Trunk Roads Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."The Trunk Roads Act of 1936 transferred to the Minister of Transport the responsibility for4,459 miles of road. Before that time the roads were vested in a large number of local highway authorities, and the inevitable difficulties which arose in prosecuting a concerted policy for the maintenance, improvement and development of the roads led tothe conclusion that such difficulties could best be resolved by placing responsibility in the hands of a Minister of the Crown. That was no reflection on the capacity of the highway authorities. Such shortcomings as were apparent at that time were entirelydue to the fact that the resources of the various highway authorities differed considerably. When the Trunk Roads Act of 1936 became law, my predecessor in office at that date arranged that the day to day work for dealing with trunk roads should, in the majority of cases, be left in the hands of the previous highway authority. At the same time, the general control of policy rested solely in the hands of the Minister. This arrangement has proved to be successful, and I am glad to have this opportunity of stating how greatly the efforts of the agent authorities have been appreciated by successive Governments. I propose to follow the same course with regard to roads scheduled in this Bill. Immediately upon the transfer of roads in 1936 a general survey was carried out to establish at what point there was need for early improvement. Up to the outbreak of the war, 1,223 major schemes of improvements were authorised. Of these, 632 had been completed by September, 1939, and a further 160 were carried to completion during the war. It is common knowledge now that the roads of this country have stood up magnificently to the heavy burdens carried by them during the war period. What is now proposed is to bring within the national system of roads a further 3,685 miles of roads, of which 754 miles are in Scotland. This fills out the framework of the system laid down by the Trunk Roads Act of 1936. The roads, which are listed in the First Schedule to the Bill, form an interconnecting system of through roads between the various parts of the country connecting chief centres of industry and population with each other, or the most important ports. It also connects important food producing areas with their markets, and certain roads of importance for facilitating tourist traffic. Local highway authorities have been consulted and the various associations concerned and with very few exceptions they have accepted my proposals. The roads to which I have hitherto referred are those in county areas set out in Part I of the First Schedule to the Bill. In 1936 it was decided not to include in the trunk road system, any part of the trunk road routes which ran through county borough areas—
May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you are aware that the Minister's speech is being read from a typewritten document? Is it not the case, Sir, that you have ruled before, that this practice should not be encouraged, in case private Members themselves begin to read their speeches?
I should certainly not encourage the reading of speeches by private Members, but when a Minister is making a considered statement, it is very often to the good if his words are written down, and read by him.
I considered it desirable that the House should have a factual exposition of this Bill so that they should know exactly for what powers I am asking. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that it is quite within my capacity to deliver a different type of speech, but on this occasion, it occurred tome to set down accurately, as I have done, on paper, a statement of what I require for the greater convenience of the House. In consultation with the Association of Municipal Corporations, representing the county boroughs, I have now thought it proper to suggest the inclusion in the trunk road system, of a certain number of roads in county boroughs as set out in Part II of the First Schedule to the Bill. Similarly, as regards Scotland, some roads in large burghs have been included, after, consultation with the councils of those large burghs and the respective Scottish associations. The roads in these areas which it is proposed to take over, have been carefully chosen. They are, in fact, bypass or outer ring roads, or roads on radial routes which whilst linking, trunk road routes entering a borough at different points, divert through traffic from the main centre. An example to which perhaps I may be allowed to refer is the Derby ring road, which encircles the county borough on the west, south and east sides, and links six roads which are either trunk roads at present or will become trunk roads by virtue of the provisions of the Bill, and which converge on the county borough from various directions. There is in Scotland in the city of Dundee, an internal bypass which forms a continuous road, diverting through traffic from the city centre to its northern outskirts, and it links the existing Perth-Aberdeen-Inverness trunk road where it enters and leaves the city.I now turn to the broad underlying principles of this Bill. May I call attention particularly to the provisions of Subsection (2) of Clause 1. This requires that:
then the Minister may, by order, so provide. In 1936 it was necessary for Parliament to define strictly the trunk road system, but in the light of experience, I do not think that the same rigidity is either required or desirable. Accordingly I am seeking powers sufficiently flexible to bring about any necessary modification as conditions change. No doubt the main national roads, determined as they are by geographical, historical and economic factors, will retain their national importance but the extension of Town and Country Planning, and changes in the distribution of industry and the like, may require progressive modification in the trunk road system. If changes are required in the future on the lines to which I have just referred, it is proper to provide that the highway authorities concerned shall have their position safeguarded. This is achieved by the provisions of Clause 2. If objections are made to proposals contained in any order which I may make under Clause 1, by a council whose responsibilities are to be altered by the proposed order, and their objections are not withdrawn, the order will be subject to provisional order procedure, and, in the last resort, Parliament will decide. Here perhaps I should explain that while the Bill provides for provisional order procedure, it is intended that in due course the provisional order procedure should be replaced by the special Parliamentary procedure prescribed by the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Bill now before Parliament, and the necessary amendments will in due course be moved. As the law stands at present, a trunk road having only a single carriageway can be improved by adding a new carriageway adjoining the old one. Both carriageways would, however, have to be within the boundaries of the highway and must form a single road. The effect of Clause 3 would be to enable me, where necessary, to depart from the conventional dual carriageway layout, and to build two one-way carriageways, on different levels or different alignments, as may be desirable to avoid undue interference with property or the destruction of amenities. Similarly, an existing carriageway can be reserved for traffic passing in one direction, the traffic in the other direction being catered for, either by a new road or by taking over an existing road if that should be practicable. Similarly, the powers of Clause 3 provide that footpaths or cycle tracks associated with a trunk road can be physically separated from the trunk road. The exercise of this power will make it possible to secure greater segregation of traffic, with its benefits to the safety and comfort of pedestrians and cyclists, and in some cases great economies will be able to be effected in that footpaths or cycle tracks can be taken on another route at certain points, following a line which would be unsuitable for the construction of a carriageway to modern standards. I attach great importance to the powers included in Clause 4. Unsatisfactory traffic conditions on a trunk road often arise in practice by reason of the number or character of connecting roads, which are outside my jurisdiction as a highway authority. A bad angle of approach of a side road at a junction, or the presence of too many junctions too close together, resulting in a series of points of potential danger to through traffic in a short length of road, tend to create unsafe conditions for traffic, both on the trunk road and on the side roads. Under the powers of this Clause I shall be able to remedy such conditions by carrying out improvements on the side roads for the purpose of increasing the safety and convenience of their junction with the trunk road, or to concentrate side road traffic at one or more junctions, where an adequate layout for traffic control can be provided. I fully appreciate that in carrying out such improvements it will be important to ensure that users of the side roads are not unduly inconvenienced by having to go a long way round, and the proviso to Subsection (1) of Clause 4 therefore limits the exercise of this power so as to ensure that there must always be an alternative connection with the trunk road within 440 yards of any junction. The Trunk Roads Act, 1936, intentionally left with the previous highway authorities theexercise of functions under the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935, in relation to the roads which became trunk roads under that Act, except that the Minister was empowered to exercise certain functions, and notably the adoption of standard widths, as well as the previous highway authority. The power to acquire land so as to take action for the preservation of amenities of trunk reads was left with the former highway authorities, on the general principle that the Minister should confine his attention to matters concerned with the construction, improvement and maintenance of trunk roads. I have no doubt this is now too narrow a view of my responsibilities as a highway authority, and if I am to be able to avoid criticism in the future I must, as a first step, have powers adequately to take care of the amenities of the trunk roads under my control. This is effected by the provisions of Clause 5. I turn now to Clause 6, the object of which is to confer on the Minister power to construct a bridge or tunnel over or under navigable waters. Its object is to avoid the necessity for special legislation for each such scheme individually, which might otherwise be required. As persons and bodies having statutory rights and duties are likely to be affected, it as clear that they should have sufficient information of the technical details of any proposals I may put forward, to enable them to ascertain whether, and if so to what extent and in what respect, their rights, interests and obligations will be affected. The Clause, therefore, requires me to include in any order I may make in the future, plans and specifications showing the position and dimensions of any proposed bridge, its spans, headways and waterways; and in the case of a tunnel, in addition to its position and dimensions, its depth below the bed of the navigable water under which it is to lie. The statutory authorities primarily affected seem to me to be navigation authorities and catchment boards, and the Clause provides that if objection is made by any such authority on whom notice has been served, and the objection is not withdrawn, the order shall be provisional until it is confirmed by Parliament. The object of Clause 7 is to overcome the difficulties which arise from the presence on trunk roads of bridges vested in some person or body other than the highway authority. The private owner is, in such cases, under a liability to maintain the bridge and, usually, that part of the highway which the bridge carries, though as regards the latter liability, it is not uncommon for the private owner and the highway authority to enter into an agreement whereby the actual work of maintaining the road surface is carried out by the highway authority, in return for an annual payment or a commuted lump sum. Apart from the fact that some of the persons or bodies responsible for the maintenance of such bridges have neither the financial nor the technical resources to maintain them to an adequate standard, there is the further difficulty that their liability is usually limited to the maintenance of a bridge adequate in character and strength to carry the traffic which used the road at the time the bridge was built. It is only natural that private bridge owners should often respond with but little enthusiasm to proposals, for the benefit of road traffic, for widening, strengthening or reconstructing bridges which are perfectly adequate for the purposes of their own undertakings. Moreover, proposals for such improvements commonly involve difficult negotiations as tothe division of the cost of the scheme between the two parties, as to any increase or decrease in the probable cost of maintaining the improved bridge, and a number of similar points concerning increased or reduced liability, betterments, interference with the carrying on of statutory undertakings, and the like. It may fairly be said that improvements for the benefit of road traffic on privately owned bridges which are weak or obsolete by modern standards, have inevitably been delayed under this system ofdivided responsibility. May I give one illustration to support these remarks? In 1935, before the Trunk Roads Act was on the Statute Book, the Ministry of Transport launched a five years' programme for the reconstruction of 1,289 weak privately owned bridges and offered a 75 per cent. rate of grant to highway authorities as an inducement to press on with the work. By 1939, only 211 schemes had been completely prepared, 174 of which had been put in hand, and 103 completed. It was estimated that, at that rate of progress, it would take 50 years to get all the more important bridges reconstructed. On the trunk roads, by 1940, out of 110 privately owned bridges urgently requiring reconstruction, work had been started in only 12 cases and completed in only seven. I submit to the House that these difficulties can only be satisfactorily overcome by the radical step of vesting in the highway authority for trunk roads, not only the responsibility for the road, including the part of it which is carried by the bridge, but also the responsibility for the bridge itself."The Minister shall keep under review the national system of routes for through traffic in Great Britain, and if he is satisfied after taking into consideration the requirements of local and national planning including the requirements of agriculture, that it is expedient for the purpose of extending, improving or reorganising that system that any existing road or any road proposed to be constructed by him should become a trunk road,"—
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this point, would he also explain what the position is at the present time regarding level crossings over railway lines?
:That does not exactly arise on this Bill. I want to make it plain that this Bill is not comprehensive, in the sense of dealing with all these road problems. I confess that I am in the fortunate position of having found this Bill very largely ready for introduction to the House, and I think that I have been wise to take the opportunity of getting it on the Statute Book as soon as possible, as it enlarges my powers very considerably, rather than hanging it up to await further improvements and probably losing my place in this Session's programme.
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether he found his speech ready and typed also?
:No. I do not begrudge the hon. Member his retort, but I am deter mining a policy here, and I prefer, on this occasion, to state deliberately what I have to say about this Bill so that it will read a little more accurately in the Official Report, as a permanent reference, than would a spontaneous speech on this occasion. During the Committee stage we shall have plenty of opportunity—
Do we understand that these roads which have level crossings on them will, when the Minister takes them over, still need to have level crossings?
No, not when they have become trunk roads. I was dealing here with privately owned bridges on trunk roads. I thought the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) was asking me whether I was taking wide powers to deal with level crossings as such. The answer to that is "No" but as regards level crossings on trunk roads, it is "Yes."As regards the financial provisions of the Bill I should explain that the annual cost of maintenance of the roads which it is proposed shall become trunk roads may be estimated at about £2,500,000. For the most part these roads are at present classified as Class I and attract a maintenance grant of 60 per cent. The additional cost to the Exchequer, as far as maintenance is concerned, will thus be of the order of £1,000,000 and this will be defrayed out of the Road Fund. The local highway authorities will also be relieved of the responsibility for the future improvement of these roads, and this will mean a substantial easing of their future burden, though no precise estimate of what this will amount to can be framed at present. I have now outlined the most important provisions of the Bill, designed as they are to assist me in the efficient administration of the trunk road system. It was not until 1936 that Parliament commenced to make the Minister of Transport responsible for the trunk roads of this country. Six years of war have delayed our plans, and therefore we have considerable arrears to overtake. For the time being we must concentrate, as labour and materials become available, on catching up arrears of maintenance, but during this period it is my intention to ensure that plans are prepared so that we shall be ready to start when the signal goes down. In a very short time our roads will be deluged with traffic and a very serious situationwill arise; danger to life and limb, overcrowding on the roads, irritations, delays and accidents, all of which tends to rob us of the amenities and economy of road transport. Buses, motor coaches, the small family car mean that every citizen is a motorist today, and we should cease to approach this problem in a limited way. It is to the interest of the whole nation that without further delay we should concentrate on providing this country with the best system of roads in the world, suitable for every kind of traffic and yet maintaining the characteristic of British roads, and, above all preserving the beauty of our countryside. We must not destroy the charm of England's rural scenery, nor the grandeur of the Scottish and Welsh mountains by straight, ugly, unrelieved concrete roads. Our roads must be designed to enable the motorist, cyclist and hiker not only to reach their destination swiftly, easily and in comfort, but to enjoy every moment of the journey thereto. I ask, therefore, with confidence for the agreement of the House that this Bill should be read a Second time today.
I think this is the first Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced in this House, and I should like to take the opportunity of congratulating him on the position which he occupies, and I am sure everyone in the House will hope that he will make a great success of the heavy and important task which he has undertaken. When hon. Members address this House for the first time they are generally granted, by custom, a certain consideration and indulgence, in return for which they avoid in their speeches the more injurious controversial methods of expression, and I think it is a fortunate thing that the right hon. Gentleman's first Bill comes to us in a form which does not arouse any violent opposition in principle in any part of the House. He has reminded us of its respectable ancestry, and I am bound to say that hon. Members on this side are not likely to find anything very revolutionary in a proposal to add some more miles to the roads directly controlled by the Crown, particularly when we remember that for the last 800 years our highways have been called "the King's highway."There is very little in this Bill which is novel in principle. It is, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us, really an extension of the Trunk Roads Act, 1936, and it proposes, as I understand it, to add some 3,658 miles to the 4,500 odd miles which the Trunk Roads Act included in the trunk roads system. But we ought to remember, as the background to this proposal, that there are about 180,000 miles of roads in the country and even with the additions proposed by this Bill I do not think that the proportion to be made trunk roads is at all unduly high. If my reckoning is correct it is between one-fifth and one-sixth of the classified roads of the country. Indeed, I am doubtful whether this proposal goes far enough to give the country what it really requires, which is a well planned, a complete and an integrated arterial road system. I am bound to admit that there is perhaps some wisdom in the right hon. Gentleman limiting his engulfment by his powers of mastication, and it may be that the House would prefer to leave roads in the hands of enlightened highway authorities if the alternative were their transference too rapidly to an overburdened central State Department which was unable to make a good job of them. In the Bill itself, which has been so lucidly explained by the right hon. Gentleman, there are, of course, some points which we shall want to examine further in Committee. I was interested to hear his account of the process by which he arrived at Clause 1 (2) which allows him to add new roads to the system by Provisional Order—that is a condensed description of it. I should be interested to know the views on this matter of the local authorities concerned, how far they are in agreement with what is proposed, and we should also like to hear what financial provision is intended to accompany these transfers of highway responsibilities. The proposal to include in the trunk roads system arterial roads which lie within the boundary of a county borough is no doubt right in principle, but again we should like to know how far this is agreed by the boroughs concerned and what are the financial provisions to go with it. The meat of the Bill is in the Schedule, of course, and the right hon. Gentleman must be prepared for Amendments moved in Committee drawing attention to his sins both of omission and commission. The Schedule is sonorous with names of our British countryside, and hon. Members from various parts of the country will, no doubt, bring their local knowledge to bear on the matter and be able to improve the Bill. Subject to Amendments in Committee and further discussion there, I do not myself see any great objection to the powers which the right hon. Gentleman seeks. I think the anxiety of the House will centre on what he will do with these powers when he gets them. I cannot emphasise sufficiently, from my own experience, how vital it is that the arterial road plan of this country should be speedily determined and published. It is impossible in many cases for local planning authorities to set about the great tasks which confront them until they know where these new roads are to run. It is idle to plan for satellite towns, to plan for that dispersal of our congested cities which involves a regional survey not only of the city authority's own population but of the surrounding countryside—itis impossible to do that adequately unless there is a clear picture in the mind of the authority, and until there has been an authoritative statement about where these roads are to run. To take the Bill as it stands, with all the roads enumerated in the Schedule but without such a clear statement of Government road policy, it does give an unfortunate appearance of tinkering with a vast subject, adding a road here and there. What we want is the wider policy, definite demarcation and delimitation of the road system, so that we can see whether it is adequate or not. All sorts of problems are involved. The problem of motor ways, roads dedicated to motor traffic alone, has been raised. It is not an easy problem, but it is one upon which the Government must make up their mind and say what their view is, because whether we should have such roads or not is a matter which must be very present in the minds of every local planning authority and, no doubt, in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Town and Country Planning. The Bill does contain welcome references to planning and the avoidance of ribbon development, but planning is impossible without a definite statement as to communications. Ribbon development, we all agree, is a very bad thing. It destroys the roads for traffic purposes and, at the same time, it provides a housing estate or a set of dwellings dangerous to the inhabitants. No good is served by it, but two great evils are brought about, and in previous Governments steps were taken to enable that evil to be combatted. These are continued in so far as the right hon. Gentleman proposes to be the highway authority. But there is a little more in it than that, and I hope he will use his influence with his right hon. Friends who are concerned with planning and with housing to see that housing estates are made as difficult as possible for the speeding motorist to get through. It is not enough to preserve the present speedways from encroachment by ribbon development. We must see to it that when creating a housing estate there is no inducement but every deterrent to through motor traffic. That is the other side of the ribbon development problem; it is the positive treatment of it as well as the negative. I hope we shall hear later from the right hon. Gentleman a definite pronouncement on road policy and that local authorities will know for certain where their roads are to be. The Department of which the right hon. Gentleman is the head has done a great service to the nation. During the recent war it has had to confront problems of transport of immense variety and complexity, and I hope that now that it is relieved of a greater part of its wartime burden it will concentrate on this question as a matter of first priority. I will conclude with a few remarks on two subjects, the first being safety. When we are considering making our roads safe for traffic we should bear in mind the estimate given two years ago by the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport. He said that in the Department they expected that by 1963 there would be 12,000,000 motor vehicles on the roads. It is obvious to anyone who reads the present distressing day-today accounts of casualties on the road that our roads are not safe enough for the existing traffic, and it is, therefore, abundantly clear that if in 1963 all those 12,000,000 vehicles have come forward and the roads are in anything like their present inadequate condition, we must expect a perfect holocaust of killing and maiming. I say that in order to encourage the right hon. Gentleman to take a wide view of this problem. It is not merely a question of improving the roads so that they stand up to today's traffic but of making such plans as will cope adequately with a largely increased number of vehicles. In this respect I welcome the provisions of Clause 4 with its powers to remodel junctions and crossings, and to stop up junctions of other roads with trunk roads. I would like now to refer to road surfaces. One of the causes of motor accidents, which are most prevalent when the road is in any degree treacherous from ice or wet, is the sudden variation in surface that sometimes occurs when a road passes from the jurisdiction of one highway authority into that of another. Before the motorist is aware of the fact that he is on a different system, the skid occurs. One of the benefits of having our main arterial roads under a central authority is that a uniformity of surface can be imposed upon the whole road system; but uniformity of itself is no great blessing unless what is made uniform is the best. Before the war there was a road research station operated by the right hon. Gentleman's Department and situated on the Colnbrook by-pass. Until the dreadful convulsion of war put an end to many laudable activities for the time being, some very valuable and interesting experiments were being carried out by that station to determine what is the best all-weather non-skid road surface. Has the right hon. Gentleman any news to give us of further developments at that station? Has its work been carried on during the war, and if so, are the results available to us in any way? During the war our roads have stood up marvellously to an almost complete absence of maintenance and to loads and numbers of vehicles for which they were never designed. Some of the American vehicles that came here were of such size and apparent complexity that one was left wondering whether to marvel at their immense weight or to perplex oneself by trying to imagine what useful purpose they could serve. Yet our roads stood up to them. The real point is that if this work of research and observation on road surfaces has been continued during the war, those responsible for conducting it must have had a varied experience of all sorts of vehicular traffic, and I hope that the research will be pressed forward and that we may be told what are the results. My last word is on the subject of beauty, to which there were references in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, as there are in the Bill itself. A road need not be an ugly thing. A fine highway is a noble thing, and a thing that has inspired some of the finest images both in sacred and profane literature. I hope that the Minister will remember that the responsibility which he undertakes in creating these permanent structures which will last into other generations carries with it the responsibility of seeing that they are as beautiful as possible. I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the consideration of the proper planting of trees and shrubs. In my own experience it is not enough just to plant any old tree in any old way. An immense improvement can be brought about by properly selecting trees that tone in with the landscape and by spacing the trees in the most artistic and natural manner. I hope that in all these matters those responsible will consult with people who make the subject their special study and care. I remember a case in Lancashire where a local highway authority, in creating a great double-carriage highway, had the foresight, when planting trees and shrubs, to consult the local branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and handed over the job to them, and the result was certainly very good. It has to be remembered that a man may be the finest road engineer in the world but not know much about this particular facet of life. I conclude by saying that we could have wished for a fuller statement of the Government's road policy. We urge upon the Government the necessity of giving the public and those responsible as soon as possible a defined arterial roads plan. This Bill is a step in the right direction and we agree that it should be given a Second Reading
