§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £59,059, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1914, for the Salaries and other Expenses in the Department of His Majesty's Treasury and Subordinate Departments, including expenses in respect of Advances under the Light Railways Act, 1896."[Note.—£50,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. HOARE
I beg to move, "That Item A (Salaries, Wages, and Allowances) be reduced by £00.
I rise to move the reduction in order to call attention to the administration of the Road Board. I must remind the Committee that this some-what devious method is the only one open to us, in order to call attention to the methods adopted in the management of their office, and in the allocation of their Grants by the Road Board. Under the Act of 1909, which constituted the Road Board, they were left practically independent of the control of this House, except by means of legislation. This Committee is unable to move any reduction or any increase in the Grants which they give to local authorities, and only by means of putting down a nominal Vote on the salary of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are we able to criticise their action at all. This is a singular state of affairs. The Road Board is the only effective central Department for the administration of roads. In theory, the Local Government Board has still some connection with road administration, auditing the accounts of the road authorities, but, practically speaking, it is fair to say that the Road Board is the only effective central authority for this great public service. It is a public service, which, owing to what has happened in the last ten or twenty years, has increased very much in importance. That can easily be seen by the amount of money which is now being spent by local authorities on the maintenance and construction of roads. No less than 1,900 2389 separate road authorities are at present spending over £15,000,000 a year on the maintenance and construction of public roads. It will, therefore, be at once seen that the administration of the one central authority for this great public service is of vital interest to every member of this Committee.
I am conscious of the fact that it must be extremely difficult to start and organise a new office such as the Road Board obviously is. It must for a time at least work cautiously and by experiments, and I am, therefore, anxious not in any way to forget the difficulties of the duties they have to perform when I come to make criticisms against parts of their administration. I am also conscious of the fact that during the last few years the roads of Great Britain have improved very much indeed. I believe that I should be within the mark if I said that at the present time our roads are as good if not better than the roads of any other great nation of Europe. But after making those allowances, I have certain criticisms to make. First, I should like to remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer of certain observations that he made when the constitution of the Road Board was first being considered as to the effect that it was likely to have upon local rates. When the Road Act was under consideration he made this statement in the House:—We are raising £600,000 to improve roads. All that involves great relief to agricultural land. What is the amount of the relief? I have reckoned it up, and I am prepared to substantiate the figures. It is a moderate estimate to say that it will be a relief of at least 4d. in the £on the rates of agricultural land.Let me remind him again of what the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Masterman) said on 20th December, 1912:As far as the agricultural districts are concerned. when we get the analysis in connection with the amount which has been allocated from time to time, I think the saving will be found to be very much more than 4d. in the £"—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 20th December, 1912, col. 1919, Vol. XLV.]On July 7th, the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to have wished to modify in some degree the promise he had held out two years ago; he was not very confident when he said:—I do not agree that the establishment of the Road Board has much increased the demands upon the ratepayers.There was nothing there about a decrease in the rates. It was simply a statement that the demands upon the ratepayers had not been much increased. The answer to the hopes which were excited in the minds of hon. Members and of every 2390 local authority in the country as to the relief of the local rates, and particularly of the rates in agricultural districts, is best supplied by the Annual Report of the Road Board, which was published last night and which is in the hands of hon. Members this morning. On page 7 there is a table which shows that since the constitution of the Road Board, so far from it being the fact that the rates have decreased, and decreased to the extent of 4d. in the £they have risen to a very considerable degree. These are the figures: Main urban roads have, since 1909, increased to the amount of 6 per cent., but what is more marked, in view of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said about the relief in agricultural districts, is that rural roads have, since 1909, the date of the constitution of the Road Board, increased to the amount of 15 per cent. per year. That seems, to dispose very conclusively of the promises which were held out three years ago as to the relief of rates in general and of agricultural rates in particular. Let me pass from those promises to the administration of the Road Board itself. I should like to group my criticisms under three heads: In the first place, the financial policy of the Board; secondly, their allocation of Grants to various parts of the Kingdom and various local authorities; and, thirdly, the constitution and the management of their office. Let me begin with the financial policy of the Board. Many of us during the last year have thought that the Board has not been spending as much money as it should spend. It has had, according to the last Report, a revenue which has amounted, up to 30th June of this year, to £3,525,995, and up till quite recently it had only spent a very small amount of this extremely large fund. I am quite aware that during the last few weeks it has been making new Grants, but the fact remains that on 30th June of this year it had no less than £2,596,752 invested. It is my view that the Road Board should distribute its funds, if not up to the full amount, at any rate up to a much greater proportion than £1,000,000 out of £3,500,000 during the three years of its administration. On 30th June—let me again emphasise the point—it held investments to the amount of more than £2,500,000.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)
There are Grants which have already been made and the money for which has not been called for by the local authorities.
§ Mr. HOARE
Yes, I was coming to that point, and hon. Members must also remember that it takes a very long time to spend these Grants. For instance, the largest Grant contemplated by the Road Board, the Grant of £400,000 to the County Council of Middlesex for the Hounslow improvement, will take several years to spend. That, of course, emphasises my point as to the need of spending on a much more liberal scale than the Road Board has been spending up to the present moment. I am also quite aware that under Clause 18 of the Road Board Act the Board is told that it must take into account the state of trade and the state of the labour market and must do what it can to make as much expenditure as possible in years of bad trade. That is excellent in theory, but at the same time it must be remembered that in the majority of these cases of road improvement the actual amount which will he divided amongst labour is very small. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find, if he looks at specific cases where road improvements have been made, that the great bulk of the funds have gone in compensating owners who have been expropriated and in other kindred ways. Generally speaking, hon. Members, I think, have got a cause of complaint against the Road Board for their slowness in distributing these very large sums which are at their disposal.
