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Road Construction Programme

Volume 200: debated on Wednesday 19 December 1956

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.53 p.m.

Debate resumed.

My Lords, I rise to continue the debate on the Motion on the Order Paper. I think that my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has done well to raise once again in your Lordships' House the question of our road system, if indeed it can be accurately called a system at all. In my view, my noble friend's timing has been quite right, for our desperate shortage of oil, following the consequences of the disastrous Suez adventure, highlights once again the wastage of oil, among other things, flowing from the failure in the past to tackle our road system. It is no doubt true that rationing has reduced, and may well increasingly reduce, road congestion; nevertheless, there will continue to be a vast wastage of oil, due to the circuitous routes which have to be followed by motor vehicles and to the many obstructive bottlenecks in our urban and, indeed, in our rural areas also.

I propose to limit my remarks to one aspect only of this problem of road construction, and I should say that I am voicing my own personal opinions. It may well be that some of my colleagues on these Benches do not altogether agree with me. In his remarks in the debate in March, 1954, my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth indicated that he was not greatly in favour of financing road construction expenditure by way of loan. So be it! Of course, there is always the hope of conversion. I consider that the proposal has solid merits, which I shall seek to indicate.

No informed person now contests the imperative and urgent need for the reconstruction and development of our highway system. It is probably the most worn-out and inadequate clement in the whole of our national economy, as it is certainly one of the most wasteful. Surely it is a Gilbertian reflection that, at the very time we are introducing automation into our factories and offices, we should also he actively engaged in promoting "auto-congestion" on our roads and are content to muddle along with a road system suffering from fifty years of obsolescence. I do not propose this afternoon to argue the case of the need for a modern highway system, but will examine by which means it can best be provided, and provided speedily, before we succeed in achieving almost complete immobility on our roads as a reward for the bounty of science and man's mechanical ingenuity.

It is all too clear, from the present and rapidly worsening conditions on our roads, that the ways of the past, and indeed of the present, have failed. In my submission, we cannot hope to build the worthy and adequate new highway system we so urgently need if we continue to rely on financing it from annual budgets, for under this method the prime essential of ordered, long-term planning is absent, and in its place we have a sort of day-to-day practice of relatively little done and much postponed. Clearly, this is a real job for planning. It ought no longer to be left to the exigencies and uncertainties of an annual budget, with the finance provision determined in. competition with other claims, jostling, as it were, in the scramble of priorities and normally coming out with a consolation allocation which is derisory in its inadequacy. Thus, instead of a co-ordinated plan, properly phased and programmed, we have insufficiency of expenditure in fits and starts— I must confess that I think too many fits and too few starts — with the plans of yesterday reduced to the frustrated hopes of a tomorrow which never seems to arrive. Local authorities which are highway authorities are sick and tired of these ups and downs, these postponements and deferments, what time the congestion on our roads is steadily and relentlessly outstripping even the plans which are postponed.

The amount of expenditure on our roads, I submit, should be determined not by what can be spared in the Budget but by what manpower and materials can be made available out of the national resources of both, always on the footing that road expenditure moves up in the scale of priorities from being a Cinderella to become one of the principal claimants. Nor, I think, should road-works be regarded as an ultimate means of providing full employment when employment is in danger of falling below what is regarded as a satisfactory national level. In this connection, it may be observed that with the credit squeeze, now accentuated by the results of the unhappy Suez adventure, the future outlook for employment in the constructural trades is, I understand, none too promising.

But even in 1955 when employment in these trades was at full, Sir George Burt, the then President of the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, said, in February of that year:
"I am quite sure that our industry could construct the 800 miles of new motorways needed without undue strain upon its resources".
That is a pretty definitive and responsible statement. But assuming that larger expenditure on roads did divert some labour and materials from other national activities. I cannot persuade myself that this would necessarily be to the detriment of the overall national economy, or would lead to any appreciable damage to our balance of payments. On the contrary, it should make for avoidance of the lamentable waste of our resources arising from our obsolete highway system— though not immediately, of course. But then, as we know from unpleasant experience, our balance of payments problem is not susceptible of immediate solution: nor can the planning of our economy be based upon immediate results. This also is a fairly long-term problem.

Thus, I suggest that the Government should give earnest consideration to the proposal which has been ventilated in many informed quarters that we should finance our new road construction and our major road improvements by way of loan capital, and not by way of grant out of revenue. The only annual charge would be the service of the debt, and that would need to be provided out of budgetary revenue. After all, this is what is done by the local authorities who are highway authorities: they pay their contributions, which range from 25 to 50 per cent of the cost of road expenditure other than maintenance, out of loan capital, not out of the rate income. Of course, they charge to their rate accounts the annual service of the loans raised.

If it is proper, then, for local authorities to do this, why is it wrong for the Government to look likewise? Government spokesmen have not yet advanced, in my submission, any sustainable reasons why this should not be done, but have seemed to brush aside the proposal in a somewhat cavalier manner, which normally, I think, betokens the absence of both good reasons and sound conviction. At the present time the Government are promoting legislation to enable the British Transport Commission to borrow money in order to meet anticipated deficits. This is not the time to discuss that proposal, and I will content myself with saying en passant that, in the circumstances which face the Commission, the proposal, in my view, seems to have merits. But if it is right to borrow to liquidate deficits, can it be wrong to borrow to create an asset such as an efficient, economical and essential highway system, which will pay handsome, continuing and, I submit, growing dividends for the benefit of the nation and the nation's economy?

On of the difficulties in this connection which has been advanced in some quarters is propounded by the questions: Who borrows the money? Who spends the money? Who is accountable for the money? Of course, in the case of local highway authorities who borrow for their contribution towards highway expenditure, they exist as statutory bodies accountable to the electorate and to the related Minister. The nationalised industry Corporations are, in the ultimate, responsible to a Minister. I would say, in passing, that I think that some advocates of a national road authority sometimes press too closely the analogy between the nationalised industries and a national authority for the construction of roads. In the context which I am discussing, there seems to be no close analogy; for the nationalised industries provide a specific, measurable service to specific and known individuals, based upon ascertainable user; whereas this is not the case with the road users, who cannot be identified, nor their user measured. Nor can they be charged on the basis of user, except by the introduction of toll charges, which I think it is generally agreed would be a reactionary proposal, and which, in any case, could be applied only to stretches of new road and not to the major improvements which are just as necessary and, in many cases, no less costly: indeed, major improvements can be more costly per mile when they lie in congested built-up areas.

Leaving aside these analogies, there is, I consider, a good case, on this and other grounds, to be made out for the setting up of a national highways authority charged with the duty of carrying out a long-term planned and programmed scheme of road improvements, including new roads, such as the conception formulated in the 1946 Plan for 800 miles of motorways, plus (and this is no less important) major road improvements, which usually consist in the removal of major bottlenecks, linked up with such new roads. The national authority should be required to survey the whole country in terms of need and urgency and, in association with the Ministry and the local highway authorities, prepare, say, a ten-year plan, properly phased and programmed for each year in relation to what is practicable in terms of labour and materials. The authority should be responsible for providing either the full cost, as is now the case with trunk roads, or the proportion of the cost of other projects which at present is borne by the Government, the local highway authorities continuing, as now, to provide their proportions. The authority should be empowered to borrow money with Government guarantee.

It has been suggested in informed circles that some £750 million would be the cost of an adequate plan spread over ten years. It might be more, or it might be less—that is a matter of ascertainment. The authority should borrow by a succession of tranches, as it were, as the needs require: needs for, first, the cost of trunk roads, for which the authority would pay 100 per cent., as the Government now do; and, second, for the grants to be made to local highway authorities on the basis now in operation, which grants range from 75 per cent. for Class III roads to 50 per cent. for Class III roads. The Government would be responsible for the annual service of the debt thus created by the authority. This annual charge would not be likely greatly to exceed what the Government at present provide over a series of years in the Budget. In any case, it could not be in excess of what the Government ought to provide out of the immense proceeds of present motor taxation.

The authority would plan and initiate proposals for new trunk roads, using, as now, the local highway authorities as agents for their construction. The authority would also consider and approve individual projects submitted by local highway authorities as the responsible bodies, and in the absence of such projects should itself initiate for consideration improvement and other projects necessary as a part of and fitting into, the overall national plan. The authority would, of course, be required to work in close association with the local highway authorities and with the Minister of Transport. Especially should this be the case as regards major road improvements in built-up areas, where considerations of planning and of housing often arise.

It is of the utmost importance, I submit, that the constitution, powers, functions and actions of this authority should not impair or impinge upon the autonomy and rights of local highway authorities. That would be fatal. I am a local government man, and I fully share the zeal and determination with which local authorities seek to guard their rights and their autonomy. Nor need these rights and this autonomy be endangered by the scheme I am envisaging. As I have indicated, the local highway authorities would submit their proposals and problems to the authority, instead of, as at present, to the Minister of Transport, and the authority itself would submit them, when approved by it, to the Minister for his approval. In the case of disagreement between the authority and the local highway authority, the latter would have the right of appeal to the Minister I do not think, as might be objected, that the authority would be a fifth wheel to the coach. At present, the vehicle of getting things done on our roads moves so slowly and so unevenly that one is sometimes in doubt whether it has any moving wheels at all.

I believe that the bringing into existence of an authority such as I have indicated, financed in the way suggested, and working in close co-operation with local highway authorities, would greatly speed up the work of road construction and would go far to dissipate the feeling of frustration which, from past experience of the present procedures, pervades these local authorities in this important field of their responsibility. The authority would, of course, be appointed by the Minister of Transport, and would be responsible to him on matters of policy and principle.

It would submit its long-term plan to him, including the elements of the plan which consisted of the proposals of the local authorities. It would also submit its yearly programme of works to be commenced, with the estimated yearly expenditure. The total of that programme, naturally, would be closely related to the total money which the authority proposed to borrow, if necessary, during that respective year. Issues of loan stock by the authority would be subject to the approval of the Treasury, through the Minister. Whilst the authority would be responsible to the Minister, and he to Parliament for the authority, the rights of interference by the Minister should, in my respectful view, be the minimum necessary to enable him to meet his Parliamentary responsibility. The work of actual construction of roads and improvements should, as now, be in the hands of local highway authorities either as agents for the authority itself, or as principals themselves, and the authority should have the function of planning initiation, approval and supervision. The authority might also, and, I suggest, with benefit, take over the existing agencies for road research which might well lead to the needed extension of research in many related but important fields.