I ask for the indulgence which is normally extended to a new Member on the first occasionon which he rises to speak. My nervousness and embarrassment are all the greater, because I shall venture to criticise a Socialist Minister on the score that his scheme of nationalisation is of far too limited a character.I suggest that the highest compliment one could possibly pay this Bill would be to say that it is a short and somewhat timid step in the right direction. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of War Transport feels embarrassed when he contemplates the scope of this Bill and compares it with the grandiose schemes of nationalisation envisaged by his colleagues on the Government Front Bench, schemes which, I suggest, relate to material far less suitable for nationalisation than are the highways of this country. The Act of 1936, for the first time, made a Department of State a central highway authority, and vested in that authority some 4,500 miles. According to the First Schedule to this Bill, all that it is proposed to add is some 3,685 miles; that is to say, when the Bill becomes an Act the effect will be solely to increase the total mileage brought under a national system to 8,000 miles, out of a total of some 180,000 miles, and among the 172,000 miles that remain there are some of the most important highways in our roads network. As far as Wales is concerned, the Act of 1936 merely provided for trunk roads to the extent of 376 miles, and as far as I can see this Bill is no wider in its provisions. In my own constituency, the two roadways which provide a link between the industrial areas of South Wales on the one hand and the delightful coastline of Cardiganshire and the agricultural resources of the county on the other hand, are not included in the First Schedule. I most earnestly emphasise that this Bill is clearly not big enough in its conceptions to meet the real needs of the country. I criticise this Bill not only because of its limited character and scope, but on the ground that it perpetuates two suppositions which were the basis of the original Act and which, I maintain, are false. The first supposition is that, in devising a national highway system, the natural and logical division of our highways is between through-roads and roads which meet the needs of a neighbourhood, and that in the national system the only roads to be included are the through-roads, or as this Bill terms them, the trunk roads. The second supposition is that local authorities, and in particular rural local authorities, in their present position, with their present powers, resources and revenue, are able adequately to maintain all the roadways which the State does not think fit to classify as trunk roads. I ask the indulgence of the House while I examine these suppositions in the light of the circumstances in my own constituency. My constituency has to regard its road transport as the chief means of carriage of goods within the county. The railway system is wholly inadequate. In the county at present there is not a mile of trunk road. The present highway rate for the county is 9s. 6d. in the £, and the total requirements of the rates of the county during the year 1945–46 are 21s. 3d. What prospect has a local authority in that position of carrying out any substantial improvements to the roadways of the county? Compare this position with that of the prosperous county of Middlesex where the highway rate is 9d. in the £. I suggest it is not irrelevant to consider to what purposes those roadways on which this 9s. 6d. in the £ is expended are used. They were designed to carry horse and cart traffic and provide communication between farms. At the present time they carry heavy lorries conveying the agricultural products and timber of the county all over the country. I suggest that they are now a vital part of the nervous system in the body economic of this country, and that it is entirely wrong to describe them as roads meeting the needs of a neighbourhood. During the last six years they have met the needs of the nation. During last year alone over 10,000,000 gallons of milk were carried over the roads of Cardiganshire. If those roads have met the needs of the nation, I respectfully submit that their maintenance should be met, not by placing an intolerable burden upon the ratepayers of Cardiganshire, but from national expenditure. It would appear from the framework of this Bill that it is not intended to place those roadways within the national system. If that is correct, I urge the Minister to consider what steps can be taken to alleviate the enormous financial burden borne by these rural authorities in the exercise of their responsibility as highway authorities. I ask him to consider whether, in view of the limitations of this Bill, it is not possible to arrange for an increase in block grants or, better still, to arrange for a rate equalisation scheme. May I make a few remarks on what I regard as the redeeming features of this Bill? In so far as it creates machinery for further action, it is a distinct improvement on the Act of 1936, and I welcome the wide powers which are given to the Minister not only to place exising roads within the system, but also to build additional roads for the purpose of making them trunk roads. I also note with pleasure the considerations which he has to bear in mind in exercising his powers:
and I hope that those powers will be exercised by him in a generous and, if I may say so, in a liberal fashion. In regard to national planning, I sincerely hope the Minister will bear in mind the need of a North Wales to South Wales trunk road. The whole of the lines of communication in Wales to-day appear to have been designed to cut Wales in half. I ask him to place high up on the priority list the need of a North to South Wales road. I do not know when he carries out the design of his trunk roads he is going to include provisions for the illumination of those roads. If he is, I ask him to bear in mind the possibility of linking up rural electrification with this system of illumination. While I recognise that, if the powers in the Bill are exercised in a generous manner, it will go some way to alleviate the present position and to contribute towards the establishment of efficiency and equity in our highway system, I would have welcomed it all the more if it had been a more bold step towards the consolidation of highway administration and finance."the requirements of local and national planning, including the requirements of agriculture,"
I welcome the introduction of this Bill because I regard it as a further stage in the long overdue recognition of the tact that the maintenance and construction of our highways is a Governmental responsibility. If I may, with all respect, refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison) who asked what was the attitude of local authorities to this Bill, I would say that my information is that this policy of placing the responsibility for the maintenance of our highways on the Government, has met with the unanimous approval of all the highways authorities' associations. In view of recent speeches in this House advocating the closer consultation and co-operation of Ministers with local authorities, I think that that is a very strong point in favour of this Bill. It is said—and with truth—that transport is the lifeblood of industry. If that be so, then it behoves the Government of the day to see that that blood stream flows freely and unimpeded to all parts of the country.It is evident that we have not by any means reached that position yet. It is no exaggeration to say that our roads are at least 50 years behind the times. They are inadequate to carry the traffic; they are often so narrow that two commercial vehicles could hardly pass on them; their contour is irregular, and they are in many respects inefficient. One of the most damaging blows ever delivered at the development of highway construction in this country was given by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in his 1926 Budget. I have looked up HANSARD so that I should quote the right hon. Gentleman correctly, because I know it would be very dangerous if I did not take that precaution. After stating in his Budget speech that the roads must not only be maintained, but must be progressively improved, he deliberately raided the Road Fund to the extent of many millions of pounds. The Road Fund was created for the specific purpose of providing the financial means to improve and maintain our highways. I heard Mr. Philip Snowden, as he then was, when I was in this House many years ago, describe that process as robbery. It has impeded, hindered and obstructed the development of our road system in this country more than any other single action and we are today suffering from the neglect of past Governments in this regard. Let me for a moment look at the development of traffic that has taken place in recent years. The increase of motor vehicles per mile on classified roads rose from 35·2 in 1924 to 69·5 in 1936, and the increase in commercial vehicles under three tons increased in that period by 95 per cent. No one could suggest for a moment that the highways have been constructed or improved to compare with the tremendous increase in our road traffic. There is a tremendous leeway to make up, and I regard this Bill as only the beginning of a scheme of development which, when completed, will bring our highways up to date, put them into a position to carry the traffic that will have to be borne, and so bring us, as far as highways are concerned, into touch with modern times. I would like to deal for a moment, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester did, with the question of safety. It is an important question from the standpoint of our people. One reads about the very large number of fatal accidents, and of persons injured on our roads. I have seen statistics to prove that the number of deaths and accidents on the roads oftentimes compares with the number of people who have been killed in warfare. I suggest, with all respect, that one of the aids to safety would be the construction, as a matter of policy, of footpaths beside all our chief roads. I can speak from my own experience in my own county, of fatal accidents which have occurred owing to the absence of these footpaths. I hope the Minister will seriously consider the provision of footpaths alongside all the main roads for which he is responsible. There is another question which I think is in Order in relation to this matter, that is the question of the lighting on main trunk roads. A little while ago, one of the district councils in the constituency which I have the honour to represent in this House applied to the county council of Gloucestershire, of which I happen to be a member, for a grant to enable them to carry out a scheme of lighting on a section of our main trunk road which adjoins the city of Bristol. When hon. Members realise that from the Bristol Aeroplane Company's works many thousands of people emerge on to this road at the same time, I think they will begin to realise how dangerous traffic is on that road. As you leave the boundary of Bristol, and come to the main road in my constituency, you come from light into darkness. I am not speaking politically or I would not be here, but that is the actual position. Under the Act of1936 the Minister has power either to pay for the whole cost or a percentage of a scheme of lighting. I can say without egotism that I know the roads of my county as well as anybody and this is the most dangerous part of any trunk road in the South-west. The Minister offered 50 per cent. of the cost and the county council was asked to make a grant. The objection was urged that this really prevented the proposal which I put before the county council being adopted. They wanted to know the policy of the Minister with regard to the lighting of main trunk roads generally, and I make a very strong appeal to him today, that this matter of grants, with regard to lighting not the whole of the main road, but sections which are admittedly dangerous, should be reconsidered sympathetically so that local authorities shall not have to bear this undue burden. That, of course, is very largely concerned with the question of safety. I want to mention something more which might seem to some hon. Members a very small thing in connection with safety. I refer to the adoption of "cats' eyes."We in the West, thanks to the activity of our county surveyor, are in a very fortunate position. Throughout the main roads of Gloucestershire there are "cats' eyes." You can tell when you leave my county, and go into the adjoining one, especially if you are travelling at night, for again you go from light into darkness. I suggest that these "cats' eyes" are of inestimable value in the dark and a great aid to the safety of travelling. I hope that the Minister will consider seriously putting "cats' eyes" on all the roads for which he is responsible. Now I come to the part of the Bill which gives me unbounded pleasure—Clause 6. Under this Clause, the Minister is empowered to construct bridges. When I read this Clause, it rekindled hope in my breast that a project which has been very near to my heart was in prospect of being brought to fruition. I refer to the sug- gested bridge over the River Severn a few miles north of the port of Bristol-Avonmouth. This is no new project. I attended a conference in London, representing my county council, during the period of office of the late Sir Henry Maybury. Representatives of all local authorities in the South-Western part of the country were invited and attended, and in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester we reached then "a high degree of unanimity." Everybody there, representing those authorities, expressed the opinion that the bridge across the Severn was not only necessary and desirable, but would confer a great advantage upon that very large district. It would supply a vital link in the national and local communications of that part of the country. What would be the effect? It would save 54 miles in the journey from Southampton and Bristol to Cardiff; it would save nine miles in the journey from London to South Wales. In these times, when the lighter industries are being developed in South Wales, I think hon. Members will see the added advantages that would accrue from the construction of this bridge. I have been told that, when Bills have been promoted to implement the proposal for the construction of this bridge, they have been defeated because of the opposition of vested interests. That is something that will not apply in the case of this Government or the Minister, because they will not be influenced by the representations of selfish sectional interests. I know, if I may say so with humility, that our present Minister is a man of determination and vision, and I sincerely hope that he will exercise these qualities and attributes in the consideration of this proposal. He paid us a compliment when, during his tour of inspection during the Recess, he visited the site of this proposed bridge. I think he then saw and experienced—because he crossed in the ferry—sufficient to convince him that this bridge was absolutely necessary to link up the two parts of our country. I hope that his period of office will be crowned by the accomplishment of this very valuable project, which I can assure him, speaking on behalf of the people I represent, my own county council and other adjacent authorities, will confer a very great advantage on the inhabitants of that district.
On this, the first occasion on which I have addressed the House, I hope to be granted the usual kind indulgence. I think I can say that from my experiences during my military career, and, particularly, the sleepless nights I had to suffer just before D Day, in trying to fit in convoys of vehicles on our British roads, I have some idea of the shortcomings of our road system. This Bill should be received with pleasure, as it does amplify and improve the 1936 Act, and will give the Minister extensive powers; but I think the failure has been that the Minister has not taken advantage of the powers he already possesses. The plan is not big enough. Under the 1936 Act, 4,246 miles of roads were taken in, but the bottlenecks in the boroughs, the bridges and the level crossings were left, out. Now, they come in and so an improvement will be made. A further mileage is also taken in, most of these roads being feeder roads, but I say that, until the main roads under the 1936 Act are completely modernised to a uniform pattern, these additions will do little to improve the system, or to do away with the risk of accident.At present, the London—Birmingham road has 23 different types of surface over its 110 miles of length. The Bristol road varies in width 19 times, from a minimum of 20 feet to a maximum of 40 feet, whilst along the 190 miles of the Great North Road, there is only room for a single line of traffic each way. Until this haphazard and piecemeal planning can be overcome, little help can be given to the road transport industry and motoring public of this country, and, of course, it will not help to reduce accidents. The Alness Committee, in their Report, agreed that bad and inadequate road conditions are main contributory factors to the accident rate. Do we fully realise the number of insured people who depend upon the roads for their livelihood? In 1939, the number of insured workers directly employed by the road traffic industry was 1,300,000. Further, we can say that every person in the countryis dependent, in his daily life, upon the efficiency of the roads, and every delay in making standard and adequate roads is a brake on our trade and industry generally. Every aspect of reconstruction—housing, allocation of industry, town and country planning—is dependent on the Government's long-term plan for the roads. The present Minister of State, when Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport, more than once stressed the huge economic loss to the community caused by bad roads. In Greater London alone, it has been estimated that over £70,000,000 is lost every year through road traffic congestion. Tests which have been made in America have proved that, to pull up a motor vehicle in a reasonable distance from a speed of 30 miles an hour, imposes a great deal more wear and tear on the vehicle, than if it could travel at more than 30 miles an hour without stopping. About 15 per cent. of the total amount of fuel consumed in this country is wasted over halts, stops and starts. In view of the magnitude of this problem, I ask that roads and road transport should become a first priority, and that the Minister should have a consulting body of all those interests, so that the whole system will come into line and become an asset to this country. There is no longer any fear in regard to secrecy about land and future plans. The Government have the power to take over the land, and until the scheme for the replanning of our roads is published, so that the information can be criticised by the public and by all the interested bodies, we are bound to run the risk of haphazard and opportunist development. It is often argued that the cost of road construction is so vast, that it can only be done when finances permit, but I would say that that is a rather short-sighted policy. The matter is vital to the reconstruction of our life. Further, 95 per cent. of the money spent on road reconstruction is spent in this country. We are told that the cost of construction per mile of a motor road on the Continental model, with fly-over bridges and so on, has been estimated at £100,000. No evidence has been produced to support this figure, and I think we can show that the cost can be considerably reduced by the use of modern methods and machinery. In view of the very large increase of vehicles likely to arise in the next few years, I hope the Government will bring out their big plan for the future and bring it out quickly. Time is pressing. If this Government mean to give industry and agriculture and the workpeople every encouragement to recover from the war and enable them to compete in the world's markets, the matter is urgent. In the meantime, whilst that plan is being prepared, I hope preparations will also be made to get on with the other part of the Measure, so that the old methods of road building and road construction shall be brought up to date, by a study of the achievements of our armies abroad, and also by a study of the technical and scientific progress made in the United States. I am informed by experts that, if the same speed and methods which were used to produce the Alaska Highway were used to provide a road from London to Liverpool, it could be completed in two months.
It is my pleasant duty to offer congratulations to two hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. First, there is the hon. Gentleman who represents the county of Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), and who, in the course of his speech, made a forceful plea for improvement of the road system of his native county. As a Scotsman knowing the conditions of my own country, which are rather similar to those of Wales, I think he made a very useful and comprehensive statement and that his constituents are fortunate in having him to represent them here. It also gives me great pleasure to welcome the maiden speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Clifton-Brown), who bears a name which is very highly honoured in this House. He showed in his remarks that he has made a very wide and detailed study of road transport matters and offered a very useful contribution to this Debate. I hope we may have the pleasure of hearing him again frequently on other occasions.We have had contributions to this Debate from Wales, from the West Country and from East Anglia so far, and it falls to me to be the first Member representative of a Scottish constituency to say something on this important Measure. This Bill is, I think, a sound Measure though it does not go as far in certain directions as some of us would like to see. I would like to point to one notable omission which concerns us in Scotland, and which I and others of my hon. Friends on this side of the House would like to see remedied. Looking through the First Schedule I notice that reference is made to the road joining Inverkeithing to Perth—an important link in the great North trunk road—but no mention is made of the road linking Edinburgh to South Queensferry, or the road between North Queensferry and Inverkeithing, both of which are also links in the Great North Road. I feel we are entitled to have some explanation from the Minister of War Transport as to why these two roads should have been omitted. As I understand it, from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman in his opening speech and from the title of the Bill itself, it is designed to complete or, at least, greatly to extend the trunk road system of the country. One sentence in the Explanatory Memorandum reads:
Seems to me rather alarming to find that such a vital gap as that across the Forth Estuary—the gap between Edinburgh and Inverkeithing—should not find mention in this Bill by the inclusion of the two approach roads. Any hon. Member who takes the trouble to look at the map which has been installed in the Library, must at once be struck by the fact that the gap across the Forth is a very serious one from the point of view of national road development. It must hinder the opening up of the trunk road system. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of War Transport was quite alive to this and was, indeed, favourable to the construction of the Forth Road Bridge, as I understand that it is not very long since he visited the site and made quite optimistic remarks about it. I, and others of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, feel that it is somewhat ominious that these two approach roads should not find mention in the Schedule. For that reason, and in order that the matter may be dealt with fully at a subsequent stage, we have tabled an Amendment to include these two roads in the First Schedule. It may be, of course, that in his reply the Parliamentary Secretary may refer me to Subsection (2) of Clause 1 which gives, as the Minister pointed out, very considerable powers to the Minister to enable roads to be added or removed from the Schedule. It reads:"The main object of the Bill is to supplement the national system of routes for through traffic by adding to it other roads (including roads within areas hitherto excluded from the trunk road system) forming an interconnecting system of principal routes between various parts of the country."
It is certainly quite comprehensive, but nevertheless I feel that that Subsection will not meet our point, for this reason: we have had experience in other Acts passed recently of power being given to Ministers to add to Schedules or to take away certain things from them after the Bill becomes law. I am thinking particularly of the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, under the provisions of which the Minister has power to add certain areas to the Schedule to enable them to be treated as Development Areas. That Bill passed through the House with fairly general approval, but now that it has become law some of us are finding it very difficult indeed to get the Minister to move to add to these Schedules. It is for that reason that I think it would be very much better to see these two roads down in black and white in the Schedule of the present Bill and not leave this matter vaguely to the future. Whilst I am on the subject of the approach roads to the proposed Forth Road Bridge, I would like to probe a little further into the matter of the bridge itself. In his opening speech the Minister rightly made considerable reference to Clause 6, which confers upon him wide powers for the erection of bridges and tunnels. I would like to know his general intention towards works of that nature, such as the Severn Road Bridge, which has been mentioned already, and the Forth Road Bridge because, of course, these matters are not touched upon in the Bill itself. I am particularly interested in this point because I put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of the Forth Road Bridge on 15th October, when I asked the Minister of Road Transport:"…he may by order direct that that road shall become, or as the case may be shall cease to be, a trunk road as from such date as may be specified in that behalf in the order."
To which the right hon. Gentleman replied:"….Whether he can make any statement on the question of obtaining a grant from the Exchequer towards meeting the cost of the construction of a road bridge across the Forth Estuary?"