I pass from that to what I think is more important, their actual methods in allocating their funds between the various applicants. They have apparently in their method of allocating funds between the various parts of the United Kingdom adopted the principle of taking the test of population. According to that test, England and Wales should receive 79.8 per cent. of the total funds, Scotland 10.5 per cent., and Ireland 9.7 per cent. I believe that this test of population is not a proper test to take for the distribution of these Grants. Hon. Members must 2392 remember that the funds are not being taken from the general body of national taxes, but from particular duties which are raised in particular localities, and, whilst I am not prepared to go so far as to say that an individual locality has the right to have the full amount of duties which are collected within its area spent upon itself, I do go so far as to say that some account should be taken in large areas of the amounts which the country, England, Scotland, or Ireland, does contribute towards this fund. If you take the amount which is collected in England and Wales, in Scotland, and in Ireland, we find that England and Wales have a right to 89 per cent., and not 79 per cent. of the total fund. Scotland has a right to 7.6 per cent., and Ireland 3.4 per cent. I urge then, first of all, as between various parts of the United Kingdom, that England and Wales are not getting their fair share of the proceeds of the Petrol Tax and of the excess duty from the Carriage Tax, which constitute the sources of income of this Board.
What I say applies equally when I come to the allocation of the funds between the various local authorities. The other day I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to give me a list of the amounts which had been actually distributed to the various local authorities. Up to 30th June last £43,000 had been distributed to Metropolitan borough councils, £53,000 to the county boroughs, £3,500 to non-county boroughs, £961,478 to the county councils, £5,900 to the urban district councils, and £337 to the rural district councils. When one comes to analyse these figures it is very difficult to see upon what principle the Grants have been made. In the previous Reports of the Road Board it is suggested that that Board is prepared to give Grants of from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. on the work of the local authorities which they had approved. But when one goes through the list it is found that in some cases—for instance, in the case of a Western county in Ireland—a Grant of no less than 90 per cent. has been given for road work. When I come to individual cases in England, which are shown in the Report placed in our hands this morning, Grants of from 50 per cent, to 75 per cent. are common, yet. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman's attention to this point, a letter was recently addressed to the Metropolitan borough councils in which it was implied that they would receive Grants not of 50 per cent. or 75 per cent., 2393 but of from 10 per cent. to 50 per cent., which as the Committee will see, are Grants upon a much smaller scale. Two facts seem to come conspicuously out of these inquiries. The first is that the rural district councils have come off extremely badly at the hands of the Road Board, and, in the second place, urban districts, and particularly the Metropolitan borough councils, and the London County Council, have come off badly in the Grants given. Let me remind the Committee of the figures I have just read, which show that, as far as rural areas are concerned, out of £3,500,000 which the Road Board had at its disposal, only £337 has been given to rural district councils. Yet if you look at their Report you will find that the expenditure on specifically rural roads is increasing at as fast a rate, if not faster, than on almost any other roads in the United Kingdom.
The case is just as strong for the urban districts as apart from the county councils. The urban districts are spending more than twice as much as the other road authorities put together, and yet, according to the figures which I have just read our, they are receiving only a very small percentage of the three and a-half million pounds which the Road Board has. I will take an example which will illustrate the point I am endeavouring to impress upon the Committee. London, through the county council, has made several demands for assistance upon this fund. London has a very strong case. During the last year, and in the two previous years in which the Road Board has been in existence, a sum of about £600,000 has been drawn from the collection of these duties in the county of London. But up to 30th June only £43,000 had been spent in the area of the county of London. It has been said in the Report of the Road Board that a great deal of the wear and tear on the London roads is local wear and tear and that the specific object of the Road Board is not to aid purely local expenditure. I do not agree with that contention. I say you must look upon London, not as a single locality, but as a collection of great cities. The great body of London traffic is not local traffic at all. It is inter-urban traffic, just that kind of traffic which the Road Board was intended to aid. It is traffic between great cities, like Lambeth or Stepney, which go to make up what we understand as the administrative county of London. Take a case which puts my point in a concrete form.Take the kind of traffic which, 2394 during the last year, has been wearing out the roads of London more than any other kind of traffic—the traffic of the motor 'buses. I believe there are 2,900 motor 'buses now running in the streets of London. They are running, not as local traffic, but as inter-urban traffic, between the districts of outer London and between the great cities which go to make up, London. Each of these motor 'buses is contributing a sum of not less than £43 a. year towards the Petrol Tax, and when that is remembered, and when it is remembered also that this heavy motor 'bus traffic is really inter-urban traffic, and not local traffic, the claims of the Metropolitan boroughs and of the county councils are seen to be extremely strong.
I see in this morning's Report that the Road Board has offered a considerable Grant to the County Council of Middlesex for an improvement in Greater London at Hounslow. The Board is prepared, 1 understand, to make a contribution of some £400,000. But that does not seem to me to weaken the case of the Metropolitan boroughs actually in London, because it must be remembered that this sum will take a very long time to spend, and the Road Board will have ample funds at their disposal out of which to give immediate assistance to the Metropolitan boroughs, and, at the same time, to find £400,000 within two or three years, whatever the time may be, for the County Council of Middlesex. I hope I have made out my second point, that we have ground for criticism on the way in which these funds had been distributed, and the two most marked criticisms I wish to make are that the rural district as apart from the county councils have not got as much as they ought to have, and, secondly, that the urban districts, and particularly the Metropolitan boroughs, have not got their proper share.
