Ministry Under Fire in Parliament
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By Our Special Parliamentary Correspondent
AFIVE-HOURS' debate on the Ministry of Transport's administration took place in the House of Commons last Friday on the vote for the Department. Mr. Burgin, in introducing the vote, pointed to the important new development in the appointment of accident officers fox the logging of accident statistics and the ascertainment of causes under certain arrangements with local authorities.
The estimated expenditure of the Ministry, he said, was just under £20.,000,.000, compared with £15,000,000 for 1936-37. The expenditure on the five years' programme was approaching its peak and the whole cost of the maintenance and improvement of the trunk roads will fall on the Road Fund instead of only 60 per cent. in respect of maintenance, and 75 to 85 per cent, in respect of improvenient and development.
Discus.ving the immensity of the problems of transport he referred to the entire population's desire to begin work at the same hour, take lunch at the same hour, and return home at the same hour.. They had not yet, he said, approached a solution of the rush-hour problem in any metropolitan area in the world.
With regard to the Ministry's function, he said it was its duty to provide, so far as possible, for appropriate traffic conditions. It was much more the duty of the Minister to see that the roads themselves did not provide a cause of accidents than to minimize the effect of accidents when caused.
THE HUMAN ELEMENT.
HOWEVER the roads were improved !they could not do away with the human element, So much could be done by an increased standard of care. Increased attention was being given to analysing the habits and conduct of all classes of road user and the figures were very startling. During 1936 there were killed on the roads 6,561 persons. Members would be surprised to hear 3,068 were pedestrians, 1,498 pedal cyclists, 1,076 riders of or passengers on motorcycles-5,642 out of 6,561.
THE FIVE YEARS' PROGRAMME.
• rA. A s to the five year& road programme —programmes had been submitted of an estimated total • cost of £127,000,000 and commitments had been entered into in respect of £66,000,000. The Road Fund's share of the cost of the total programme submitted would be £76,000,000 and its share of the cost of commitments to date would he just over £40,000,000.
Schemes r4)resentin.g about £21,000,000 were expected to he apprOied this year and the balance of the programme, about £40,000,000, was eXpected to be approved in the course of the next two or three. years. At the end of March last, Road Fund commitments of just over £40,000,000 had ixem liquidated to the extent of
A34 about £6,000,000, which was equivalent to a total expenditure of about £10,000,000. A further expenditure of £10,000,000 was expected this year, and thereafter the rate of expenditure should rise so as to enable the balance of the .piesent commitments to be liquidated in three or four years' time.
About £60,000,000 worth of work existed to which they were not yet committed.
TRANSPORT COMPETITION DESIRABLE.
SURPRISE was expressed by Sir Percy Harris that the Minister had not referred to the industrial side of transport. High railway rates might ruin, and in some cases were seriously injuring, some of our heavy industries. One of the tasks of the Minister was
to see that commercial transPort was not strangled by the destruction. of competition. There was a feeling, especially among many of the operators of road transport, that the railways were being allowed to strangle this new and vital industry.
He went on to urge for a more forward policy, especially in regard to roads. He said that whilst since 1910 the number of vehicles had increased 19 times, the road mileage had increased only to a.negligibIe extent.
Referring to Mr. Chamberlain's statement in November, 1935, that the Government is embarking on a five years' plan involving the expenditure of £100,000,000, he said the public understood that the £100,000,000 was an additional programme spread over five year, but he now gathered that the money was not to be expended in five years, but would be spread over a much longer period.
NO PROGRESS MADE.
IT was contended by Mr. Parkinson • that the Government was not making the progress that had been expected. He pointed out that on May 8, 1936, Mr. Hore-Belisha said that • £130,000,000 would be spent in the next five years, and in July, 1956, he said the Government would spend £140,000,000 over the next five years, GOVERNMENT STRONGLY CRITICIZED.
IF the Prime Minister Were not going to spend £100,000,000 because of national difficulties and rearmament, he ought to say so, said Lt.-Col; Moore-Brabazon.
The Government should not trick them into thinking it was going to spend it when it was not doing anything of the kind.
He welcomed the new angle from which the Minister seemed to be approaching the road faroblem, After all, he said, the previous Minister was
all gas attack and no guns. r EXTENSION OF LICENCE• PERIODS.
wimAT use the Minister intended to IN make of the Amending Act passed the other day, which sanctioned the extension of the currency period for hauliers' licences, was a question put by Mr. Dingle Foot, A good many of the original purposes of the Act of 1933 must by now have been fulfilled. It could 'reasonably be asked, therefore, that road hauliers be given a little more security of tenure than they previously enjoyed.
THE GOVERNMENT'S REPLY.
INreply to the debate, Captain Hudson, Parliamentary Secretary, said the questions that had been raised regarding London traffic were primarily the concern of the London Passenger Transport Board, With regard to the five years' programme, he did not think there had been any pledge that the work would be completed in five years. The rate of expenditure was very largely dependent on the highway authorities themselves.
In connection with safety pre cautions, members had suggested flyover crossings, pedestrian bridges; subways, additional footpaths, additional pedestrian crossings, also additional pedestrian guard-rails. The Ministry were doing their best, particularly with regard to the trunk roads which they had taken over, .to see that all possible safety devices were provided. • He had been asked about the number of prohibitions of goods vehicles for. defects. Last year 24,4000 goods vehicles were stopped for defects, which seemed to show that the examining staff were doing their work.
The Transport Advisory Council had had 15 meetings on the subject of the co-ordination of transport, and a report was expected this month. On the .question raised by Mr. Foot regarding the extension of the licence periods, he understood that the Minister received a deputation the previous day on the subject of the Amending Act, A motion to reduce the vote by £106 was rejected by 140 totes to 59.