At the time, that statement was quite satisfactory, so far as it went, to the local authorities and to people interested in Scotland, but it seems to me there has been a change and we would like to know What the position is going to be once the present Bill has become law. Are the local authorities in Scotland to proceed with the promotion of a Provisional Order on the understanding that, subject to the approval of this House, in due course the Government will grant 75 per cent. of the cost of construction of the proposed road bridge? Or has there been a change in Government policy on this matter? Is it the intention now that, using his powers under Clause6, the Minister will himself undertake the construction of the bridge and bear the total cost of it? That is a matter of very great importance indeed to the local authorities and to the people of Scotland generally, and I feel it would be appropriate if the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply could elucidate the matter further. Subject to the remarks which I have made on this matter, which is of great interest not only to Scotland but to the country generally in order to complete the national road system, I give this Bill a welcome."On 26th July the Lord Provost of Edinburgh was informed that a grant of 75 per cent. would be made from the Road Fund to the approved expenditure to be incurred, up to the stage of Royal Assent, to the promotion of a Provisional Order or Bill to authorise the construction of a road bridge over the Forth at the Mackintosh Rock site. It was also agreed that the Order or Bill might be prepared on the basis that a grant of 75 per cent. of the approved cost of the scheme would be made at such time as Parliament may approve the inclusion in the Road Fund Vote of the necessary financial provision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 736.]
So many maiden speeches have been made since 9th October that it appears almost an act of hardihood to ask the House once again to display its traditional patience. Nevertheless, I feel sure that the House will not depart from its customary practice on this occasion and I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this Bill.Many of us on this side of the House view with apprehension any proposals which seem designed to lengthen the shadows of Whitehall and until collec- tively they darken the face of Great Britain, but this afternoon I want to make a plea for road development in the Highlands. In the King's Speech attention was promised to the special problem of Scotland and Wales. Surely there is no greater problem than that of the Highlands? Mr. Samuel Johnson, who viewed Scotland with rather a jaundiced eye, expressed the view that the fairest prospect for any Scotsman was of a high road leading to England. That may have been true of the Lowland Scot, but it certainly could not have been true of the Highlander for there were no high roads leading out of the wild beauty of the North. In the first Schedule to the Bill I am pleased to see that the slipway at the Kyle of Lochalsh in Ross-shire has been included, and I hope that this will mean that the slipway will be lengthened so that travellers are not kept waiting for two or three hours as they are at the present time. Would it not be possible to include all such ferries as a continuation of the highway? It is also gratifying to see in the first Schedule that the Minister proposes to take over the Dingwall to Ullapool Road. I note that it is the last mentioned. Is it too much to hope that in any plan of road development the last shall be first? I should like to have seen the Braemore to Altbea Road included. In the Memorandum to the Bill we read:
We know that roads are classified by the amount of traffic on them, but how can you classify a road when there is no road there to be classified? Here is a strong case for the consideration of the Highlands as a Development Area. The Highlands cannot hope to have their tracks included as trunk roads, because the various scattered villages and districts cannot be developed because of this lack of roads. One welcomes such a road as that from Dingwall to Ullapool, but I would like to argue whether it was the best policy to spend vast sums of money on wide trunk roads, such as the one proposed in 1938 to by-pass Tain, in Ross-shire, to enable motorists to get to Wick some five or ten minutes sooner, or to ask the Government to provide the com- plete cost of the road over the Estuary of the Forth, rather than provide feeder roads to the main highway to enable local inhabitants to carry out their daily tasks in reasonable comfort. It is absurd not to give the Highlands special consideration. We are not beggars in the Highlands; we ask to be considered fairly, and for account to be taken of our exiguous position and our great natural disadvantages. I take, as an example, the necessity for a road on the North coast of Apple-cross, where there are nine villages which lack this first essential of any civilisation. I would quote from a report sent to me by a doctor there on 26th June, 1944. He said:"The new roads specified in the First Schedule to the Bill comprise roads connecting the chief centres of industry and population with each other, or with the most important ports, and roads connecting the more important food producing districts with their markets."
That is not in a distant island, but on the mainland of Great Britain. Do you wonder at the depopulation of the Highlands? The inhabitants there are living in appalling distress. I am making a plea for the survival of a fine race of men and women. Soldiers who fought in this war for these villages had to walk 15 miles in both directions during their leave, often arriving at the main road soaking wet to catch a bus which would take them to the rail head. It was Pitt who said in Parliament:"It is the rule and not the exception to have such difficulty in this district. On 15th May last I decided to send an acute surgical case, a woman from our village of Cuaig, to a hospital. It was almost impossible to get her away that day as there was a heavy sea, with a northerly gale blowing straight on to the beach near the house. The following day was nearly as bad, but the people from the neighbouring village made a magnificent effort, and carried the patienton a stretcher to a distance of two miles. Then, still on the stretcher, the patient was transferred to a rowing boat, and taken out to a large fishing boat. At this stage great difficulty was experienced in getting the patient on board, because of the high sea and gale. However, it was done, and thereafter followed a sea journey of one and a half hours to Shieldaig, where the same procedure of getting the patient into the rowing boat and carrying her up the beach on the stretcher was gone through again before she was safely got into a car for the 85 miles journey to the infirmary at Inverness. In a similar case the patient died."
Now the descendants of those heroes are returning to see their families being strangled out of existence owing to the changing economic position. New roads must be the arteries which will bring new blood to those parts of Scotland, not only to keep them alive but to increase the stock which has proved its worth in the British Empire, and which will be there to prove its worth in the days of peace that lie ahead."I sought for merit wherever it could be found. It was my boast that I was the first Minister to look for it, and find it in the mountains of the north. I called forth and drew into your service a hardy and intrepid race of men. They served with fidelity and fought with valour and conquered for you in every corner of the globe."
It is a great pleasure for me to compliment the hon. and gallant Member for Ross and Cromarty (Captain MacLeod) upon his very effective, sincere and forceful maiden speech. I for one, in common with other Members of the House, look forward to hearing him again on many occasions. This is the first time for ten years that Ross and Cromarty has been directly represented by an active back bench Member of this House, and that means greater responsibility for the hon. and gallant Gentleman, because there is much leeway to catch up, and I am sure that that will give him the incentive which will enable us to have the pleasure of hearing him again on many occasions.I, too, would like to refer to the Scottish aspect of this Bill, which is a good one because it meets some essential needs. It is necessary to make more livable the life of people throughout rural Scotland, as well as in the industrial areas, and the Bill will, one hopes, also help to attract the new industries which are badly needed in the North of Scotland. We have had great promise of the extension of the hydro-electric schemes there, but the advantages of cheap power can, to a large extent, be cancelled out by bad and expensive transport. Therefore, insofar as this Bill goes hand in hand with the advantages of cheap electricity, so it will help to make the Highlands more attractive for new industries. There is something more which is needed in the comprehensive plan which we hope, and expect, we shall get from this Government. We want to see a road system fitted into a more general and comprehensive plan for the restoration of the life of the Highlands and Isles of Scotland, for their economic reconstruction and their future advancement. We must regard road planning as part of the general plan to evolve and realise a modern transport system. In the Highlands we have a triple alliance at the moment, or, rather, a kind of triple chaos. There is a road system, a rail system and a subsidised steamer service. These have not worked hand in hand up to now, and I therefore hope that the Ministry will take a wider view of the requirements of the Islands, as well as the Highlands, of Scotland in the matter of dovetailing and co-ordinating these services and bringing them into line and co-operation. Talk of through roads means, I take it, a complete and completed system of transport linking up all services, and not leaving out the complementary utilisation of air transport. We hope to see an extension of the Distribution of Industry plans to the Highlands; and I hope the Minister will keep his eye on the Board of Trade and work closely with them and other Departments, an don the Scottish Office itself. I hope Departments acting jointly will make a more comprehensive attack on the problem of the depopulation of the Highlands and Islands. Without cheap and efficient transport, it is no use expecting industrialists to go into the remoter parts of Great Britain, even although the cheaper power supply may be there. The Departments will have to deal with the problem of freight and transport charges and, I believe, will be forced, in places like Ross and Cromarty, the Shetlands and the Hebrides, into the adoption of a flat-rate system of transport charges. They will be forced into that if they intend to equalise economic and commercial opportunity for these parts. Reference has been made in connection with the Bill to piers and harbours. These are the beginnings and ends of the roads at the ports. Let us not leave them out when we are talking of bridges and tunnels. Where ferries are indispensable, let us have better ferries. Let us get away from the miserable idea of having to wait till the wind is right or until the "bloke" in charge has had an extra pint before he will take your car across the ferry at a cost of 10s. for a three minutes'run. If you do not like it, or he does not feel like it, you must make a detour of many miles, for example at Balachulish to or from Fort William. Let us get away from the system of leaving expensive and antiquated ferries in the hands of private people. If ferries are necessary bring them up to date under public auspices; where possible, get rid of them altogether and build bridges. That is the modern way of doing the job, and it gives a through road in the best sense of the term. I have never understood why good roads should have stopped where the Highlanders stopped the Romans. There has been no lack of opportunity, advocacy and promises, but, unfortunately, bad roads continue, and will continue where you have the landlords in charge of county councils. In many cases we would rather have had the Romans. They, at any rate, built roads and bridges. There is a special obligation on the Scottish Office and the Department of Agriculture. Roads which link up with trunk roads at many places were built largely by the free labour of the settlers, who are still compelled to maintain them. At that time the Western Isles, so far as road making was concerned, were rapidly becoming a mid-Atlantic Belsen. I do not think I shall be contradicted when I say that nowhere else in the civilised world would conditions of that kind have been tolerated. Members of this house would have been on their feet in indignation denouncing them, if the same conditions had been found in Jamaica, Ceylon, Trinidad, or even in any part of the world outside the British Empire. I believe that even to this day the North Uist district council stipulates that so many hours of free labour shall be given by local people to do certain road work under the supervision and responsibility of the district council and even provide horses and implements. The Department of Agriculture has not yet decided to abolish this free labour maintenance of these roads. That is outrageous. It is time the Secretary of State for Scotland and other Ministers concerned got down to that problem, and abolished this form of part time slavery altogether. Now, what are these trunk roads going to be like? What is the standard of engineering to be? What is their width? The term "trunk road" is so widely interpreted in this Bill that it may mean anything. Let a trunk road in the Isles and Highlands be defined and built to the same high modern standard as in the South country. Obviously we are not going to develop the Isles and Highlands along 10-foot roads. These roads, what we may call the "Belisha roads," were allowed to be constructed ten feet wide by reactionary county councils in the past decade. It has been suggested that the widening of these roads is not justified because they do not carry enough traffic. But they never will carry traffic unless they are made wider. We have to plan ahead if we want new industries to go into these parts. These roads are a danger to motorists, cannot accommodate traffic, and will be a hindrance to the introduction of new industries into these areas which so badly need them. The War Office, Air Ministry and the Navy were frequently hindered and hampered in their work throughout the Highlands and Islands during the war because there were no passable roads at a time when on the road system to a large extent depended the safety of this country and the conduct of the war. Road work and connected public works in the Highlands and Islands present us with a ready-made short term employment programme. There are well over a thousand on the register of unemployed on the islands of Lewis and the Southern Isles; and many of these men of middle age and upwards are perfectly fit to do road work. Yet at the age of 50 and 60 these men are being called upon to leave their homes and families to go to Dunfermline or mid-Scotland and other places and to do some other job far away from their own people and homes. I think it is outrageous that we should go to men of that kind and start uprooting them at their time of life, when alongside them, are the worst roads in the world to be reconstructed, and when these roads, bridges and piers are obviously necessary if progress is to be made in the Islands and Highlands. I appeal to the Minister to get down to consideration of the desirability of linking up several of the outer islands of the Hebrides by bridges. A short viaduct would, quite cheaply, link up BerneraIsle to Lewis Island and bring the blessing, of modern transport and service to people long isolated and inconvenienced under great hardship for centuries. The provision of bridges would bring people together a lot more socially and make the islands a more attractive proposition for industralists, who might be tempted. It will make all the difference in the world if instead of having to go from the North of Barra in a ferry to Eriskay and thence again by boat to South Uist, the skill of modern engineering could well link up Barra, by Ludaig, to Eriskay, and thence to South Uist. So also could bridging bring convenience and benefit to Grimsay, by a viaduct from Benbecula to North Uist. I think if these problems existed in other parts of the British Empire they would have been settled long ago. Remoteness, in the sense that these islands are so far away from the Minister of War Transport, is a poor excuse for ignoring this problem any longer. It is perfectly possible from an engineering point of view to link up these islands and bring new economic life and social conveniences and comfort into the lives of the people of the Hebrides. For the next ten years, we could find employment for nearly all the unskilled and semi-skilled labour in the Hebrides, and work on the road problems would very largely contribute to that employment. There is no excuse for poverty and unemployment in these islands while this problem remains, and the Minister could bring new hope to them if he were to undertake to attack the problem boldly instead of placating the county councils like his less progressive predecessors, when they dodge their responsibilities and take a few pence off the people by free labour to make up for lack of Treasury grants. If he would get down boldly to the problem of dealing with these roads we could hope to see some progress being made in these islands. Today I got an answer from a junior Minister which shocked me. It referred to the great financial difficulty of providing post office facilities for the island of Scarp, Harris. The citizens who live there are, surely, as important as those who live in London or elsewhere. They have to be treated as human beings and I do not want answers of that sort and I am not going to have them. Hon. Members opposite need not cheer that remark. If hon. Members opposite had been doing their job for the past 10 years I should not still be asking for this today, after all these years of Tory misrule. The there is the problem of the MacBrayne steamship services run by petty tyrants behind a desk, who think they can ignore or bully or "stonewall"into submission to their methods and bad service the public who subsidise them and are th eir masters and provide their profits. They have one or two steamers which the Germans refused to sink because they thought they were a bigger menace to the British Empire afloat. Let the Minister take all his courage into both his hands and tackle the MacBrayne Western Isles service, modernise it, step it up, speed it up and run it for the people as well as merely at their expense. Let him get the fares and freight charges down now. Will the Scottish Office bring every possible pressure to bear on this question of taking over the responsibility for all roads that are necessary to our agricultural population in the North. With good roads and modern and efficient transport, we can have still industrial development in the Isles and in the North. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consult with his colleagues to see if they cannot get together to deal with this problem and co-ordinate their plans not only on transport but all the other things that go with it. Let them condescend to come forward and consult us in this House. We would be most willing to co-operate; there is no need to be pessimistic about the Islands and Highlands unless you are going to leave them as they were left in the Tory past. There is no "Celtic twilight." That is only the dim vision of cock-eyed politicians looking as us "through a glass darkly"from distant Westminster. The Highlanders and Islesmen have still much of their old vigour, which they displayed so gallantly at Narvik and Alamein and St. Valery and in the Merchant Navy. The Highlands can be just as vigorous in taking their part in the economic reconstruction of their own land and in making their contribution to Britain and the world. Give them that opportunity and not only will we in the Highlands be grateful and respond; but the House will be grateful—and the nation—for what the Highlands have to offer in return.
I have no wish to detain the House long, because I find myself in general agreement with this Bill, but like many other hon. Members, I do not think that it goes far enough. It goes some distance towards meeting one of the urgent needs of Scotland; that is in the provision of an adequate transport service. Many of the problems of Scotland are in essence concerned with transport. If we are to develop agriculture and industry, and,, as a result of hydro-electricity, bring indus- try into the Highlands, we must have an adequate road transport service. We also need it for the tourist traffic. For these reasons, I support the Bill so far as it goes. It goes some way in the West and North-West, and inFife towards meeting this need. I find, however, that there are several omissions, and rather serious omissions.In the first place, as the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison) pointed out, there is no mention in the Schedule of the road from Edinburgh to South Queensferry, and from North Queensferry to Inverkeithing. For 20 years Scotland has been demanding a Forth Road Bridge. We have negotiated with various Governments in an endeavour to get this bridge, and I had hoped to see some provision made for it in this Bill. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister of War Transport could enlighten us on whether the Bill is framed to enable him to take that in under Clause 1 (2). I think we would like some assurance fromthe Minister concerning this. If we look at the map of Scotland, we see that it is obvious that Scotland needs a trunk road right up the East coast, and that trunk road has to span the Forth and the Tay. It is not only a need for Scotland, but, as the hon.and gallant Member for West Edinburgh has said, it is part of a national road service. That is the second omission. We are to get a new trunk road round Fife, but instead of that road running from Coupar towards Dundee, we find that is left at that. I think that there should be a trunk road running up the East coast. The third point I want to make concerns ferries. It is true that we want bridges, but it is also true that ferries can and must play a part in a system of transport for Scotland. At the present time, nobody seems to have much responsibility for ferries. They are allowed to decay, and ferries that formerly ran are no longer running. I would like to see the Minister obtain some powers in connection with ferries. It has been mentioned by other speakers, and I would like the Minister to consider it seriously. I do not know whether it can be included in this present Bill, but I suggest that he could obtain fairly considerable powers under Clause 4, which empowers him to proceed with improvements.
In the provision of such junctions I visualise that ferries should play a part. If we look at the map which my right hon. Friend the Minister of War Transport placed in the Map Room, we find that whenever the trunk roads of Scotland come to a water barrier they either stop, or else commence to run alongside it. It is true in the case of the Forth, and particularly when we come to the West coast. It should be possible, by the Minister being made responsible for ferries, and given the necessary powers, to continue these trunk roads where they are required, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) would agree. It should also be possible to link up quite a number of places in the Highlands by means of ferries to the main trunk roads, providing thereby a much shorter and speedier mode of transport. I would urge on the Minister the necessity for doing this, and ask him if he cannot consider introducing amendments to obtain for himself, in this Bill, some power in regard to ferries. This is one of the things in which private enterprise has badly failed. There is no doubt about that. Because these services have not been profitable, private enterprise has not bothered to provide them. It is not concerned with the needs of the people in Scotland. It has not been for 100 years. We have to build a better economic system. As one writer said recently in the Scottish Conservative Press:"which he considers it expedient to carry out for the purpose of effecting a safer or more convenient junction between a trunk road and any other road;"
referring to ferries—"Neither private enterprise nor local authorities are likely to do much to remedy these defects"—
Next, I would like to ask the Minister to what extent local authorities have been consulted in connection with this Bill? Under the 1936 Act, trunk roads within large burghs and within cities in Scotland were excluded, or were not under the control of the Minister of Transport. The present Bill now proposes that all trunk roads within cities and large burghs should be brought within his jurisdiction. In connection with my own city, Edinburgh, I wonder what exactly they will think about the Minister of War Transport controlling Princes Street, for example. I would seek some assurance that the local authorities have been consulted about this matter. I would also ask the Minister to elucidate that part of his speech in which he said it was necessary that he should have power to preserve and look after the amenities of trunk roads. How does that apply in connection with a street like Princes Street? What exactly are the powers of the Minister in that regard? In conclusion, I once again ask the Minister to try to include within this Bill—I think it would be possible under Clause 4—some powers so that he might help to provide Scotland with ferries."at least not entirely by their own initiative or out of their own resources. Ferry services should be the concern of the Minisiter of War Transport, in conjunction with a scheme of improved connecting roadways."