I now come to my last criticism, and it is one which is directed at the constitution and management of the office itself. I believe the office as at present constituted has a staff which is not capable of dealing with this very great work of public service. How is it constituted? First, there is the chairman, a very distinguished expert on questions of transport. I should like, in passing, to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how it is that the Chairman of the Road Board is receiving a higher salary than the head of any Government Office? The Chairman, as I understand, 2395 receives £3,000 a year, and I believe there is no head of any Government Office, even the accredited head of the Civil Service, the permanent head of the Treasury, receiving more than £2,500. Then there is the Road Board itself. A few weeks ago a question was asked how often the Road Board met, and how regular was the attendance of its members. It will be of interest to the Committee to know that during the year 1912–13 there were only three Board meetings. There were thirty-four conferences. One member attended twelve times, two members eight times, and on no single occasion of a formal conference were all the members present. At several there were none except the chairman. I venture to urge that on work of this importance it is of the utmost need that these gentlemen should attend regularly and should give that attention to the work which it undoubtedly deserves.
Then I come to the chief technical officer of the Board, the Consulting Engineer. Here again in answer to a question which was asked by one of the Nationalist Members the fact emerged that the Chief Consulting Engineer of the Road Board, in other words, its chief technical officer, does not hold a whole-time appointment at all and that while he is giving the Road Board the benefit of his expert advice he is at the same time free to give anyone who consulted him the benefit of that expert advice also. That seems to me to be a position which is liable to misrepresentation. The hon. Member for Louth brought forward a case in which a misunderstanding had arisen from the fact that this gentleman was holding a dual position. In one case he was actually inviting local surveyors to attend a view of a road upon which he had given his advice as a private individual, on Road Board paper. He acknowledged the mistake, and I am quite sure that he had no motive whatever in doing what he did. At the same time an action of that kind shows the difficulty where a high official is acting in a double capacity. I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that one of the first needs of the Road Board at present, if it is to fulfil its important duties, is that its Chief Consulting Engineer should be a whole-time servant of the Board. Coming to the minor members of the staff, here, too, it may be a matter of surprise to hon. Members that of a staff of twenty-one only 2396 two have entered by competitive examination. I am quite aware that so far as the technical appointments are concerned, competitive examination is not the best method of entrance of officials, but I would urge upon the right hon. Gentelman that with the minor appointments, the clerks, messengers, and accountants, there is no reason why the Road Board should not act as every other office in the Civil Service acts, and receive their lower officials through the ordinary method of the second division, or boy clerk, or other examinations which are now in vogue. There is a third point which has come out also during the last year which strengthens my case. It seems to me that the conduct of the office needs reform. Let me take a single ease. The minutes of this important office are being kept in a very haphazard fashion. It transpired the other day—the evidence is public and open to any Members who wish to consult it—that the minutes were of a very perfunctory character, and that no record was made of the Grants which were actually refused.
§ Mr. HOARE
In the evidence given before the Civil Service Commission, which has been published. It also appeared that the minutes were being kept on loose sheets of paper, and not in a book. That makes me wonder whether the Road Board as at present constituted and managed is really strong enough to carry out its very important duties. I am most anxious that it should be placed at once in a position in which it can carry out those duties. I regard its constitution in many ways as a good one, but, at the same time, the events of the last year have shown, and I hope I have given some evidence to support my conclusion, that it is not capable as at present constituted, with its present staff and with its present methods of carrying on business, of dealing with the demands from 1,900 different local authorities. I venture to suggest it should adopt the methods which have been adopted by the Development Commission, which, in some respects, is a kindred body, and should act much more in connection with the greater Government offices. The Development Commission, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, is acting in very close connection with the Board of Agriculture, and the Road Board would be well advised in its administration to act in much closer connection with the President of the Local Government Board, and thus bring 2397 this great and important public service into line with the other great public services which are being administered by the great offices of State. I would suggest, further, that now we have had three years' experience of this office—the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it was experimental in its constitution—that he would be well advised to a appoint a small Committee, quite a friendly committee—I have no wish to make a bitter criticism against the administration of the Board—to see in what way its constitution can be strengthened and the difficulties I have put forward can be met. With that end in view, I beg to move the reduction.