The question of the constitution of this national highways authority, I approach with some hesitation, but, if I may continue to think aloud, as I have been doing in this discourse, I suggest that it should not be composed of representatives of any interests as such. What is required is a body which can look at the problems of providing an efficient and adequate national highway system as a whole, objectively and without regard to sectional, local or other considerations — a body which will command general confidence and respect from the status, knowledge, experience and quality of its members. There I willingly leave this paramount element of this proposal, for I am aware of the welter of differing opinion as to the composition of bodies of this kind.

I will conclude by saying that, whilst I have ventured to sketch in broad outline what might be the functions, duties and structure of a national highways authority, I readily concede that there is room for more than one opinion as to them. But the main proposal for loan financing which I have submitted (and which is by no means original to myself, although I did mention it at the end of a speech I made in your Lordships' House in March, 1954), that expenditure on highways, other than that on maintenance, should be provided out of loan money, and for that purpose, as well as for many other important purposes, there should be established a national highways authority, has, I submit, merits that go deeper than has apparently, up to the present, been conceded by Her Majesty's Government. I hope that, as a result of the debate this afternoon, the Government may see fit to give earnest and careful consideration to the proposals which I have ventured to submit to your Lordships.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to ask him a question, because I am interested in the proposals he has been putting to the House. Is he intending that this proposed new authority would take over all the roads, classified and unclassified, from local authorities, or only the new projected roads, the trunk roads, leaving the local authorities to deal with their own classified roads?

My Lords, I am not proposing any change in the present procedure as regards the classified roads. Both the building and maintenance of those are the function of local highway authorities. At present, of course, it is the Government who actually build the trunk roads, using the local highway authorities as their agents. I do not propose any disturbance of those relations. It may well be that, in working out the constitution, functions and powers of a national highways authority, some adjustment and alteration might be necessary.

4.20 p.m.

My Lords, it would be very difficult for anybody to follow adequately the speech which the noble Lord opposite has just made, but I should like to say at this stage how entirely I agree with him with regard to the question of a national highways authority. In saying that, I should like to add to what he said in reply to the noble Lord. Lord Wolverton. I am strongly in favour of a national highways board, and I consider that that national highways board should take over all the functions at present discharged by the Ministry of Transport in connection with trunk roads. Only in that way can I see any hope of continuity in the road programme of this country in the future. Continuity is the thing that matters. The local authorities are all crying out for continuity. They simply cannot know what sort of ceiling they can go up to. One year it may be quite high; another year the needs of a needy Chancellor of the Exchequer may impose severe restrictions.

I consider that we should certainly have a national highways board which would go in for a period of long-term planning, as emphasised by the noble Lord opposite—a ten-year programme financed by road loans. I would go further than merely financing by road loans. I would include a system of repayment by tolls on those roads. Some of your Lordships may consider this is a rather revolutionary suggestion, but it is the Government's own suggestion. Only a short time ago—I do not know the date— the Secretary of State for Scotland met all those interested in the provision of a road bridge across the Firth of Forth, and, so far as I would gather from the report of the proceedings, the proposal was as follows: that the local authorities should pay a sum exceeding £4 million— think £4,700,000— towards the project; the Government would supply £500,000, and the balance would be found by road loans, the interest and amortisation to be provided by a system to tolls. So that the principle which the noble Lord opposite has been talking about and which many of us on this side have advocated, as he has, for years, is apparently accepted by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Therefore I should like to urge as strongly as I can that further consideration should be given by the Government to the whole proposal.

The noble Lord who opened this debate told us that there were 3 million vehicles on the roads in 1939 and there are 7 million to-day. The last thing I wish to do is to try to score a debating point over the noble Lord, but I should like to point out that in the days when Mr. Alfred Barnes was Minister of Transport he brought in a grand scheme for 800 miles of new roads. That is still sitting somewhere in the pigeonholes in Berkeley Square, and nothing whatever has been done by any Government, either by the Government of the Party opposite or the Conservative Government, to amplify that magnificent scheme; and that is part of our problem to-day.

With regard to our problem to-day, may I read a cutting which I made from The Times newspaper:
"Congestion at Preston, with traffic from the Lake District and Blackpool, was the worst for many years, said the R.A.C. Queues were six miles long. Between Harrogate and Leeds a patrol described conditions as 'two hours of standstill'. On the road from Chester to Manchester the A.A. reported that over a distance of 18 miles cars were moving slowly bumper to bumper.
"Outside Guildford, Surrey, there was a queue of almost stationary vehicles four miles long. There was a line of crawling cars 10 miles long on the A.5 road between Shrewsbury and Wellington as the full weight of the traffic returning to the Midlands from Wales passed through Shropshire.
"Cars and coaches, in places three lines abreast, jammed the Medway towns. For over two hours there was an almost continuous line of vehicles on the road between Sitting bourne and Strood. It took nearly two hours to travel the nine miles through the Medway towns.
"Traffic on ten main roads into London was at the rate of 24,000 vehicles an hour."
There is the problem. What is the use of the Government telling us that all is well, that the problem is well in hand, and that we have this programme of £ 350 million, the mathematics of which are completely and absolutely wrong. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth; if the figures quoted by the Minister at the Conservative Conference are broken down, it will be found that they resolve themselves into exactly what the noble Lord says.

Recently the Minister of Transport was addressing the students of the Imperial College of Science. He said:
"I do not build roads for private motoring. I build roads for commercial traffic, and the motorists will get no sympathy from me."
What an utterance from a Minister who is supposed to be a statesman, when he can refer to the problems with which he is dealing in terms like that— and. incidentally, in terms of the personal pronoun the whole time! I cannot help feeling that the Minister was very ill-advised in making such a speech. He goes further. He has made other statements. This is one of his statements—I am not exactly sure of the date of it, but that is easily ascertained. After listing five major road schemes to which he said
"we are aiming to give overriding priority in our road construction in the next year or two",
Mr. Watkinson said:
"We shall go on planning a completely new road network based on the recent traffic census. We completely underestimated the growth of road traffic."
My Lords, what an utterance! What a real confession, I would almost go so far as to say, of incompetence!

This is what the report of the Road Research Board for 1955 says. It is on page 1, paragraph 3:
"Whilst, therefore, we are glad to note the Government has agreed that the present programme of road construction is to proceed despite restrictions on capital expenditure, our investigations indicate that the programme is out of scale with the needs, and we feel that it has no hope of even keeping pace with the general increase in the number of vehicles which we have noted."
They give the figures of the increase in the number of vehicles. That is a document produced for the benefit of the Ministry of Transport, presumably by the Road Research Board, the highest authority on such questions that could be referred to. The Minister said he misjudged the growth. But there has been debate after debate in this House. Has not the Minister of Transport troubled to read Hansard? Many of us have done our best to try to explain to your Lordships the trouble to which we were certainly coming, and the Minister says, "We have underestimated the growth of traffic". If the Minister has underestimated the growth of traffic, and if that is really so, the sooner the Minister makes way for somebody who will arrive at a correct estimate the better, it seems to me.

In 1952 Lord Leathers replied for the Ministry of Transport in this House, and this is what he said then:
"We shall be ready to proceed"—
this referred to the road programme—
"as soon as we get the green light."
In 1952, the noble Viscount, Lord Leathers, knew something about it, even if Mr. Harold Watkinson did not. It seems to me extraordinary that the present Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation should be allowed to make such a statement. It simply means that the public have been misled in the past or that the Ministry of Transport were not allowed to proceed when they saw the green light, as the noble Viscount. Lord Leathers, stated they would.

This is a question which concerns many of us. The Road Research Laboratory the other day sent representatives to the Highways Congress at Stresa, and the British representatives, again from the Road Research Board, said:
"Many roads in Great Britain are seriously overloaded at the present time."
We all know that; there is no secret about it. Here is an acknowledgement from the Government's principal advisers on the subject. In 1954— in case the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation may not have read it the Road Research Board said that they were
"perturbed at the absence of a comprehensive programme that would provide for future traffic and the safety of the road user."
Surely, the safety of the road user ought to come somewhere into the considerations. I submit to your Lordships that little enough has been heard on the question of road safety, though we know perfectly well that if you establish a motorway in place of an existing arterial or busy trunk road casualties will be reduced automatically by 30 per cent., and possibly more.

In September, 1956, the Trades Union Congress passed a resolution, unanimously as it seems, as follows:
"Congress notes the inadequacy of Britain's roads to cope with present-day traffic and is particularly alarmed at the scale of fatalities which are due to the deficiencies of the road system."
I hope that that passage was noted by the Government. It continues:
"It calls on the General Council to press the Government to initiate immediately a prograrnme of road construction to provide safe and efficient motorways",
and so on. Then we come to various other bodies. For instance, the British Productivity Council stated in May, 1956:
"Whatever improvements have taken place and continue to he introduced by members of the road goods transport industry, whether by the British Transport Commission or by owners of privately-operated vehicles, the beneficial effect continues to be nearly nullified by the condition of the roads themselves."
I hope that the noble Earl, when he comes to reply to the debate, will deal with some of these questions and utterances by bodies which I am sure everybody respects.

Why is it that we have all these delays? Why is it that we cannot get ahead with the business? Is it the fault of the Government as a whole? Is it the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Is it the Ministry of Transport? Is it insufficient appreciation by the Government? Or is it another desperate attempt to make the traffic fit the roads? I should like to ask each noble Lord sitting on the Front Bench whether he, in fact, drives his own motor car; whether he has personal experience of these things. The reason why I ask that is because, just prior to the last Election, I thought I would find out what the position was. I asked a certain Cabinet Minister, "Do you ever drive yourself? Have you first-hand experience of what is going on?" He replied, "No, I do not" I said, "You depend on the Government pool of motor cars whenever you want to get about?" He said, "Yes, I do". I said, "Therefore, your views of road conditions are formed at secondhand, or even from your chauffeur or driver?" He replied, "Yes".

