letters. Perhaps hon. Members may care to work out how difficult it is and how diverting to the intention, which should be on the road, to try to read a sign such as that. As I mentioned the other day, I carried out an experiment to test the difference involved in looking at a pictorial sign as compared with a word sign such as is provided for by the Ministry of Transport. I found that the word sign took twice as long to take in; in other words, it took twice as long for the reaction of the average individual to occur and take effect.

The explanation of the delay in making any change has always been that it would be too expensive. But it is perfectly simple to provide that all signs of the present design will be adequate for the next five years or so, and that thereafter signs shall conform to the international standards, which are readily understood and to which a great deal of thought has been devoted. After all, these international signs are the result of work at two conferences to which this country sent representatives.

Our roads programme is very slow by European standards. One cannot help comparing the rate of progress on the Markyate extension with the rate of progress in road building which is going on right in the centre of Brussels at this moment, which is to have the roads ready for the International Fair to open there next year.

Two factors make for slowness, one, the acquisition of land, and the other, the rate of construction. As regards the acquisition of land, the basic difference between out method and the Continental method, which leads to our difficulties, is that, fundamentally, we try to do it on the cheap, whereas, on the Continent, there is a tendency to offer the market value. The result of the Continental method is that there is not the large number of objections to acquisition. For every single objection Continental countries have as a result of what they are doing, we, because we try to do it on the cheap, get twenty objections in this country.

We have all heard about the Markyate by-pass, where it has taken one and a half years to build one and a quarter miles. The Germans build their roads at the rate of 200 yards a day. They could build the Markyate by-pass, at that rate, in about a fortnight. The rate of building on the Markyate by-pass has been six yards of construction a day.

One suggestion I have, which I ask my hon. Friend to examine, is that we should stop our tendency to take small bites at these things. The present method is to do the thing on a contract basis. I ask my hon. Friend to investigate, in conjunction with the large contracting firms, the possibility of finding a series of teams or units which could be given not necessarily large contracts but continuity of work, not for one or two years, but for ten years into the future, so that they would be able to plan ahead and purchase the machinery to do the job more quickly and more cheaply than it is done today.

The example of using a bucket and spade has been used. If a person is given a small job to do, he is bound to go about it with a bucket and spade. If he is given a long job, not necessarily a big job, he will get the best equipment and do it more quickly and more cheaply.

6.34 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ernest Davies Mr Ernest Davies , Enfield East

This has been a constructive debate, and a good-tempered one. It has shown that there is a considerable measure of uneasiness among hon. Members in regard to the present road programme, and, of course, the purpose of the debate was to enable that to be expressed in constructive form. Considerable dissatisfaction with the size of the programme, its general conception, and the speed with which it is being carried out has been expressed on both sides, and there has been a demand for a definite and inviolable long-term road programme.

The Minister gave us some figures, to which I shall return a little later. Quite clearly, I think there has been an underestimation of the growth of traffic in this country, and this has been responsible for the inadequacy of the road programme so far. The case which hon. Members have been endeavouring to make is that we must spend more on the roads today because of the increasing growth of traffic and because of this twenty-year backlog to which the Minister referred. Credit must be given for what is being done. One cannot go about the country today without seeing a certain amount of road construction taking place. Much of it is on a small scale, minor improvements and so forth, but there is a considerable amount of work being done. Even so, it is proving quite inadequate.

I find it difficult to understand, and this is something mentioned by many hon. Members, why other industrial countries comparable with ours can afford to spend far more on their road programmes than we can. Why is it that they consider it more necessary to do so than we do? The Minister gave no explanation of that this afternoon. He referred to the E.C.E. figures and deprecated them, pointing out, quite rightly, that they were out of date because there had, since then, been some stepping up of our roads programme. But even if allowance is made for the amount which has been spent since these figures were prepared, the conclusion would still be that our figures stand very poor comparison to those of other countries.

In reply to a supplementary question on 29th May, when these figures were quoted, the Minister stated that they were out of date, and that we were spending three times as much now. As our figure then was only 0·09 per cent., which, multiplied by three, is still only 0·27 per cent., compared with 0·75 per cent. in Germany and Belgium and 1 per cent. in Holland, it is clear that we are still far and away below these other countries even after account is taken of the increased programme in this country. Moreover, if the figures are looked at in connection with expenditure on major roads, motorways and the like, we are seen to come very low down in the list.