§ Sir EDWIN CORNWALL
We are indebted to the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Hoare) for bringing this matter forward. With a good deal of what he has said we must all agree. We appreciate that he has gone into the figures in detail of the administration of the Road Board and its funds with a good deal of care. I agree with him as to the unsatisfactory method which this House has of reviewing the administration of this huge fund. We have to do it in the midst of a busy Session, when we are winding up the work of a heavy Session, and by moving the reduction of the salary of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is a very clumsy and unsuitable way of dealing with a subject in which many of us who are interested in local government, whether in urban or rural districts, take the greatest interest. The hon. Member for Chelsea suggested that some Committee might be appointed. If Parliament is to have any review of the administration of the Road Board, it can only be done satisfactorily round a table in a discussion as to what the Parliamentary or the national outlook with regard to its work should be. Personally, I am not very fond of these quasi authorities which Parliament sets up, and only appreciate two forms of government—central and local. Anything that Parliament does by placing some other authorities between the central and the local authorities of the country will never be satisfactory. Local authorities have great responsibilities with regard to local matters, county councils have great responsibilities in regard to main roads and other matters, and I for one will always be prepared as a Member of this House to strengthen and support local authorities rather than to leave them to make applications to a body such as the present Road Board. Looking through the 2398 Report, it seems that the Road Board has been making Grants in the way one might expect. I was a member of the London County Council for many years, and we had practically the same kind of work to do. The London County Council had to consider the street improvements of London. There was the central fund and the local fund. In some cases the London County Council would receive applications from local authorities for assistance in carrying out improvements. They would in some cases treat the improvement as wholly metropolitan, in others as partly metropolitan and partly local, and in others, refuse to give a grant because they said the improvement was purely local. The case of the Holborn and the Strand improvement was treated as metropolitan, while the Westminster improvement was treated as wholly local.
The Road Board treats these matters on the same lines. They have had applications from different parts of the country, and, if they take the view that it is a national improvement, they give a greater Grant, but where it is purely local they decline to give the Grant. Looking through the Grants they have made, one is bound to realise how little can be done when you spread the amount over the whole country. No doubt the Grants which appear in the Report have helped local authorities to some extent. I agree with the hon. Member for Chelsea that the roads of the country are a good deal better than they were, but how far that is due to the Grants the Road Board have been able to make to local authorities it is difficult to say. I imagine the Road Board and the local authorities could easily spend a far greater sum of money on improving the roads of the country than has been spent, is being spent, or is likely to be spent. I doubt very much whether there is any substantial advantage to the country in having the Road Board to administer these Grants. If the county councils or the local authorities had the money, they would be just as competent, and, perhaps, more competent, to spend the money. When one goes through the country he can see how many improvements are necessary even to-day in the rural districts. Those of us who live in London know the terrible problem with regard to street and road improvements in the county of London. We do not want a Road Board to tell us in London what improvements ought to be carried cut. The Metropolitan Board of Works, and after them the county council, have 2399 found that one of the greatest problems before the people of London is the road problem. In spite of the care given to the subject by the Metropolitan Board of Works and the London County Council and the huge sums which have been spent, even to-day we have a tremendous problem with regard to street traffic and the widening of the streets. The streets of London are too narrow and are altogether unsuitable for modern traffic. These are the problems which the London County Council has before it day after day.
I take it that rural districts have problems of their own much on the same lines. I do not know what the Road Board can do by making these little bits of Grants here and there. I doubt if it will have very much real effect upon the great question of national and local roads in this country. I said just now that I preferred national and local control. If the State wants to have an authority like the Road Board, it should take its courage in both hands and take over all the main roads in the country. The small Grants made by the Road Board will not carry us very far. It may be in some instances an impetus to local authorities to carry out improvements which otherwise they would not carry out. On the other hand, it may make some local authorities, who are anxious to keep down the rates, say that they will not carry out an urgent improvement, because, if they let it hang fire. they might get it carried out by the Road Board. I do not think we shall find as time goes on that it is a satisfactory policy to have this quasi-national body in charge of this business, unless it is made responsible for all the main roads of the country, and in the main roads of the country I include the main roads of London. I agree with the hon. Member that the amount of money now in the hands of the Road Board seems rather excessive. There must be many ways in which this money could be advantageously put to immediate use. We all appreciate that the Road Board should proceed cautiously at first, but I think there is room for recognising the need for caution and at the [...]ame time suggesting, as the hon. Member did, that they might be more ready to use the funds at their disposal than they have been, so that many smaller improvements in the roads of the country might have been effected. They show in their Report that, with the amount of Grants made and the 2400 amount indicated, there is only a balance of net receipts and excess of commitments of £90,000, but that is assuming that all the sums they have indicated will be paid within a reasonable time. Of course, these large sums indicated in some instances cannot be spent for a good many years, and that sum of money should not be locked up in investments, but some arrangement should be made in arranging their finance that the money as it will be required in years to come should be available. I do not know exactly how much money is derived from the county of London. The hon. Member gave us some figures of the amount of money received front the Petrol Tax in England and Wales.
