HC Deb 08 October 1909 vol 11 cc2412-21

(1) For the purposes of improving the facilities for road traffic in the United Kingdom and of the administration of the road improvement grant under the Finance Act, 1909, there shall be constituted in accordance with regulations made by the Treasury a board, to be called the Road Board, consisting of such number of persons appointed by the Treasury as the Treasury may determine.

(2) The Road Board shall be a body corporate with a common seal, with power to hold land without licence in mortmain.

(3) The Road Board may pay the chairman or vice-chairman of the Board such salary as the Board, with the consent of the Treasury, may determine.

(4) The Road Board may appoint such officers and servants for the purposes of their powers and duties under this Part of this Act as the Board may, with the sanction of the Treasury, determine, and there shall be paid to such officers and servants out of the road improvement grant such salaries or remuneration as the Treasury may determine.

Sir SAMUEL EVANS moved, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "under the Finance Act, 1909," and to insert instead thereof the words "provided under any Act passed in the present or any future Session of Parliament."

When this Bill was drafted some people entertained the sanguine hope that the Finance Bill would have become law; therefore I move to omit these words in order to insert the words I have read.

Amendment agreed to.

Viscount MORPETH moved, in Subsection (1), to leave out the word "Treasury" ["regulations made by the Treasury a board"], and to insert instead thereof the words "Local Government Board."

Under this Bill certain taxes are definitely earmarked for new roads, and the whole of the proceeds are handed over to the Road Board, subject to the regulations of the Government Department. Upon the Committee upstairs no real reason was advanced why the Treasury should do this work instead of the Local Government Board. It seems to me that all the arguments are rather on the other side. In the first place, the Local Government Board is already the Department dealing with roads, and they already possess a staff with knowledge of the subject dealing with motor speed on the roads, and they make restrictions with regard to the speed of motor cars. What is more important still, the Local Government Board is the Department to deal with town planning, and in all probability a large number of the new roads will be found to be exits leading out of big towns. The Local Government Board, although it may be criticised, has always been in close touch with the local authorities, and they know the idiosyncrasies of that body; what is more, they have already got a large staff of officials who go about the country holding local inquiries. They also possess all the means necessary to get into touch with local knowledge which the Treasury does not possess. I cannot understand what argument there can be for putting forward the Treasury, and giving them this entirely new work to do. It has been alleged that the Local Government Board is already overworked, but that ought not to influence the Government, because they are always ready to appoint more officials. The staff will have to be increased on account of the Housing and Town Planning Bill if it is passed into law. I imagine that the Treasury is equally overworked, therefore that cannot be the reason for this proposal. In the interests of good local self-government the Local Government Board is the proper Department, and there is no reason whatever for bringing the Treasury into this matter at all.


I rise to second this Amendment. I hope the Government will decide to consider what I think is a very practical point. During my official career I have had many negotiations with the Treasury, and, speaking for myself, I have no reason to complain of the treatment I have received, or of the way the officials at the Treasury have discharged their duty. The object of the Government is to set up a central Department as a sort of controlling body, and it is perfectly ridiculous to put the Treasury forward as the controlling body in this connection. I came across an instance the other day in which the Treasury under some Act of Parliament had power to grant loans, and they granted two or three small loans to a burial board. In the ultimate negotiations this case came under the notice of the Local Government Board, and the first information which it was the duty of the Local Government Board to give to the Treasury was that the Burial Board, to which they had issued these loans, had been abolished by the Act of 1894. That does not look as if the Treasury had that exhaustive knowledge of these local boards which is desirable if they are to have any control in local government.