The explanation lies in the different approach to the problem of road transport which is to be found in this country as compared with that of Continental countries. On the Continent, there seems to be a better appreciation of the implications of the rapid growth of road transport as a modern means of transportation. Governments there seem to appreciate better than we do that road traffic is growing rapidly, that it will continue to grow, and that we are mistaken if we do not face the need to cater for its growth. It is accepted that an adequate roads programme to meet the need is essential to a country's economy.

A very large proportion of all motor vehicle transport is for business purposes of one sort or another. Pleasure motoring, except at weekends, accounts for only a small percentage of the total, largely because there is no longer much pleasure in motoring on our roads. On the Continent, it seems to be appreciated that, since the need is there, it is the responsibility of the Government to meet it, and that the motorist, be he public or private, must be helped to get where he wants to go, speedily and safely, that he must be able to travel freely, to arrive, and then to park his vehicle without too much inconvenience.

The attitude taken by respective British Governments reflects more the Canute-like mentality. The Minister seems to see waves of vehicles flowing on to the roads and would like to held them back if he could, because the problem of dealing with them is too great and too costly. He rather regards it as an unpleasant disease that is horrible to face. Certainly, it will develop into the disease of creeping paralysis if speedier and more adequate action is not taken.

It is important, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss)pointed out, that the needs of road transport in the provision of adequate roads should be met so as to afford relief from the point of view of transport costs which reflect upon our economy. Transport is an extremely important factor in industrial costs. If our costs are higher, we shall lag further behind in our competitive power and this is of particular importance today with the coming of the Common Market and the Free Trade Area.

The contrast between the manner in which the Continent and this country are tackling the roads problem cannot but give rise to concern. No one can see the work being done there without being impressed and worried by the different approach in this country, as several hon. Members have suggested during this afternoon's debate. Investment on the Continent is on a proportionately higher scale and is regarded as essential to the economy as investment in coal, electricity, atomic energy and the like—but not road transport—is regarded here.

If this country continues to fall behind with the coming of the European Common Market and the Free Trade Area, there is being created for our industry an additional competitive handicap of higher transport costs due to an inadequate, inefficient and uneconomic road system. We can no longer afford to fail to provide for the needs of modern road transport, of which successive Governments have been guilty since the war.

Is the new programme which the Minister announced this afternoon for the four years following the ending of the present programme adequate to meet the need? I understood the Minister to say that over the period 1958–59 to 1962–63, he will authorise works which ultimately will cost £240 million. That is an overlap, of course, because the other programme was from 1954–55 to 1957–58. There is a year's overlap, so it is difficult to compare the figures given in the first programme with those given for the new programme.

I question, however, whether this is such an increase as the Minister suggested. I understood that the figure for the four years 1954 to 1958 was £212 million in authorisations. With the local authorities, that came up to £250 million, which was the figure quoted by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. The Minister then got up and said that it was only £150 million. It is true that the Minister gave figures of authorisations amounting to only £146 million for this four-year period. So on his authorisations during the first four-year programme which he announced today, there is an increase of £100 million. As far as I can make out, however, there is no real increase over the programme announced by his predecessor who is now Minister of Pensions and National Insurance on 2nd February, 1955, when the Government's proposals for the expanded road programme were put before the House.

The former Minister of Transport gave figures and said: The effect of the proposals now put forward is that the work authorised in the financial year 1955–56 will represent an ultimate expenditure from the Exchequer of approximately £27 million and the total to be authorised during the following three years will involve an ultimate Government expenditure of about £120 million. That is, £147 million, which approximates to the amount which the Minister this afternoon said had been authorised. It should, however, be noted that the previous Minister added: This excludes expenditure on the very large projects of national importance to which I have just referred. These "projects of national importance" to which the Minister had already referred were projects which we had described in these words: Over and above schemes in particular localities, there are certain major projects of national importance which should be ready for commitments towards the end of this period. They will be projects of great magnitude and the cost will be formidable… The Minister then outlined certain of these projects. They included the London—Yorkshire motorway. Following on that he said, the Government would wish to put in hand, not only the remainder of that motor road, but also the North-South motor road through Lancashire from Preston to Birmingham."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 2nd February. 1955 Vol. 536, c. 1098–1100.] In reply to questions, the Minister reaffirmed that the figure of £147 million did not include these other major projects. These other major projects are now being included in the programme announced this afternoon. There is, therefore, the overlap of these projects.

