Traffic Congestion

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th December 1959.

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Photo of Mr Ernest Marples Mr Ernest Marples , Wallasey 12:00 am, 10th December 1959

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: while acknowledging the progress made by Her Majesty's Government in improving and constructing roads throughout the country, draws attention to the growing volume of traffic for which provision must be made and pledges its support for all practical measures to meet the problem". I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) on his first major speech as leader for the Opposition on transport matters. He made it in a most charming way, and he was constructive. He has taken unto himself the hereditary qualities of his father, and his speech will give great pleasure to those who have listened to his father in this House. I was particularly grateful for the liggh-hearted yet constructive way in which he made his speech. If he continues to make speeches like that, I can promise him that I shall steal all his bright ideas and claim credit for them.

The only thing that disturbed me was not the manicurist who has a car which costs £7 10s. standing on ground worth £10,000, but the official policy which the hon. Gentleman put forward of taxing firms to compel them to close at a certain time. That does put our freedom in jeopardy. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will be gone into very carefully after this debate. It is a startling change of policy on the part of the Opposition to enforce its views in this way on the community. I might tell him that I left Marples Ridgway in 1951 and that when I was there they left at 8.30 at night and not at 5.30.

The hon. Gentleman made three points which I should like to deal with first. Referring to the increase in motor cars, he said that this was a perfectly predictable trend of events since the end of the war, that it should not have taken the Government by surprise and that the forecasts had been inadequate.

In London, we are dealing with a city hundreds of years old. The greatest chance for planning came when the new towns were started by the party opposite when it was in power. I remember Mr. Silkin, now Lord Silkin, moving the Second Reading of the Town and Country Planning Bill on 29th January, 1947, when he said that the Bill … is the most comprehensive and far-reaching planning Measure which has ever been placed before this House. … Already the world is looking eagerly to this country to see how we intend to solve the problem. … When this Bill becomes law, we shall have created an instrument of which we can be justly proud; we shall have begun a new era in the life of this country …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 947 and 987.] How did the party opposite solve the problem? It planned for motor cars ten years ago. This was how the Labour Party planned. In the early days, it was estimated that the future demand would be in the range of 8 to 14 garages per 100 standard houses in the London new towns—eight garages to 100 houses. The party opposite made a mistake. It should have been 92 houses with garages and eight without. That was the party which now condemns the Government for their action. Hon. Members opposite should have looked ten years ahead. For Cwmbran and Peterlee, the figures were not 8 to 14 but 5 to 9, which is even less. Therefore, of all the hopeless miscalculation ever to be made in the history of planning, I am bound to say that, in spite of all the charm of the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, it was made by the party opposite.

If hon. Members opposite do not believe that, let them read the Fabian pamphlet, "What shall we do about the roads?" After all, hon. Members opposite must believe a Fabian pamphlet. They have talked about a comprehensive plan. They had one known as the Barnes plan. This is what the Fabian pamphlet says, and it is not a Tory pamphlet: It was envisaged that arrears of maintenance having been made good, 'a comprehensive reconstruction of the principal national routes' would begin in 1951, which would include the building of some motorways … The economic crisis of 1947 intervened, authorisations fell to less than a tenth of expected amounts, and the Barnes Plan shrivelled away The pamphlet went on to say: A Special Roads Act was passed in 1949 to enable motorways and other traffic-restricted roads to be built. But building did not begin. Improved economic conditions have since, however, allowed Conservative Governments to get substantial construction under way. In 1953 a plan envisaging Exchequer expenditure of £50 million was announced, and this has been incorporated in successive expanded programmes. It goes on to say: Altogether, a transformation in our highway system is taking place of very considerable proportions and expenditure is gaining momentum.