HC Deb 08 October 1909 vol 11 cc2421-33

(1) The Road Board shall have power, with the approval of the Treasury—

  1. (a) to make advances to highway authorities in respect of the construction of new roads or bridges or the improvement of existing roads or bridges;
  2. (b) themselves to construct and maintain any new roads and bridges connected therewith,
which appear to the Board to be required for facilitating road traffic.

(2) An advance to a highway authority may be either by way of free grant or by way of loan, or partly in one way and partly in the other, and shall be upon such terms and subject to such conditions as the Board think fit.

Mr. CHAPLIN moved in Sub-section (1) to leave out the word "Treasury," and to insert instead thereof the words "Local Government Board."

What does the Clause propose? That the Board shall have power to make advances to highway authorities in respect of the construction of new roads or bridges, or the improvement of existing roads or bridges which may be regarded as necessary. If there is one Department of the State which is more calculated in every respect to deal with the matter than any other it is the Local Government Board. Why it is left out in these matters I cannot conceive. The matter would go to the Treasury in the long run, and it would go with all the authority of the Local Government Board, and with their recommendation or non-recommendation attached and supported by the highest expert knowledge that could be produced in any Department of the State. Whether I divide on this Amendment or not will depend on the answer.


This would result in leaving out the approval of the Treasury, which has the financial control. If they were left out we should have to put them in again. What the right hon. Gentleman perhaps means is that it should be with the approval of the Local Government Board and the Treasury. We are quite anxious that the Road Board should have all the information possible from the Local Government Board, but we are creating an independent central body, and that is the whole meaning of this Part. The Amendment would allow the Local Government Board to veto any scheme which might be prepared by the Road Board. It is not we who are multiplying the authorities, but the right hon. Gentleman, as he wishes to bring in the Local Government Board.


Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say he did not object to the words "with the approval of the Local Government Board and the Treasury"?


No, I did not say that. It would render the quasi-independence of the Road Board impossible, and would really make it part of the Local Government Board.


I shall let the Amendment be negatived and place my opposition on record.

Question, "That the word 'Treasury' stand part of the Clause," put, and agreed to.

Amendments made: In paragraph (a), after the word "to" ["advances to highway authorities"], to insert the words "county councils and other."

To leave out the words "or bridges" ["new roads or bridges"].—[Sir Samuel Evans.]

Viscount MORPETH moved, after the word "bridges" ["the construction of new roads or bridges"], to insert the words "and the Road Board shall have power to make advances to the highway authorities for the increased cost of maintenance due to the new roads."

I agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the object of this proposal is to make new and to improve existing roads, and not merely to relieve the rates. The scope of the Amendment is really very small. The Road Board are to have power to make advances to highway authorities in respect of the construction of new roads, and the Amendment simply suggests that the maintenance of those new roads may be paid for by the Road Board if the Board think it desirable. It cannot be said that the maintenance of new roads made at the instigation of the Road Board would be a relief of the rates. It is a new expenditure thrown on the highway authority by the desire of the Road Board, and it seems to me only fair that in such cases the Board should have power to say to the highway authority, "If you are willing to make this new road to carry out a policy which we think desirable, we will grant so much not only towards the construction of the road, but for its maintenance when made." The Amendment would make the work of the Road Board with the local authorities easier, and I hope the Government will accept it.


I beg to second the Amendment. This Amendment, if passed, taken in conjunction with other Amendments of which the Solicitor-General has given notice, would, I think, fairly meet many of the objections rightly felt by local authorities to the Bill in its original form. It is obviously most important that the local authorities should have reasonable inducement to apply for the making of new roads or for power to make them; and if, when they make out a good case, they can feel that they will not be involved in great additional annual expenditure, it will make a great difference to the working of the Act in the country.


I hope the Solicitor-General will not allow all the Development Fund to be frittered away in the relief of rates. I quite approve of the making of roads, but I do not want the money to be spent merely to save the landowners from making their fair contribution towards them.