There you are. Do members of the Government actually experience what all the rest of us have to go through when we venture on to the roads of this country? I hope that Her Majesty's Government will try to do something about this matter. Do not let us forget that, whenever a national crisis arises, it is the motor world that gets a raw deal. Take the present situation that we are all in: we have to undergo this petrol rationing and all the rest of it. Motoring is the first thing that a Government turns to. It was the same in the last war. Let us remember the enormous sun which the Government are taking out of the motor world every year in taxation of one sort or another. The possession or use of a motor car will soon be absolutely impossible if the Government go on not giving us proper roads on which to run and imposing the highest taxation of any country in the world— for our motor cars and motor users are taxed in this country more highly than in any other country in the world— while at the same time we seem to get a raw deal on every hand with regard to the day-to-day problems of the industry.

"Stop and Go" is no good as a policy for road construction. I submit to the noble Earl who is going to reply that we must have a steady and properly coordinated programme of construction, subject to the considerations so well put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, on the subject of material and resources generally. To deal with it, we must have continuity. I submit that the only way we shall get it is by having a national highways body. Therefore I hope that the noble Earl, when he comes to reply to this debate, will be able to give us a little news. Do not tell us the same old story; we have heard it before. Let us have something fresh this time. I beg to support the Motion.

4.38 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for introducing this extremely important Motion. There are, of course, cogent reasons why a large amount of capital should be expended on our very inadequate roads to-day, if only as an attempt—or, should I say, one of many attempts— to stop the present rise in the cost of living, which is due, in part, to rising freight charges. For these, we must blame our quite inadequate roads. Moreover, rising freight charges endanger our exports, for these are liable to be priced out of world markets. There is little wonder that we have high freight charges in this country when one finds that for every twenty minutes a 15-ton lorry is delayed on the roads the cost of the goods on that lorry goes up by 7d. a ton. That calculation was made before the present rise in the cost of fuel.

To-day, I am not going into the question of whether or not our road programme should be expanded. What I want to consider is whether the money that is being spent on our roads to-day is being spent wisely. Is it being spent to the best advantage? Here, I am afraid, the answer is, "No". We have in this country some of the finest technicians for road construction, but because the planning of our roads is at present at fault their skill is being completely wasted. I would say, without the slightest hesitation, that many of our road planners, from the top to the bottom, are lacking in foresight: they simply cannot see round the bend into the straight, and into the future.

One of the worst features of our road planning to-day is in the reconstruction of roads. Many of our roads are to-day being reconstructed to make travel in the piston-engined car relatively safe; but this work will be out-of-date almost before it is completed. Why cannot our road planners, like other people with foresight, envisage the time, which is not far distant, when all cars will be fitted with much more powerful engines? There will be turbo engines or atomic engines, for which the roads that we are planning to-day will be entirely inadequate, and which will make the roads even more dangerous than they are now. In my opinion, the road reconstruction work that is being carried out now will, in all probability, have to be bulldozed out of the way during the next ten years to make room for further reconstruction. Our road planning to-day appears to envisage cars travelling in comparative safety at about 50 miles per hour, but we must have comparative safety for at least double that speed.

Another illustration of the lack of foresight is that, because money is limited—or should I say "very limited"?—there is a tendency for expenditure to be spread over many small schemes, with the result that the larger schemes, which are by far and away the most important, get deferred. They do not just get deferred once, they get deferred time and again —every time this country is hit with a financial storm. Why, for instance, are many corners on our county class 1 roads being altered, at vast expense, into bends to suit the cars of to-day? They will be inadequate for the cars of to-morrow.

There is a county class 1 road that I know extremely well. The part that I know best is twenty-five miles long, and during the last two or three years three small improvement schemes have been carried out on this road. Each scheme has been practically the same as the last —a bend has been substituted for one or two sharp corners. Each of these projects has cost between £8,000 and £10,000. And what is the result? I suppose that one can travel the 25 miles in about half a minute less than before. But road safety has not improved; in fact it has got worse. The road can now take faster moving cars, but there are still the same number of road junctions. Until unrestricted access is removed from the roads there will be unrestricted danger. In my humble opinion, the money that is being spent on our county class 1 roads is being entirely wasted—and 75 per cent. of this money is being put up by the Government.

My Lords, first and foremost we should concentrate on our trunk roads, which, with our motorways, are going to carry a vast amount of traffic and which, with our railways, have got to be the life-line for our industry. Until all trunk roads have been made capable of carrying the cars of tomorrow, I would suggest that only maintenance and absolutely vital improvement work should be carried out on our county class 1 roads. It seems to be utterly ridiculous to spend vast sums of money carrying out relatively useless improvements on these county roads when only last year, on our trunk roads, there were no fewer than 106 level crossings, each forcing traffic to come to a complete standstill at some time of the day or night.

I am certain that much thought has been given to the construction of the motorways of the future, but I doubt whether the efficient working of these motorways has been sufficiently considered. The first essential is to keep the wheels turning, to keep the traffic moving, if possible at a uniform speed. We cannot have vehicles stopping on the highway. What I might call the motorised blackberry-picker simply cannot be tolerated—I refer to the person who leaves his car at the side of the road and wanders off into the countryside. Of course there are the awkward moments, when the dog or the child in the back of the oar feels sick—but perhaps this problem could be left to the ingenuity of the car designers. If a vehicle breaks down, there is only one answer—it must be put off the highway by some means. So as to maintain an even flow of traffic we must ensure that vehicles are not continually pulling on and pulling off the highway. For this I would suggest that revictualling areas might be provided about every twenty-five miles along a motorway. In these areas there Should be large parking facilities and facilities for cars, as well as drivers, to be refuelled.

Then, do not let us forget that it will be an absolute, physical impossibility for the driver who will be travelling at, say, 100 miles per hour, more than 1½miles a minute, to read all the signs that one sees dotted along the sides of our trunk roads to-day. We simply cannot permit advertisements to be put up along the sides of our motorways. The only signs that can be put up are those giving instructions to the drivers. Let us ensure that money which is spent on our roads is spent wisely. The first essential for this is that our road planners must have foresight to envisage not only the problems of the future but also the problems of to-day.

4.48 p.m.

My Lords, if I intervene for a brief period in your Lordships' debate it is simply because I am a humble member of a highway authority, the County Council of Hampshire. Unless I am mistaken the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to whom we are indebted for this Motion to-day, said, amongst other things, that the public are too satisfied that the road programme is adequate and that the money devoted to it is being properly spent. After the debate in this House this afternoon, however, I am quite sure that the noble Lord will not think that the Members of your Lordships' House are satisfied in any sort of way.

Would the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting him? If I conveyed that impression to him, it must have been my fault. What I said was that I thought the Government had misled the public; that the public were under the impression that £350 million was going to be spent on new road construction, when in fact it was not, because the total amount to be spent was only £29 million.

As the noble Lord has again mentioned this point, may I say that there is really no ground for saying that there is anything misleading in what the Minister of Transport has said. Anyone who took the trouble to read the speech saw perfectly well that he said that £80 million was committed for new roads, and that the £350 million was for our general road programme

I will not endeavour to labour that point. I was under the impression that the noble Lord opposite had stated that the public were too satisfied. I repeat that I am quite sure, after what has been said in your Lordships' House this afternoon, it is clear that certainly Members of your Lordships' House are not satisfied. I would point out, in the first place, that the Road Fund was supposed to be maintained—and I believe is still supposed to be maintained—by the motor licence duties. But there is an immense difference between the amounts received from licence duties and the amounts actually devoted by the Government (and this has applied to all Governments) to the roads. Could not a considerably larger portion of the receipts be given to the Road Fund? Surely, even in these times when we are hard up, this might be done.

Then I would suggest that the most urgent need is not so much for new trunk roads as the maintenance and improvement of existing roads. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forbes in what he has said about trunk roads and their maintenance. Although a great deal is said about making new trunk roads in this country, I feel that the emphasis should be on maintenance and improvement of existing roads, which is very urgently required. In many places new by-passes are an urgent necessity, both to eliminate, so far as possible, those bottlenecks to which reference has been made and also to facilitate traffic round built-up areas. Staines is, I think, an obvious example which nearly everyone knows, and one which ought to be dealt with very quickly.

In the United States and in other new countries (if I may so call them) it is a simple matter to construct a new trunk road because, there, land and space are nearly always available. It is a very different matter here. We have to consider not only agriculture but gardens and amenities of one kind and another, and it is difficult to get a line of route for a new trunk road which will neither injure the countryside nor injure individuals. But it is not so difficult to widen greatly and to improve greatly existing main roads and trunk roads. Nor is it so difficult to construct by-passes which are so urgently needed in many places. I am well aware that that is not always easy, but it is possible, in spite of the fact that it is always expensive.

In some cases, I would suggest (this is a small matter, I know) that railway tracks on which services have been suspended—and there are getting to he quite a good many of them in this country now—might he used for roads. On the other hand, it is questionable whether, with changed methods, many of these lines might not still be profitably used to relieve the roads of heavy traffic—for instance by using diesel trains, with frequent halts, with a conductor-guard issuing tickets on the train, instead of the whole panacea of driver, fireman, guard, as well as station-master, ticket clerks, porters, and so on as used on these old railways. A daily goods train each way, too, might relieve the roads of quite a lot of heavy traffic.

One of the difficulties is the fall in the value of money, which is a difficulty in every way. There is also the heavy rise in expenses. Yet the money allowed to country councils by the Government has not been increased lately. What that money will cover in the way of expenses is very much less than it was a comparatively short time ago. And since, as I say, all expenses, costs of materials and wages have increased very largely, this must mean not only less maintenance and improvement on the roads but even some deterioration of existing conditions. And it is not good business to allow a road which has been improved to a certain point to deteriorate simply through failure to spend money upon it.