I think the last four speakers are to be congratulated on the way they have managed, to make an English Bill into a Scottish Measure. I wish to bring the Bill back to England. With the introduction of this Bill I feel very old, because I remember that in 1936, I and one or two hon. Members, who are no longer in the House, alone opposed the then Trunk Roads Bill on three grounds and put an Amendment down against the Second Reading. The first ground was that the then Schedule excluded many of the important roads that were conveying produce to and from the ports, and also holiday-makers to and from the seaside. The second ground was that the Bill, as drafted, excluded the non-county boroughs, and the third was that the Minister should have power to add roads. As I read this Bill it looks to me as though some Minister, not necessarily this one, has read my speech, and has drafted a Bill on those lines. If this Bill had been introduced in 1937 I should certainly have welcomed it, and voted for it. But I have grown older, and so have the roads, in the intervening nine years.What I dislike about this Bill is that it has the musty odour of the pigeon-hole. What was right when we were criticising in 1936, is not adequate for the British road system today, when we have just come through the recent war. Let me take the first point, the question of the roads that are being added. As I see it, the modern road, the trunk road, is not the road our ancestors made, that dawdled from village to village, that wound round the little village streets, and which, if now used as a trunk road, congests traffic, endangers the lives of our children, and does not succeed in bringing the produce from the factory to the port quickly. I do not want to get into the Scottish habit of going on a Cook's tour of the countryside, but if the House will forgive me I will take as an example one road to show what I mean in saying that this Bill is out of date. It is a road in my constituency. I notice there is a road in this Schedule that is described as the Boroughbridge-Thirsk Road. Why take this road over as described in the Schedule? Its classification numbers are given as A167, A168 and A61. First of all A167has been stopped up for four years. We have managed to bomb Berlin successfully from Road A167, and we who have been using the Boroughbridge-Thirsk Road have found that we could not use A167. When I came back, I found that if I wanted to go from Boroughbridge to Thirsk, I had to choose quite a different route. I should have thought it would be far wiser if the Minister constructed a new road that did not wind through Borough-bridge and wind through the villages of Dishforth and Topcliffe, and finally arrive in the important market town of Thirsk, where five roads, of which two will be trunk roads, meet in the centre of the town. Surely the time has come to construct a road that goes through the less valuable agricultural land, that avoids these market towns. These market towns can be linked up with these roads by small link roads. The example of the Borough-bridge—Thirsk Road is one which hon. Members, from their wide knowledge of their constituencies, can find repeated in relation to most of these trunk roads. The Minister should get more power to construct trunk roads, rather than to take over those roads that serve local traffic. I am still strongly in favour of the proposition that the Minister should take over roads through non-county boroughs, but in that very excellent typewritten account of the Bill which the Minister read for us, I found no real indication of the difference between Part I of the First Schedule and Part II. Why is it that certain roads of non-county boroughs are included in Part II of the Schedule, but others are not? Let me give an example. In the Part II of the Schedule are roads that are already in Part I, and it is stated that a certain part of them that goes through the areas of non-county boroughs, shall be included. Are we to understand from that that where an area of a non-county borough is not mentioned in the Part II it will not be taken over. If so, that is a very serious consideration when many of these roads are examined. Ever since the Bill was published I have been puzzled. Take, for example, the Leeds-Halifax-Burnley-Blackburn-East of Preston trunk road. No one can say that I have any vested interests in that road. That is included in Part I and Part II of the Schedule. When I look at the really important Leeds-York-Scarborough Road, which goes right through the area of York corporation, I find no taking over by the Minister of the part that is in Leeds, or in York or in Scarborough. Do I understand from the Minister that he does not intend to take over those parts of that road that are not in county areas? I gathered from the conversations my local authorities have had with the Ministry that it was the intention to take over those parts that were in the city of York, the city of Leeds and in the area of Scarborough. In fact, I believe the idea was to take over the road down to the sea front. It is very unfortunate if the Bill, as printed, does not make that clear. It is vital. In York we have had for a long time this project of a ring road. We hope that when the Minister replies these points will be made abundantly clear. Finally, as regards the power to add roads, I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong in 1936 when I asked that the Minister should have power to add roads. I hope that the Minister will consider this matter now, because it is not so easy as he apparently thought, when he made his opening speech. I am all in favour of the burden of local authorities being diminished by the Government taking over as many trunk roads as possible, but if there is hanging over local authorities this sword of Damocles which is going to cut off their liabilities on any road, there will be a certain inaction on the part of the more backward authorities. Let me illustrate my point by history. Nine years ago in this House I made impassioned speeches asking that the road from Leeds to Scarborough should be taken over by the Government and, for some reason, some local authorities in that area thought they should pay attention to my words—I cannot think why. What was the result? The North Riding County Council, which is a most efficient county council, made a beautiful double-carriage road from York to Malton. What happened after Malton? The East Riding County Council which, through its misfortune, is a poor authority—so poor that they had to return a Liberal to Parliament this time—did nothing for the improvement of that road. The transport was rushed efficiently and quickly to the town of Malton, and there it was held up by an antiquated road between Malton and almost to Scarborough, because the road comes into the North Riding just outside the boundaries of Scarborough. I am told by my local authority that they object to this power whereby the Minister will take over roads by provisional order, for that very reason—that they will never know where they are. The worst highway authorities will be encouraged to do nothing to improve their roads. I hope the Minister will think over that. It may well be that he can devise a method under Clause 1(2) to get over that difficulty. I welcomed his assurance that he was going to continue to use the local authorities as the agents for carrying out this scheme. When one has that admission from him, it does make the position rather different from that put forward by many of those who spoke in favour of this Bill. What really happens when a Bill like this is passed? Instead of the local authority getting 60 per cent. they get 100 per cent., and, instead of being able to carry out with speed their repair and maintenance of roads, they have an extra channel to go through before their repairs can be effected. That means a certain amount of delay. I rather wonder whether with existing roads, the better principle would not have been to increase the grant for these particular roads from 60 per cent. to 90 per cent. and to have left the local authorities as the responsible highway authorities, but with the Minister always able to lower or refuse the grant if they were not carrying out their duties in a satisfactory manner. I cannot see that we are doing a great deal with this Bill. It is said that we are nationalising the trunk roads. We are doing nothing of the kind. We are treating the local authorities as agents for the scheme, and it is quite impracticable to do otherwise. We could not have two highway surveyors in the same area of country. We could not have two sets of roadmen working, probably under different conditions, on the same area. I draw the conclusion that we must have local authorities carrying out the scheme—or should I be honest and say: Let us increase their grant for these roads to 90 per cent. and leave it at that. Finally, I would ask the House to consider whither we are tending in these developments. As I see the position after the war, air transport will come into its own. There should no longer be the need to have highways for fast, long distance traffic. That should go by air. But there is a growing demand for fast goods traffic on the roads. That traffic should not be routed through centres of population. As far as possible it should be some distance away from schools and built-up areas, and that means that what the Minister should be now devising is not this great north road type of scheme for fast cars, but motor ways for heavy vehicles that will be on entirely new routes. I hope this Bill will do nothing to hamper that. All of us, on whatever side of the House we sit, have a great responsibility to keep down the toll of accidents of the roads. To take over these old-fashioned roads and mechanise them will increase that toll. Therefore, while I cannot vote against this Bill, I ask the Minister to consider, at a later stage, what we can do to provide for greater safety on the roads, and to try to make this Bill more modern than it appears to be today.
In the first place, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of War Transport on what I think is a most satisfactory feature of this Bill, which is that almost the very first provision is in the form of a mandatory injunction to the Minister himself. It is to the effect that the Minister shall keep under review the national system of roads for through traffic in Great Britain. This shows that he has learned the first rule for a good driver, which is "Keep your eye on the road." I hope he and his Ministry will continue to keep all the eyes at their disposal on the roads, with a view to providing this country with the kind of road system that has become very much overdue. The practical result of the Bill which is under consideration is that some 3,685 additional miles of roads will now be the direct responsibility of the Minister instead of the county councils or county borough councils. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison) said this Bill rather looked as if we were tinkering with the situation. I would urge my right hon. Friend the Minister of War Transport to take advantage of the unusual unanimity which exists at the moment—a unanimity which is directed to goading the Minister to go a good deal further than the Bill provides—and to improve the Bill to the extent of incorporating all the various suggestions which have been made from all quarters of the House.The vehicle owners and drivers who use the roads will want to know to whom they are to take their complaints about these and other main roads, and to whom they can refer when they wish to make representations on the need for more and better roads—whether it is to the Minister of War Transport or to the local authorities through whose area the road in question happens to pass. If the present arrangements governing 4,500 miles of existing trunk roads are extended to the additional roads covered in this Bill, it will mean that the local authorities—local borough or county councils—will, if I interpret correctly what my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, act only as the agents for the Minister. This leads me to support the point that was made by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, namely, that the various local authorities may, as a result, be compelled to refer all matters to the Minister for decision instead of dealing with them through the local authority concerned. I think most Members of this House will agree that to the utmost possible extent the rights, duties and responsibilities of local authorities should be preserved, and that is why I suggest that this is an aspect of the matter which might well call for some additional clarification when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister is called upon to reply. There is from the Bill one other omission to which I do not believe any reference has yet been made in this Debate. There is nothing in the Bill to say that the Minister is to be set free from the dead hand of Treasury approval. That has been an obstacle in the past, and may be considered a curse which has been hanging over our road administration for the last 25 years. Reference has been made to the Road Fund. These and other financial aspects of the matter will, I hope, be the subject of strong representations by my right hon. Friend so that he can, as I hope, assert himself against the bad influence which the Treasury has exercised in the sphere of road development. Clause 1 (3) of the Bill introduces a provision which, speaking as a Member representing a London constituency, I think will meet with the approval of all who are interested in traffic conditions in London. It gives to the Minister power which he did not acquire under the 1936 Act in respect of roads in London. There is one further point to which I would like to raise objection. Whereas he is taking upon himself powers in respect of roads in the metropolitan boroughs, for some reason he still denies himself the privilege or the opportunity of dealing with roads in the City of London itself. I hope he may be persuaded to place the City of London in the same category, so far as this Clause is concerned, as the metropolitan boroughs and presumably the London County Council. I would refer to another omission from the Bill. I have no doubt that the Minister of War Transport and his Parliamentary Secretary are well aware of the report of the Highway Development Survey of 1937, known as the Bressey Report, and know what is contained in that Report. May I ask how much of the scheme recommended in that Report is to be carried out? When is it proposed to carry out the Recommendations? What priority is to be given to the implementation of the very valuable and carefully-thought-out suggestions that are contained in the Report? I should like to follow the example of other hon. Members who have spoken and to refer to roads either in or near my own constituency. As the Member for Brixton I am, like other Members who represent South London constituencies, closely interested in the South Circular Road, which does not happen to pass through my constituency. In that respect, therefore, I am not traversing my own home territory. This South Cir- cular Road was intended to link togetherthe main roads leading out of London to the South. It was the No. 2 Scheme in the Report to which I have referred and it was to go through Wandsworth, Streatham and Balham, and on to Woolwich. It consists principally of a widening and improvement of existing roads. It is the counterpart of the North Circular Road which is now open to traffic through the greater part of its length. The South Circular Road would be equally useful as an East-and-West road on the Surrey side of the river, because it crosses all the main roads leading to London from the South and the South-East. Linked up with this South Circular Road is Plan No. 21 in the Report which proposes a new elevated main road running from Blackfriars to Brixton, which would serve as a kind of extension to the South Circular Road from the very heart of the Metropolitan Area. Those are the only points that I wish to make. I hope that consideration will be given to them by my right hon. Friend, or by the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to the Debate.
I do not apologise to the House for bringing the Debate back to the Cook's tour to which exception was taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). I will endeavour, in the few minutes during which I wish to speak, to keep myself to what is actually in the Bill. It is true that in introducing the Bill the Minister said that out of the 3,600 miles of trunk roads to be taken over under the Bill only about 700 were in Scotland, but he hoped, and so do I, that in the course of time others will be included. Quite apart from the proposals of the Bill, hon. Members for Scottish constituencies will be aware that there is the Crofting Counties Road Scheme. I believe I am right in saying that the Minister has sanctioned it, or has asked the Scottish Office to sanction it, and that the scheme is soon to come into operation again to assist in the reconstruction of roadways in our Highland counties.I should like to refer to one or two small points in the Bill. I regret that there is not a mention in it of piers and ferries. I particularly refer to piers because, on the big trunk roads which are mentioned in the Bill, are one or two piers which I hope will be included as part of the trunk road. They should be included. One hon. Member opposite rather took the line of twitting private enterprise. It is very easy and cheap to say that, owing to private enterprise, we have not proper and efficient ferries. I assure him that in the part of Scotland from which I come if it were not for private enterprise there would be no ferries at all. The only ferry which I know that has been taken over by the authorities is in such a deplorable condition that those, like myself, who travel in Scotland prefer to go over ferries run by private enterprise. But that is by the way. I admit that the ferries on the trunk roads should be taken over by the State as they are part and parcel of the roadways. It happens that some of our roads in Scotland lie across water, and we have to use steamers as well as motor cars. Now I wish to make a reference to one or two roads in my constituency. There is one about which I believe the Ministry of War Transport have had considerable discussion and negotiation with our local authorities. On page 25 of the First Schedule is included a road beginning in Glasgow. It goes past Loch Lomond, through Tarbet and Inverary to a place called Lochgilphead. That road has been taken over as a trunk road, and the road from Lochgilphead to Oban is also to be included. We are very thankful that it is to be taken over. My local authority, by no means reactionary—it has only two landlords on it and the rest are all ordinary members of the community—are, however, very perturbed about this matter because there is another road from the same place, Lochgilphead, to Campbeltown, a road which is far more important than the last section of the road mentioned in the Bill. In the Explanatory Memoradum attached to the Bill it is stated that the roads specified in the First Schedule to the Bill not only connect the chief centres of industry and population with each other but with
The road to which I am now calling attention fulfils both those conditions. For the Highlands of Scotland, Campbeltown is an important port. It is a naval base and a base for the Fleet Air Arm. I am certain that if a census were taken now, or if one had been taken during the war years, of the traffic passing over that road from Lochgilphead to Campbeltown and the result had been compared with the traffic passing on the other road, it would show that the road from Lochgilphead to Campbeltown is equally important with the trunk road which has been taken over by the Ministry of War Transport. I suggest that the Minister should reconsider this matter and should include in the Schedule the road from Lochgilphead to Campbeltown as one of his main trunk roads. It is certainly one of the most important roads in the Western Highlands. In one answer that has been given to the local authorities on this matter I believe the Ministry stated something to this effect, "If we include this road, we shall have to include a road in Wigtownshire which goes to Stranraer and Portpatrick." Well, why not? They are both very important roads. I ask that when the Bill is in its Committee stage the Minister might consider moving an Amendment to include also the above-mentioned important road. The road is the more important today because the passenger steamer service between Campbeltown and Glasgow has been suspended and the air service has been cut down. The road is our only means of connection between Campbeltown, with its tremendous landings of fish and naval and agricultural frame, and Glasgow. I ask him to include this road in the Schedule, but I do not ask him to extract from the Schedule the road which is now there."the most important ports, and…the more important food producing districts with their markets."
Having heard so many brilliant maiden speeches, I rise, perhaps with rather more diffidence than otherwise would have been the case, to try to make my first address to this House. I propose, if it will be counted unto me for righteousness, to be extremely brief. Speaking with that modesty which is such a feature of the Scottish race, may I say that I am happy that the Debate has been brought back again to Scotland because, frankly, the road question in Scotland is more important than in any other part of the Kingdom. I first emphasise what has beensaid by other hon. Members from Scottish constituencies about the Forth Road Bridge. My own constituency is on the North side of the Forth, and I am par- ticularly interested in that road bridge, as I am in a similar bridge across the Tay, further to the East. I have no hesitation in saying that, in my humble opinion, those two bridges are essential links in the transport system of the British Isles and in Scotland in particular. Without those two links, whatever is done to the roads on the other side of the Forth will very largely be spoiled because of the frightful bottleneck, the Forth ferry. I appeal to the Minister—and I am sorry that the Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland is not by his side to prime him on these matters, as he ought to bedoing—to consider the question of road bridges at once, because it is the linchpin of the road system of the North.Many bridges will probably be made under this Measure. The Minister has already spoken of the necessity for them. He has also spoken about amenities. I hope that the Minister has very clearly in view the appalling atrocities by way of bridges, which have been put up on the Highland road to the North of the Forth. In the most wonderful scenery in the world and with an opportunity of toning those bridges in with the surroundings, somebody has put up those appalling things. I hope that the Minister will watch this question. The road is excellent and the country around is magnificent, but the bridges are just blots on the landscape. Amenity is a very important thing. It is not just a matter of pretty views or attractive scenery. It should be organic and in the life of the people, because it affects them every day and all day. Amenities should play a very large part in this matter. I hope the Minister will watch these bridges because there willl be many of them all over the country. I also ask that agriculture should be most carefully safeguarded when roads are driven through the countryside. In the past it has often happened that the agricultural point of view has not been considered; vast amounts of immensely valuable land have gone to waste before the war, and have been during the war, for aerodromes and other purposes. Lastly, I refer to the question of safety about which hon. Members, opposite spoke so emphatically. We have clearly demonstrated, I think, that a lot of widening of crossings and opening-up of what were called dangerous corners, have only resulted in greater numbers of deaths. Where there was previously a place, so dangerous that even the most foolhardy had to stop to think about it, everybody now goes whizzing along, and the roads become more and more dangerous. I hope that attention will be given to the very sound method of having bigger and better crossings and not merely the destruction of old crossings because that does not necessarily do the job. Those are the points I wish to stress on behalf of my constituents, and, particularly, on behalf of Scotland, and, indeed, the whole of the United Kingdom as well.
It falls to the lot of another Yorkshireman to wrest the attention of the House from Scotland, and bring it back to Yorkshire. The speech to which we have just listened was so well delivered, and so interesting, that many of us who live South of the Border will now feel some measure of regret that I must ask the House to-leave Scotland for a little while and focus its attention, once again, on what, after all, is the most important county in England, namely, Yorkshire. My first note, of what I want to say this evening, reminds me to apologise for raising a matter of purely local interest on a Bill of such importance. I will placate the House, I hope, if I say I shall be very brief.There must be many bridges, such as Selby Bridge, throughout the length and breadth of this country, where a toll is still levied, and, if the Minister will say whether this Bill will in any way alter the present attitude of his Ministry in respect to freeing existing tolls, particularly the toll on Selby Bridge, and providing a modern bridge on the site of the present inadequate structure, he will no doubt clarify the position, not only in the case of Selby Bridge, but in a number of other similar cases. I tried, this morning, as I hope the Minister knows, to warn him that I would raise this question in the Debate. I need not weary the House with the history of the efforts which have been made during the last 50 years to free the Selby toll bridge. It will suffice if I say that the levying of a toll causes increasing resentment, and that it is a handicap on the industrial, commercial, and agricultural development of the town, and surrounding district. I would remind the Minister that the projected trunk road, or roads, in the neighbourhood of Selby will by-pass the town, but that local traffic will still require a bridge on the present site. It was for that reason, I think, that, in 1938, the then Minister of Transport offered to share with the county councils of the East and West Ridings the cost of both buying out the toll bridge and of constructing a new bridge on the site of the existing one. The terms of the offer, were not ungenerous, and were accepted by the county council of the East Riding of Yorkshire, but were turned down by the county council of the West Riding. Of course, during the war, there has been no further action, and negotiations were brought to a standstill in 1939. The Minister will be pleased to hear that last Saturday I met the chairman of the highways committee of the West Riding county council, together with the clerk to the council, and both these gentlemen undertook, not only to recommend that the matter should be reconsidered by the highways committee of the West Riding county council, but also, I gathered, provided the cost is reasonable, that they would advocate to the highways committee and, later, to the county council, that the offer of the Minister, if it is still open, should be accepted. It has since been represented to me—and this is the reason which has urged me to raise the matter this afternoon—that under this Bill the Minister will be compelled to take over Selby toll bridge as from next April, and that he will be compelled to pay the full cost of freeing the bridge and constructing a new one. I think that this is an incorrect interpretation of Clause 7 of the Bill, but the Minister could clarify the position completely in respect of this bridge—and I hope I am not wasting the time of the House, because similar problems may arise in the case of a number of other bridges—if he would answer the following two questions. Will the effect of Clause 7 be that his Ministry must become wholly responsible for, first, freeing the toll bridge, and secondly, building a new one on the present site? The second question is: Will the passage of this Bill cause the Minister to revise his offer to the county councils, or may it be presumed that the offer which was made so long ago is still open and final? That is all I wanted to say, and I apologise, if an apology is necessary, for raising this purely local question, but it is one of the greatest interest, not only to the people of Selby, but to very extensive districts in the counties of Yorkshire, and elsewhere.