It was quite clear at the time that the amount of authorisations under the programme was bound to increase as time went on. It was deduced from that announcement of the Minister's predecessor and subsequent Questions in the House and statements made by Ministers that the total authorisation under the first four-year programme would be £250 million and not the £150 million to which the Minister referred this afternoon.

I contend, therefore, that in effect there is no increase in the four-year programme as a result of the figures which the Minister has announced this afternoon. The first four-year programme represented an expenditure of £250 million and the new four-year programme which the Minister has announced also represents an expenditure of £250 million. Far from increasing the expenditure, therefore, the Government are merely maintaining it. For that we are grateful, in view of some reports which have appeared in the Press, but it is not nearly adequate enough.

In connection with his announcement this afternoon, the Minister spoke of authorisations only, which is understandable, perhaps, but he did not give any indication of the period over which construction would take place or the rate of expenditure year by year. What the Committee would like to know is not only that there are to be authorisations of £250 million, but that the speed of construction and the actual number of schemes in the pipeline will be so stepped up that the actual expenditure year by year will steadily increase. It goes up to £50 million for the year 1958–59 when it reaches its maximum of £50 million per annum on the old programme. Unless the new programme means that there will be higher expenditure year by year above the £50 million which is the picture for 1958–59——

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

Excluding Scotland.

Photo of Mr Ernest Davies Mr Ernest Davies , Enfield East

Scotland constitutes a complication in view of the fact that the responsibility has been transferred, but the expenditure on the old programme in Scotland was not very great.

Hon. Members, therefore, have to decide whether this programme upon which we have embarked will be adequate to meet the needs. To a greater or less degree, every speaker in the debate has expressed doubt whether it is sufficient. All the indications and all the reports made by authorities, both official and unofficial, suggest that unless the programme is substantially more over the four year period than £250 million we shall not be able to keep up with the growth in traffic. In other words, we shall not be able to maintain the present flow of traffic and that flow will be slowed down, congestion will increase and the toll of accidents will rise. It has been suggested in many quarters that unless the 1958–59 to 1961–62 programme provides for an expenditure of £500 million we shall not be able to meet the needs of the growth in transport.

It is equally important that we get full value for the expenditure incurred. Several hon. Members have mentioned different schemes and different deficiencies in the expenditure that is now taking place. In view of the fact that there is so much criticism of individual schemes, it is reasonable to question whether we are making sufficient use in this country of the technicians, that is of traffic engineers. There are fully qualified traffic engineers in the country. Some of them are very able and a number of them are employed by the county authorities, but unfortunately they are not always in a position to influence decisions sufficiently. They are not always in positions of responsibility. They are not adequately consulted, nor is their advice given sufficient weight. The situation is quite different on the Continent. In Belgium Mr. Hondermarcq, who is a prominent official responsible for the roads, is himself a traffic engineer.

Wherever a major scheme for London or for the provinces is under consideration, the plans, before they are officially approved, should be considered by a panel or an advisory committee of traffic engineers so that we can be certain that the best scheme, which will ensure the freest flow of traffic, is expedited and the advice of the engineers is taken. One hears that in connection with major London schemes this advice is not always taken. The Road Research Laboratory is available and from time to time gives advice, but its reports are not published and the public are not able to see whether its advice is fully adopted.

The debate has proved most useful, but the criticisms that have emerged are important. I hope that they will impress upon the Minister the continuing dissatisfaction with the size of the programme and the concern which is present in hon. Members minds. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall gave estimates of the losses accruing from failure to bring our roads up to date. He painted a rather frightening picture, but I am afraid that it is unlikely to prove an exaggeration or a fantasy. There is no question that, in view of the predictable increase in the number of vehicles on the roads, conditions are certain to deteriorate to a terrifying degree unless the road programme is expanded far more than the extent announced by the Minister today.

Average speeds are bound to fall, congestion to increase, delays to mount, and the toll of road accidents to rise even from its present alarming level. The certain result is higher transport costs, due to greater waste of manpower, fuel and materials, and damage will be done to our economy with the resultant weakening of our competitive power, particularly in Europe.