As regards the proposed highway authority, which it has been suggested by Lord Latham and by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, should assume the existing Ministry's powers, I personally should be very much in favour of that change, if it could be made. But I submit that one of the things which is needed, not only as regards trunk roads, main roads and other highways, is more devolution of authority. At present, the county authority, which deals very largely with main roads and other roads, has, on an enormous number of small matters, to go to the present authority, the Ministry in London. Often it is merely a case of asking for permission for very small alterations to the roads—sometimes for such trivial work as putting up some notice indicating a dangerous corner or something of that kind. Surely on matters like that the local people have the best knowledge. It seems a very great waste of time and manpower that they should have to apply again and again to the Ministry in respect of what are comparatively trivial matters.

With regard to country roads, I think that the increasing use of tractors and heavy mechanical implements by farmers is causing a considerable amount of damage, not only by cutting the roads but also by spreading (certainly at this time of the year) great quantities of sticky mud over them. This certainly does not improve them from the point of view of accident prevention. It is said that straight wide trunk roads do not necessarily make for safety, and I understand that in the United States, where there are many miles of wide straight roads, and where everyone travels on the average very much faster than in England, the accident rate is much higher. I would say that even here in Britain, many people travel too fast. I would not for a moment maintain that when there is a clear open road, and you have a car which is capable of a high rate of speed, you should not travel fast: of course, you are perfectly right to do so. But some people cannot resist trying to go very fast where there is a lot of traffic about and where the road may not be a straight or open one.

There are many people who, even in London, as one can see almost any day, go much too fast round sharp corners, and many who cannot resist what I would say is the worst fault of all, cutting in. That is a really bad fault. There are people who will insist on trying to make up a few yards where there is a lot of traffic about. That is a dangerous thing, which I think, from some experience in the police courts, produces more accidents than anything else. If it is asked why more cases are not reported, I would say that a driver who is looking after his own car and trying to avoid accidents, to avoid being struck by or striking another car which is in fault, often has no time to look at the number of the other car; and in that way a great many people who are in fault get away. I know of actual cases where that has happened.

I venture to say only these few words to your Lordships. I hope that something will be done, that more money will be devoted to the roads, that whatever form of highway authority we have there will be more devolution and less necessity to apply on often trifling matters to the Ministry or whatever authority there may be in London. If we can get such matters attended to and, what I believe to be almost the biggest thing required, if we can make by-passes round the big centres of population to avoid bottleneck; and hold-ups, I am sure that we shall be a good deal farther on the road we all desire.

5.2 p.m.

My Lords, I am sure that we should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for putting down this motion. For myself, I am grateful to him for covering so fully the whole ground. As soon as he had finished speaking, I tore up half my notes. I should like to refer briefly to the second part of the Motion, which deals, in effect, with the lack of urgency. I would put forward two matters which I believe the Ministry could put right quite quickly. I am always receiving complaints from local authorities that although they have a scheme ready in great detail several years ahead, they can never get the Ministry to discuss that scheme until just before they are ready to authorise it. The result is that, when the authorisation has either just been given or is about to he given, the scheme has not been discussed fully in detail between the local authority engineers and surveyors and the Ministry, and sometimes many months are taken up with discussions at that point, whereas if the discussions had taken place at an earlier date there would be Far less delay when the Ministry were ready to go ahead.

I suggest that there is one principal reason for this state of affairs. At the Ministry, there is a chief engineer who has round him other qualified engineers. He has under him eight divisional road engineers, each of whom deals with three, four or more counties. They are the men who are in continuous touch, one way or another, with the local authority engineers. In so far as their rank in the Minister is concerned, they are junior to the chief engineer, but in so far as their technical qualifications are concerned, they are on exactly the same footing as the chief engineer and the local authority engineers. My suggestion is that much of this delay in the discussion of schemes could be overcome by giving proper authority to the divisional road engineers. They are always in touch with the local authority engineers and over many years have discussed with them the schemes that have been prepared by the local authorities. When the Minister says that: is ready to authorise a scheme, I think it would be sufficient for the divisional road engineer to approve it or disapprove it. He will have argued out the points before that stage is reached. In my view, if the divisional road engineer has given a scheme his approval, the actual ministerial approval, through his chief engineer, should be a formality. I believe that if that were done, it would save months of discussion at much too late a date.

My other point on speeding up is about the way contracts are presented for tender. I regret to say that we take far too long a period to construct a given length of road, compared with some of our poorer neighbours on the Continent. One of the reasons, I believe, is that when tenders are asked for the Ministry put in much too long a period in which the work has to be completed, if they ask a contractor to tender for completing a given stretch of road in eighteen months, he will tender for that period; but if they insist on six months, he will tender for six months, believe that that is the cause of great delay. Moreover, as wages have been going steadily up over the last few years, and there are usually wage clauses in a contract, the work eventually costs much more if it takes eighteen months than it would have done had it taken six months.

Let me give one example of how this lack of planning, in not putting in an earlier date and giving too long a period for contracts, works out in practice. I quote the case of the Markyate By-pass, on A.5. I think that it illustrates both points. It was officially supposed to be authorised in 1954–55. It was afterwards divulged that the Minister had decided to proceed early in 1955. A Press release was issued by the Ministry on December 8, 1955, which said that work would be started two days later, on December 10, and that the work would take twelve months. Two months later, in February, 1956, the Ministry announced that the estimated date of the completion was June, 1957. Although work had started, it became known within the first two months that the work was going to take 50 per cent. more time— six months longer —than had been originally estimated. Either preliminary planning had been rushed, because it had not been started early enough, or (what I suspect happened) the Ministry did not bother too much about the time factor, and the tender they eventually gave was given because the contractor said he would do it more cheaply if they gave him eighteen months. I do not know whether that was the reason, but it seems to me to be a likely one.

In any case, what we are trying to do is to get roads built, and to give an extra six months after a contract is started, so that it takes eighteen months—if the work had been in France or Holland, it would have been completed in nine months—makes the thing absolute nonsense. It is completely incomprehensible to me how the Ministry, the contract having been placed and the work started, can, in the space of two months, extend the time for the contract by six months. In these two respects, I suggest that the Minister could put matters right quite easily: that is to say, by giving more power to the divisional road engineers to come to decisions, and in seeing that, when tenders are asked for, the period of the contract is cut to a minimum.

The authorisation and expenditure on the present road programme is, so far, keeping pace with the road programme—something which I do not believe has ever happened before: indeed, I am not sure that in recent years there has been a road programme. But, as has been said by many noble Lords this afternoon, the programme is inadequate. We are not keeping pace with the increase of traffic, let alone getting ahead of it. Various noble Lords—particularly the noble Earl, Lord Howe—have quoted official bodies who have said that our programme is quite inadequate. The Central Transport Consultative Committee, set up by the Ministry in 1954; the Road Research Board on several occasions; the Trades Union Council and the Trades Union Congress all agree that the programme is quite inadequate. But it is noticeable that in Government circles (if I may use such a loose term) it seems to be generally agreed that the road programme is inadequate until one comes to the Treasury, where there always seem to be second thoughts.

What is particularly noticeable is that on July 26, 1955, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a statement in another place on the economic situation—and it was five months after the new road programme had been announced—spoke of
"inevitable and very desirable additions to the programme."
So he was in favour of what had been announced. The previous day he said that
"serious damage could be caused to industry as a whole by inadequacies in the supply of transport.…"
That is a little stronger. On October 26, in his Budget Statement it was an Autumn Budget, then—he referred to the road programme and described it as
"already insufficient to deal with the industrial needs of the country."
Then I suppose somebody at the Treasury interfered, because in the same month, at the Conservative Party Conference, speaking on Government economic policy, he did not include the expanded road programme in what he called "first priority expenditure." Either a thing is urgent, or it is not, and to say one day that industry will suffer and in the same month not to include it in priority expenditure is absurd.

What is the real reason why we do not get ahead quickly enough? Is it finance, or is it materials? It always seems to me that the Minister of Transport cannot make up his mind which it is. Mr. Boyd Carpenter, the late Minister of Transport, said this on television:
"In the end, is it not always a question or finance?"
The present Minister of Transport, in the Financial Times, stated:
"It is net a problem primarily of finance but of the allocation of scarce national asset in men and materials."
That last statement is denied by all the contractors.

I was most interested in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Latham; and, by and large, I agreed with him. There is one point, however, that he did not make. When we have been fighting this battle with the Ministry, and with the financial section of the Ministry, we have always received the answer: "What does it matter? This is a non-profit, making concern. You are asking us to raise road loans, and out of general revenue pay the service of the loan; but that can be done just as easily by budgetary ways as by raising loans. It is simply for the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day to decide how he will raise the money." But there is this difference, which has not been mentioned. If the public are asked to subscribe to a Road Loan, he will be a brave Chancellor of the Exchequer who uses that money for some other purpose. He may prevent a certain amount of money from being used in a particular year, owing to financial stringency, but for him to use it for gas, electricity, building ships or anything like that would, I maintain, be impossible.

It is for that reason that I believe we must have some sort of Road Loan, because the public will have subscribed and no Chancellor of the Exchequer would dare to touch that money for other purposes. As I trust no Chancellor of the Exchequer, when it comes to being short of cash, I think that is the only way of having, year by year, a source of money to build the roads we need. I am always being accused of not trusting Chancellors of the Exchequer, but we have seen this happen so often: funds have been raided unless it is public money subscribed for a particular purpose. For years, for various reasons, it always seemed that power got the first "whack", and transport was not looked after at all. We hoped that we had got past that, and that transport was now going to have a share in some of the money.

I was somewhat disturbed by a statement made the day before yesterday in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, on the Second Reading of the Electricity Bill, when he said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 562 (No. 31) col. 944]:
"…if we are to obtain all the benefits of nuclear power, we as a country must be prepared to undergo the sacrifice which the tremendous investment necessary for nuclear power requires."
We are all in agreement with that. But we who have dealt with road matters for many years have always been somewhat frightened by that type of statement, because if there is a sacrifice to be made, it usually seems to fall on transport, fuel or something of that kind. I would merely say this: that should such sacrifices be asked of roads, road transport and fuel, it is quite obviously absurd. What is the point of using the great benefits and powers of atomic energy in nine years' time if, when we have manufactured our goods with this new form of power, we cannot carry them to the ports, and therefore cannot compete? I quote that merely so that we can all remind the Government of it when they cut down expenditure on roads, or try to, in the future to finance this other project.