The Treasury have not got the officials necessary to perform these particular duties. They have constantly told the Local Government Board and other Departments that they have no means or machinery by which they can ascertain the information necessary, for instance, with regard to the granting of loans. For some time they were the supreme authority in regard to the granting of certain loans, but during the 11 years I was at the Local Government Board it was their invariable practice to apply to that Department for the necessary information before they could grant a loan. That information is obtained through an inspectorate, and the Local Government Board has all the necessary machinery. They have in their office all the information with regard to existing boards, their operations and liabilities, and is it not absurd, when you have already the Local Government Board charged to a large extent with the supervision of the work of local authorities in regard to improvement and development schemes that you should bring another Department—the Treasury—which has no means whatever of arriving at the necessary information alongside the Local Government Board and give them a dual control? I have been unable to ascertain the object of the Government in putting in the Treasury. If they substituted the Local Government Board it would not interfere with the symmetry of the Bill or its smooth working. I hope they will tell us why the Treasury are selected for this particular work. For my part, I believe it will result in immense confusion. The Treasury have not the officials or the machinery required for the work, and I hope the Government will not think it is necessary to adhere rigidly to their Bill, but will have regard to the practical effect of their proposals. I am sure, if they do, they will accept my hon. Friend's Amendment.


I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman thought it undesirable I should reply.


No, no.

5.0 P.M.


I am only doing so because I spoke on this particular Amendment upstairs. I may say the right hon. Gentleman has rather exaggerated the question at issue. We are setting up an independent authority only responsible in so far as their financial enterprises have to be approved by the Treasury, and the particular Amendment which is proposed is merely that the regulations and constitution of the body shall be determined by the Local Government Board and not by the Treasury. I agree that both Departments do not want to come into competition. It seems to us that the financial conditions are more important than those in relation to the Local Government Board. We want it to be understood from the first that this is a separate central body set up to deal with national money and not a body which is representative of the local authorities, although we wish it to be in close touch both with the Local Government Board and the local authorities. Later on, when we come to the financial provisions, the right hon. Gentleman will see that we take power specifically in Clause 9, Sub-section (2), for the central body, before it constructs any new-roads, to consult fully with the Local Government Board and the local authorities affected. But we do not desire that this Road Board shall be in detail under the supervision of inspectors appointed by the Treasury. The Road Board will appoint its own inspectors. Nor do I think it desirable that that board should use the inspectors of the Local Government Board. The interest of the Local Government Board in connection with these road-improvement schemes is not exactly the same as those of the Road Board. The one represents a national desire for new and improved roads and the other represents the security of the taxpayer, and the appeal by local authorities against schemes which may affect the ratepayers. The new and improved roads are to be constructed entirely out of national money, and, therefore, we have, at the initiation of this, put in provisions which, in regard to entirely financial matters, fix the Treasury as the proper Department to deal with them.


I cannot see why the Local Government Board should be brought in here at all. What officials are there at that Board qualified to deal with such subjects at all? So far as I am aware, and I have been on county councils and local authorities, no officials of the Local Government Board, except the auditors, deal in any way whatever with our management of county roads or district roads.


The hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken. There is a Department at the Local Government Board, and an assistant secretary whose duty it is to supervise and examine all such schemes. As far as the hon. Gentleman has referred to the county roads maintained by the county council or highways board, of course the Local Government Board have no authority whatever, except over the expenditure of money which comes from the State. As to other schemes of improvement the Local Government Board officials inquire into them. The paid officials of the Local Government Board have greater knowledge of this work than any other Department.


So far as county councils in rural districts are concerned, no official at the Local Government Board excepting the auditors interfere with the management. I gather that this Bill is likely to deal with new roads or the improvement of old roads in the districts I am referring to.

Amendment negatived.

Sir F. BANBURY moved to leave out the words "such number of" ["consisting of such number of persons"], and to insert instead thereof the word "five."