Unlike the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, I do not propose to deal with the subject under discussion in a localised form. I will not keep the House very long, but I would join with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S.Morrison) in deprecating the fact that the Minister has not gone far enough in this Bill. I can only assume that it is an interim Measure, with a view to taking further steps in the future. I had imagined that the right hon. Gentleman would have Had in mind, and considered, the recommendations made by the Council of Surveyors' Report in 1938, which was recommended to the then Ministry. No mention has been made of the comprehensive lay-out of trunk roads contained in the Report in the present Bill. So far asI can see the only item that can be specifically recommended is that, mentioned in Clause 3, which segregates cycle tracks and foot-paths and allows of a division between main trunk roads and those minor roads for cyclists and pedestrians. I am sure that provision will be a source of gratification to all those in the country who are fond of the countryside, and are desirous of removing themselves as far as possible from the smell of petrol engines and the noise of traffic.I would suggest to the Minister one or two points to bear in mind for the future. First, in regard to saving life and creating the greatest possible safety factor for fast traffic, the pre-eminent consideration in roads should be that of the double track, and I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman does come to the question of major trunk roads, he will give prime consideration to this feature. Likewise, it is essential, in my view, that all our small towns and villages should have adequate by-passes, because there is not an hon. Memberin this Chamber, not a person in the whole country, who is not aware of the ever present menace in our small villages and hamlets of speeding traffic. Efforts have been made to control that traffic, but, I submit, without any really marked success, and I would like to see that all major trunk roads, in the future, have provision of some kind whereby they may by-pass any residential area. Another point which I think is worth consideration is the question of road advertisements. All those who value and love this country, and the scenery that it provides, have viewed with some concern the rash of advertisements on our major roads, and, I submit, that the time has come for some sort of restraint on the question of which pills are necessary for one's constitution, or what types of cars are necessary for the users of the roads, and other forms of advertisement. My last point is that I appreciate that the Minister is faced with an enormous shortage of skilled staff. His requirements must run into many figures, for surveyors, engineers and men of such character. May I recommend to him that he takes into account the services that can be rendered to his Department by the surveying detachments of the Royal Engineers, because I feel certain that, while they are inthe Service waiting, perhaps, for an accelerated demobilisation, they would be only too willing, and too happy, to help in planning the roads of this country for the future benefit of our citizens.
I know the House would like me to congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Perth and Kinross (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) on his very thoughtful and interesting maiden speech. I am sure we all enjoyed it. He comes from that delightful part of Scotland over the border and he has a great knowledge of road problems between his constituency and Edinburgh. I am sure we should like to hear him on other occasions in the future. I welcome this Bill because, in my opinion, the more roads that can be included under the trunk roads scheme the better. The roads of this country must be made fit for the traffic, and not the traffic for the roads. There is no doubt that a great many accidents can be avoided by good road construction, and I welcome the fact that this particular length of road between Henley and Oxford is to be included under the new scheme. I would ask the Minister, if he ever has time, to come and visit that part of the road between the end of the Henley Fairmile and the top of Bix Hill which was made into a dual carriageway just before the war. It has enhanced the beauty of the countryside and is a magnificent engineering achievement, and it has reduced accidents to practically nil. In the past the Henley hospital was nearly always full of accident cases from this length of road. Not only is the road well laid out, but the planting of bushes between the two carriageways is extraordinarily well done and, driving along it at night, there is no dazzle at all. I believe also the greatest importance should be attached to planting to increase safety in night driving. It would help to improve the beauty of the countryside and add greatly to the safety of motorists and others using the road.Another matter to which I think great attention should be paid is the abolition of road advertisements. In Oxfordshire we have taken steps in that direction. Garages along the roads are only allowed to display so many advertisements, and their pumps have to be coloured to harmonise with the countryside. At present many of the ugly advertisements built before the war have fallen into disuse and disrepair. Now is the time to stop them being rebuilt and once more becoming eyesores of the future. Another thing which is essential is that in the layout of trunk roads a final decision should be taken by the Ministry of War Transport and the Air Ministry that in future no aerodromes or runways are to extend over the new main trunk roads. That is a lesson that has been learnt during this war and now is the time for a decision to be taken at a high level that aerodromes shall not encroach on trunk roads in the future. I hope that when the Minister comes to reply he will tell us something about the experiment on the Colnbrook bypass. I would also like him to inform us whether the extra big bump alongside the automatic counter in that road has any particular significance or whether it was due purely to the incompetence of his engineering staff in relaying the road. I would also like the Minister in his reply to deal with a matter contained in Clause 4, regarding private entrances onto trunk roads, and say if it is necessary to close private roads or private entrances onto trunk roads that provision will be made for building at public expense service roads to which these private roads with roads joining the trunk system in the in- terests of agriculture. It is essential that a good service road shall be made so that those who have to move their agricultural produce from their farms can get it onto the public roads which will eventually join with the trunk roads. I wish the Minister every success with his Bill and hope he will use the powers it gives him to the greatest advantage.
I wish to refer to a part of Scotland mentioned a moment ago by another hon. Member. Only a person with the most churlish spirit would wish to revile the Ministry of Transport, which has done so well in the last 20 or 30 years in connection with the roads in the Highlands. Many years ago—some 200 odd yearsago—General Wade came North and made roads for us and 100 years later these roads, which in the meantime had fallen into some degree of disrepair, were remade by the famous engineer, Mr. Telford, and he made other roads in addition, in these Northern areas, still later—in the last 20 years Brigadier Sir Henry Maybury came and put our main roads in first-class condition. Since then the Government have taken over quite a considerable part of our roads as trunk roads, and that has been of enormous benefit to the local authorities. As everyone knows, the Highland county authorities are in great financial difficulties. The rateable value of property in their areas is decreasing and in all probability will decrease still further. As a consequence, less money will be raised by the rates or the rates themselves will have to be increased to fantastic figures. It is all to the good that the Ministry of Transport should take over a number of these roads and make them into trunk roads. But as is the case with many Bills, we are more interested in what is omitted from this Measure than in its actual contents. There is a main trunk road mentioned here as being taken over, namely, Inver-garry—Kyle of Lochalsh via Tomdoun and Cluanie, yet in the county of Inverness an important part of that road to the West is not mentioned, that is from Invermoriston to Cluanie, and is not included although it is the main road from Inverness to the West. I hope that the Ministry will take note of that and if possible include that part of the road and make it a trunk road also.There is also the question of ferries which an hon. Member mentioned a little while ago. After all, when main roads encountered big waterways, bridges were put across, but in Scotland in a number of cases—there are two in particular in my own constituency—narrow sea passages such as Ballachulish and Kessock Ferries, were not bridged. Bridges might well be put over these ferries and thus save the lengthy detours which are now necessary to reach points on the other side of these ferries, perhaps only a few hundred yards away. It would be most desirable that the Minister should take these ferries into account. Someone has said that private ferries are badly run. Many years ago the Kessock Ferry, then in private hands, was relatively well run. There was a sailing boat to take you across the 600 yards of water and that boat could be got at practically all hours of the day. If anybody came along at night there was a small boat to take them across, so that there was a service at all hours of the day and night. In modern times it is not possible to cross that ferry at night at all, there is no means of communication, so that while there is a small steamboat which takes motor cars across in the day time, vehicles got across in the old sailing boat as indeed did all sorts of conveyances, cattle and other goods. Actually there has been a distinct retrograde step at this ferry rather than an advance. If a bridge were put across and the road from one side made to meet the road from the other many miles of main road to the north would be eliminated as far as heavy traffic is concerned. That would be a distinct advantage to the Minister of Transport in regard to the maintenance of their present main trunk road. I therefore strongly recommend the Minister to consider the two points I have made—that the Inver-moriston-Cluanie road be included in the roads taken over and that consideration be given to the bridging of the two ferries which I have mentioned in particular. These are two places were undoubtedly road bridges ought to be built as quickly as possible.
I must confess that I have not been in the House all through the Debate, although I have heard the greater part of it, but for a time I went to another room in this Palace to sec the picture that was being shown of the fighting and the road-making in Burma, which reminded me of the great things that could be done in modern road construction. We must now turn our attention from constructing roads for specifically military purposes to bringing the roads of this country into a condition to serve the needs of modern transport. In doing that we shall encounter great difficulties and unless we are careful a great deal of agricultural land will become one of the casualties of road policy. In recent years we have lost much of our best agricultural land, which has been taken for the construction of towns, of aerodromes, and many new roads, and I think weshould try to save some of our best agricultural land from being taken for the construction of new trunk roads.A great part of the first road that is mentioned in the First Schedule, Road A.10, from London to King's Lynn, runs through some of the richest agricultural land in this country, and it is very soft fen land. If the Ministry carry out their proposal to make the portion of it running from Ely to King's Lynn into a trunk road of the normal dimensions it will mean taking in many acres of this soft fen land running alongside the river. If the idea is to get from London to King's. Lynn as easily as possible it would be wiser to go a little more to the east, where the whole of that road could go over poor heath land and could be used to connect the rich fen land with existing roads. A great deal of the produce of these rich fens will come to London in the form of fruit and vegetables, and it is essential that there should be a good road surface, but it would be just as good if the road ran over heath land as if it passed through the fen land, and the road would be, I think, much less expensive to construct. Therefore, I ask that in the construction of Road A10 the Ministry should bear in mind the importance of saving as much of our rich agricultural land as possible and making use of the open heath land, where there is already a good layout for a road which would serve that area just as well. I am not criticising the road from London through Cambridge as far as Ely, but the portion beyond Ely. Another problem which crops up in the construction of trunk roads is the dividing up of farms, and I should like the Minister of War Transport to take it up with the Ministry of Agriculture. When an existing road running through a farm and cutting it in two is converted into a trunk road, it is impossible to continue to farm the two halves on either side of that road, particularly if it is a dairy farm, or if stock is kept there, or if it is necessary to move things across the road. My small farm lies on two sides of one of our trunk roads, and at weekends just before the war, when there was a constant stream of traffic to Yarmouth and other places on the coast, it was impossible to get cattle across that road and impossible to get a horse and cart over it. So in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture the Minister should decide what ought to be done in connection with the rearrangement of farms and, if necessary, compensation should be paid where farms are divided up in the way I have described. The trunk road must obviously be the boundary. It cannot be a service road for that particular farm any longer. I would also like to call the attention of the Minister to the importance of the trunk roads that will lead into Norfolk, following the line laid down in the Bill, connecting up the industrial areas or centres of large population. We have just two large centres in Norfolk, Norwich and Yarmouth, and they are to be connected. But at week-ends the greatest density of traffic is on the roads leading to other parts of the coast there, where normally there is not a big population—to Hunstanton in one case and to Cromer in the other. It has been proved over a number of years that during the summer months the greatest density of traffic is on the road from King's Lynn to Hunstanton, which is not included in the trunk road system. There must be a new road, but if it is left out of the Schedule a large portion of the cost must fall upon the local ratepayers. In view of the circumstances, I suggest that the Minister should consider continuing the road from King's Lynn to Hunstanton, and that from Norwich to the Cromer area, so that people who want to go there in great numbers at week-ends shall find those roads a continuation of the trunk road system. This has been recommended by the Norfolk County Council. We see in the Bill that it is the desire to preserve the existing amenities of the countryside, but I suggest that it does not go far enough. We ought to create new amenities as we go along. Trees grow old and fade and die away, and sometimes are left standing to become a blot on the countryside. Often it would be better to cut down many of the old trees and to plant new ones. We could also make better use of the roadside verges, not only by sowing grass and having them cut and trimmed, but we could extend the cultivation of wild flowers and shrubs, according to the nature of the soil. Then people, as they travelled along the trunk roads, could see, at different seasons of the year, the cowslips and the buttercups, the lilac, laburnum and other flowers, which are not there at present, but which would be there if we could give the Ministry of Transport power to create amenities as well as to preserve existing ones. I commend those points to the Minister and the House.
I rise to make only one small point in connection with a remark made by the Minister when he introduced the Bill. I hope that in our search for amenities we shall not sacrifice safety. I was one of the party of Members who some years ago visited Germany to study the autobahnen. We learned a good many things; quite certainly we realised what those roads were for, and, unfortunately, circumstances proved that we were right. But we were given a good deal of information about the construction of those roads, and I am willing to learn from the Germans in regard to certain of their activities. They had given a good deal of attention to amenities and to the way in which accidents might be avoided. They were careful to explain to us that they left level verges so that in case of possible accident vehicles could run off the roads on to the verges. In this country we have constructed some very fine roads, but we have put little concrete precipices on each side and any car which is in danger of being involved in an accident has no chance whatever of mounting them and getting on to the verge. I had an experience a few years ago when driving with a colleague on one of our main roads. We rounded a corner from over abridge and found two large ten horse power lorries racing each other and right across the road. My colleague, an expert driver, without a moment's hesitation, took the path, and I found myself on the path. There was no concrete edge, otherwise I doubt whether I should have been here. A little later I was on that same road only a little further down, and a lorry was overtaking us. My driver endeavoured to run up on to the path, but he was not going fast enough and could not do so, and consequently the lorry sheared off a lamp and a mudguard, but nobody was hurt. Had we been able to run on to the verge we should have avoided that accident. I hope the Ministry will consider the safety of the roads before they consider the question of making them look nice. There is no reason why concrete kerb stones should be six inches high. If they rise only slightly above the level of the road, it enables a driver, in cases where there might be an accident, to drive over the verge and avoid the accident.The Minister referred to the planting of trees along the roads. When there are double carriageways, I like to see shrubs, but I hope the Minister will avoid planting trees. Whenever this question has cropped up, I have been asked by people in the industry to ask for shrubs and to say "No" to trees, because trees have-a way of growing big and thick, and accidents have occurred through people being forced off the road and then hitting a tree. For that reason shrubs are preferable. Another point to be remembered is that telegraph posts ought to be kept well back from the road. The points I have made are small ones, but I know that the Ministry are very anxious that we should have not only good roads but safe roads. The points I have mentioned have been worrying those of us who use the roads continuously. We do not like to see the canons of safety transgressed in order that people may have roads that are nice to look at.
The Minister has no reason to be dissatisfied with the reception given to this Bill. I was quite prepared to put my money on his nag even if he had not disclosed the stable out of which it came. The Bill is all right as far as it goes; the trouble is that it does not go far enough. That has been the burden of most of the criticism, and naturally hon. Members from the more outlying parts of the country have had most to say on the subject. One hon. Member apologised for dealing with the matter in a local way, but where else, if not here, ought we to raise the grievances of our constituents? The grievance which my constituents in Orkney and Shetland have is that they pay, through general taxation, a contribution towards the cost of the existing 4,500 miles of trunk roads, but they do not receive any direct benefit from the trunk roads system, as there are no scheduled trunk roads in either of these groups of Islands. The same complaint was made by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), whom I should like to congratulate on his excellent maiden speech.This Bill will increase the hardships of these places, because the Schedule of roads to be included as trunk roads does not include any roads in either Orkney or Shetland, although, as the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) pointed out, there are certain roads in these Island constituencies which are really nothing more than continuations of the main roads on the neighbouring mainland. Where it is a question of a river, there is a bridge or a tunnel to connect up the two roads, but some of us represent places that are so far away that the only possible connection with the main system of communication of the country is by steamer. I submit that the fact that the Islands are so isolated that they must have steamer communication is not a reason why they should not have any trunk roads if the traffic within the Islands justifies trunk roads. I shall prove to the Parliamentary Secretary that this justification exists as far as Orkney and Shetland are concerned. I know that in Clause 6 the Minister takes power to construct a tunnel under navigable waters. We hear a great deal about the Severn Tunnel. I would like to remind the Minister that between Orkney and the mainland of Scotland there is a strip of running water which is navigable and which runs very fiercely, and I can assure him that if he uses the powers under this Bill to construct a tunnel under the Pent-land Firth he will be received on his arrival in Orkney with open arms. I am certain that hundreds of thousands of men in all branches of the Services, who have been crossing the Firth during the war and have been extremely sea sick, would be glad if there were a tunnel. But until a tunnel is constructed we shall have to be content with communication by sea and air. I want to give some reasons why certain roads in Orkney and Shetland should not be excluded from the category of trunk roads, and to save repeating myself I shall use Orkney as an illustration, although what I say applies equally well, with minor changes, to Shetland, as indeed it does to the Western Isles. To begin with, unlike the county represented by the hon. Member for Cardigan, we have not even got railways in these groups of Islands, so that the whole of the internal communication of the country is by road. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill states that the new roads specified comprise roads connecting the more important food-producing centres with their markets. It so happens that Orkney is an extremely important food-producing centre, and I will give the Minister a few figures, which I extracted from the 1937 returns, to prove my point. In that year we exported 10,000 head of cattle, many of them fat cattle, 30,000 head of other livestock, and three and a half million dozen eggs, which I may say represents one-tenth of the whole of the marketable surplus of eggs produced in Scotland. I submit that this makes a very important contribution to the nation's larder. In 1937 the imports into Orkney were 100,000 tons, a very large part being manures and feedingstuffs for the agricultural industry. All that volume of exports and imports had to be moved over the roads, and I think that is enough to show that the roads of Orkney have quite a lot of traffic to carry even in peace-time. If, in fact, one looks at the matter in terms of traffic per day, many of the roads in Orkney and Shetland are at the present time carrying a much greater load of traffic than a number of roads included in the schedule to the Bill. I want now to mention another point. This Bill deals with roads of national importance, and I am sure the Minister will agree with me that strategic considerations come very high indeed in the scale of national importance. Both these groups of Islands—Orkney and Shetland—are extremely important from a strategic point of view. Orkney, as everybody knows, has the very important naval base of Scapa Flow, with all the defences which had to be erected round it during the war, with airfields and so on. Shetland occupies another very important strategic position in relation to Orkney, and on its own account in connection with R.A.F. activities. The point I want to make is that twice in our lifetime the roads in these two counties have had to carry an enormous burden of traffic during the war, and because of the increased burden of traffic the Orkney roads alone have had to carry during the five years' war, the State has had to spend £450,000 in getting the roads that were in existence into suitable order and in maintaining them while this very heavy volume of traffic was being handled. I will give the right hon. Gentleman an illustration. To take the Island of Hoy alone. I can quote a road there which has been carrying 6,500 tons of traffic, 20 times as much as most of the roads in the other rural parts of Scotland which are being included as trunk roads in the Schedule to this Bill. There is something here into which the right hon. Gentleman ought to look. It does not mean, just because the war is over, these roads can be ignored or neglected. I want to point out another thing. The hon. Member for the Western Isles raised the point about linking-up Islands. Here again in this Bill power is taken to erect viaducts over running water, and he mentioned one or two cases in the Western Isles that might be dealt with. I do not know whether the Minister knows, but very important work on these lines was carried out in Orkney during the war at vast cost, millions of pounds. When the "Royal Oak" was sunk in Scapa Flow it was suddenly realised that the Eastern entrances would have to be blocked more effectively than ever before. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wood-ford (Mr. Churchill) proceeded to Orkney and gave certain orders, and the work was put in hand. It was a very remarkable piece of work, as a result of which four islands in Orkney have all become part of the mainland by means of causeways erected across the tide ways, and roads have been put on top of them. They are several miles long and will cost a great deal to keep up. The primary reason for making the roads there at all was strategic, but they are of enormous benefit to the community they serve. That kind of road is going to be very expensive to keep up. The Admiralty have made arrangements to pay for this for a certain number of years, but the Minister ought to look beyond that and make some better and more permanent arrangement. There are about 33 miles of road in the county of Orkney, starting from the South end of South Ronaldshay and ending up at the North-West corner on the mainland which on every count ought to be included as part of the trunk road system of the country and include the four causeways that I have mentioned. There are other places, both in Orkney and Shetland, where causeways might be constructed. It would be a costly job to do but I can think of nothing more beneficial to the people living on lonely islands, which are rapidly losing their populations, than to have them linked up in that sort of way. What makes the position so much more serious in places like Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles is the burden which is going to be thrown upon the rates by the ordinary programme of reconstruction which must be carried out in the immediate future. In the county of Orkney it is estimated that £100,000 is to be spent on these roads in the next ten years to keep them up to modern standards. As a result of the grant available now, roughly £50,000 of that will fall on the rates. Does the Minister realise that this will mean a rate of 17s. 6d. in the £ for roads alone, and that is a burden which cannot be borne, and we shall not get roads unless the Minister makes some better arrangement. I have no doubt he is aware of these facts, but what stands out a mile is, that something will have to be done. If the 33 miles of main road were taken under the trunk roads scheme, it would alter the whole basis and there would be far more money available for the carrying out of the ordinary road programme. I would like to see these roads and the corresponding stretch of similar roads in Shetland included in the Schedule, and I shall certainly put down an Amendment later. If the Minister fails to agree to include these roads as trunk roads, I hope he will be able to tell me that he has some alternative arrangement in mind. I should like to warn him that it will not be a solution if he arranges for a general increase in grants for the construction and maintenance of roads in these areas. That would simply result in the richer counties getting more than they already get and the poorer counties still being unable to benefit at all. What is needed in the Highlands and Islands where there are no trunk roads and where, under the Bill, the Government do not propose to take them into the Bill, is a scheme of financial assistance designed to meet the needs of these poor, sparsely populated and isolated regions. Finally, I ask the Minister to bear in mind that road development in the Highlands and Islands has suffered immensely because of the lack of any coherent long-term policy. The whole thing has been done by fits and starts. You can never get on with dealing with the road problems in these parts unless you have a long term programme. It is not worth while the contractors taking these jobs on and getting all the expensive plant, which costs a great deal to move on to the site, and do the work unless they have a reasonable prospect of some years of steady employment on these Islands. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies to the Debate, will be able to give me some assurance on this subject, either that we are to have certain roads included as trunk roads, or else the Minister is busy working out some other solution of the problem.