5.19 p.m.

My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for putting down this important Motion and so giving us an opportunity once more of reviewing the progress of the road programme under the direction of Her Majesty's Government. I should like to congratulate the Government on the progress that has been made in the last two years. Progress has been made on both major road improvements and maintenance, although little has been done in the way of providing new roads, but I am still one of those who are far from satisfied that the progress is sufficient. When one analyses the reasons why the progress is not sufficient—and many reasons have been given this afternoon; land acquisition in a small and overcrowded country, labour and materials—one still comes down to one of the most difficult reasons; and that is the matter of finance. I think it is finance that we are most short of. If only we could have more finance for this road programme we could go a little faster.

There are two points that I should like to bring out. If I quote a few figures, I hope your Lordships will be tolerant with me, because it is impossible to develop my point on finance without bringing out a few figures. I asked a Question of Her Majesty's Government on December 5, 1956, about the improvements to the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh which, as your Lordships know, is about 400 miles long. I asked that Question purposely for this debate to-day, and I asked for the answer to be given for four 100-mile sections. The Question was answered by my noble friend Lord Hawke, and I should like to quote the Answer again to your Lordships.

On the whole length of the road from London to Edinburgh, the most important road in this country, £2,600,000 is being spent at the moment. That has nothing to do with maintenance. The work comprises twenty-three schemes, and if you divide up the total expenditure it comes to about £100,000 on each. That is an improvement, but there are large stretches of that road, especially in the southern counties—and I have twice driven up and down it myself—of Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Rutland and Lincolnshire, where there are large stretches of two-lane traffic; and yet only £500,000 is being spent in that first section from London to Stamford, and from Stamford to Doncaster about £700,000. Your Lordships have only to study the figures supplied by the Ministry of Transport in their annual accounts to see that a road-widening scheme from a two-lane road to a three-lane road costs something in the neighbourhood of £80,000 per mile, and from a two-lane to a four-lane road something in the neighbourhood of £150,000 per mile. So we shall not get many improvements on the Great North Road for £2,600,000.

I have taken the trouble to extract a few figures to try to prove my point. In the Civil Estimates of the Ministry of Transport (Class 9) for England and Wales, for the year 1956, compared with the year 1955, on trunk road new construction and major improvements, expenditure went up from £3,600,000 to £6 million, and the maintenance from £10,090,000 to £10,151,000, making a total of from £13 million to £16 million on the trunk roads, of which there are now, I should say, something like 8,000 miles. On the classified roads (again I am quoting from the Ministry of Transport's own figures), in the year 1955–56 expenditure on new construction and major improvements went up from £3 million to £7 million a year, and the maintenance from £20,385,000 to £20,564,000. So the total went up from £24 million to £27 million. Major road improvements and maintenance on classified roads went up only about £6 million in two years.

I was interested in the speech made to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, again suggesting to your Lordships that we should seriously consider having a Road Loan. I have been one of those who have supported that idea for a long time, and I feel that we should have a Road Loan for these new road constructions. As a humble member of the County Council of West Suffolk I think it would be much better to leave the county roads and unclassified roads alone, but where we are going to have these new motorways I think we shall have to have something in the nature of what the noble Lord suggested—a Road Board raising a Road Loan, the principal and interest being guaranteed by Her Majesty's Government. Otherwise, with the figures which I have given to your Lordships this afternoon, I cannot see that we can go much faster with the amount of money allowed.

I thought it would be of interest to put before your Lordships figures which were published at the November meeting of the West Suffolk County Council, a typical small rural council, which has about 1,200 miles of roads to look after, of which 55 miles are urban roads, 1,100 miles rural roads, and 30 miles trunk roads. That authority last year spent £563,000 on all roads, of which £378,000 was spent in maintenance and minor improvements of the classified roads; £43,000 on improvements to those roads, and £59,000 on maintenance and improvements on the 30 miles of trunk roads. Of course, it is a great struggle, because costs are going up every year, and we have not been able to get any more money from the Ministry for maintenance during the last few years. We had a little more money for doing the special works—cutting off corners, and minor improvements—but very little more on maintenance.

In a county such as West Suffolk—and I wish to make the plea for West Suffolk arid other counties similarly affected —we have no fewer than six major airfields. Most of those airfields are situated on minor roads. Out of the 1,200 miles of road in the county, about 500 miles do not get any classification grant at all. Her Majesty's Government have lately been doing a tremendous reconstruction work on these airfields, work costing millions of pounds. I think that reconstruction of the runways costs about £1 million each. They have been carting a vast amount of granite chippings from the Midlands on eight-wheeled lorries, which have been cutting up our third-class roads to a great degree. I am putting forward to Her Majesty's Government to-day the plea that we in Suffolk, together with the County Councils in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, who also have many airfields in their area, have some special consideration for a little more grant for these unclassified roads.

We have only just started the first important motor by-pass (Preston), which is nine miles long and is going to cost, I think, £3 million. That is the first one in this country to be started. There is this other programme, or proposed programme, of the London-Yorkshire motorway, as well as important improvements, not only on A.1. which I have quoted, but also, as the right reverend Prelate mentioned, A.6. And another noble Lord referred to A.5, the London-Holyhead road. They are both roads I know, extremely narrow in places, and carrying tremendous traffic. At many points they are only two-lane roads. They should be widened, and by-passes to the towns should be constructed in the next few years. Her Majesty's Government are making a contribution of £38 million, out of about £80 million which they collect annually from road licence fees. I think we should have a little more of that, and if the county councils are given the chance, I believe that they will show in the future, as they have done in the past, that they will get on with the work. While we are getting only little "drabs", which are subject every year to budgetary control, I do not think we can go further than we have gone to-day. With those words, my Lords, I support the Motion.

5.31 p.m.

My Lords, when I spoke on the subject of roads about a year ago, I advocated a policy of "make do and mend," and in that context I must, alone among your Lordships so far, congratulate the Minister of. Transport on at least having made sporting attempt to solve this very difficult problem. What I want to do now is to ask whether the Minister of Transport could not look at the programme in the context of the conditions in which we now find ourselves. All these road works in themselves create a traffic hazard. They slow up traffic and while they are going on create a bottleneck which, in itself, restricts the number of places at which work can be done on a road when the traffic flow is heavy. Now, unfortunately, the traffic is not as heavy as normally. It is in particular the joining of road improvements into existing roads which dislocates traffic to a large extent. If it is possible to speed up that work and take advantage of our misfortune, it will be a very great thing.

Moreover, there will be a certain amount of displaced labour which would become available for the roads, and the arguments about lack of materials owing to their being required for the export market are—again, temporarily—not as valid as they were. I think this position should be exploited to the full. One other word: we should not look on the black side only. I think we should realise that owing to petrol rationing and the number of cars off the road, there will be a direct proportionate decrease in the deaths caused by those cars. We should be thankful for any small mercy we can obtain.

The question of road junctions is one which I consider has been neglected, probably owing to its great difficulty. Take, for instance, the Kingston By-pass: that is a road where, at the intersections, nine traffic lanes are constricted by a roundabout into two. One does not have to be a mathematician to work out that although that road is constructed as a six-lane road, the capacity is governed by the two lanes round the roundabout.

Therefore, it is a complete waste of the expense of the road unless a fly-over of some sort or other is provided. If three fly-overs could be constructed in the north-south roads —I do not mean a full, clover-leaf intersection: there is no room for that; but a pure fly-over with the right and left turns three streets away, or something of that sort—it might increase the capacity of that road to its full constructed capacity. Traffic islands or roundabouts are admirable from the point of view of preventing accidents, but from the point of view of traffic flow they are bottlenecks, and I think the two things should be weighed up together very carefully indeed in any future programme.

I wish to urge the possibility of having an advanced programme of by-passes for culverts and bridges, the things which take a long time if difficult foundation conditions, which sometimes exist, are met. It takes a long time to construct that relatively small structure, when the road could be built far more quickly. If it were possible to get those things constructed ahead of the main programme, one might speed things up without great dislocation from the financial point of view.

Again, the Government Road Research Institute produces correct figures and a lot of the data on which these new road designs are calculated. I think they should be helped in any necessary way, and urged to conduct a comprehensive survey of traffic conditions as they are now or shortly will exist. For example, it has been stated that if London buses could be speeded up by half-a-mile an hour, some fantastic saving of fuel would result. The buses will be speeded up now because the traffic is not in London; anybody can see that to-day. If that is true, what is the necessity for raising the fares? If they are going to save fuel by this traffic decrease, I do not see the necessity of raising the fares. I think these matters should definitely be checked up, and now that we have the opportunity before us, whether we like it or not, it should not be let go by default.

There is another aspect of that subject. Private cars are not coming into London for all-day parking as they did, and after Christmas there will be fewer still. I feel that after four or five months of this state of affairs—which is obviously before us—people will get out of the habit of using their cars in that way. If a really thorough publicity drive could be instituted now, there might be permanent benefit from stopping these people—one driver, one car—blocking the whole place up. London is becoming quite pleasant; one can almost walk across the street now. If a lot of publicity could be given to the benefits which accrue from the lesser amount of traffic, how much easier it is to get about London, and so on, permanent good might result from our present misfortune.

The question which Lord Derwent raised about the divisional road engineers and the county road engineers is one that interests me. In my own local authority's small county, our road surveyor has one aim and object, and it is very right and proper from his point of view, and that is to see that he gets the best roads he possibly can in the county. That is all very well. He discusses the matter with the divisional road engineer, but it is purely on an engineering basis, and the conclusions they come to are excellent from that point of view. But, so far as I can see, there is no central planning authority that says, "Roads are far more important, or improvements are far more important, in other counties than they are in your county, where the roads are quite adequate"—they are not perfect but they are adequate for the traffic on them. Nobody says, "You are not going to get a grant". You are "dished out" with your quota of grant: it is whittled down a little for this and that—that is normal. But there is no controlling authority to give priorities to work done. Every county gets its little bit. If money is limited, as undoubtedly it must be, that method is not in the general interest. I do not know whether it could be looked into.

