HC Deb 15 July 1913 vol 55 cc1089-92

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to provide for certain roads to be declared National Roads, and for other purposes incidental thereto."

This Bill is a natural corollary to the Development and Roads Improvment Fund Act, 1909, and its object is to provide relief to the local authorities in the maintenance of main roads by means of the machinery created under that Act. The House will be aware that owing to the policy of the Road Board there has not been much relief given to local authorities under the Road Board Act. The Road Board have spent about £3,500,000 up to the 30th June of this year, but the expenses of local authorities have grown quite pari passu with the expenditure of the Road Board, having increased from £2,500,000 in 1906–7 to over £3,000,000 in 1910–11. No doubt the amount has further increased in 1911–12 and 1912–13, but the figures are not yet available. The reason why the Road Grant has not given relief to the local authorities is that the Road Board insist that there should be an expenditure by the local authorities proportionate to the Grant given by the Board. Moreover, that expenditure is not to be for ordinary maintenance, but only for road improvements, straightening corners, and, so forth. Nobody will deny that Government Grants for roads have become more and more insufficient. Orginally it was supposed that the Government Grant would be half the cost of the main roads, and it was that originally in 1888. But every year since then the amount available for the relief of main roads has diminshed, and the balance of the Exchequer Contribution Account, has not been sufficient for a great many years past to contribute half the cost of main roads from the National Exchequer as was intended. As a matter of fact there is a large deficit on that account to-day, and the deficit appears to be increasing year by year. That is not satisfactory, especially at a time when it is becoming more and more obvious from the nature of the traffic that main roads are really a national burden.

The through motor traffic is undoubtedly increasing, and it does not need argument to show that as a matter of fact it is unfair to call upon a particular local authority to contribute for the maintenance of a road which serves for through traffic coming from one local authority to another throughout the country. It was recommended by the Royal Commission that main roads should be regarded as a national service. The object of this Bill is to give frank recognition to that fact, and to provide that the expenditure on these roads should be entirely national. Of course, when you centralise expenditure the problem of administration at once arises. Some people perhaps, naturally, would prefer that when expenditure is centralised, that administration should, to a large extent, remain local. In some forms of expenditure that might be necessary. For instance, in the case of education, no matter how much the central Grant might be it would still be necessary that the Education Acts should be largely administered locally. I do not think that in the case of the main roads there is any insuperable objection to centralising administration as well as to centralising expenditure. On the contrary, it appears to me there are a good many reasons why and a good many advantages in these main roads being administered centrally, as well as paid for centrally. If you are going to give complete relief to local authority for these trunk roads, I see no objection why, and it seems to me logical, that the administration should also be completely central.

Therefore, I propose in this Bill that the Road Board should administer and maintain any roads declared by order to be main roads, that is to be national roads; and a national road is a road which is largely used as a medium of communication between the areas of several highway authorities. I propose, also, that highway authorities should also have the power to apply to the Road Board to have certain roads within their area made national roads. There are provisions in the Bill which provide that the approval of the Treasury must be obtained to the creation of these roads into national roads, and that the Local Government Board must be consulted. There are also various provisions for notice to highway authorities, and for local inquiries for the purpose of hearing objections. The main operative Clause of this Bill is one which gives the same powers for the maintenance of roads declared national to the Road Board, as the Road Board at present has under the principal Act, for roads which it itself constructs. There are other details with which I need not trouble the House, such as provisions to ensure that on these national roads, on going through urban areas, the dust nuisance should be abated, provisions to acquire land, provisions apportioning the existing liabilities which are now held by local authorities, and compensation to officers who may be displaced in the same way as officers were compensated under the Act of 1888. It is provided that the expenses of administration shall come out of the Road Board Fund, and that their borrowing powers should be increased from £200,000, as given in the principal Act, to the sum of £500,000. I think this Bill will have the effect largely of remedying one of many grievances which the local authorities suffer from. It seems to be a logical Bill, and one which the present day trend of traffic appears to me to make necessary.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Viscount Helmsley, Sir Randolf Baker. Mr. Lane-Fox, Mr. Hicks Beach, and Mr. Charles Bathurst. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Tuesday next, and to be printed. [Bill 261.]