The new roads under this Bill may be made either by the Road Board, or by the local authorities by means of advances made by the Road Board. The question, which has been carefully considered by the Committee upstairs and by the Government, is whether or not any contribution ought to be possible out of the Development Fund to the local authority simply for the maintenance of a new road. There is no question of sharing the maintenance of existing roads. That would be giving money simply and solely in relief of rates It is very desirable not to put any difficulty in the way of county councils asking for power to construct new roads, and if no power were given to contribute money out of the Development Fund for maintenance. I am told in many cases that the county councils might abstain from asking for power to make roads. It is desirable that so far as possible the construction of new roads should be in the hands of the local authorities; it is part and parcel of their work. We have considered this matter very carefully, and we think there is reason in some of the proposals which have been made. I do not know whether the Noble Lord will accept the words which appear lower down in the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Northamptonshire (Sir F. Charming): "The maintenance of 'such new roads,'" instead of "maintenance 'due to the new roads'"?

Viscount MORPETH

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will move them.


There is one point in reference to this that I should like to understand, and that is whether this is in lieu of Sub-section (b) of Clause 9, which seems to give all the powers that are being asked for? The Amendment appears to be that the Road Board may make arrangements for the maintenance of roads that ought to have been made and looked after by the local authority, and that we are simply going to relieve the local rates of some burden or another, or that the local authority may contract for the maintenance of roads made by themselves. If that is not correct, then the Amendment would appear to be a suggestion that they may contract for the maintenance of roads not made by themselves. That is a thing I should most certainly object to. I should like some explanation on the point from the Solicitor-General.


Sub-section (6) of Clause 9 says: "The Road Board and the council of any county or county borough may contract for the undertaking by the council of the maintenance and repair of any such road"—that is, a road made by the Road Board itself. The Road Board will themselves have to maintain the reads they make.

Viscount MORPETH

I am quite indifferent as to the words used, and will move my Amendment in the form desired by the Solicitor-General.


I think, on consideration, it would have to be moved as a new sub-section.

Viscount MORPETH

In that case I ask leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: To leave out the words "or bridges" ["existing roads or bridges"].—[Sir Samuel Evans.]

Lord ROBERT CECIL moved to leave out paragraph (b): "themselves to construct and maintain any new roads and bridges connected therewith."

The point aimed at in this Amendment is quite familiar to all those who attended the Grand Committee. The question raised is whether the Road Board ought to have the power of constructing roads or whether they ought only to have the power, as I think right, to advance money to the highway authorities to construct new roads and to improve existing roads. The objection to allowing the Road Board to become the authority for the construction of new roads is that it would involve them in conflict with the existing highway authorities. The action of the Board would be regarded as an infringement of their duties, and they will throw every obstacle in the way of such proceedings. The matter was considered very elaborately and freely by the Road Conference held this year, at which all the highway authorities in the country were represented, and they were unanimous against allowing the central authority, if created, to become the authority for the construction of the new roads. They reluctantly accepted the idea that the central authority should have control over the money advanced, but the idea that the new authority should have power to construct new roads was resented by every authority at that conference. A passage was read from an interview with the Chancellor of the Exchequer early in the year, in which he definitely stated that the purpose of the Road Board would not be to construct new roads. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is reported to have said:— The new authority will be purely an authority to dispense money. We do not propose to set up a road department. We simply say 'we approve' or 'we disapprove,' or suggest alterations and say, 'If you meet our views we shall be able to make you a grant of so much.' The local authority will send in a scheme, saying, 'We are going to improve our roads. At the present moment they are very dangerous, because they are narrow, the curves are sharp and numerous, and we propose to widen and straighten the road; we have got to buy land for the purpose; we have got to incur a good deal of expense; 3we have got to improve the metalling of certain roads, and so forth. The scheme will cost so much, what grant will you give us?' We shall then consider the scheme, and make up our minds just as the Light Railway Commissioners make up their minds now as to what grants they will recommend. There is no interference contemplated with the work of the road authorities: the initiative will be entirely theirs, and if the county council does not choose to effect any improvements it will get no grant. But our new road authority cannot interfere.

This Report of the interview was read to the Conference by one of its Members, and it lays down what ought exactly to be the true functions of the Road Board. If powers are given to the Board to enter upon the construction of roads it will greatly imperil the success of this part of the Bill.