§ Sir E. CORNWALL
There is no doubt that London, with its large number of carriage licences and the Petrol Tax, contributes very largely to the Road Board's Fund. I should have thought, off-hand, it would have been more than the hon. Member has mentioned. I cannot quite understand why the Road Board in making their Report have gone to the trouble of paying special attention to the correspondence with the London County Council. They must have had a great many other communications which might have been interesting to the House, but I suppose they think they got the best of it with the London County Council. I do not think they have at all got the best of it. I think the Road Board have shown haw unqualified they are to really deal with this question in a place like London. They may be quite competent to deal with small improvements in country roads, cutting down a hedge here, cutting off a corner somewhere else, or putting a road crust in some other part of the country to prevent dust, but when it comes to the question of London this correspondence shows that the Road Board are entirely at a loss to know how to deal with these questions. They begin by making a suggestion to the London County Council that a new road should be made from Kensington right away through Hammersmith and Chiswick and Brentford, and so on. No doubt it would be a very good thing to have that new road or to have half a dozen new roads out of London But the London County Council and the Metropolitan borough councils have been confronted with urgent improvements for many years which they consider to be of far greater importance and urgency than this new 2401 road. It is not sufficient to say, is not the new road a good proposal. Of course it is, but if there are hundreds of other good proposals which have had to be set down for years because there has been no money available for carrying them out, what right has the Road Board to come along and say, "To show how reasonable we are with the London County Council we are prepared to make a Grant of £800,000 for the outside parts of London, and inside the county have one great new road." When the London County Council considered that matter very courteously and pointed out to the Road Board that there were other urgent improvements which in their opinion should be carried out before the new road was constructed, the Road Board did not meet the views of the county council, but they rode off and said that the county council were taking a local view of the matter and that it was not the business of the Road Board to assist in local improvements. What nonsense to take up that position. The London County Council does not consider local improvements. It is only when an improvement in London is a Metropolitan improvement that it is considered by the London County Council. When it is a local improvement it is considered by the borough councils. The mere fact that these improvements were being considered by the London County Council proved that they had met the position of the Road Board, and I submit that the Road Board had no right to decline to make a contribution for Metropolitan improvements which the London County Council considered to be urgent merely because the London County Council thought it was not in the public interests that the money should be used for a particular road that the Road Board made up their minds they wanted carried out. Then the Road Board say in one of their paragraphs:—Pending negotiations with the London County Council in regard to the larger scheme originally suggested, the Board refrained from making any Grant to the Metropolitan borough councils or to county borough councils, but when it became evident that the Board would not have to provide, in connection with the London Western approach, so large a sum as they originally offered, they intimated by general circular that they were prepared to make an advance for the work of road construction and improvements to the Metropolitan borough councils.Is there anything more absurd than that? They declined to consider an improvement put forward by the London County Council because the London County Council could not see its way to adopt the new road. The county council put before it other big 2402 Metropolitan improvements in London, but the Road Board refuse, on the ground that it is local, and not sufficiently Metropolitan for them, and then they circularise the Metropolitan borough councils and say, "Because the London County Council will not take money for our main road we are prepared to consider applications from you Metropolitan borough councils to carry out local improvements." That is the result of the correspondence. I am anxious for the Metropolitan borough councils, and I am also anxious for the county of London as a whole. Representing the poor district of Bethnal Green, the more money they can get from the Metropolitan borough councils the better. I can show roads there, and in plenty of other parts of London, which are extremely dangerous to life and limb—narrow roads where motor-bus and other traffic goes through—where it would be a great advantage to the district to have a Grant from the Road Board to the Metropolitan borough council for these improvements. Therefore, I do not object on that ground. What I object to is this unbusinesslike and improper attitude which the Road Board has taken up with regard to the whole question of improvements in London.
London needs all the help it can get with regard to these street improvements. In nearly everything, whether it is in education or whether it is roads, whatever question of national expenditure is being considered where local taxation comes in, London is always looked upon as a rich centre. Its enormous wealth is considered. What can be produced by a ld. in the £ either by taxation or by rating? London is wealthy. Some parts of London are wealthy, but when Members come into the House representing the poorer districts of London, where the rates are 8s., 10s., or 12s. in the £ you have to consider the poorer parts of London, where all these taxes and rates and charges fall, and it is not right for this House merely to take London as a whole and look upon it as a great wealthy capital into whose pocket this House can afford to be always putting his hand and raising money, and can disregard the matter when it is a question of what they can get back. If London was as rich individaully as it appears to be collectively, perhaps it would not matter so much, but it is a very serious matter for poor people in many districts of London. In Fulham it is a very serious thing. Men are being crushed by the heavy taxation and heavy rates in London, and in the 2403 East End of London it is the same thing. Therefore, while we have to take the Report of the Road Board as we have it now for the moment, it is not altogether satisfactory. I do not think it can be made satisfactory, and so far as its attitude towards the London County Council is concerned, I think they have made a great mistake. I believe the local authorities are the better authorities for carrying out this work. I was trained in the school of local government, and I always thought it was the business of the Liberal party to strengthen local government in every possible way, and could do nothing which would weaken it, and to set nothing up between the local authorities and Parliament, and that is the position I hold today, and I think that is our business, and while I welcome anything which can be done either by the Road Board or by any other means to assist local authority, the safest course is to strengthen local authority. The Road Board may be doing useful work, but it is doing a work which the local authorities could do equally well, and in many districts I believe it could do it a great deal better.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