I rise to support the remarks which have just been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) in reference to the burden of highway expenditure upon local authorities. The expenditure on the up keep and maintenance of roads is a very considerable one upon isolated and upon poorer places, and we hope we may expect from the Minister something in the way of assistance in whatever plans he develops in the future. We will say, to begin with, that we are grateful to the Minister for relieving us of some of the expense of the maintenance of stretches of road which have served as highways for cross-country routes in such an area as the constituency which I have the honour to represent. Here we have had to maintain a stretch of road for traffic which has not originated in—
May I call your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that 40 hon. Members are not present?
Under Standing Orders, after 7.30 p.m., a Count cannot be called.
I was expressing gratitude to the Minister for promoting a Bill which will, to some degree, relieve local authorities of the maintenance of stretches of road for traffic which does not originate or terminate in their area. I want to say that the point made by the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) this afternoon deserves sympathetic consideration from the Minister; namely, that, in the provision of new roads, attention should be paid to the inclusion of footpaths. The position which we find today has obtained for a number of years, and it is that many roads, carrying a heavy burden of traffic, have been veritable death traps for pedestrians in that no provision was made for side-walks. In that connection, I want to say that, when the Minister produces his scheme, as Ihope he will, he will give us footpaths which are, at least in certain cases, as good as the highways themselves. Many people have preferred to walk on the roads because the footpaths are so inferior in quality.I would remind the Minister—I am sure he does not need reminding—that, with the coming of a Socialist Government in this country, a new opportunity is presented for reviewing the whole set-up of our transport facilities. The right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon that this was a Measure which he had inherited from his predecessor, and that, while it gave him limited powers, he welcomed it, because he had a place in the queue which he would not otherwise have had for some time. Even so, he will be given powers to take over existing roads and to construct new roads. He is in a favourable position compared with that of his predecessors, because he will, in his office, now that a Socialist Government is in power, be able to consider all the branches of the transport industry as an entity. He will no longer have to consider the individual interests of railways, of roads and of waterways, both canal and coastal shipping. He will have to consider, also, the new factor of air services, and I hope that, whatever consideration is given to this development of new roads, these broad and imaginative points of view, the opportunity for which is now presented under a new people's Government, will help him to devote his attention to a policy which may mean the complete rebuilding of the towns of this country. The old roadmakers did a very good job of work, and we are indebted to great men like Telford and Macadam, but many of these roads, while they have been used to an extent for which they were never intended, have become sources of danger because of the class of traffic which they have been called upon to carry. As we are constantly reminded in this House and in the Press, there is an appalling death-rate from road accidents, and, in my opinion, much of this has been due to traffic which ought never to have been on our roads, which was a danger to life and limb, and which could very well have been carried on some other means of transport. But, for various reasons, it is found on the roads. When the Minister is dealing with the development of roads, I want him to consider his master plan, so to speak. What is to be the policy in respect of the railways when they are modernised—as I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to modernise them, including electrification? When is, he going to rebuild the railway lines throughout the country? Is he going to use the waterways and the air services? I hope he will, because all these things are rightly covered in his purview, and must be related to this subject which we are now discussing—the development of trunk roads. We hope that there will be an imaginative and long-reaching scheme of industrial replanning, and of planning of residential towns. Many of the old roads led to towns, which have grown and spread themselves out. This has meant that much heavy traffic which comes from the rural areas has to pass through dense urban districts at times when it is most inconvenient and dangerous. I know a town near my native place whose main thoroughfare is a highway of cross-country traffic, and I fear for many of the people who have to cross that road at certain times of the day. The opportunity will be presented to the Minister under this Bill to consider the by-passing of some of the towns, and I hope he will do that. Transport has been described as the life blood of industry. Which should come first—the development of our towns or of the roads—is a nice question. I imagine that the Minister will consult with the Minister of Town and Country Planning and also with the President of the Board of Trade, who will be responsible for industrial location. We may have to build new towns and new industrial areas, and the argument, in brief, is that the position now before us, with the coming of the internal combustion engine, and with the new opportunities that we have for rebuilding after this war, with a people's Government, place the matter we are now considering in a new setting, I hope we shall agree, on all sides of the House, that an efficient, convenient and speedy transport system is a service which must be available, if there is to be any sound development of the commercial life of this nation. Having provided that, I am sure the Minister will pay due regard to the safety of the individual, as he has promised, in the provision of pathsfor hikers—I have already spoken on the subject of footpaths—and by means of adequate lighting and by steering clear of the dense industrial areas wherever possible.
I regard this Bill as a weak and feeble Bill. I consider that it is only nibbling at the problem of the highways throughout the country. The Bill gives the Minister power to take over 3,685 miles of roads out of 180,000 miles of classified roads throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill complained that it was the legacy of the Coalition. I agree that it may be of doubtful parentage, but the right hon. Gentleman must realise that some of us on this side of the House dislike the compromise Coalition Bills just as much as hon. Members on the other side. Is this Bill the great national highways scheme which the electorate throughout the country are to receive from this newly elected Socialist Government? Is this the Bill which is to give stimulus to industry, 10 make these wonderful great highways here, there, and everywhere? I think the country will be disappointed with what is proposed at the present time.I was glad to hear the Minister mention the tourist traffic. My constituency depends very largely on holiday traffic for its prosperity, and the same is true of the neighbouring constituency of Hastings. We cannot understand why roads A.21 and A.22 have been left out of the Schedule to this Bill when A.23, the Brighton road which is a similar sort of road, was included as a trunk road long before this Bill was ever tabled. What is the difference between A.21, A.22 and A.23? In the first place A.21 and A.22 are roads of quite considerable military importance. The invasion of Brighton was never contemplated, at any rate by the Germans, but they did have plans to invade Eastbourne, Hastings, and the other more Easterly coast towns and the invasion, had it taken place, would not have been the first invasion of those shores. I would add, therefore, that A.21 and A.22 have a certain amount of military importance. Secondly, these two roads have a considerable volume of heavy traffic, and it is mostly through traffic to the coast from London to Eastbourne or from London to Hastings. The main roads are hardly used at all by the towns through which these main roads to the coast pass. I think it is unfair that the county council ratepayers, who obtain little revenue from all this traffic that rolls down to the coast, should be expected to spend vast sums of money on making them first-class trunk roads. A.22, which is the Eastbourne road, is very tortuous; it is a road which is built up on both sides for long stretches, and, if it is left to local authorities, it is estimated that it will take 25 years before that road is completed and up to a decent standard. I hope the Minister will be generous during the Committee stage of the Bill and show the country what this great Socialist Government intends to do with this trunk road scheme, and also show the country that the Government will be generous in making great new roads for the people to use. There is one other rather minor point which I would like to get quite clear. When the Minister introduced the Bill I had the temerity to interrupt him and ask about railway level crossings. As I understood it, he said that he was making himself responsible for level crossings over railways on the main trunk roads. I have looked at the Bill again, and I cannot see any reference whatsoever to level crossings. There is a Clause devoted to bridges and tunnels over and under navigable waters; there is a Clause devoted to private bridges; there is a Clause devoted to miscellaneous provisions. However, I cannot see any mention at all of level crossings, and these are not only a source of danger on the main trunk roads but also a source of delay to traffic. I hope we can have some assurance from the Minister that he intends to be generous during the Committee stage. It obviously will not be possible to debate this Bill in a Committee of the Whole House, so we shall not all have an opportunity of moving our own Amendments which particularly affect lour own constituencies. Therefore, I would like to have that assurance when the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the Debate.
:My right hon. Friend the Minister of War Transport and I are very much encouraged by the warm, if not enthusiastic welcome, which the House has given to this Bill. I think however there is a certain amount of misunderstanding about it. This is not a general highway Bill. It is a Bill with a limited scope, a trunk road Bill. It does not pretend to be anything more. Its sole purpose is to bring about the transference of a certain number of trunk roads, which are now the responsibility of local authorities, and put that responsibility on to the Government; and, moreover, making the Government responsible for the development of those trunk roads in the future.I think the House will agree that many hon. Members who addressed themselves to the Bill wandered rather widely and discussed many interesting aspects of highway policy which were, not, however, directly connected with the purpose of this Bill. The only serious criticism was made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and some other hon. Members, to the effect that this Bill is not revolutionary enough, and that we as a Socialist Government ought to be more revolutionary in dealing with this problem. It seems to me an extraordinary situation when it is expected, by the Conservative Party in particular, that everything this Government does must be revolutionary. Whatever problem we tackle, we are not allowed to take the essential preliminary steps; we have to be revolutionary straight away. We do not pretend we are going to be revolutionary in everything. In this matter, for example, it is advisable to take, immediately, the next necessary step in the development of the highway administration of this country. That step, though small, is an exceedingly important one. We feel that if we are to launch the highway programme which we have in mind, but which cannot obviously be implemented for some time because of difficulties of shortage of material and manpower, we must now take this control over the trunk system of the country, and we must have the necessary power to build new trunk roads, to redirect existing trunk roads, and possess those other miscellaneous powers which are included in this Bill. I repeat, that while we do not pretend that there is anything startling in this Measure, what we are bringing before the House is essential if we are to develop our highway system in the way in which we and, I think, the House as a whole desire it to be developed during the coming years, and make it adequate for the needs of industry and our people. During the Debate right hon. and hon. Members have dealt with many points, many of them local, and a number have dealt with particular Scottish difficulties and problems. I am in the difficulty that if I were to answer all the points which have been raised, as I would wish to, I should have to stand at this Box for three hours. Therefore, I hope the House will forgive me if I deal with those paints which seem to me to be the more important. Many of the others can be adequately dealt with during the Committee stage. In fact, I anticipate that there will be a large number of Amendments in Committee, asking the Government to put in the Schedules a whole variety of roads which are not there now. If I do not reply in detail to all the points which have been raised that is the reason and I can assure Members that every suggestion they have made will be most carefully considered by my Department. Some major points were raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison). He asked what was the attitude of local authorities to the proposed changes in the trunk roads. The answer is that there has been long and very careful consultation with the local authorities individually, as well as with the local authority associations. Broadly speaking, there are some exceptions—local authorities are in agreement with the roads which are included in the Schedules. They think that it is fair and desirable that these roads should be transferred. The right hon. Gentleman asked about financial provisions; what would be the financial result of these changes. They will be exactly the same as they were under the original Trunk Roads Act of 1936. In other words, the Ministry will, from a specified date, take full responsibility not only for the maintenance of a specified road, but, what is even more important, responsibility for any future improvement of that road. Then the right hon. Gentleman asked whether our road research station had been operating during the war, and whether it would be able to help us in the development of new roads. Well, that station was exceedingly busy during the war, being mostly engaged on matters other than road research. The House may like to know that a great part of the research which led to the successful bombing of the Mohne Dam was done at that research station on the Colnebrook by-pass. It has now reverted to its ordinary peacetime activities, and is exceedingly busy on various research problems, including that of road surfaces, and it is advising local authorities on the discoveries and suggestions it is making. It will, I am sure, play an active and useful part in the development of our new trunk roads, and in bringing existing trunk roads up to date by making the best possible nonskid surfaces. The right hon. Gentleman opposite also suggested that we should take expert advice about trees. I am glad to be able to tell him that we are in close touch with the Road Beautifying Association, and other bodies and experts who are interested in this subject. He can rest assured that it will be our objective to see that the new roads that are built under the provisions of this Bill, and those we take over, shall have the best possible amenities. Another hon. Member said that he did not like trees planted along the sides of roads, that he thought shrubs were far more desirable. Well, our practice has been to plant shrubs or trees, according to which seemed to be most appropriate, and I think we shall probably continue to do that. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), who made an interesting maiden speech, one of the many excellent maiden speeches made today, put forward various suggestions. He said that the road joining North and South Wales should be included in the Schedule of the Bill, and should become one of the trunk roads to be taken over by the Ministry. That is a matter which we can consider in Committee, but, as advised at the moment, I am told that it does not appear that that road is of sufficiently high priority, however important it may be locally. I would also like to remind the hon. Member, and others who have suggested that specific roads should be included, that my right hon. Friend is taking power under Clause 1 (2) to take over, in future any road where it is proved that its transference is desirable. But that must be done in co-operation with the local authority. They have certain rights of objection. It is not the intention of the Minister to operate this Clause in such a way as to takeover any substantial number of roads, and thereby completely alter the present balance between Government and local authority roads. The intention of the Clause is to enable the Minister, in specific instances, to take over a road here or there, wherever such action appears desirable. My hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) raised several important points, one in regard to the provision of footpaths. We do provide footpaths at present, wherever they appear to be necessary.
Does that mean that on existing roads where there are no footpaths, such as on the road from Bristol to Gloucester, it will be the policy of my hon. Friend's Department to provide them as soon as possible?
I would not like to be specific about any road, but, generally speaking, it is our policy to provide footpaths wherever there is a case for them. My hon. Friend raised the question of lighting on roads, particularly "cats eyes," and suggested that the pre-war situation in regard to financial responsibility for lighting of roads was not satisfactory. I confess that I think there is some point in that criticism. I am sure that my right hon. Friend and I will desire to go into this question as soon as possible with the other Government Departments concerned to see whether we can devise a better system which will ensure the provision of good lighting on all our main roads.It is hoped that one of the projects that will be undertaken under this Bill will be the Severn Bridge, which we regard as exceedingly important and very urgent, and we propose to get on with that project as soon as possible. [An Hon. Member: "As important as the Forth Bridge?"] Frankly, I think, the answer is "Yes." In any list of priority for the road system of this country, I would put the Severn Bridge first. I am not deprecating the Forth Road Bridge; it is important. But I put the Severn Bridge as No. 1. [An Hon. Member: "Because it is in England and not in Scotland."] I do not think that view would be accepted by any independent survey of our road problems and postwar needs. That is the view of the Government. The hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Clifton-Brown), who also made a maiden speech, considered that it was pointless for us to take over any new roads, because we were not taking adequate care of the roads we took over in 1936. I do not think there is very much in that criticism. We could not do very much in the years between the wars. Of course neither the right hon. Gentleman, the present Minister, nor I were in any way responsible, but I do not think any Government could have done much during that period. We are determined as soon as practicable—and I must warn the House that it is going to be some time before we can do much with the roads of our country—to do all that we can to improve the roads we took over in 1936 and the roads we propose to take over under this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Ross and Cromarty (Captain MacLeod), in a particularly refreshing maiden speech, made a moving appeal about the inadequacy of the roads in some parts of Scotland, and suggested that the Government must do something about them. I quite agree with his general argument. I know that the road situation in some parts of Scotland and the Western Isles, is very bad indeed. But this Bill cannot deal with that. I must repeat that this Trunk Road Bill has the limited purpose of bringing the trunk roads of this country into one co-ordinated system, which will be under the control of the Minister, and which will produce a certain desirable uniformity. Other measures will have to be taken, as they have been taken in the past, with regard to the particular difficulty of the isolated parts of Great Britain. Scotland, as a whole, is doing quite well under this Bill. It is getting, roughly, the same proportion of its classified roads taken over by the Ministry as in England and Wales. There can be no general complaint on that ground.
Will the hon. Gentleman say what is to happen about the Forth Bridge?
:I am going to say a word about that. I would point out to those who have pleaded for these isolated parts of Scotland and the Islands that there was a scheme, before the war, for an expenditure of about £6,000,000 for improvement of roads in these areas. It was called the Crofter Counties road scheme, I believe, and about £3,000,000 was spent under it. I have no doubt that when we have the men and materials available we will continue such a scheme in our development of these particularly difficult parts of Great Britain. I must repeat again that this cannot be considered as part of the proposal of the Trunk Roads Bill. As regards the Forth Road Bridge the question was asked me: "What is the position of the local authorities with regard to this? Is this bridge to be taken over, or will it be paid for on the basis of a grant from the Ministry of War Transport?"The situation is this: There is an understanding between the Ministry of War Transport and the local authorities concerned that the bridge, when it is built, will receive a certain grant in aid. There is agreement on that point. The figures have been discussed and worked out, and there is no proposal to alter that situation.
:Is it the intention that the State shall build the Severn Bridge and bear all the cost, and that the cost of the Forth Road Bridge is to be borne, partly by the local authorities, and partly by the State?
I am unable to depart from the present arrangement, under which an agreement exists between the local authorities and the Ministry of War Transport to build this bridge, as and when it becomes possible, according to our list of priorities, and on a grant in aid basis. That is the situation, and it is one which the local authorities accepted.
Ninety per cent. by the Government and 10 per cent. by the local authority.
We have heard that the Severn Bridge is a high priority, and the Forth Bridge a low priority. Surely there is an advantage there straight away?
:I am not able to depart from the statement I have made, and the agreement we have reached with the local authorities concerned.
In view of the possibility of a later agreement between the Ministry and the local authorities responsible for the Severn Bridge, would not the Minister reconsider any agreement that might have been come to between his own Ministry and the local authorities with regard to the Forth Bridge?
:Anything can be reconsidered in the future, of course, but at the moment there is no intention to reconsider this particular project. I am not prepared to go any further than that.Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) and the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis), raised the question of ferries. Ferries form a very important part of our communication system in this country. There is no doubt about that. The matter is, I know, at the moment under the special consideration of the Minister of War Transport. It is a difficult problem. There is no possibility of dealing with it in the Trunk Roads Bill. I would like to dispel any fears that the hon. Member for NorthEdinburgh has that it is proposed to take over Princes Street, Edinburgh, under the provisions of this Bill. The only roads in county boroughs taken over are those on the outskirts of cities and which are part of a major trunk road. It is not our object to take over roads inside our big cities. On the contrary the whole principle of our trunk road system is to avoid cities at all costs and to by-pass them.
Does not the Bill now include under the jurisdiction of the Minister of War Transport large cities and large towns, and will not trunk roads passing through such cities now be under his jurisdiction?
:No, I think my hon. Friend has misread the Bill. In part II of the First Schedule there are certain roads in county boroughs which are taken over. They are not roads which go through the centre of the city; they form an important link, on the outskirts of the city, in the trunk road system of the country. It will be possible, in future, for the Minister to take over other roads in county boroughs, but the Minister would not dream of taking over any road which runs through the centre of a city. In any event, in the case of any road in a county borough which the Minister proposes to take over, if the county borough objects to that transference, there is procedure laid down by which that objection comes to this House, and the House can decide the matter. It is not the object of the Minister, in this Trunk Roads Bill, to take over any road which runs through a city.
Will thehon. Gentleman explain his own Bill? Subsection (1) of Clause 1 specifies certain roads running right through county boroughs. In Subsection (3) it is stated that no longer will roads running through county boroughs be excluded. It specifically refers toClause 1 (1). May I remind the hon. Gentleman of what he has now announced?
The hon. Member is now making a speech, not asking a question.
I am asking for an explanation.
If the hon. Memberreads the Bill carefully and reads what I have said in explanation, he will find that the two are perfectly consistent. He will find that the explanation which I gave just now is the explanation of Clause 1, and that there is no inconsistency whatever.The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) raised several points. He objected to road A167, which is now partly closed, becoming a trunk road. I do not know why. It is perfectly true that it is closed at the moment, but it is hoped to open it again as soon as possible. I gathered that his main objection was to the whole principle of the Bill. He would prefer, he said, first, that the local authorities should not be under any doubt about the future of any of their roads, otherwise they might holdback and refuse to make improvements that were necessary. That is a remote danger, but any local authority that is worth its salt will not hold back the improvement of a road because one of these days, five or ten years hence, or whatever it may be, the Government may want to take it over. If we are to have a flexible highway system, so that we may lay down roads where they become necessary, as a result of industrial or other development, there must be flexibility. The alternative is a rigid system under which the status of a road can never be changed. Such a proposal the Government cannot accept. The second point raised by the hon. Member was that it would be better, rather than doing what is here proposed, to give the local authorities grants of 80 or 90 per cent. of the cost of maintenance, etc., and leave the roads in their hands. That is a proposal to which we cannot agree, because, plainly, under such a scheme, we shall not succeed in getting one of the main things we are out for, that is uniformity, central responsibility for proper lighting, amenities and those other advantages which hon. Members have spoken about today. We cannot accept that suggestion. Indeed, we think it is fundamentally unsound. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) raised many important points. He said he hoped that we would not undermine the position of the local authorities by this Bill. I do not think we do. In fact, I think the reverse is the case. We are working very harmoniously with the local authorities.