So far as a Road Loan is concerned, one must remember that it could be an inflationary measure, because, naturally enough, if a lot of money is spent on building roads, thus diverting labour and materials from the export industries, a great deal of cash is produced for people who spend it at home on goods which, again, ought to be kept for the export market. Therefore, a Road Loan, desirable as it may be, cannot be considered without taking into account the other aspect of the whole problem.

5.41 p.m.

My Lords, I wonder whether I might say one word on the point which has been raised by my noble friend Lord Stonehaven and which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned. I understood him to say that he thought that between the Minister and the local authority there was a lot of delay. But in Scotland, as your Lordships know, our roads have been handed over to the Secretary of State, and, from what I hear from our own local authority, that system is working very well. Like most counties, we have big sections of trunk roads in the county, 100 per cent. paid for, of course, by the Minister. I understood the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to say that he would like to hand those roads over to the local authority. As the Minister or the Secretary of State pays 100 per cent., I cannot see him getting complete control for the local authority.

The alternative is that the Minister takes complete control. I want to say a word of warning about that. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Stonehaven has said, that the present system of the county surveyor carrying out the work for the Minister is very satisfactory. We share staff, we share equipment. All these are things which a county by itself would not be able to have. Because we do the trunk roads, we share these things between the Minister and the local authority. I think great care should be taken here. I should Like to urge upon the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, a word of warning before any change is made in that system.

My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I have been rather worried by a few things. However, I can assure your Lordships that my intervention will be of a short nature. I am one of those, I am afraid in the minority, who feel that the Government should not spend vast quantities of money at the moment on building an adequate road system. I do not think that anyone would dispute the sentiments which prompted the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to move this Motion, or indeed what he said. I believe that every intelligent-minded person would agree that, fundamentally, our roads ought to be highly improved. But I do not believe that we are in an adequate financial position to spend a lot of money on them at the moment. Again, what is an adequate road system? Does anyone know? I do not know what is meant by an "adequate road system." One can only guess. I cannot help feeling that in that respect an adequate road system rather corresponds to adequate wages. If one has got used to what one has, one deems that it is inadequate and so one asks for more. I should be most grateful if any noble Lord could tell me what an adequate road system is.

Before I would be willing to encourage the Government to spend a lot of money on roads, I should like to know three main facts which it may be the noble Earl. Lord Selkirk, can give us. The first is, how much will it cost to provide an adequate road system? Has any figure ever been arrived at? If it has, I for one should be grateful to know what it would cost. The second is, is there any estimate of what such an expenditure would save us on ordinary running costs of vehicles? The third question is, how could we pay for it? I feel that if we had those three facts, we should at any rate have something on which we could work. They would avoid a lot of guesswork. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that if we had an adequate road system we should save, I think he said, 50 per cent. of petrol. Maybe we should but should we save 75 per cent. or 25 per cent.? Who knows? It is all just guesswork. Therefore, if the noble Earl could give us any indication of these figures, I should be grateful, but I somehow doubt that he will be able to do so.

I should like to give an illustration of something I consider rather futile. One talks about the vast quantities of money that must he spent on the repairing of roads. There is a bad stretch of road near Bungay where I live, which is absolutely treacherous, for the simple reason that the bend is very sharp and the camber is in the wrong direction. Every winter people go into the ditch, about half a dozen each winter. I myself have been shot round 180 degrees. I have written to the county surveyor of the Norfolk County Council on three occasions. The reply I received was, "We are very sorry, but we cannot afford to put up the notices." A couple of notices at either end of the bend would cost only £10. Instead of that, they have put road studs all the way along the road. No-one has yet had an accident there through not seeing the middle of the road, but there are plenty of people who have had accidents through going round a bad corner. Yet nothing, apparently, can be done to improve that corner, least of all by erecting two notices. I cannot help feeling that such instances as that must surely show up at least a certain amount of futility in the system as it is at the moment.

5.48 p.m.

My Lords, I feel sure that all noble Lords who have spoken will be anxious to hear what the noble Earl who is to reply to this debate will have to say about the various complaints which they have lodged. So I want to be very brief and will raise only one or two minor matters. First of all, I must apologise to my noble friend who opened the debate that I did not hear his speech. I am afraid that British Railways let me down, for once, by keeping me in a train for one and a half hours longer than their time table said they would. So I was late in arriving. As I came in, I heard the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle talking about the local interest in road affairs. He was excusing himself, I thought, for dealing with local matters. During the course of the debate, many noble Lords have mentioned local points of interest. I want, therefore, to deal with one or two more.

The first point which I want to make is the question of co-operation between the local residents and the county council, or whoever may happen to be the highway or the road authority. Recently. I have met two cases in which the county council have been absolutely adamant as to what road improvements they would make, going much against the wishes of the parish council, the local inhabitants, the rural district council and others, but at long last the county council concerned have seen fit to scrap completely their original intentions and have agreed that in future the improvements which the local folks require shall be carried out. I think that that position of dispute should not arise, because people who live in villages and rural districts have a pretty good knowledge of what is wrong with the local roads. I therefore hope that in future the road authorities will co-operate with local people. This state of affairs may not be general—I hope it is not. The noble Lord, Lord Jeffreys, was speaking of his connection with county council matters, as was the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton. I am making just a quiet plea for the greatest co-operation between county council representatives and officials and local folk.

The right reverend Prelate referred also to the question of road safety. We who live in country areas are much concerned with the safety of children who have to walk backwards and forwards to school, using what may be narrow main roads. It often happens that children have to walk anything up to two miles to school. In these days of fast-moving and heavy traffic, many of our roads are definitely dangerous. I hope, therefore, that the county council or highway authority, while not turning their attention too much from taking out corners or bends, may see fit to make improvements upon what, quite often, are main roads between small country towns or large villages. I know one village, quite close to my own home, where the situation is quite impossible. There is a single main road between two large towns, and it is impossible for two lorries to pass comfortably when they converge on that road. It has been my experience to have to stay behind a lorry while another lorry coming from the other direction has had to back into a gateway in order to allow the lorry in front of me to pass. Noble Lords will realise that in country areas roads of that sort are absolutely alive with risk to children and others who have to walk along them.

The noble Lord, Lord Latham, and other speakers have referred to bottlenecks. There is one particular piece of road construction to which I should like to refer, in concluding my short speech. At the moment the Norfolk County Council are attempting to improve the road between King's Lynn and Hunstanton. It is a road which carries a good deal of Sunday traffic, particularly in the summertime, when there is traffic from the Midlands to the sea villages and the sea coast of Norfolk. Some improvements have already been made, but the main improvement, which would assist users of that road and avoid the bottleneck which arises at King's Lynn, is the provision of a by-pass for King's Lynn.

At the moment, the main road from the Midlands goes over a level-crossing at Lynn. Nearly fifty years ago, the railway company were considering plans either to put a bridge over this level-crossing or to put a subway underneath it. Throughout the intervening years those plans have never materialised, and the project now is that a by-pass should be constructed around one side of King's Lynn to connect with the main road to Hunstanton. I hope that the position will be dealt with by the Ministry, and that, if ever the by-pass materialises, the same trouble which now arises in regard to the level-crossing—because the railway has to be crossed—will not be perpetuated, and that some other system of crossing may be devised.

On a Sunday evening in the summer, a considerable amount of shunting takes place at this level-crossing and I have seen cars standing bumper to bumper as far back as Sandringham, which is a matter of five or six miles. It may be said that on the Brighton road, or some other roads, the car queue is even longer; but this is a serious state of affairs, and I hope that the Ministry can now give some assurance that this project, which has been "on the boards" for so long, will be brought into Operation. I am certain that it would give satisfaction to many people who have to use the road and to those people who, as I say, come, particularly at week-ends, to the Norfolk sea coast. My Lords, I hope that those noble Lords who have raised questions will have complete satisfaction—I do not think I shall myself, but others may—from the noble Earl when he winds up. I leave the matter there.

5.56 p.m.

My Lords, this is one of the series of debates which we have from time to time in this House on the subject of roads, and I date them from the forceful speech which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, made in 1952. Since then, we have had at least four debates on this subject—it may be more. In December, 1953, the Government announced their initial road plan for three years. No doubt that was a modest beginning. In 1955, they announced a four-year plan; and that is the position we have arrived at.

There is no doubt that there is a growing pressure among what I might call a pressure group for better roads, arid I do not blame the British Road Federation at all for bringing their important subject, to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But may I venture to deal with one or two words which were put into the mouth of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, or, as I suspect, by the British Road Federation, saying that he was not interested in private motoring? I am told that there is no justification for saying that at all.

I am sure the noble Earl did; but I wonder whether he was correct in the words that were put into the Minister's mouth. What I am given to understand he did say is that resources are limited, and that priority in building new roads must be given to industrial traffic, with pleasure travel taking second place. I think that is a view with which we must all agree.

I do not want to interrupt the noble Earl, but in this connection (I have handed all my notes over to Hansard) I quoted the occasion when those remarks were made, and I read the remarks as they were published in the papers. I cannot do more than that.

I am making no complaint against the noble Earl: I am sure the information was given to him. But I am advised that this is, in fact, the true rendering of what he said.

I am advised that the rendering which I have given is the true rendering of what he said.

Do I understand the noble Earl to say the true words or the true rendering?

I am told that those are the true words; that that is what he said.

I do not think that I differ greatly from what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said, to the effect that the present situation with regard to our roads is not entirely satisfactory. I do not differ from him in some senses. But no Government stands entirely in a white sheet, though I think I can claim that my clothes are much cleaner than those of the noble Lord. However, that is by the way. What I think it is fair to say is that if we really want to increase capital equipment in this country we must bear in mind other calls which we have to face, do not want to run through them, but if your Lordships would only consider for a moment what needs to be done, particularly in regard to housing, school buildings, hospitals, factory development, atomic energy establishments, railway modernisation, coal mines and so on, you will realise that there is an immense programme to be carried through. Frankly, at the present time we cannot do it as quickly as we should wish.