The fact that the money that must be voted by the House of Commons annually pays no visible dividend makes it easy to reduce or limit the road programme, but to do so is obviously false economy. Any Minister worth his salt would be in ceaseless battle with the Chancellor of the Exchequer for money for the roads. The present Minister apparently has given up the fight and has obtained only the same amount as he received in the last four years.

6.57 p.m.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

This has been to a large extent a harmonious debate, because everybody seems able to agree that we want more money for the roads. It is also agreed that it is a great pity that more has not been spent on them in the last twenty years. Everyone, on this side of the Committee at least, will agree that it was very welcome to hear my right hon. Friend today announcing that there will be a considerable increase over the next four years. Before these rather distracting figures pass out of my mind, I will try to explain what my hon. Friend said and the significance of his announcement. It is broadly, as the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies)thought—that it will constitute an increased expenditure over the next four years of roughly £100 million.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

Over the last four years?

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

Over the present rate of expenditure. I was asked whether the annual rate of expenditure would increase over that estimated for 1958–59 of £50 million, including Scotland. The answer is "Yes," and my right hon. Friend's figures were for England and Wales only, because the estimates are separate now. It would be impossible to give the Committee precise figures on this because, as hon. Members know, it is difficult to say precisely how much will fall within each year. The broad fact is that over the coming four years the rate of expenditure will be raised by £100 million.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

This is very important. We do not want to be mistaken. The present rate of expenditure is about £30 million a year this year. Next year it may be up to £50 million. Does that mean that over the next four years the average expenditure will be £75 million? Is it £25 million over £50 million or over the present expenditure

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

It will average over the four years about £60 million a year, so that over four years, other things being equal, it will amount to about £240 million. That is a considerable increase over what we are doing now.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

It is more than ten times what the right hon. Gentleman achieved. In the main, we have avoided making party points in this debate. We all recognise that this is a national problem. I would not aim any strong criticism at the right hon. Gentleman for that fact, because the whole problem here is that within the ambit of transport we want to spend more money on roads, but what the Government of the day have to do is to decide what priority they can give to the roads.

Naturally, right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they formed the Government, had many pressing claims on the resources of the nation and had to decide what the priorities were. The outcome was that they could allow only some £4 million a year during the last five years of the Labour Government. Today, fortunately, through the growth of the national product and the greater strength of the national economy, we can manage not only the capital expenditures and demands on our resources which right hon. Gentlemen opposite undertook, but our present programme as well, and I think that is some credit to the success of the Conservative Government.

Passing now to some of the many interesting points raised during the debate, I would tell the hon. Member for Enfield, East that we have traffic engineers in our Department and we consult them and listen very closely to them when considering schemes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt)made some interesting points. He asked, as did several other hon. Members, about the progress of the Cromwell Road extension. That is something that many of us see frequently, and, therefore, are able to make fairly careful comments about it. The work on the extension is up to schedule and is being carried out in four or five contracts. I looked at it closely the other day.

Major road works in the middle of London are very difficult to undertake. One has only to touch a road to find it honeycombed with electricity, gas, telephone, water and other services. It is a most complex and difficult task to keep traffic moving, deal with all those services and carry out major works at the same time. In addition, a good deal of property has to be pulled down in connection with the extension. The whole of Talgarth Road has to be pulled down and the people rehoused. A school has to be pulled down and another school built.

These are inevitably lengthy works, and they have to be phased. It is no good putting on the spot a tremendously strong building gang when there are many other operations which have to be phased in. The work is planned to finish in about two and a half years' time, and I have every expectation that it will be completed by then.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury also referred to the need for large-scale works to attract big contractors, and my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke)and Horsham (Mr. Gough)and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion)also referred to it. We fully appreciate that need, but many of the schemes such as the Markyate bypass, which have attracted general criticism because of the slowness with which they were carried out, were schemes which were not big enough to attract large-scale contractors.

When we begin the Birmingham motorway—we hope it will be begun before the end of the year—we intend to let it in big chunks. It is a road of between 50 and 60 miles long from the end of the St. Albans by-pass. We shall let it in big lengths each involving about £4 million or £5 million, so that they will be large enough to attract big contractors. If a contractor can succeed in the tendering, there is no reason why he should not take on more than one length. At all events, each contract will be large enough to attract the really big men, and it will be worth their while bringing to the spot big machinery.

