Transport and Technology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th November 1965.

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Photo of Mr John Harvey Mr John Harvey , Walthamstow East 12:00 am, 16th November 1965

We have just listened to a remarkably conservative speech—conservative with a small "c"—against change, against innovation and against progress—in favour of doing things as they have been done for years.

I am sorry that the Minister is about to leave, because I was about to say that he cannot get away with the suggestion that the cuts he has been forced to make —temporary as he hopes they are—are in some way to be attributed to our policies while in office. It was Goebbels who developed the technique of the big lie— keep on hammering it home so that in the end people come to believe it. I was not sure whether the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne West (Mr. Popple-well) was a propagandist in the cause of the big lie or whether he has fallen victim to his own propaganda when he spoke about 13 years of neglect.

When one hears the claim that the difficulties of the Government are attributable to their inheritance from the last Government, it is important to remember that in the election campaign right hon. Gentlemen opposite were at one and the same time talking about a financial crisis and all the things they would do in office. They said none of these things would involve any increase in taxation. It is against that background that we are entitled after a year to ask what progress is being made.

The only progress one sees is, by and large, paper progress. There are masses of paper plans for houses, schools, hospitals and roads—and the nation's transport users have a "paper tiger in the tank". This will not do. It is largely to the question of transport and in an effort to make a constructive contribution that I make my intervention.

The right hon. Gentleman hinted that some restrictions on the use of private cars in our big cities may be on the way. If they are, it is important that he should make up his mind as quickly as possible on the type of restrictions he proposes to put before Parliament. These things can greatly affect car production, apart from anything else, and in doing so our capacity to sell abroad. We need clarification of this as soon as possible.

While one can understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern about traffic difficulties in our big cities, let him not delude himself into believing that if he can stop cars coming in he will get more people on to public transport. I assure the Minister that if he cares to go to my constituency of Walthamstow or the neighbouring constituency of Wanstead and Woodford, where I live, to see for himself what public transport is like at the morning and evening peak hours, he will understand that if he makes it more difficult for people to use the roads he will add immensely to the difficulties of public transportation. It is not enough to think of buses in the central area as though a city such as London revolves only around the central area. London depends on the arteries by which it is fed.

The Minister should go and look at Tokyo. His predecessor is there at the moment studying automation and all the improvements which are being made in road and rail transport in that go-ahead city. In Tokyo he would see the remarkable things which have been done in a space of three or four years to take arteries into and through a big city. These are the lines along which we must think in solving some of our own road transport problems.

I sympathise to a degree with the Minister of Transport, as I would sympathise with any Minister of Transport. For years I sat behind my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) listening to the criticism and taunts which were hurled at him, despite all the things which he tried to do. There was criticism despite all the legacy of a sound foundation which he has left for those who succeed him. A Minister of Transport performs a thankless job, faced with the greatest difficulty, and it is therefore vital that every bit of new thinking possible should be done by the Minister in charge of this Department.

Among the new thinking which must command attention is the possibility of building toll roads in Britain. It is all very well to speak, as did the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss)— and the Minister himself hinted at it— about the possibility of further charges on the motorist for the privilege of owning and driving his motor car. There must be very few members of the community who in one way or another contribute more to the total volume of taxation than the motorist already does, and if the motorist is to be further taxed he will rightly ask what he is to get in return.

The Minister should not only visit Tokyo to see what they have been able to do to improve communications from outside the city, which is now the greatest in the world, into the heart of the city. He should also visit Italy at an early date and look, as I was privileged to look this summer, at the Autostrade del Sol, which runs all the way from the Swiss frontier down to Naples—a magnificent piece of engineering. It is relevant for a Scottish Minister of Transport and for everyone interested in the welfare of Scotland to consider the astonishing effect which that motorway has had on Italy.

Not only has it provided the most efficient and modern means of road communication in Europe, but it has opened up and placed completely new values on a depopulated part of Italy which people had written off as useless. It is bringing back new life to what I suppose one might call the Italian Highlands. It would be no bad thing if the Minister seized the opportunity of his office to make his No. 1 target a motor road from Dover to Inverness, modelled on the Autostrade del Sol. It could be a toll road, and we should pay for the pleasure of using it. If hon. Members shake their heads at the idea of a toll road and if they remain convinced that unless we can have it free we do not want it, then none of these improvements will ever be industry?