The hon. Gentleman agrees with us on this side in thinking this is the most clumsy way possible of criticising a great Department. It spends £1,200,000 a year of national taxes drawn from the people, and yet the only way they have of criticising the head of that Department, who cannot be here, is by moving a reduction of the salary of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We do on many occasions want to get at the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it is not the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we are criticising to-day. It is the Chairman of the Road Board, the one salaried Member. I always deal very gently and mercifully with people who do a great deal of public work, and are not paid for it, but when people are paid for it they must expect the full flood-tide of public criticism on their conduct, and that criticism, of course, ought to be always acknowledging that they are doing their best and that their intentions are excellent, however much we may criticise their practice. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer might really well consider whether he cannot devise some better means by which the House of Commons should be able to check and control and criticise such an enormous amount of the public expenditure of this country raised by taxation, because at the present 2404 time the only way we have of criticising this large expenditure is by putting down this absurd Motion for the reduction of the salary of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would like to criticise many things to-day in connection with the Treasury, but, if I did so, we might only get a fragment of time for discussing this very important matter. I wish to call the attention of the House of Commons and the country to this example of the entire loss of control over expenditure by the Government itself, as well as by the House of Commons. It is the greatest departure, to my mind, that has ever been made from the thoroughly sound principle that every Department that spends public money should be open to public criticism by this House.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not see that that can be made operative without an alteration of the Act, and we cannot discuss legislation on this Vote.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do not know whether I may be permitted to say that it was really owing to the pressure put upon us from the Opposition side of the House that we accepted this form of administering the funds of the Road Board. Originally the form was one in which the Treasury were responsible.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
As I was not a Member of the House of Commons at the time I cannot tell what passed, but I shall accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. If I had been a Member of the House at the time, I should have differed from my hon. Friends, and I should have defended the principle that all public money should be controlled by the House, and particularly that there should be no hoarding up any public money. We all know that every Department must surrender all its balances at the end of every year under Act of Parliament. There is no single Department of the State which is allowed to hoard money for any purpose whatever. I presume we may criticise the Department. I remember the Debate which took place last year, although I did not take part in it myself. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury told us that undoubtedly we were perfectly within our right in raising the questions which were raised that day. He went on to say that he himself was not responsible for the expenditure, and, further, that the House of Commons was itself to blame, because the House had indicated that this great 2405 Department should be allowed to spend its own money, and that the expenditure on any Grants by the Road Board should not be under the control either of the Treasury or anyone responsible to this House. I have looked at the Act of Parliament recently, and I deny that the principle was ever established by the Act that the money expended by the Road Board should not come under the control either of the Treasury or anyone responsible to this House. I do not think you can read that into the Act. I do not think this House, or any future House, ought to be placed under that great restriction in criticising the money expended by the Road Board.
We have listened for an hour and twenty minutes to speeches dealing with the expenditure of the Board, and I presume that I may criticise that expenditure. I wish, first of all, to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Hoare), who made an instructive and lucid speech, in his complaint as to the hoarding of money by the Road Board. That complaint was made last year, and it elicited the very remarkable statement from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that one of the reasons why the Road Board was not spending its money and was putting by so much money was that they were anticipating a period in which there would be a large amount of unemployment in the country. There, again, I do not think they are sufficiently protected in that policy by Section 18 of the Act. That Section gives some indication that they are to look, so far as reasonable and practicable, to the general state and prospects of employment. I deny that that is an Instruction that they are to save £1,000,000 for some time when unemployment may set in. Let us look at where this money comes from. It is derived from national taxation. True, but it is derived entirely from taxes which are of a local character, and which were imposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the object of assisting local authorities in special expenditure on roads. I should say that that was almost the whole and sole idea of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not think he had in his mind any desire to put by a great lump sum of money for the purpose of unemployment. That may have been incidental to the imposition of these taxes, but that was not in any way an Instruction from this House to the Road Board to hoard this immense amount of money for other years when it might be required to meet unemployment. I can show that a large amount of the expenditure which has 2406 already been made by the Road Board is not spent on labour at all. It is spent for improvements in the way of widening street corners, and I doubt very much whether this would be a wise way of providing for unemployment if we desired to do so. But whether that would be so or not, I must criticise the Road Board from the point of view of its hoarding up money, or not spending it as freely as it ought to be spent, looking to the very serious needs of localities, and particularly from the point of view of roads being cut up, as they are in modern times, by motor traffic.
My hon. Friend has given some figures, and I wish to go into them a little more in detail. Let us look at what has been the income of the Road Board and the sources from which it is derived. From whom does it come and to whom and where will it go? The total income of the Road Board for two years ending 31st March, 1912, was £2,184,314. How was that derived? As to £1,292,861, it was derived from the proceeds of the Motor Spirit Duty of 3d. per gallon imposed by the Finance Act of 1909–10; as to £863,537, from the Carriage Licence Duties in excess of the proceeds of 1908–9; and as to £27,916 from interest on investments. I think it is very important that we should remark in respect of this revenue that in all probability the whole of it, certainly that from the Carriage Licence Duties, would have gone to the benefit of local authorities if it had not been taken by this legislation setting up the Road Board. It is very important to observe how the expenditure has been distributed. Up to 31st March, 1912, out of the income of £2,184,314, the amount given in the way of Grants was £517,114, that is to say, they had actually saved £1,667,200, and yet there was urgent need in all directions for these Grants being made. I must complain that we should only on the very morning of this Debate get the Report of the Road Board. It is really unfair to those of us who take an interest in this question, that we should only get it this morning. Up to 31st March, 1913, the income was £3,355,518, and the Grants up to that date amounted to £1,650,147. I know what the right hon. Gentleman has already said on that matter. He said, "Yes, but you must look to the Grants indicated, as well as to the Grants given." What does he mean by "indicated" by the Road Board, and not granted to the road authorities? He 2407 means that they can have this sum distributed if they spend a certain amount of money out of the rates. Some of it may never be granted at all, because the conditions may be too onerous for the local authorities. Sometimes it would put a local authority in an unfair position to say, "We will give you £400,000, if you will raise £400,000."That may be too heavy a burden to cast on many of these poor local authorities to which my hon. Friend has alluded. It is not a complete answer for the right hon. Gentleman to say, "Oh! the Road Board has indicated that they are going to spend their income." My hon. Friend points out that the money will not be spent until a period of years elapses. The money indicated for Grants will go out slowly in the course of years, and while that is going on the revenue will still be coming in. The reservoir is being filled up. It is a fact that the Road Board are hoarding a very large amount of money, which I think in the present exigencies of local authorities ought to be given to them more generously than now in the way of Grants.