I think hon. Members will be very impressed when they see the full resources of our big contractors at work. I am convinced, and so is my right hon. Friend, that we have contractors who can build roads as fast as anybody in the world. Their only difficulty has been that up to date they have not had schemes big enough to enable them to deploy their full resources. I hope we shall see the work to which I have referred going forward before the end of the year—I speak of the financial year—and going forward very rapidly next year. We are doing there what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite want us to do.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury feels strongly about the subject of traffic signs. The cost of changing to the Continental system would have been very high. It was reckoned to be more than £4 million. A point to be considered is that the Americans use a different system, so, even if we changed, we should not have achieved the universal system which everybody would like.

My hon. Friend mentioned that the accident rate on the autobahnen was a good deal lower than that here. I have no separate figures for the accident rate on the autobahnen, but the German accident rate figures are a great deal higher than ours and the Germans are extremely worried about it. We have plenty to be concerned about with our accident figures, but I am glad to say that we have kept a far better check on accidents than the Germans have.

The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts)spoke of the needs of the West Riding. The Yorkshire motorway is not in the immediate programme as my right hon. Friend has decided that we should concentrate on dualling the Great North Road first, and completing the motorway to Birmingham and on to Preston, and so on as first priority. Only after we have completed the five major routes shall we then go ahead with the whole of the Yorkshire motorway as originally projected. It is not forgotten, and it will come back into the programme, but I am afraid that it cannot have the same priority as our five major projects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham referred to the needs of towns like Horsham and Midhurst. It is true that these towns and a great many others on the South Coast, the East Coast and the West Coast have problems in connection with weekend traffic. We all know what desperate frustration is suffered by motorists who have gone out for the Sunday or the weekend and want to return on Sunday evening. We are doing our best where we can with road improvements, and my right hon. Friend has appointed Mr. Samuels, Chairman of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, to make a special study to ascertain where it is possible to divert traffic along side roads and so on to ease the problem.

I am afraid that those towns will have to wait their turn. Everyone mentioned dozens of places where we should like road improvements, but we feel that we must make a programme and stick to it, and, as my right hon. Friend has said, our programme is the five major projects to give the country a basic road structure which will carry a very large part of our heavy traffic as well as a great deal of private traffic. We must concentrate as much as we can on those projects and try to get them completed. I do not doubt that that will be to the great benefit of our economy. At the same time, we will do what we can with the funds left to cope with the many other road problems all round the country.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East asked about the Severn bridge. I think he has already heard what my right hon. Friend has said about it. The whole scheme is to cost £36 million so it is very costly. We cannot see our way to fit it into our programme at present, but my right hon. Friend has been considering a lesser scheme, costing about £15 million, which would not include the motorway connections with Birmingham but would include the bridge. It may be possible at some time in the nearer future to fit that into our road programme. It is under consideration now, but I am afraid it is still impossible to give a date for the scheme.

Several hon. Members have spoken about the problem of land acquisition, and I think I ought to take a minute or two to say a word about it. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell)thought we were spending too much time on it. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East thought we could get on with the land acquisition earlier even if we could not get on with the rest of the work. Hon. Friends of mine felt that the process was probably about right.

I will tell the Committee why we cannot get on with the land acquisition part of the process. We have first to settle the line of the road. That begins with consultations with all affected interests—agricultural interests, local authorities, nationalised industries including the railways, statutory authorities, church, cemetery and national park authorities public interests of that kind—and that takes a very long time.

It often takes six or twelve months before those preliminary discussions can be completed. Then my right hon. Friend makes a draft order fixing the line, which is published. At that stage those affected have a chance to object, and if there are objections and the volume is considerable we have a public inquiry. It is quite possible, if that inquiry reveals a really serious weight of objection, that my right hon. Friend may decide that that line cannot be pursued and must be changed.