Not on the Forth Bridge.
:We may disagree with some local authorities, but I might remind the hon. Member that we are in agreement with the local authorities about the Forth Bridge. It seems to me that some hon. Members are trying to cause disagreement where there is an existing happy relationship, and I very much deprecate that. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton further asked why the City of London was not included in this Bill. The answer is simple. This is a Trunk Roads Bill, and while it may be possible and probable that certain trunk roads will pass through London under the Abercrombie scheme, it is inconceivable that any trunk road should pass through the City of London itself. He also asked me about the Bressey Report, what had happened to it, and when it was to be implemented. The whole Bressey Scheme has now to be reviewed in the light of the Abercrombie Report, and it is therefore impossible to give any indication about how and when its proposals are to be implemented.An important point was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner). I am glad he raised it, because this question of the toll bridges as a whole, and this one in particular, has been giving us some concern at the Ministry. We are exceedingly anxious, as I am sure the whole House is, to get rid of toll bridges as quickly as possible. They are an anachronism and a nuisance, and everyone wants to see them go. My Ministry gives substantial contributions to any local authority which comes forward with a scheme for abolishing these tolls.
The Mersey Tunnel?
Would that apply to the Mersey Tunnel?
The Ministry is prepared to consider any reasonable proposal for the buying out of tolls, and even during the war it has contributed substantially in one or two cases. The Mersey Tunnel is a new scheme, operated on a certain agreement between local authorities. It is therefore a special case, differing fundamentally from an ordinary toll bridge under private ownership. Entirely different conditions apply. I do not want to bore the House, but so many questions have been asked that if I am constantly diverted I fear I shall have to go on for a long time.In regard to Selby toll bridge, the trunk road which the Ministry feel would be the proper one for the traffic of this area will bypass Selby. It will not go over the toll bridge. Therefore, the Ministry of War Transport cannot take responsibility for freeing that toll or for building the new bridge which is likely to be necessary before long. On the other hand, the 1938 offer by the Ministry of a contribution for buying out those tolls is open. It is a final offer. It was a generous one, and we very much hope that the two local authorities concerned, the East and West Riding, will reconsider the matter as soon as possible, accept the Ministry's contribution, and buy out this toll bridge. I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for giving me the opportunity of making that statement to the House, which may help to clarify the situation. Many other interesting points of detail were raised—I must skip over them because there were so many—some by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) who was anxious that we should build wherever possible double-track roads. I agree. It was also suggested that we should by-pass as far as possible and that we should try to do something to limit the advertisements on the roads from the point of view of safety. To those suggestions I agree, and I may tell the House that the Minister of Town and Country Planning announced recently that he has that last matter under consideration. I think it was the hon. and gallant Member for Henley (Sir G. Fox) who asked about the difficulty which might be experienced by farmers and others if their access roads to the trunk road were closed. We appreciate that, and we make provision that there shall be an alternative road within 440 yards of any road stopped up.
Joining up with the existing entrance?
:It will join up with the trunk road; that is right. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) raised important agricultural points to which we are much alive. I would remind him that Clause 1, which gives us the main powers, states that the Minister shall take over roads which he considers desirable and he must take agricultural requirements into consideration. He will not build any road in an agricultural area without consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. We are fully aware of the undesirability of interfering more than is absolutely necessary with farmers. The hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) raised various safety points. He seemed to be of the opinion that the German engineers knew much more about road building than do our road engineers—a statement which our own engineers, I know, will very strongly and vehemently deny.
It was merely a pointof the difference of approach. I never suggested that our engineers were inferior to the German engineers.
:It may be not, but there was the suggestion that the German autobahn roads were an engineering achievement which, our men could not do. One of the points he raised was that there should not be kerbs on the sides of roads, so that accidents could be avoided. The policy at the moment is that kerbs are only put on the sides of roads to protect the footpath. It is essential that if you have a footpath you must have a kerb, but where there is no footpath no kerb is put down.
There have been in the past.
:There may be one or two exceptions, I agree, but that is the general policy, and it seems to me to be a sensible one. A difficult problem was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetlands (Sir B. Neven-Spence). He will agree, I am sure, that his point is not a matter which comes under a Trunk Road Bill. I understand the War Office have given special assistance to various localities where Toads have been built for war purposes, and may continue to do so in the future—I do not know. It is a real problem, but it is one with which we cannot deal in this Bill.Finally, the hon. Member for Eastbourne, who considers this Bill is a weak and feeble one, wants it to be invigorated a bit by bringing into the Schedule roads A.21 and A.22, the roads which run to Eastbourne and Hastings. I can give him this assurance. The hon. Member has a case; it is an arguable point, and we will give careful consideration to his suggestion that these two roads should be included. There are good reasons for including them, and others against including them. I undertake to give careful consideration to his proposal, and we will be able to tell him our views when we reach the Committee stage. With regard to level crossings, there are no additional powers required to deal with them. Local authorities and the Minister of War Transport have certain powers now. They are usually difficult to operate because the by-pass which may be necessary or the reconstructions are usually substantial operations, but the powers are there and we do not need any additional ones. In the course of my study of this Bill I read the Debate that took place in November, 1936, when the parent Bill was under discussion. On that occasion there were, as there have been today, many critical and constructive speeches delivered, but reading through that report I have no doubt—perhaps I am rather prejudiced—that the most penetrating analysis of the 1936 Bill was made by myself. I know the hon. Member for Thirsk and Molton also made a penetrating speech. Although I claim no responsibility for the changes brought about in this Bill before us this evening, it is interesting to note that the major defects in the 1936 Bill which I and others pointed out at the time are now being removed. It is rare but gratifying to find that ones advice, spurned at the time by the powers that be, is afterwards accepted as the higher wisdom, but that is happening here; and it is even rarer when that does happen for any acknowledgment to be made to the superior intelligence shown by those spurned critics. I am in the happy position today to be able to make a handsome acknowledgment to all those who criticised the limited scope of the 1936 Act and to tell them that there is now general agreement among all authorities and all parties that their views were wholly right and those of the Government of the day wholly wrong. I find moreover that the peroration of the speech I delivered on that occasion was half challenge and half prophetic. I expressed support of the Bill because I said:
The next Socialist Government has taken a long time to come, but it is now here, and by an odd twist of fate I have to share with my right hon. Friend the responsibility for fulfilling the promise I made in 1936. I have, however, no doubt that with this present Bill, which so materially improves and extends the scope of the old one, the Government do now possess the weapons necessary to make the main roads of our country adequate for modern needs. We have the weapons and it is the firm intention of my right hon. Friend and myself to deliver the goods. The task is plainly a heavy one which will require much money and considerable time before it can be accomplished. We are, however, determined to proceed with this task as quickly as circumstances permit and in this endeavour we can I am sure, judging by the friendly, if not enthusiastic reception given to this Bill to-day, relyconfidently on the support of this House."I feel that under the next Socialist Government it will provide machinery which will make the road system of this country really adequate for modem needs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1936; vol. 317, c. 2037.]
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
Trunk Roads Money
Considered in Committee, under Standing Order No. 69.
[MR. HUBERT BEAUMONT in the Chair]
That for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law relating to trunk roads it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of such sums as may be required—
and the payment into the Exchequer of any sums received by the said Minister under the said Act.—( King's Recommendation signified.)—[ Mr. Barnes.]
Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.
Kitchen And Refreshment Rooms (House Of Commons)
Mr. Hardman and Mr. R. C. Morrison discharged from the Select Committee; Mr. Guy and Mrs. Nichol added.—[ Mr. Mathers.]
Army Officers (Release Scheme, Modification)
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Mathers.]
On 16th October, the Secretary of State for War announced in the House that all military officers in Group 21 would not finish their demobilisation until mid-February, although they would begin their demobilisation on 12th November. He went on to add that in consequence of this delay by three months, Groups 22, 23 and 24 would also be delayed. I am raising this matter tonight not so much because of the hardships that will becaused to officers by the delay in their demobilisation—although that aspect of the matter is very important—but because I am concerned at the inefficiency which it seems to indicate in the War Office and among Service chiefs in particular.The Army, being by far the largest of the three Services, is the key to the whole demobilisation problem and if the speed of demobilisation from the Army has broken down, and in particular has broken down in the demobilisation of officers, it suggests thatthings may not be well in other spheres in the Army. The speed of demobilisation in the Army depends very largely on the energy and determination with which the Service chiefs scale down their requirements. Two days before the announcement was made in the House, 21 Army Group Routine Orders said that no officer in the Royal Armoured Corps would be retarded in his demobilisation before Group 23 and that no officer in the R.A.S.C. would be retarded before Group 24. What happened within two days, suddenly to make it necessary to retard officers of all arms from Group 21? From the very moment when the Bevin scheme was first announced, everyone in the War Office must have realised what was going to happen about the position of officers. The War Office have a better dossier on every officer in the Army than any Gestapo ever had. They know every single thing you do, your age, your civilian occupation, your age group; they register all the things you do wrong and sometimes all the things you do right. They knew from the very start, that seven out of eight officers were over the age of 25. Plans should have been made im- mediately to deal with the situation that would inevitably arise when officers in Group 21 became ready for demobilisation. Plans should have been made to deal with the situation of deferring officers if it was necessary to defer anyone. In 1939 and 1940, many battalions had only 10 officers out of an Establishment of 35. I was in one of them myself. If we could do that then, when we were at war, surely we can fall back upon a similar scheme now, in the transitory period. We are not trying to win a war. We are only doing garrison duties. We can do that with at least as few officers as we had when this country was threatened with invasion. I do not think that any real attempt has been made to do this at all. I understand that the officer strength of units is being reduced at the moment to two-thirds. That is not really far enough. Many Members of this House continually receive letters from officers who have been retarded in their demobilisation. They seem to show that the officers concerned are doing nothing at all, or are not performing any useful function in the Army, although they are being retarded. I would like to quote a typical letter, received from an officer in the R.E.M.E., where he is a technical officer. He is in Group 23 and is serving in the B.A.O.R. In civil life he is a development engineer of a large firm of concrete machinery manufacturers and he is particularly badly wanted by his firm to assist with reconstruction and building work. He writes:
That does not seem to be a very vital reason for retaining him in the Army. There are many cases one hears about which show that the retardment of officers could to a large extent be avoided. Again, no mention has been made of trying to meet the situation by giving increased responsibility to senior N.C.O.s and warrant officers Class 3. At the beginning of this war, we used warrant officers Class 3 as platoon commanders. It may not be a satisfactory thing in battle, but it is adequate for peacetime conditions. There is a great opportunity inherent in this situation for giving N.C.O.s of long service some reward in the shape of an immediate commission. It may be neces- sary when you do so to relax the conditions; for example, they need not be able to jump aditch in the same way as they had to do before when they wanted to obtain a commission. You do not need to jump a ditch now. Short O.C.T.U. courses could have been organised. The War Office have known all these things for a year and they could, by using a little intelligence, have organised something on the lines of a shortened O.C.T.U. course to meet the changed conditions. Another serious feature of the situation is the presence of super-mammoth headquarters, which indicates to me that commanding generals are not really trying to economise in officers at all. There were more than 1,000 officers at the headquarters of 21 Army Group before the invasion of France, and there may well be more now. I should not be at all surprised. Colonel Fisher, who is a staff officer at S.E.A.C. Headquarters, recently wrote a letter to an Army newspaper in the Far East saying that headquarters were being run on Rolls-Royce luxury lines and that there was a tremendous wastage of officers in S.E.A.C. I myself was at one of these supermanned headquarters at G.H.Q. India. We were all falling over ourselves there, trying to find a job. I understand from my friends who are still there, that the situation is very much the same, although there is even less work to do now than there was before. It was a byword in Delhi that all the officers' bicycles and tongas left the headquarters at four o'clock every afternoon. I am sure that is still going on. Possibly one reason for this is that in order to retain rank as a Brigadier at a Headquarters you have to have a fixed quota of colonels under you. Otherwise you lose your job. Brigadiers, like other people, are only human beings. [An Hon. Member: "Are they?"] They have a tendency to wish to retain their jobs, so they find it very easy to convince themselves of the necessity to retain Colonel so-and-so and Captain so-and-so, in order that their jobs shall not vanish. Another factor in this situation, is that the proportion of officers to other ranks is now greater than before the war. That may be justified, to some extent, by the fact that one has to supply officers for military government, but in view of the fact that every anxiety must be felt by the Service Departments to get as many people demobilised as possible, it would seem an additional reason for not deferring these officers' demobilisation. It seems, from all this kind of thing, that no real attempt is being made to adjust the Army to a peacetime footing at all. In the present temporary phase, I think the Army should be treated rather more as one vast unit because it has only garrison duties to perform, and, very often, men are doing only sentry and local police duties. It does not require any intricate organisation in battalions and companies to do jobs of that kind. If you treated the Army as a block, you could switch officers to any arm of the Service, wherever the pressure was greatest. So, instead of the officer I mentioned earlier shooting game three or four days a week, and performing no particularly useful function, you could transfer him to a unit which had need of his services. But this is never going to be done at all in the Army until strong action is taken from the very top of the War Office. Generals, I am afraid, tend to regard the Army as a kind of private show. They get to like commanding men, and they like to keep them together. They like as many officers as they can get because, naturally, they want to make their own particular show as efficient as possible. Field Marshal Montgomery was a great soldier—I should say, perhaps, is a great soldier—but I am afraid he is not a plaster saint. All of us who served under him during the war knew that he always refused to undertake any operation unless he had at his disposal an overwhelming preponderance of men and materials. My feeling is that he has continued this, possibly, very laudable wartime policy into peacetime, which is not so laudable. He feels, perhaps—and he is not alone in this—that he must have his full quota of officers to run the thing as smoothly and efficiently as he can, and does not want to be cut down. But there is a widespread feeling throughout the Army that nothing is being done to curb or reduce his demands; that there is no one saying, "I am very sorry, but you cannot have all you want. You must realise we have to get these officers out, and we are going to cut down your demands." Other generals—I do not want to single out one particular general—are equally guilty in this direction. Let us assume, for a moment, that perhaps it is necessary to defer the demobilisation of some officers—I am sure it must be in some cases. If it really is necessary, then I think some compensation in the way of increased pay should be offered to the officers who are being deferred to compensate for the extra time they are having to serve. There should also be a system whereby officers could be offered short-term commissions for additional periods, particularly beyond their normal period of service, at favourable remuneration. If you only want to retain a large number of officers for, say, four months, you could issue an announcement saying that an extended commission up to four months would be offered at such and such an increased salary, and I am sure there would be plenty of officers volunteering. Those who felt like staying would stay, and others, who wanted to get out, could get out. On this point, I wonder how the recruiting of officers to regular commissions is getting on. Until recently it was almost impossible to get a regular commission. One officer whom I knew, applied for one. He was sufficiently good to become a major at the age of 22 years and he won the M.C. in France commanding an infantry company. But he was turned down as not being suitable for a permanent commission. Not unnaturally, everyone in the brigade wondered what kind of heroic deeds and capabilities were necessary to obtain a regular commission. Many people were discouraged from applying and I think this system wants bringing up to date and should be placed on a more balanced basis. Up to the announcement made in the House by the Secretary of State for War on the deferment of the demobilisation of officers all over the world, there had been no mention of any special deferment of officers in the MiddleEast and Far East. I do not see why, if it is not really necessary to defer them—and we never heard anything about it before—these officers should be penalised as well. I think they have already undergone enough hardship, and separation from England, without extending this penalisation to them as well. On 16th October the Secretary of State for War also said:"I am no longer acting as adjutant, and so I am out of a job. I spend my time hunting deer and buck three or four days a week and the rest of the time I spend felling trees with the boys."
Of course, it does nothing of the kind, as many officers are now beginning to realise. There is no indication yet of actually when officers of Groups 22, 23 and 24 will be demobilised, and it must necessarily follow that, with the retarding of the demobilisation of those three Groups, then, in a diminishing degree, Groups 25, 26 and 27 must also be retarded. They realise this, and no announcement has been made about it at all. I should like the Secretary of State to assure us that this is not going to happen although it seems to me to be inevitable. There is uncertainty now among all officers in the 20's as to when they are to be demobilised, and I think they are entitled to an announcement making their position clear. Officers in this war have very largely won their commissions on ability, rather than on birth or money. They do not belong to any particular class of society. Because of their ability they are more needed in civilian life to undertake the reconstruction work which we are trying to get down to, than many others, and I do not think they should be deferred for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. If they are to be deferred at all, every attempt should have been made beforehand to solve the difficulty, and, if all attempts have not yet been made, they certainly should be made without any further delay. I feel that this question of the demobilisation of officers is symptomatic of the somewhat inefficient way in which the Service chiefs are handling, in the Army, the whole problem of demobilisation. It gives one considerable alarm as to the way in which they are tackling the over-all problem of reducing establishments, not only of officers, but of men, to speed up demobilisation to the maximum."This arrangement will give officers a definite guarantee as to how long they are to be held."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 927.]
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State fully appreciates the deep feeling of resentment among the officers concerned which this deferment has caused. I do not doubt that most Members of this House have received a great many letters from constituents who are in those classes, and in many cases those letters do express very deep feeling on the subject, a feeling, almost, on the part of many of them of having been cheated, a feeling among officers who are in a class which was very close to demobilisation that the cup has been dashed from their lips and they do not know when a substitute will be put in its place. There are, I would suggest to the House with great respect, one or two considerations which do leap to mind on this matter.The first is this. Why was this matter not foreseen? In the files of the Adjutant-General's Branch of the right hon. Gentleman's Department there is a duplicate of Army Form B. 199 (a) in respect of every officer in the British Army, and in that document there are set out all the particulars necessary to show what that officer's release group would be. I should be most grateful if the right hon. Gentleman, when he comes to reply, will deal with this question: Why, with that information already in the files of his Department, was this matter not foreseen, and why, if it was foreseen, were steps not taken in advance to prevent the necessity for deferring these officers arising? One very simple step has already beensuggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Aston (Major Wyatt). It would have been perfectly simple, if this matter had been foreseen, for instructions to be given to O.C.T.U. Boards to ensure that sufficient officers were passed for commissions to ease the officer situation of the Army. It would have been perfectly possible to instruct O.C.T.U. boards, before the end of hostilities, to relax in some degree the very stiff medical standards for officers, because it would not have been necessary for officers of the Army of Occupation to have quite the high standard of physical fitness required in officers of combatant units in time of war. If I may quote from my own experience in the Central Mediterranean theatre, I myself put up for commissions a number of men of some age but, by reason of their late entry into the Army, of late release groups. These men were turned down for no other reason than that they were not able to climb ropes with great ease, and indulge in other feats of gymnastics. Had they been commissioned they would have been perfectly fitted for duty as officers with our Armies of Occupation, and would have been perfectly fitted to replace those officers who are now being held back. It surely is material to consider now, in order that thissituation may not repeat itself later, whether even at this hour steps are being taken by the War Office to ensure an adequate flow of new officers to replace those who are due to go but who are held back on the grounds of operational necessity. There is one other matter which appears most forcibly, and sometimes in language which I could not repeat in this House, in the correspondence which I am receiving from some of the officers concerned, and that is this. It was understood, and officers were led to believe, that the operational necessity clause would not be invoked for whole classes of officers, but would be invoked only for officers who, for some special and personal reason, had to be retained. There is a very real feeling—and I say this with great respect to the Secretary of State for War—that the holding back of whole classes of officers does amount to something in the nature of a breach of faith. There is a further matter: these officers are being held back on the grounds that they are necessary, but they have been given no undertaking that during the period for which they are held back they will be retained in their present acting or temporary rank. The situation has arisen in more than one case in which an officer has been told, at the same time, that he is so essential that he must remain in the Army, but owing to the fact that his old job has gone he will be given another one in another rank. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, when he comes to reply, whether it is the intention of his Department that officers retained in the Army on the grounds of their necessity to the Army are or are not to be given the opportunity, at any rate, of being retained in their present acting or temporary rank. It is a question which, affecting as it does emoluments and prestige, does matter a good deal to these officers. The hon. and gallant Member for Aston touched upon another matter in regard to which I should like, if I may, to support him, and that is the question of compensation for these officers. They are being held back because, it is stated, they are needed for the public service. In many cases they are being held back from opportunities in civil life; they are all of them being held back from making their way in civil life, and would it not be right and proper to lay it down that during the period for which they are so held back against their will and for the sake of the public they should be paid at double the rates of pay otherwise appropriate to their rank? That would not only amount to some compensation, inadequate though I think it to be—[Interruption]—quite inadequate, as hon. Members opposite who are aware of the real rates of Army pay will I am sure agree—it would also have this further advantage, which any hon. Member who knows the working of the finance branch of the War Office will confirm: if it were known that officers so retained were being paid at double rate, it would be the strongest possible guarantee that their deferment would be for the shortest possible time. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he is prepared to introduce some such concession in favour of a class of men who are admittedly being penalised for the sake of the public interest, and who believe that they are being penalised for no other reason than that the right hon. Gentleman's Department has failed to foresee an obvious necessity.