There is, of course, a perfectly simple solution, and that is, to reduce consumption and increase savings. It is quite a simple proposition. But that sort of proposition is not helped a great deal by speeches such as that which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, made yesterday afternoon. Frankly, it does not help very much. Lord Brabazon of Tara made a similar speech. I see he has been wise enough not to come here to-day. Frankly, if you talk about capital investment and talk also about reduced taxation, abolishing credit restrictions, abolishing hire purchase restrictions, freer lending and reduction of bank rate, it does not add up at all. If we want to go in for these big programmes we must recognise that there are economic problems to face up to. I found the words of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, very refreshing. He went to the heart of the matter. He asked questions which he rightly said that I would not answer—I could not, as a matter of fact. The British Road Federation, I think, said that an expenditure of £750 million would make a better road system possible. I do not know whether they say that it would make an adequate road system or not. Perhaps they will say.

I should like now to try to deal with some of the points raised in the course of the debate, and perhaps I might say this at the outset. We are spending £100 million a year on our roads—that includes maintenance in one form or another. I do not think it is desirable to underestimate the importance of maintenance. In fact it is a very important matter indeed. We are to-day nearing the end of a three-year period, in which, as Lord Lucas of Chilworth has said, we have committed ourselves to an expenditure of about £81 million. We have already spent about £29 million, as he said. Measured in terms of work done, the actual figure lies somewhere between those two. The commitments are too high and the payments are too little. I think it is fair to say, roughly, that in the last three years we have increased the volume of work on major improvements by about five or six times. So I think we can claim that we have at least made a start.

May I next say a word or two about the interesting speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Latham? He made two suggestions: one dealt with loans and the other was for a national road board. They are really two separate questions, but they arc sometimes associated. Before dealing with them, however, I should like just to recall that the noble Lord spoke of wastage of oil on the roads. Does he not think that if we had better roads, we should have more cars, and therefore be more dependent upon oil? I am not arguing the point. I am merely pointing out the other side to the question.

If the noble Earl will forgive my interrupting him, does it follow that he would desire to restrict the number of cars on the roads?

I was not saying that for a moment. I was only taking up the noble Lord's argument that we were wasting oil to-day. He talked of jostling in the scramble for priorities. Those are pleasant words—

They were very pleasant words, but what do they mean? Do they not, in the simplest terminology, mean going a little further away from Parliamentary control? If those words mean anything, surely that is what they amount to. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, never trusts any Chancellor of the Exchequer. He wants something that no Chancellor of the Exchequer would dare to touch. That is, of course, exactly the position in which some noble Lords would like to have the Road Fund—that is, to have public money to spend without quite the measure of Parliamentary control which exists at the present time.

If I may say so, I do not think the noble Earl can fairly draw that deduction. What I suggested was that there should be recognition that road expenditure keeps a higher position in the list of priorities, riot that it should he without public control.

I appreciated that point. But that could be done without a loan, without a Road Fund. What I am dealing with objectively is the problem which is raised by the noble Lord's suggestion of a Road Loan. It is not so much a question of money as a question of manpower and materials. That is the real problem. It is all very well for Lord Derwent to say that the contractors could manage this without strain. I should not like to say that contractors are quite impartial judges in this matter. After all, the real problem we faced last year was that our resources were over-stretched in capital investment. That is the problem we have had to try to straighten out. We try to put our commitments over a number of years. As the House knows, we started with a three-year plan. Now from 1955 to 1959, we have a four-year plan. So we have tried to ensure continuity since this programme started. I do not think it is fair to say that the local authorities have had great deferments and postponements. It is true that they have not had all their schemes agreed to. They have not gone ahead, perhaps, as quickly as they wanted. But I think that since development has been taking place, there has been a steady move forward.

The other point which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, raised was the question of a national highway authority. That is really an administrative question. I am not certain where the advantages lie. To have the roads administered by an independent body seemed to me, if I may say so, a trifle like the National Assistance Board. I do not know whether that is the sort of picture which is in the noble Lord's mind, but that is the sort of picture which is in my mind.

I should have thought that it would have had a more colourful status than that.

I believe that the National Assistance Board do very valuable work. The noble Lord, of course, would have a body of people of great status, great independence, greatly respected—a sort of gathering of Archangels Gabriel, and, I am certain, first-class administrators. I wonder whether with such a body, isolated, in a sense, from Parliamentary pressure, you would really get satisfactory results. After all, what your Lordships are doing to-day is trying to make things as uncomfortable for me as possible—that is applying Parliamentary pressure. That is what this debate is for.

My Lords, we should devise means of doing that, even if the national highway authority existed.

This body would be one stage away from Parliamentary control and the Minister would be able to say: "This is the responsibility of the national highway authority". I do not want to exclude this idea, but I am not convinced that it is the best way of doing it. It might be a way of decentralisation. But let me make two points on this matter. First, this body would have to issue orders for compulsory acquisition and matters of that kind. These are very sensitive matters which Parliament generally likes to watch closely. Secondly, this body would have to be responsible in certain respects for giving money to the local authorities. I do not know that local authorities would like to receive money from a national highways authority, rather than from the Ministry. I only throw that thought out, but in some respects it would have to be done in that way.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, and with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Jeffreys, that local authorities must retain their autonomy, but in matters for which Parliament pay 100 per cent. or 75 per cent. of the money, we must have a measure of control. I am sure that the noble Lord recognises that and that it would be difficult to leave this matter entirely in the hands of the divisional road engineers or the highway authority or some other body of that sort. On the whole, I think that the present system between the Department and local authorities works fairly well. I know that there are certain difficulties which arise, in the sense that everyone does not get his own way, but I think that in the majority of cases the work is carried through smoothly and fairly easily.

I would say one word more on the question of maintenance. The noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, said that secondary roads—county roads, he called them—did not get much attention. Generally we are not doing maintenance to so high a standard as it was done prewar. I am told that it has never been higher than 80 per cent. of pre-war standard and that at present it is running at about 70 per cent., though it is probably a completely false economy to allow maintenance to deteriorate, as it may mean that the foundations of the roads themselves will be undermined, and that would be an extremely expensive business to repair. One noble Lord frightened me a little about the speeds for to-morrow. He suggested that we should have 50 m.p.h. now and double that in the future. I hope he did not mean that 15-ton lorries would go at double the present speed. I can assure the noble Lord that in our plan we are concentrating on trunk and Class I roads. Generally, two-thirds of the money will be spent on trunk roads and motorways, rather less on urban reads and comparatively small amounts on rural roads. I would also assure the noble Lord. Lord Forbes, that in the motorways shoulders will be provided where cars can draw out of the way, clear of the motorway itself. In regard to the complaint that local authorities are not able to put up signs, I am unable at the moment to ascertain how this difficulty arises.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, said that local people know what is wrong with the roads. I am afraid that I do not entirely agree with that view, because a road looks very different when one is travelling in a motor car from what it does when one sees it from one's back garden. That is the trouble when the noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth, says that the Department should proceed along quicker lines. I admit that in the examples which he has given me about Oxford, about the Botley—Wolvercote road, three years have been taken from the time the discussions began; but when the noble Lord asks the Department to go faster, he is really saying that we should remove the protection of the individual in his own property, because that is the effect.

My Lords, I particularly stressed that point. If the noble Earl will recall my words, he will remember that I said that I did not want to interfere with the proper course of democracy. That is what I said specifically.

I am grateful to hear the noble Lord say that, because I was wondering whether any noble Lord would suggest that we should speed up the system of compulsory purchase. It sounds good to "have a go" at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, but the real answer is that the Ministry are applying the statutory procedure laid down for a new road, taking into account all the implications that has on private property, on the roads and houses in the district. Whilst I admit that it seems to take a long time to get through in many cases, it really is a vast job of planning. If I may refer to the Maidenhead case, which the noble Lord mentioned, 1 would inform your Lordships that that will come into the programme about the year 1958–59. When it comes into the programme, then it can be gone ahead with straight away. In regard to the Oxford case that the noble Lord mentioned, it would be quite unusual for the county council to start building roads in the City of Oxford, which is what the suggestion comes to. If the road were continued, then it would go into the City of Oxford.

The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, raised one or two questions in regard to public tender. I will certainly look carefully into what he said. I am a little doubtful whether there is a great deal in that point, because, generally speaking, we try to invite public tenders for what seems to be a convenient period for the work to be carried out economically and efficiently; and, so far as I know, it generally is.

My Lords, does the noble Earl mean that it is essential not to shorten the tender period because it may not come into the Government's financial year?

What I really meant is that it is no good trying to get a contractor to go more quickly than he can conveniently go. A contract may be made for nine months or twelve months; if you ask the contractor to do the job in six months, you have to pay more for it. That is really what I am saying.

Is the noble Earl certain? Because wages go up during a long-period contract, and there is usually a wages clause.

You will have to pay more if you try to get the work done quickly. As regards the announcement about the Markyate road, which the noble Lord mentioned, that was due to a most regrettable, but none the less significant, clerical error, in giving the wrong date in the first place. It is notable that this happens rarely—not, of course, that it should have happened in this particular case. I have not been asked a great many questions about individual cases—

My Lords, can the noble Earl give the reply to the paragraph in the Report on Road Research for 1955 which I quoted to him?

Of course, the noble Earl is aware that the programme was increased in the year in which this Report was made. I have never hidden from him, as I have never hidden from the House, that I think the position of our roads is not entirely satisfactory. I have made no hones about it. What I have explained is that because something is not satisfactory—as, I may say, the slums in Manchester or Glasgow are unsatisfactory—it does not mean that we can immediately and forthwith put it right. What is said here is that it is not adequate. That is their view. But it does not alter the fact that we are proceeding, within the limits of our economy, to make it stronger and better. A certain amount of work has been completed. The impression given by some noble Lords was that very little had been done. However, he fact is that a good deal has been started, There is, not much that I can quote as having been completed, though I would mention the dual carriageway of the Great Cambridge Road, the Loughton by-pass, the Cromwell Road extension, the Stafford—Stoke Road—perhaps not very well known but of great importance industrially—and the Oxford City boundary to Islip Turn.

