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 Peter Bessell Mr Peter Bessell , Bodmin 12:00 am, 16th November 1965

The hon. Member has heard part of my speech—I do not know which part. He has 'not heard all of it and has not been present during the whole of the debate. If he had listened and had heard my speech, he would have known that I gave priority to the docks and the roads leading to the docks because they are essential to the economy of the nation because of the export drive. I said also that the Ministry should undertake, whilst the economic crisis is with us and capital expenditure is restricted, not to authorise any further rail closures. I have said that there is priority in the matter of transport to regional areas. All these things are frightfully important if we are to have a transport system which will enable us to recover our economic position and to distribute the wealth of the nation throughout the length and breadth of the land.

These are long-term policies. I do not ask the Minister to give an undertaking that these things shall be carried out during the next few months, but we want an assurance from him that these matters are being earnestly considered by his Ministry and that in the course of the next few months he will give us a programme to which we can look forward.

As for co-ordination, I return to the original point, namely, that I would hope that we might have some detailed proposal from him today whilst at the same time I realise that this is a difficult problem to solve. I have welcomed the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has said that he will be making a further statement to the House before Christmas. Assuming that the House sits until Christmas eve, I shall have to wait a further 38 days. I am quite prepared to do that. I hope that we shall have some indication of the Minister's thoughts on co-ordinating the transport services and that he will retain within that framework the essential competition which is necessary for any efficient transport system in any country.

On the subject of safety, we have read a great deal about the horror of motorway pile-ups. We cannot under-estimate the fact that there is a great deal of very bad and inefficient driving on our roads. Is the Minister satisfied with the present system of driving tests? Is he satisfied that this matter does not require a reexamination, and whether people should not be re-tested after a period of time? There is no doubt that bad driving is still one of the main causes of the very high accident rate in this country. It is interesting to note that the United Kingdom Commercial Travellers' Association, which is very concerned that there should be a high standard of driving among its members, has had a remarkable accident-free record. This is something which warrants a little investigation.

As for motorway pile-ups, it is worth noting that illuminated warning signs were erected on the M.5 some two winters ago and during that time there were only two crashes in foggy conditions, neither of them fatal. Therefore, in my view, it has been shown that the warning signs have proved effective, particularly when one compares the considerable accident rates on the M.1 and the M.6 neither of which bear these warning signs.

Whilst on the question of safety—and the Gracious Speech refers to this specifically—there is need for more mobile police to be seen around, because if they are seen it has a salutary effect on bad and careless drivers. People are far more likely to observe the existing laws if they can see that there is danger of their being caught. An eminent personage is reported in the Evening Standard as suggesting punitive punishments might be a good idea for bad drivers. I have no quarrel with that suggestion. The Minister might well consider the need to introduce new legislation to toughen the penalties for bad and careless and wantonly speedy driving. I recall driving a few months ago in New York State and seeing a sign on the highway which read, "Speeders lose licences". I enquired whether this had any meaning and I was told that it had every meaning. Anyone who broke the speed limit lost his licence automatically. There is a great deal to be said for that kind of highly effective punishment for a person found guilty of breaking the law without any consideration of the consequences.

I believe that there is much more detail needed from the Minister than we have heard in his speech today. I regret his failure to take the kind of powers which I believe he should take if he is to prevent the Beeching Plan from causing real damage to our rail system. I regret the year which has passed in which there has had to be delay in capital expenditure on the road programme and I regret the facts which led to that delay. Nevertheless, an attempt is being made and, within the restrictions put upon him by the present economic condition, the Minister is doing his best.

I do not hesitate to make my criticisms tonight, but I could not advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Opposition in the Lobby on their Amendment. [Laughter.] I shall explain why. I thought that I heard the word "lackey "used by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls). I do not regard as constructive, helpful or likely to be of assistance either to the country or to this House the putting down of an Amendment which regrets that the Gracious Speech contains little promise of progress in the modernisation of industry, notably in the fields of transport and technology when it is plain to everyone who has eyes to see and the wish to see that the financial restrictions placed upon the Minister today make it impossible to carry out the kind of programme which everyone in the House and the country wants to see undertaken.

For this reason, I find it impossible to support the Amendment. Moreover, it is obvious to everyone that, if the Conservative Opposition were sitting on the Government benches, they would not be able to do any better in present conditions. I have listened to speaker after speaker from these benches today, and I have heard not one suggestion from them which would indicate a way of overcoming the financial problems which restrict the Government and prevent them improving the programme, however much they may want to do so.