Viscount MORPETH

I second the Amendment. I do not think much could be added to what was said by the Chancellor, except to point out that it was a definite statement made on his part. We have had no explanation why the Chancellor altered his opinion. There was less need for the modification because, under the old scheme, where motor roads formed a very important feature of this Bill, it might have been necessary that the construction of those motor roads, entirely different from every other class of highways in the country, ought to be carried out by a separate definite authority, and not the highways authority, who might have had no experience of such roads. Now that the motor roads have been eliminated, and have become ordinary highways, there is no reason why they should not be made by the ordinary highway authorities. There is only one argument for leaving in this power for the Road Board to make the roads, and that is that as the roads may run through areas belonging to different authorities you might cause conflicts and jealousies which would make the construction of new roads difficult. I believe that difficulty to be entirely imaginary, because no road authorities are opposed to the making of new roads. The only thing that prevents them doing this is that they have no power to compulsorily acquire land, and they have before them the ever-present fear of the ratepayers, and if they spend large sums of money they are likely to lose their seats. It must not be supposed that if a central authority were established willing to grant money to the highway authorities, and they could say, "Here is an important scheme for a new highway which is urgently needed," the local highway authorities would only be too willing to fall in with the desires of the Road Board to get the money which would be forthcoming for the new work. Power is given to the Road Board to provide these new roads. This will not lead to simplicity, and it will be sure to cause a great deal of difficulty in the districts through which the new roads go. Much better work can be done by acting through the highway authorities.


I quite recognise the feeling of the hon. Member in moving this Amendment. I regret that the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been introduced so much in regard to this matter, because in the statement which he made upstairs my right hon. Friend gave a complete reply, and now he is no longer here to give a further reply. The reply was that he was dealing with an unauthorised and unofficial Report of a deputation which appeared in a newspaper, and he was not dealing with the making of new motor roads. He promised that where advances were made to local authorities there should not be any vexatious interference on the part of the central authority. On the second reading of the Bill the question whether the Road Board should be empowered to make roads at its own expense was very fully and elaborately discussed, and on the Committee the general feeling was that they should be given this power. It is not proposed that the Road Board should start immediately driving huge trunk roads throughout the length and breadth of the country, but there may be instances in which it is not only in the interests of a particular series of highway authorities that the roads should be made, but it might be desirable in the interests of towns to be connected with some remote part of the country. Other examples may readily occur to hon. Members. There are examples where it is desirable they should have the power to make these new roads themselves. I therefore ask the House to support the Government in this matter.


I find myself to some extent in sympathy with the Noble Lord. With most of the provisions of this Bill I have the deepest sympathy, but the idea of constructing large roads for the convenience of these detestable machines called motor cars, which are one of the curses of modern life, fills me with horror. This country was until recently one of the most lovely in the whole world, but it is rapidly becoming one of the most hideous, and to take large sums of public money to expedite the process fills me with genuine horror. It is bad enough in London to be kept awake at night by the noise of motor cars and to be unable to get a breath of fresh air because of their stench without having them introduced to all parts of the country. For my part, I wish there were more turning and twisting roads too narrow for motor cars.


The hon. Gentleman tells us that the general feeling of the country is in favour of making these new roads by the new Road Board. I do not believe it is the general feeling even among motorists themselves, or that there is any foundation whatsoever for the statement. There might be something to be said for the proposal if it was limited to roads for short distances, where they might possibly be useful in connecting certain localities or for avoiding villages, but we have to take the Bill as it is, and what it says and enables the Road Board to do. It is totally different from what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite tell us. Why, in Heaven's name, do you not put into the Bill what you say you intend it to do. I have only the Bill to look at in order to judge how it is to be administered, and in those circumstances I feel bound to support the Amendment.

6.0 P.M.


I must say that when living in London I find the stench of the horse-dung in the streets perfectly insupportable—


That hardly arises on this Amendment.


With regard to country roads I hold that if by making a few straight cuts you can get the motor cars off the twisting-turning roads you will restore once more "dear old England."

Question put, "That the words to the words 'construct and maintain any new roads' stand part of the Clause."

The House divided: Ayes, 96; Noes, 20.