The Committee can quite well see that it would not do if we proceeded to acquire the land before that stage. Therefore, we have to wait until after all that is done before we can consider acquiring the land. In fact, acquisition of the land can go ahead at the next stage, at the same time as the initial engineering drawings are being got out, although we still have the problem of a whole new set of orders for the closing of side roads. It is really a very long and complicated business. If any landowner resists the purchase we have to go for a compulsory purchase order and, once again, there may be a local inquiry and objections may have to be considered. I say to the Committee, having looked at it very carefully, that my right hon. Friend and I feel that, long though it is, we have achieved a balance between all the private and public interests concerned and our need for roads.

Photo of Mr Ronald Russell Mr Ronald Russell , Wembley South

Will my hon. Friend answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. J. Langford-Holt)about the price paid for the land and the effect that that might have on the number of objectors?

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I am afraid that I cannot deal with that at present. It is paid for on the usual basis of existing use and the negotiations are carried out by the district valuer on the settled basis. I think that is the best we can do about it. We have put in the Library a copy of this long and difficult process which will acquaint hon. Members with exactly all the different stages, and I think that right hon. and hon. Members will be satisfied that we cannot really shorten it. We are now going ahead wherever we can with this process in preparation for schemes for the future so that we have enough to feed into the pipeline and keep our programme going at fair speed.

I was asked by two hon. Members whether local authorities were free to set up parking meter schemes and multistorey garages. The answer is "Yes, they are." They are perfectly free to make proposals, just according to their local needs. I was also asked a number of points by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Boyd). He asked: are we working to a plan with our roads? He seemed to think that they were rather in bits and pieces. The answer is that, on existing roads, we have inevitably to work by bits and pieces. With a new road we can do the whole thing right away; but with an existing road, as we can acquire bits of land, we can make our widening or second carriage-way and do the roadworks as we get the opportunity. At the same time, we have to keep the traffic going and, therefore, inevitably it seems to be done in bits and pieces.

This particularly applies to the Great North Road, which the Member for Normanton mentioned. I have just had a look at it. We intend to make it a dual carriageway eventually the whole way along. We shall naturally deal with the two-lane roads first and leave the three-lane roads until we have done the two-lane roads, but eventually we intend that there shall be two carriageways the whole way along it. We have a plan there.

Another hon. Member asked whether we had a system of assessing traffic priorities between one congested spot and another and one bottleneck and another. The answer is that we have. We have our divisional road engineers who keep in close touch by bi-monthly conferences. We take the greatest care to assess the traffic priorities on each road scheme in terms of the national picture, and, so far as it is humanly possible, our resources are directed to the places where they can give the greatest help.

The hon. Member also asked me whether we intended to make these motorways for really fast traffic. We certainly do. We have now under consideration what the regulations should be with regard to speed and stopping vehicles and such things as that, so we do intend to do just what he is suggesting.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West asked me about the possibility of making the Dartford—Purfleet Tunnel and the Rotherhithe Tunnel one way at peak hours

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

The Blackwall Tunnel and the Rotherhithe Tunnel. That is a suggestion which I shall be very glad to look into to see whether we can do it. Any scheme of that kind which will help us to deal with peak traffic we shall very much welcome.

With regard to the Purfleet Tunnel, we are certainly pushing on with all speed. There is no delay at all. The whole contract has been settled and the contractors are going ahead as fast as they can. It is a very big scheme indeed and will probably cost £11 million. It is also a very difficult job, as the hon. Member knows. There is very limited face on which the men can work in the tunnel and the speed is restricted by the physical difficulties of tunnelling. It is, however, going ahead with all speed and will be undoubtedly a very welcome road improvement. I quite agree with the hon. Member on that.

I think that I have dealt with the major points which have been raised during the debate, and I would bring my remarks to a close by saying this. My right hon. Friend and I have already a road programme going which is beginning to make an impression on the countryside. We can now see the work going ahead in many parts of the country to provide the road schemes which are most wanted. Of course, there are many other schemes which we should like to see going on all over the place. We are, however, making a good beginning, and gradually the tempo will increase over the coming year, next year and the year after, and increasingly we shall see not only new schemes started but the schemes already started coming to completion.

There is no doubt that both the industry of this country and the private motorist—and indeed, road safety—will greatly benefit as these schemes come to completion. Therefore I feel that I can ask the House, although impatient to see greater results, to recognise the difficulties of settling priorities and understand that we have managed to find a place for this where our predecessors had not been able to do so. We have now a road programme which will make a real impression over the coming years. I ask the House to approve it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.