I should like to say a few words about the principles of distribution. Are they fair? My hon. Friend has taken the case of London. He said that the road authorities should have more money given to them. The representatives of the road authorities will no doubt make their voices heard, but as a London Member who represents a constituency that contains many poor people I wish to say something on behalf of London. [How MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that hon. Members opposite think that I may say something on behalf of London. After all, the House constitutes the jury, and we can only plead. I certainly would not plead for London unless I thought it was indeed badly treated. I have always thought that, in the matter of the education rate, or the Road Board Grant, you must take into account to a certain extent the wealth of London; but, on the other hand, you must not go to the other extreme and treat London with manifest unfairness and injustice. How is London treated? Taking the Carriage Duty and the Petrol Duty, the total contribution by owners of London motors is certainly not less than £200,000 a year in the London County Council area. We know what it contributes for carriage licences. That item amounts to £70,000 a year. It 2408 is a fair estimate that it contributes something like £140,000 a year through the Motor Spirit Duties. London has contributed £200,000 a year; in three years London has contributed £600,000. What has London had back? Up to 31st March, 1913, the Grants to the London County Council area—and, after all, those are the only Grants which go to the relief of the ratepayer in the London area—the total Grants up to that time were only £23,234. The London area has contributed £600,000, and has got back up to that period only £23,234. Those who reply on behalf of the Road Board will probably point out that the Road Board had offered to give a sum of £875,000 towards the cost of the Western Approach, of which £500,000 would have gone to the London area. That is one of those gifts which poor people cannot accept. It was not a gift which those who are elected to administer the finances of London felt they could possibly accept on behalf of the London ratepayers. There were many reasons why they considered this was not the best way to spend the proportion of the Grant that could be allocated to London, and, if they had agreed to spend that money in that way, the London ratepayers would have been called upon to find a sum of between £500,000 and £800,000. Those responsible for the finances of London have agreed that the ratepayers cannot possibly afford to spend that money for one single improvement in the approaches to London, which would mainly be used by motorists and would not go to the relief of the various localities which have to keep up these roads, put improved crusts upon them, and make other improvements. It is very difficult to get to know the exact principle on which the Road Board distribute Grants. So far as we can ascertain, their principle is distribution by population. I do not think that method of distribution is a fair method. But, even if it were, London on that principle would be entitled to £100,000 a year. But, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, none of us would ever make a claim that a particular area should receive all that that area contributed. But we do say that some account ought to be taken of a very large amount when a very large amount is contributed by an area. You must not say generally that such-and-such an area is wealthy, because you must remember that in such areas there are very many poor parts where the rates are very high.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Will the hon. Member induce the Government to bring in a measure for the purpose?
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Certainly, I will. On the principle of derivation—that is to say, on the principle of distributing according to the locality from which the income is derived—London would be entitled to 20 per cent. of the total income of the Road Board. That would be £200,000 a year. I should not ask for that, nor anything approaching that. Even my hon. Friends representing rural districts will agree that if London has contributed £600,000 she ought to receive back more than £25,000. We shall object to contribute to taxes, by means of licences on motors which are mainly driven in London and by means of Petrol Duty, to make a large fund which in times of unemployment and distress will go solely to the relief of constituencies represented by my hon. Friends from rural districts. London ratepayers will object to that, and the representatives of London on both sides of the House will object to that. We are quite willing to help poor parts, but we are not willing that our own poor should be submerged in the effort to help others. Then there is allocation according to needs. The only way to ascertain that is to look to the expenditure on the roads. If we look to the needs as ascertained by expenditure on roads, we find that the expenditure on roads per head of the population is substantially higher in London than in the provinces. On this basis London would secure 12½ per cent. Thus, on any of these principles, of population, of derivation, or of needs, London is entitled to very much more money than she has received up to the present. We think it a little unfair that London should be treated so in regard to the proportion of the Grant allocated to her. It is not a wise policy to tempt local authorities to spend £300,000 by offering to them something like £100,000. The general effect of the administration of the Road Board has been, not to relieve rates, but to raise rates. In almost every speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made in defence of the Road Board he has talked about the Treasury bounty, and said, "Look at the relief we are giving to the local rates." So far as London is concerned, we have had no relief of rates, 2410 by reason of the policy of the Road Board. There has been some inducement of some of the local authorities to spend their money not always wisely. I think there should be, at all events, some better opportunity afforded to this House of Commons to criticise this enormous expenditure by a Department which is not a Government Department. After all, if it were a Government Department, we should have probably a whole day in Supply for the consideration of the whole of this question relating to this very vast expenditure of money which is derived from national taxes. By discussion in this House we should be able to arrive at some conclusions far more satisfactory than those arrived at by a body which is not subject to the influence of this House, and the head of which does not sit in this House and is not subject to the same criticism to which all Government spending Departments are subject. I hope this House will see that we have not adequate control over the expenditure of the Board. By some kind of conference between the Government and those who take an interest in the question we might arrive at sonic more satisfactory method by which in future we may criticise the policy which underlies the distribution of this enormous amount of money throughout the country.