Division No. 796.] AYES. [6.0 p.m.
Abraham, W. (Cork, N. E.) Greenwood, G. (Peterborough) Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Acland, Francis Dyke Guiland, John W. Richards, T. F. (Wolverhampton, W.)
Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight) Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B. Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)
Barnes, G. N. Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)
Barry, Redmond J. (Tyrone, N.) Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil) Robinson, S.
Beale, W. P. Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Worcester) Roe, Sir Thomas
Benn, Sir J. Williams (Devonport) Hazel, Dr. A. E. W. Rogers, F. E. Newman
Berridge, T. H. D. Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Rose, Sir Charles Day
Bethell, Sir J. H. (Essex, Romford) Henderson, J. McD. (Aberdeen, W.) Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon) Henry, Charles S. Scott, A. H. (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Bowerman, C. W. Illingworth, Percy H. Seaverns, J. H.
Brunner, J. F. L. (Lancs., Leigh) Isaacs, Rufus Daniel Seddon, J.
Brunner, Rt. Hon. Sir J. T. (Cheshire) Jackson, R. S. Stanger, H. Y.
Bryce, J. Annan Jenkins, J. Steadman, W. C.
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Kekewich, Sir George Stewart, Halley (Greenock)
Byles, William Pollard King, Alfred John (Knutsford) Stewart-Smith, D. (Kendal)
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Laidlaw, Robert Strachey, Sir Edward
Clough, William Lamont, Norman Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)
Cobbold, Felix Thornley Lewis, John Herbert Thorne, William (West Ham)
Collins, Stephen (Lambeth) Lupton, Arnold Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Compton-Rickett, Sir J. McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald Verney, F. W.
Corbett, C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinstead) M'Laren, Sir C. B. (Leicester) Vivian, Henry
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. M'Laren, H. D. (Stafford, W.) Walker, H. De R. (Leicester)
Cotton, Sir H. J. S. Mallet, Charles E. Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)
Cullinan, J. Massie, J. Waterlow, D. S.
Curran, Peter Francis Masterman, C. F. G. Weir, James Galloway
Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne) Mond, A. White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire)
Erskine, David C. Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen) Williamson, Sir A.
Evans, Sir S. T. Napier, T. B. Wilson, Henry J. (York, W. R.)
Falconer, J. Parker, James (Halifax) Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Gladstone, Rt. Hon. Herbert John Philipps, Owen C. (Pembroke)
Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Rainy, A. Rolland TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Captain
Gooch, George Peabody (Bath) Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (Gloucester) Norton and Mr. Whitley.
Banner, John S. Harmood- Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- Renton, Leslie
Barnard, E. B. Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Bowles, G. Stewart Guinness, Hon. R. (Haggerston) Thornton, Percy M.
Channing, Sir Francis Allston Heaton, John Henniker Valentia, Viscount
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Long, Rt. Hon. Walter (Dublin, S.)
Clyde, J. Avon M'Arthur, Charles TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord
Corbett, T. L. (Down, North) Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington) Robert Cecil and Viscount Morpeth.
Dillon, John Powell, Sir Francis Sharp

Amendment made: In paragraph (b), to leave out the words "and bridges connected therewith."—[Sir Samuel Evans.]

Mr. RENTON moved to insert the following new paragraph:— (c) To make advances to highway authorities to purchase, or take over on terms to be agreed on, existing bridges, not being at present county bridges, and to maintain, repair, and improve any bridges so purchased or taken over.

In several parts of England the highway authorities have no power to construct bridges. There is a bridge over the Trent between Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, built a great many years ago by a company under the authority of Parliament. That company got a monopoly. The company are allowed to make certain charges, and their charges are very heavy in some cases. It is s. 8d. for a cart to go across the bridge, and for pedestrians it is no less than 6d. It would cost more to buy up this bridge than it would to construct a new one. The highway autho- rity has no power whatever to construct the bridge. Parliament gave this company a monopoly a great many years ago. In these days the bridges would be used by motors coming for a long distance, and it is only fair that the local community should also assist in the freeing of the bridge, and if they are not freed now their value will go up every year, and it will be much more expensive later on to get rid of the tolls than it would be to-day.


I beg to second. If you have a bridge, the acquisition of which would be most convenient, and perhaps essential, to a reasonable road scheme, it is absurd that the Road Board I should not have the power to make advances to a highway authority to acquire the bridge, inasmuch as it is part of the road. It would also have the effect of freeing bridges from charges, and in every respect it appears that a power of this sort ought to be given.