The object of this Amendment is to provide that the number of persons on the Road Board shall be identical with the number of persons on the Commission which deals with Part I. of the Bill. As the Bill stands the Treasury is empowered to make regulations, and according to those regulations to appoint any number of persons that it may determine to appoint. I think everybody in this House who has had any experience of business will agree with me that a large board ayways leads to delay and is not inclined to ensure a businesslike discussion or rapidity of consideration which would be necessary for a body that has to deal with the roads of the United Kingdom. A great deal of the time of a large body is wasted on small points which are raised by different members, and it is impossible to get a continuous policy. I think it is almost now an accepted maxim that a committee of three is only improved by a committee of one. You will find that in large business concerns it is the custom to only appoint a small number of people to inquire into any particular subject. If the Commissioners who are appointed under Part I. should be limited to five, it is surely right that the Road Board should be limited to the same number. I ask that a number should be inserted in the Bill, and that it should not be left to the Treasury to appoint any number. Unless a number is put in the Bill, so far as I can see, there is nothing to prevent the Treasury appointing 10, and two or three years afterwards increasing the number to 15. That is the first thing I desire to see put in. Secondly, I should like the hon. Gentleman, if he alters the number, I suggest to make it as small as pos- sible, because I believe you would get a very much more businesslike procedure with a small than with a large number.


I beg to second. We are giving great powers to the Board, and certainly we ought, in the Act itself, to give some indication as to the total number of the Board. The tendency of Boards of this kind, appointed by a Department, is to grow, and they very easily go on growing till they reach an unmanageable size. I hope the Government will consider that it is very important that a Board with large powers like this should be a small body.


With the intention represented by the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment the Government are entirely in accord, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer asks that he should be allowed a little latitude on the matter, and he does not want to fix the number exactly, but it will be a small body of some five, six, seven, or eight members. He has to consider a good many claims to be represented in some form or other—the interest of the three Kingdoms, the interest of the local authority, the interests of those who are promoting the new traffic and partly paying the taxes—and, though he repudiates the idea that each particular interest shall nominate someone to the Board, all these things must be taken into consideration. It is rather an important Board, because, unlike the Development Commissioners, it is charged with the power of making new roads. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with that explanation.


Is the hon. Member going to put words in the Bill limiting the number?


No. I merely said that it is the intention, publicly expressed, of the Government that the number shall be limited.


That is no use at all. We are always being turned off by being told that it is the intention of the Government to do so and so Suppose we had another Government, and they did something else. There would be no use if we thought they were wrong in saying that they ought not to have done that because it was the intention of the last Government that it should not be done. The reply would be, "Why was not that put in the Bill?" What is the use of a Bill unless the intentions of the Government are expressed in it? Under the circumstances I cannot accept the assurance of my hon. Friend (Mr. Masterman).