What I think is worth remembering is that there were 1,100 schemes designated major improvements which had been started in the course of the financial year up to March, 1956. A further 800 schemes have been started since then. I know that some of these are not very large, but if I go to another figure, of schemes costing £100,000, I find that there are forty-four such schemes which have already been started, and these include substantial schemes like the Runcorn—Widnes Bridge in Lancashire, £2million; Cromwell Road, £5million; Dartford—Purtleet Tunnel, £10 million; Notting Hill Gate, Kensington, nearly £1,500,000; the Inner Ring Road, Birmingham, just over £1 million; the Glasgow—Stirling Road, over £1 million; the Preston by-pass, £3 million; the Conway Bridge, and so on. I mention these because I think it is wrong to give the impression that a real start has not been made, although perhaps there is not a lot to show at the moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked me a question about Kings Lynn. I feel great sympathy for the people who live in Kings Lynn. There are no fewer than four level crossings that you go through to get to the town, and if you want to avoid one, you go through a main road described as "narrow and tortuous". That seems to me to be a strong case. However, I am advised—I mention this only to show the position we are in to-day—that the proposed by-pass from A.47 and A.10 to A.149 has not yet been included in the proposals of the Norfolk County Council. I believe they may include it for the year 1957–58, but they have not yet put forward a proposal for the consideration of the Minister. While it is not for me to form any judgment of what the Minister will decide, I am informed that there are many problems which, so far as he knows, must be considered at least as urgent as that one. I am afraid that is not very warm comfort to the noble Lord, and I apologise for it. I say only that it is an example of the problem that exists there and elsewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, mentioned in his speech that the responsibility for road transport for Scotland had been transferred to the Scottish Office, and I am glad to hear that it appears to be working well. The two major schemes there are the Whiteinch Tunnel, for which tenders have already been received and on which it is hoped work will start soon, and, as I have already mentioned, the Glasgow-Stirling Road, on which work is under way. The right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, spoke of local affairs, making perhaps a slightly constituency speech, although of course there is nothing wrong in that. Bishops are Lords of Parliament like other noble Lords, and we are glad when they deal with our secular affairs. While I appreciate that Penrith needs improving, I hope the right reverend Prelate did not imply thereby that the rest of the main road should be reduced to the bad condition of the middle of Penrith. Whether he wished to clear the bottleneck, or whether he wished to bottle the clear stretches, I was not quite clear.

There has been some discussion about urban areas. We have endeavoured to relieve some of the most urgent problems of urban areas at the present time. No noble Lord raised today the question of urban motor roads, though a good deal of emphasis has been put on it. All I would say is that at the moment we are not convinced that the high cost of urban motorways is justified, when compared with relieving the congestion generally and finding parking spaces to enable traffic to circulate inside our cities.

One noble Lord—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Forbes—said that we should concentrate more on big schemes and leave the smaller ones. The answer is that there are a certain number of small schemes which in themselves are fairly costly and which are of great urgency. What we have sought to do is to meet the most urgent schemes, while keeping the broad picture in our minds. We have also tried to meet some of the outlying schemes; that is to say, those in the more remote parts of the country, such as the Bridgwater relief road, in Somerset, the Handcross by-pass, in Sussex, and the North Ford Causeway, which runs from Benbecula to North Uist, on which preliminary work has been begun and which should be completed in about two years. There is also the Glenfinnan-Lochailort road, running from Mallaig to Fort William, on which work will be authorised to commence next year.

If I may give a broader picture, and not confine myself to patchwork, the Minister has recently outlined what he calls the main channels in the country, and I think it is worth referring to them, because we do want to see a road system which reasonably covers the country. The first is the Great North Road, which he hopes one day to make into a dual carriageway almost all the way to Edinburgh, and so worthy of its historic name. Secondly, there are the motorways from London to Birmingham, Preston and on to Shap. Thirdly, there is the extension of the Cromwell Road, past London Airport, which we hope will one day incorporate the Severn Bridge. Fourthly, there is a connection between Birmingham and South Wales, called the Ross Spur. Fifthly, there are the two roads from London which will go down to the Channel ports of Dover and Folkestone. Sixthly, there is the road leading North from Carlisle to Glasgow, and thereafter from Glasgow on to Stirling. I think this gives some idea that, eventually, we shall have a system which, if not adequate, will at least face up to the traffic that is coming to this country.

I have not said anything about safety because the Motion does not mention it. We do not claim for a moment that this is more than a start, and as yet there is comparatively little to show. But I do think that when the commitments begin to take form it will be realised that they are not entirely inconsiderable. What we have to do is to defend our ability to provide capital resources, and I can give an absolute assurance that within the strength of the economy the programme will proceed and expand.

6.29 p.m.

My Lords, I must confess to feeling rather hurt that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, at the outset of his most courteous reply to my Motion, had to call into question the cleanliness of my linen. I would say this. Whenever I engage in debate with the noble Earl I pay him the compliment of always putting on a clean shirt and a clean collar. It might interest him to know that the debates we have had on this subject are now getting into double figures, and on every occasion my linen has been as clean after the debate as it was before. I thought, too, that it was rather "below the belt"—it is not a habit of the noble Earl and it is something for which I hope the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will admonish him most seriously—for him to answer yesterday's debate in his winding up of to-day's, which, of course, does not afford me any opportunity of replying to him. But no doubt when we have an economic debate in your Lordships' House at some future date, I shall be able to return to the subject and the criticism.

The last thing the noble Earl said was most interesting, and made this debate worth while. He will remember that I opened my speech by saying that I was going to "get my blow in" first, because I was hoping that he would bring forth a Government pronouncement that, whatever happened in the economic stress which will face us in the months to come, at least the road programme would remain intact. That is what the noble Earl has said.

No; I am not going to he carried away quite so far as that. What I said was that, within the limits of our economic strength, the programme will proceed and will expand.

If the programme as set down is going to proceed, I must say that it is going to remain intact. At least, I hope Hansard will have that down, because we shall be able to repeat that on many occasions.

I thank the noble Earl for his reply. I would underline the point of excusable delay, because in my original speech I said that I would not interfere with any course set down by the Statutes to preserve the individual rights of the citizen. But that is no excuse for taking nine months for plans to be considered and then returned to the county surveyor of Berkshire for two or three trivial alterations, which took nine days to make. There is no excuse for the delay on the Oxford by-pass. There is no excuse for not having heard anything further after the public inquiry which was held in May last—not a murmer since. Yet no liberty of the subject is involved in that.

I think I am correct in saying that the order about the by-pass is being signed and sealed to-day or to-morrow.

The noble Earl always does that. He waits for me either to put down a Question or a Motion. That is the only way to get any progress. If we did not have these debates on roads, believe me, we should not have a road in this country. That is what we are here for—to enthuse the noble Earl so that he can get his Department, or the Department for which he is responsible in your Lordships' House, to get a move on.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, asked the noble Earl, the question: What is "adequate"? The noble Earl said that our roads are quite inadequate, and I say that they are quite inadequate. My definition, of a road system which is adequate is one that will carry the vehicles which use the roads at the speeds the law allows.

My Lords, if I might interrupt: the noble Lord for a moment, my purpose in asking that question was to find out what the cost of making an adequate road system was. That is the whole crux of the matter.

I have given a definition of "adequate". I am quite unable to say what the cost would be, because if the cost could be computed to-day, the figure would be obsolete to-morrow. But that is what we want, and nobody with any sense expects any Government to wave a magic wand and convert the road system of this courttry from absolute chaos, as it is to-day, into something which is completely adequate to-morrow. What we want is an assurance that sufficient money will be spent on the roads so as to allow the industrial and private traffic of this country to proceed along them at the speed which the public, through the Government and legislation, think it right and proper for it so to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, rather questioned that what I was trying to get at was a desire to have a better working arrangement between the central Government and the local authority. I should not expect for one moment that, when public funds are at stake, the central Government would divorce itself from responsibility. I would never suggest that. But do not forget that the highway authorities of this country act as agents for the construction of the highways, for their maintenance and their lighting. Therefore, they have to carry a competent staff. Where the highway authorities of the country have a far greater advantage than the central Government is that they have chairmen of highway committees who are always sitting on top of them; and they do their job extremely well.

I have a great admiration for the county councils, and especially the highway committees. They are usually enthusiastic and progressive. The Minister cannot do that. The Minister is at the mercy of his civil servants, just as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, is at the mercy of his advisers, who made such a terrible faux pas when the noble Earl said that I wanted the Oxfordshire County Council to go 700 yards outside their territory, within the city boundary, to complete a road. I did not. The Oxfordshire County Council wanted to do it at the same time and to utilise the same labour, plant and equipment, so that the twin carriageway on the A.40 could be carried the extra 700 yards to the Headington roundabout—

The Department would not listen to the scheme. That is procrastination. The plant has gone, and the labour has gone. To collect it all again at some future date to make 710 yards of road is a public scandal. That was my point, and I do not see why, when the local authorities of the country have expert staff, duplicated by the Ministry—and they are all qualified civil engineers and surveyors; there is not a pin's point to choose between the surveyors in Berkeley House and the surveyors in the county halls—every pernickety little thing has to be subjected to cross-examination and microscopic examination, because "the gentleman in Whitehall always knows best".

My noble friend Lord Latham chided me about my lack of enthusiasm of years ago for the road authority or the proposed Road Loan: he said that I could be "converted". I shall be converted when someone can convince me that it is possible to stop an impecunious Chancellor of the Exchequer putting his hands on the funds, as impecunious Chancellors of the Exchequer have done ever since Mr. Winston Churchill (as he then was) started the "racket", if I may so call it, in 1926. I am grateful to the noble Earl for his reply. It is the type of reply that I expected from him. He has never come to your Lordships' House and said, "Everything is fine: the Department is beyond criticism, and so are the Government." Will he please see that some of these avoidable delays are overcome? They can be, and if that were done I should say that, in time, the road plan of this country could be speeded up by quite 20 to 25 per cent. If that could be achieved, it would save hundreds of thousands of pounds, because the longer we delay the higher the cost. I am grateful to all your Lordships for contributing to what I think has been a helpful and useful debate. With those words I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.