I want very briefly to support the very able plea put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Aston (Major Wyatt) that the Secretary of State should make a pronouncement on this very serious problem. Before I make my three brief points there are two matters to which I would call the attention of the House. First, I would ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to remember when they get letters from officers saying they are doing virtually nothing in theatres abroad that if an Army of Occupation is doing its job properly the officers are not all the time fully employed. If regimental officers were constantly employed in an Army of Occupation that Army would, in fact, be failing in its duty. Secondly, I would ask hon. Members to remember, when considering the question of compensation, that in the case of officers who have served abroad for very long periods there is nothing which can be offered to them which will compensate for the long separation from their families, which is, in fact, the most disastrous thing in this war. I should like to emphasise that with all the seriousness at my command, because that is the real point. No financial compensation can make up for that.I come now to the three points I should like to make for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman. One of the reasons why it has been necessary to retard the release of these officers is that officers have not come forward for short service periods, and what is holding that up is the fact that the size and conditions of service of the post-war Army have not yet been decided upon. Until they are, obviously new commissions cannot be created, and officers cannot be offered short service commissions. I believe, in fact, I am sure, that not only in North-West Europe but in the Far East there are many officers who would be prepared to serve for two or three years if the conditions were announced. I have made this point before but I would ask the indulgence of the House to make it again. There are many officers who despair of these conditions ever being published. The best type of officer is the type most easily able to get civilian employment and when he sees that these conditions are not being announced he looks about to get employment in civilian life and, therefore, is lost to the Army. Therefore, the delay in publishing these conditions tends to lower the standard of officers who will ultimately remain in the Army. My next point, and it is a really serious one, is that these officers were retarded at short notice. This situation was foreseen as long ago as the Spring, and it is a fact that a request from the military authorities to retard whole age-and-service groups was refused by the Government, and I think we are entitled to ask what were the circumstances that became known in September and October of this year that were not, apparently, known in the Spring.Very strong representations were made by the military authorities to hold up the releases of officers and it was refused, but the delay of four or five months has caused very great hardship. That brings me to my last point. It is very difficult for employers in this country to plan the size of their staffs and the organisation of their businesses when they do not know who is coming back or when, because whereas employers have an obligation to reinstate officers and, indeed, other ranks who come out of the Forces there is no obligation on the officers themselves to say whether they are coming or not. It is a fact that employers are co-operating, but I know from personal experience since I have been back on this side that it is hard for employers to plan their staffs, and that it does hold up industry if they do not know when people are coming out of the Forces. From the point of view of the officer, too, it is no good saying to him, "You will be released in a month, or two months, or three months." In view of the difficulty of finding houses and of moving one's family from one part of the country to another officers need at least six months' notice of the date when they will be able to return to civilian employment. I, therefore, urge the right hon. Gentleman, if he can, to give us the information for the next eight or nine months and not for the next three or four months, in order to clear up the uncertainty that exists in the minds of many officers about when they will be released. I know that there aremany special considerations in this matter. I ask that these things should be taken into account because I believe it would assist in clearing up uncertainties and doubts which exist in the minds of many men who are waiting to be demobilised.
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War made his statement about the deferment of officers, I put a supplementary question to him concerning a matter which I want again to bring to his notice. It is a rather important issue affecting those officers who were trained at our universities, got their honours degree, and then passed straight into the Army, without having had a chance in industry, and became officers straight away because my right hon. Friend's predecessor in office said that they were needed badly. Undoubtedly these men are of vital importance to the wellbeing of industry in this country. When a local authority, or a building contractor engaged on a housing contract of any kind, needs young surveyors orconstructional engineers, the men in those particular groups are in the main officers, and they are officers because they had a good training. They have served in the Royal Engineers, in R.E.M.E. and in every technical branch of the Armed Forces. It is not their fault if they are requested to do certain jobs, but they have to do cer- tain jobs which, to my way of thinking, do not fit into the picture of the needs of Britain today.A few weeks ago I went to Holland, Belgium and France, and I was astonished to find young engineers, who ought now to be doing jobs here in Britain, in charge of rehabilitation and reconstruction work in Holland. I put it to my right hon. Friend quite bluntly that we are not the Military Government in Holland at the present time. The Military Government is the Dutch Government, and the Military Governor is the Dutch Governor-General. Why are we keeping 40,000 or 50,000 men in Holland? Why are they there? Why are we keeping from 10,000 to 20,000 men in Belgium? Why are they repairing roads and bridges and doing other jobs there when we have plenty of work of the same kind to be done here? I do not want to give any encouragement to the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-on-Thames (Major Boyd-Carpenter) that there should be double pay for these officers. Double pay would not in any way compensate them for all that they are missing in the way of home and family life with their own kith and kin. The men in Arakan and Chittagong and the Malay Peninsula are living indisease-ridden countries. In the four months before the collapse of Japan, tens of thousands of our men went out there because of their knowledge of engineering. They are some of the best trained men who are urgently needed in this country at the present time. They are needed by local authorities and by contractors to get on with the job of building homes in Britain. I say to my right hon. Friend, who, I know, wants to get men from the Far East and out of S.E.A.C., that those lads are not interested in double pay, but are interested in making their contribution to the well-being, rehabilitation and restoration of Britain. They are anxious to be told why they are being kept there and why they must remain there one day longer than is absolutely necessary. As an old soldier of the last war who was kept waiting for five or six months in the Balkans, I know there were lots of jobs we were doing then that were absolutely unnecessary. I have not been much further a field than Amsterdam but, from what I have seen myself, this sort of thing can be multiplied many times over in every country in which we have men today, either west or east of Suez, and I am asking my right hon. Friend to tell us why these men are being kept in countries where we have no real responsibility and are not needed? Why are our officers being kept deferred, rendering services in a country where really we should not be holding anything or anybody down at all? I beseech him to give us a frank statement. It is difficult in a short Adjournment Debate to cover all the points, but I beseech him to tell this House, the country, the wives, and the mothers of these lads the reasons why these officers cannot be released.
I associate myself with the plea made in its general terms by the hon. and gallant Member for Aston (Major Wyatt), and by Members on both sides of the House, but I entirely dissociate myself from the suggestion that officers want either compensation or double pay. It is not a question of money but of plain justice and fairness. I trust that I shall not be ruled out of Order if I mention the point I mentioned in the Debate on Demobilisation, when on that occasion I asked if the spokesman from the War Office would give it his attention in due course. I rejoice to see the Secretary of State for War himself here this evening and I look forward to having an answer.There is a mystery about this question of deferment of officers and it appears to be that we do not know what has happened to the Officer Training Units. During the war they had a large output. They existed in all theatres of war and did a very fine job of work indeed. They had extremely high standards and for the most part they kept pace very nearly with the very high casualty rate which was then occurring. But now that the casualty rate is presumably non-existent we have a right to know what has happened to the Officer Training Units. Are they still in existence? What is their output and what is their policy? With regard to the selection of officers for Officer Training Units, it is perhaps material to relate that, during the war, it was practically impossible for an N.C.O. to be nominated for an O.T.U. for infantry or R.A.C., or, if he was over 35, for any other arm. Surely those standards couldnow be ruled out, bearing in mind the different role that the Army has. So much for this point and, as I say, I greatly look forward to having an answer from the Secretary of State for War on that, having failed once before. This problem of ensuring justice for the officers concerned is greatly increased when we bear in mind that superimposed on the question of deferment of release is the question of long service overseas. As the Secretary of State for War has already pointed out in the statement which he made after returning from his tour in S.E.A.C. there are officers as well as men—perhaps more officers than men—who have been overseas for four and five years. I know that some of these officers are being kept overseas, not only beyond the date when they should be returning to this country, but beyond the date of their release. I know personally several officers who are in that position, and it does create for those officers an exceptional hardship. It means, in the first place, that they will have spent longer than the normal three hot seasons in a trying climate—
It being a Quarter past Nine o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Mathers.]
:From the point of view of those officers kept overseas beyond the normal period, they suffer because they have to stay in a trying climate beyond what is the normal period of three years. Then there is the question of the domestic upheaval caused by this long absence, which, in many cases, we know to be tragic. Then there is the question of resettlement in civil life, and perhaps that is the most difficult thing of all, especially for the professional man. He has not only lost a good deal of whatever professional business he may have had, but he has lost touch, and so many of them, when the war was nearing its end, were looking forward to picking up the threads again and will now be disappointed.A possible remedy for this hardship would be to make a firm offer to some of these officers, even at this late stage, of reasonably good terms on which they might remain in the Services, and such an offer would be particularly appropriate to those officers who form part of the British military administration which we find in so many parts of the world now. After the last war, the Colonial Service was reinforced and vacancies were filled very largely and successfully from officers who had entered the territories concerned by means of the military administration, and there must be many officers now filling such administrative posts in Civil Affairs who, if given a firm offer for the future, could go straight into the Colonial Service. That offer has been made during the past two years, but frankly, though I have not got the Middle East General Order which contains the offer with me at the moment, I know that the feeling amongst the officers concerned at the time was that the offer did not provide anything like sufficient security for the future. Something like 10 years'tenure was as much as could be guaranteed, and that, to officers of round about 35 to 40, is not sufficient to make them feel that their future is secure. In conclusion, may I just put forward this very simple proposition to the House?—that, just as in the same way that prevention is better than cure, surely, one solution to this problem of deferment of officers is to speed up demobilisation generally in the manner which has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition?
I had not anticipated the pleasure of catching your eye this evening, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and what I have to say can be said in very few words. I was impressed by what the hon. and gallant Member for Oswestry (Colonel Poole) said, when, with the inside knowledge which he possesses of the working of the British Army, he told the House that this situation was foreseen as long ago as last spring. I think it must have occurred to anyone who thought about this problem at all that there would come a time when more officers would be required in the Army, because the officers are, on the whole, older men, who have served longer than the men. This situation was bound to arise, and the hon. and gallant Member has told us that it was foreseen by the military authorities as long ago as last spring. What many of us have hoped was that these men would not have had to face the situation they are facing today, when suddenly, as the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Major Boyd-Carpenter) said so picturesquely, the cup was dashed from their lips.There are two particular cases which we must all have read about from the correspondence we are receiving upon this subject. The first case is that of the man who takes steps to reinstate himself in employment as soon as his release from the Army comes about. I had a letter only yesterday typifying that kind of case. It was from an officer with whom I served in this war who had his arm shot away and who will be in receipt of a 70 per cent. disability pension. This officer took steps to find employment for himself as soon as he is released. His release group was due to come out almost at once. He had great difficulty in finding a job; he is a professional man, but it is not easy for anyone to find a job if he has lost one arm. At last, after going from firm to firm, he was able to find exactly the kind of employment for which he is suited and in whichhe will be able to find some means of supporting his young and growing family. Now he has suddenly learned that his release will be deferred until well into the New Year, and it may be longer than that. I believe it is open to a man in that position to apply for his compassionate release under what I think is known as Class C, but if he does that, he loses his 56 days' paid leave, and that seems to me to be an unwarranted hardship. The second case which has come to the notice of every one of us, I am quite certain, is the case which is typified again in a letter which I have had only within the last day or two from the wife of an officer serving in the Middle East, in C.M.F., who was due to come back. His wife, after the most anxious search, had been able to find a small flat and after getting it ready for her husband, she writes:
That is not an uncommon case. Here is a young couple, hoping to be together again and, after great difficulty, securing some place in which to live, finding their hopes are dashed and that this promised release is deferred indefinitely. I want to ask the Secretary of State for War that if he finds it necessary to hold these officers, he should give as long notice as possible. It was a plea that was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oswestry. Let him tell the House, let him tell the country, how long he will require to keep these men so that they will be able to plan ahead. Let him be quite bold about it. Let him not fear. Let him tell the country that he needs to keep these men, and for how long, and then I believe the men and their families will understand."I was expecting my husband to be released this month in group 20. I was horrified to learn however that releases of C.M.F. officers are to be delayed indefinitely. I am quite prepared to believe that this is necessary but it is a little hard to get this news so soon after our own V-day."
Something has been said from the soldiers' point of view, but I have had occasion to find out the views of the women on this subject, and they are as deeply concerned as are the men, as my right hon. Friend knows. It is very pathetic to hear what they say and to learn what they think. One of my constituents has put a practical suggestion to me which I pass on to the Minister. She is a knowledgable woman of affairs, and voted for the right hon. Gentleman's party during the Election. [Laughter.] Yes, it is possible for a constituent of mine to vote against me. This woman applied her mind to this matter, and she has put forward some suggestions which I offer to the House. The important thing is to release these men who want to come back to their normal civil occupations. This woman says that there are a large number of police officers who are suitable for the occupation work which is required, and who are probably available if called upon in suitable numbers. We were told, only the other day, that there is a good deal of overlapping in our police administration, and so there would seem to be a not undisciplined source of possible manpower. This lady reminded me that in 1919, when a similar situation arose, the Government of the day were able to enlist 5,000 to 6,000 men for the occupation of Ireland through her troublous times.This lady further suggested that in this matter the Government had inherited a plan from the late Government, and that their passion for plans will not allow them to abandon that plan, even if it is a bad one. The late Government's plan was formed to meet the needs of a war situation. This Government is carrying on a plan which they should be men enough and bold enough to discard. It is the plan of the Administration which this Government so handsomely defeated, and the country expects something better than slavish devotion to other people's projects. The people of this country did not return right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for this purpose; they returned them to do something vastly different from their predecessors. Therefore, I think it would be advisable to take a fresh look at this problem. When I remember how the luxury trades were ruthlessly, and properly, stripped of their man and woman power for the war I remember that we are now in reverse. We have the new luxury of men idling in uniform, who should be stripped as ruthlessly from what they are doing for the purpose of setting up this country again in peacetime. I do not see, in the Secretary of State for War, the quality of ruthlessness which the situation requires. He was once a fighting man, but I believe he has been enfeebled by his association, in later days, with men in uniform. I hope I am mistaken, and that he will abandon the plan of the Coalition Government. I hope he will face this new problem in a new way, and release these men for the essential tasks of civil life.
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member (Major Wyatt) for giving me an opportunity of answering some of the questions which he and other hon. Members have put upon this important matter. I was interested in some of the descriptions which he gave of the occupations of some of his old friends. I do not know much about these things. My aspirations did not reach so high, so I am not familiar with them, but I should investigate to see if this is the way some officers conduct themselves.No one was more sorry than I, that I had to make the statement which I did on 16th October, dealing with the retention and deferment of officers. I had just come back from a journey which had taught me to understand what many men have endured who have been for years away from home. It was with very great reluctance, indeed, that I took this step. I had been receiving from officers letters, and I had been receiving also representationsfrom Members of this House concerning officers who had been retained under the Military Necessity Section of the White Paper. I do not think the hon. Gentleman who made the point that it was originally meant that only individuals should be retained could find anything very definite in proof of that statement. It may have been that was in the minds of people generally, and that it was not contemplated that whole classes would be I retained; but the fact is that the situation compelled those in command ultimately to take this step, and it was being done for a considerable time before I made my announcement on 16th October. I was asked by these officers, in letters which I received, and by hon. Members who made representations to me, why special classes of people should be penalised. I was asked, "Could I not level this out, so as to make all share in this matter of being held"; and the first I heard of it was from the officers themselves. I think an hon. Member opposite raised the question of compensation, and someone once well said: "You cannot give compensation for retention in this way." I am surprised that the question was raised at all, for I can tell the House that I heard men in the Far East speak with considerable anger about this suggestion that they should be compensated for being held longer than their time for Python release.
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman's argument to be that because no compensation can be fully adequate, no compensation of any sort should even be attempted?
:I was saying that it is rather an amazing thing that the other ranks repudiated, with considerable anger, this suggestion of compensation for being retained, as they had been retained, for many months. I have been asked why it is that the War Office did not make plans before. Of course I am answering for the War Office, but I have been in the War Office for only some three months. But I have investigated, and I said definitely in the statement that I made, that seven out of every eight officers are over the age of 25, and that this was leading to a surplus of men—undoing the old balance—so that there was a real shortage of officers. It was always foreseen that there would be difficulty as the result of this, but it was expected that the resulting shortage of officers in the early period of the release scheme would be met in two ways; by inviting officers to defer their release voluntarily, and by reducing officer establishments. Both steps have been taken and have gone far to meet the difficulty caused by the uneven run-out of officers as contrasted with that of other ranks. But the shortage had not been wholly overcome, I said, and during the next three months the proportion of officers and other ranks would fall below the efficiency level. I pointed out that the War Office had tried to meet this in advance by inviting officers to defer their release voluntarily, and by reducing office establishments.I am glad to say that we got a considerable response to these requests, but it did not by any means meet the need, as was shown by the fact that classes had to be retained. Why were no arrangements made for special short term commissions on attractive terms, I am asked? Arrangements were made for voluntary deferment of release for one year, two years or until the end of the emergency, and many officers have voluntarily so deferred their release. Short term commissions for those compulsorily retained, rather more financially attractive than those to which officers are entitled, would have been unfair to those who have remained. I have been asked why officers in the Far East and Middle East should be penalised, just because officers were short in the C.M.F. and the B.A.O.R. It is not a question of penalisation. There were serious shortages in the B.A O.R. and the C.M.F., and local retentions, as originally announced by the commanders, would have produced inequality of treatment between theatres. It was only fair, if there had to be retentions at all, that the men who were held indefinitely, who did not know their position, should be put into the position of other officers in other theatres, sharing the penalty to which they had to submit. I am asked whether increased responsibility is given to senior N.C.O.s and warrant officers to make up for the shortage of officers. Senior N.C.O.s and warrant officers are in short supply, but where a commanding officer considers that any individual is suitable for a commission, and the individual is willing—I can assure the House we are doing all we can in this matter—he can be recommended for an immediate commission, or for one after brief training. Commanding officers are being continually impressed with the necessity for impressing this upon their men, with a view to getting officers from the ranks. It has been said that the officers hardly know where they are as the result of this retention, that there is nothing definite about it. As a matter of fact the new arrangements did give a definite guarantee for a specific period that had not been given before to officers retained. Let me make this quite clear: In fact, groups 22, 23 and 24 were told, and know, when they will be released. Moreover, it is said, if those groups are retarded, obviously later groups will also have to be retarded, though perhaps to a lesser extent. This point was largely covered in my statement of 16th October. I pointed out that officers in groups 22 to 24, at any rate, are certain of remaining in the Army until the middle of February. I pointed out in my statement also that the provisional dates of release already announced for subsequent groups would be very little affected, if at all. So what it means is that, generally, the holding up of officers in every theatre is having the result of levelling out the releases in group 24 by about the end of March, and after that there will be the regular run just as there was before the deferment. I hope that is clear. It is as clear as I can make it, at any rate. Groups 25, 26 and 27, which were particularly mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aston (Major Wyatt) then take their place in the ordinary release groups. I hope that is pretty clear. Many questions were put to one which I would like to have answered. All I can say about the suggestion that officers who have deferred their release are idle, is that large numbers of officers who were in this country have been sent to B.A.O.R. and, I believe, to C.M.F., and they are actively employed there. If there are any particular and definite instances—my hon. and gallant Friend gave me numerous instances—I would very much like to be informed of them and I will take what steps I can to deal with them. The hon. Gentleman who wound up the Debate on the opposite side of the House referred to policemen who were being held and were doing nothing, or something on those lines.
:I am sorry I did not make myself clear. I suggested there was admittedly a very large civilian police force in this country, and that it might be possible to supplement the manpower shortage in the Army of Occupation by transferring some of the men from the police force as volunteers.
:All I can say is that there is in this country a very special demand for police officers, and so special that they have been given a very high priority in Class B. Consequently, quite a large number of police officers are being sent home to carry on their duties here. I repeat, it did not give me any pleasure to make this announcement to the House. It does not need any emphasis cither by letters from officers or by Members of this House. I am very pleased that the matter has been raised tonight in order that I have had an opportunity of clarifying the position as far as I can, but I was profoundly sorry, particularly with regard to those who were in the Middle East and the Far East, who do not get home so regularly as other—
It being a Quarter to Ten o'Clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.