Division No. 795.] AYES. [5.20 p.m.
Abraham, W. (Cork, N. E.) Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Parker, James (Halifax)
Acland, Francis Dyke Gooch, George Peabody (Bath) Philipps, Owen C. (Pembroke)
Adkins, W. Ryland D. Greenwood, G. (Peterborough) Pickersgill, Edward Hare
Ainsworth, John Stirling Gulland, John W. Pointer, J.
Allen, Charles P. (Stroud) Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.
Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight) Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil) Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (Gloucester)
Barnard, E. B. Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Worcester) Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Barnes, G. N. Hazel, Dr. A. E. W. Reddy, M.
Barry, Redmond J. (Tyrone, N.) Hazleton, Richard Richards, T. F. (Wolverhampton, W.)
Beale, W. P. Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)
Benn, Sir J. Williams (Devonport) Henderson, J. McD. (Aberdeen, W.) Robinson, S.
Berridge, T. H. D. Henry, Charles S. Robson, Sir William Snowdon
Bethell, Sir J. H. (Essex, Romford) Hogan, Michael Roe, Sir Thomas
Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon) Hooper, A. G. Rogers, F. E. Newman
Boland, John Horniman, Emslie John Rose, Sir Charles Day
Boulton, A. C. F. Idris, T. H. W. Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)
Bowerman, C. W. Illingworth, Percy H. Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Branch, James Isaacs, Rufus Daniel Scanlan, Thomas
Brunner, J. F. L. (Lancs., Leigh) Jenkins, J. Scott, A. H. (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Brunner, Rt. Hon. Sir J. T. (Cheshire) Keating, M. Seaverns, J. H.
Bryce, J. Annan Kekewich, Sir George Seddon, J.
Burke, E. Haviland- Kilbride, Denis Sheehan, Daniel Daniel
Burns, Rt. Hon. John King, Alfred John (Knutsford) Shipman, Dr. John G.
Byles, William Pollard Laidlaw, Robert Stanger, H. Y.
Causton, Rt. Hon. Richard Knight Lamont, Norman Steadman, W. C.
Channing, Sir Francis Allston Lewis, John Herbert Stewart, Halley (Greenock)
Clough, William Lupton, Arnold Stewart-Smith, D. (Kendal)
Cobbold, Felix Thornley Lynch, A. (Clare, W.) Strachey, Sir Edward
Collins, Stephen (Lambeth) McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)
Compton-Rickett, Sir J. M'Laren, Sir C. B. (Leicester) Thorne, William (West Ham)
Corbett, C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinstead) M'Laren, H. D. (Stafford, W.) Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A Mallet, Charles E. Verney, F. W.
Cory, Sir Clifford John Massie, J. Vivian, Henry
Cotton, Sir H. J. S. Masterman, C. F. G. Walker, H. De R. (Leicester)
Crossley, William J. Micklem, Nathaniel Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)
Cullinan, J. Molteno, Percy Alport Waterlow, D. S.
Curran, Peter Francis Mond, A. Weir, James Galloway
Dillon, John Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen) White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire)
Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne) Nolan, Joseph Wilson, Henry J. (York, W. R.)
Erskine, David C. O'Brien, K. (Tipperary, Mid) Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Evans, Sir S. T. O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)
Falconer, J. O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Captain
Ginnell, L. O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.) Norton and Mr. Whitley.
Gladstone, Rt. Hon. Herbert John
Banner, John S. Harmood- Guinness, Hon. R. (Haggerston) Renton, Leslie
Cecil, Lord R. (Marylebone, E.) Hamilton, Marquess of Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Heaton, John Henniker Thornton, Percy M.
Clyde, J. Avon Long, Rt. Hon. Walter (Dublin, S.) Valentia, Viscount
Corbett, T. L. (Down, North) M'Arthur, Charles Walker, Col. W. H. (Lancashire)
Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- Morpeth, Viscount
Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir F.
Fletcher, J. S. Powell, Sir Francis Sharp Banbury and Mr. Stewart Bowles.

Mr. BARNARD moved, at the end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words "at least one-third of the members of such Board shall be members of highway authorities."

I am anxious that some slight consideration should be given to the position which existing highway authorities will occupy after this Bill becomes law. Of course, we understand that the Government or the Treasury will appoint the Road Board, and there are very strong reasons why they should select a portion of the mem-

Question put, "That the words 'such number of' stand part of the Clause."

The House divided: Ayes, 127; Noes, 21.

bers of this Board from men who have to do with the existing highway authorities. I cannot help thinking that whilst the Bill as it stands is not exactly hostile to local authorities, at the same time it is very suspicious of them, and it appears to me that they stand to lose rather than gain in more than one way. It is proposed to alter the present arrangement for collecting the motor licence money. The local authorities now receive the proceeds of the licence, but it is proposed to stereotype the amount, and whatever is paid into the Exchequer will be paid out to the Treasury, save that the stereotyped sum cannot be exceeded in future. If that be so, and if the roads are to be made better in order to facilitate motor traffic, it may ultimately mean that the local authorities will not have any increased revenue while they are bound to have increased expenditure. I beg to move.


I beg to second the Amendment.


If the highway authorities are to be adequately represented it would be a mistake to say that one-third of the members of the Board must be members of highway authorities. Very likely the best men to represent them might not be members of those highway authorities, and they may be called upon to become members of the Board, in which event they would adequately represent the interests of the local boards. The Chancellor of the Exchequer promised in Committee, and I repeat the promise here, that there will be full consideration given to the representation of the interests of highway authorities on the Board.


I am quite satisfied, and I ask leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.