It is very much against the public interest that there should be any bridges which cannot be crossed without a payment being made, but though I sympathise with the object of the Amendment, it is not within the province of this Bill, and I am sorry I cannot accept it.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: At the end of Subsection (1), to insert, as a new Sub-section, "(2) In making advances to highway authorities in respect of the construction of new roads, the Road Board may, where they think it desirable, also contribute towards the cost of maintenance of such new roads."—[Sir Francis Charming.]

Sir SAMUEL EVANS moved, after the words last inserted, to add the words, "Provided that the sums expended by the Road Board out of income on the construction of new roads or the acquisition of land, or in respect of any loan raised for any such purpose, shall not in any year exceed one-third of the estimated receipts of the Road Board for that year."

We were pressed from the introduction of the Bill to make it clear that the first object was to improve the existing roads before embarking upon any expenditure on trunk roads. Several Amendments were suggested upstairs to meet the point. Having considered the various ways suggested we have come to the conclusion that the object will be best secured by this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: In Sub-section (2) to leave out the word "free" ["either by way of free grant or by way of loan."]—[Sir Samuel Evans.]


I beg to move to add, at the end of Sub-section (2), the words, "For the purposes of this Part of this Act the expression 'improvement of roads' includes the widening of any road, the cutting off the corners of any road where land is required to be purchased for that purpose, the levelling of roads, the treatment of a road for mitigating the nuisance of dust, and the doing of any other work in respect of roads beyond ordinary repairs essential to placing a road in a proper state of repair; and the expression 'roads' includes bridges, viaducts, and subways."

This Amendment indicates the nature of the work which the Road Board may regard as coming within the expression improvement of roads."

Viscount MORPETH

The words "treatment of roads for the mitigation of dust" are rather limited, and I would suggest that it would be better to have "for the purpose of improving the surface," or something like that.


The word "improvement" is used at the beginning, and then we have the general words afterwards.

Mr. VERNEY moved, in the proposed Amendment, after the word "purpose" ["for that purpose"], to insert the words "the levelling of hedges at the corners of roads, or elsewhere to such an extent that they shall not obstruct the view of approaching traffic."

My object is to have something done in the way of levelling hedges in certain places so as to reduce the number of accidents. A great many accidents occur owing to hedges being left so high that the view of approaching traffic is obstructed.

Mr. TOMKINSON seconded the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.


I think that this Amendment should be accepted, and I think that in addition to hedges we should include walls. I know several districts in Ireland where there are very sharp turns in the road, and very high walls, and in these places serious accidents have occurred. I think that those walls should be taken down and iron railings put up.


I am afraid that it is impossible to accept the suggestion made which would involve interference with private property.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment negatived.

Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.

Mr. RUPERT GUINNESS moved, after Sub-section (2), to add the following Subsection: "(3) In making advances to a highway authority towards the execution of any work under this Part of this Act regard shall be had, so far as is reasonably practicable, to the amount of the proceeds forming part of the road improvement grant under the Finance Act, 1909, collected in the area of such highway authority."


In seconding the Amendment, I may point out that in making advances it is only reasonable that regard should be had to the amount of money collected in the area of the high- way authority. That amount in London, no doubt, would be a considerable sum. The Solicitor-General will see that it is only a suggestion to the Road Board, and is not binding upon them.


The proceeds of the tax go towards the improvement of existing roads and the construction of new ones. The two taxes are one on motor spirit and the other on motor cars. The motor spirit, I take it, is imported, and the duty, therefore, cannot be collected where the spirit is sold. The tax on motor ears is not collected where they use the roads and the proposal of the hon. Member does not suggest at all the right way to collect the taxes, and it is not practicable to give effect to it.


This Amendment is designed to meet a very grave injustice which will be suffered by the owners of motor cars and motor vehicles in great towns. In point of fact the great mass of the tax will be raised from dwellers in London and other great towns, while the great mass of expenditure will be in country districts, yet the tax is levied on users of the roads for the benefit of the roads. It seems to me that the Amendment brings this point out with extreme clearness.

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.