§ Mr. MUNRO-FERGUSON
If London has been unfortunate in its dealings with the Road Board it has, at all events, done pretty well in this Debate. It is undoubtedly true that there are poor parts in London as well as rich; but if you come to the part of the country for which my hon. Friend for the Wick Burghs speaks, you will have no difficulty in discovering poverty, but you will have some difficulty in discovering wealth. If you take also Caithness or Sutherland, you will find that there is great poverty and that wealth is conspicuous by its absence. A good deal of complaint has been made about the difficulty of discussing this matter. But, after all, debate on a Motion for the reduction of the salary of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a form with which we are familiar, and I do not think there are any difficulties at all of criticising or attacking the Road Board under the procedure we are now following. I am bound to say also that I think the tone of the Debate rather supports the considerations upon which the Road Board and the Development Commissioners were founded. I am the last to deprecate the complaints of local authorities; my interest is more 2411 closely connected with local authorities than with this House. But I think from the discussion we have listened to it is obvious that if the House itself were to distribute these Grants we should have a hideous scramble here, the like of which we have never seen before. The Road Board and the Development Commission are necessary, at all events, to prevent a scramble of that kind. I think in the constitution of the Road Board and the Development Commission great foresight was shown by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and those associated with him in eliminating the control of this money from the daily care of this House. For my part, I think that discussion once a year is probably amply sufficient if these funds are not to be dissipated in a much worse way than I am aware of having occurred under the present control. The complaint has been made of the hoarding of this money. One way in which the local authorities have not shown to advantage is in dealing with the unemployed at the time of industrial distress, arid certainly one of the considerations which most commended the proposals of the Government in respect of the Development Commission and the Road Board to me was the prospect that in times of distress great and useful public work might be carried out to the gain instead of to the loss of the community, and I do not see how that can be done except by this machinery. But t he whole of the money spent by local authorities in times of distress is practically wasted. In fact it has done harm, and it is difficult to stop that useless expenditure, as my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board will bear me out in saying. I think anyone with any experience on that point cannot desire local authorities to spend public money in dealing with unemployment, and I am glad to see that in times of great national prosperity money has been accumulated which might be spent in times of unemployment. With regard to the Board itself, naturally its work has fallen very much into the hands of the paid Chairman, and as regards his salary, which was alluded to, I think the country would be well advised in paying whatever money is required for the best man that can be got for the purpose. I do not know that I should have gathered from the condition of the permanent way of the cinder track of the North Eastern Railway that we should have gone to that quarter to find the highest type of road mending, but, at 2412 the same time the Chairman of the Road Board has certainly done wonders in the way of improving the surface of the roads. I could not congratulate him on the North Eastern Railway, but I can congratulate him on what has been done to improve the surface of the road from the motorist's point of view. That is a point on which I shall have something to say. 1 do not think the attendance on the Road Board seems to be very satisfactory, and undoubtedly the success of any administrative body of this kind will depend entirely on the kind of members put upon it. I do not criticise the Road Board in any way, and I do not recollect who are the members of it, but it is highly desirable that there should be really practical men upon it, practical men who will attend. Representatives of county councils or town councils would be the kind of representation you should have on the Road Board, and if you ask the Associations of County Councils and Town Councils to nominate men or suggest names for a Board of this kind, I believe you would get first-rate practical men in that way, and I cannot understand any practical man being put on the Board who would not attend. I only gather from the non-attendance that practical men have not been put on the Board.
§ Mr. MUNRO-FERGUSON
There are other people in the world you cannot depend upon as well as lawyers. The fact is that the attendance has not been successful, and I think the constitution of the Road Board ought to be overhauled, and that really practical men should be put upon it. You have the motor interest uncommonly well represented on the Road Board, and really the only point of principle on which I should differ from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to this matter is that I think the Road Board has been administered too much from the point of view of the motorist and not enough from the real justification for this policy, and that is the development policy of the Government. After all the result of the operations of the Board has been to put a very heavy increase on the rates, for what we call landward main roads, the country main roads. It has put an increase of rates on these roads much heavier than in the urban districts. If you take an ordinary agricultural estate, the private roads on it over which most of 2413 the haulage has to be done, are kept up by the owner or the tenant. They may be neglected, but at any rate they serve the purpose of conveying agricultural produce, and it is no advantage to be turned for a short space of time on some highly polished road which bears the sixty miles an hour motor traffic. Neither agriculture nor sylviculture, nor the fisheries have been benefiting by the expenditure, and yet they are subjected to greatly increased rates, and this is where I think the policy of the Board has been at fault, and I should like to see money spent, not merely upon purchasing property for improving roads, which seems to me rather a matter for the local authority than the Road Board. Certainly there is no purchasing of property in the Highlands to improve the roads. Instead of spending the money in that way, and on putting a glassy surface on the road, I should like to see it spent in developing the road system of the country in order that the natural resources of the country might be developed. That is the true policy underlying the Road Board as under the Development Commission. The motorists have assumed that, because they pay a Petrol Tax and so forth, all the money should be spent on improving roads for their service, that houses should be pulled down, corners rounded off, and everything done to enable them to travel at a higher speed and with greater comfort, but that is not development policy. Development policy is to increase the facilities for the agricultural and sylvicultural and industrial development of the land. That has been departed from to much too great an extent. I agree with what has been said as to the Road Board being in close connection, like the Development Commission, with various public departments, and I would add also with various associations. I should like to see the Road Board in greater touch with the Local Government Board. It may be in close touch, but at any rate it ought to be in close touch with the Local Government Board. I am not quite sure how far that would benefit my country, where the Local Government Board is not so highly developed an institution as in England, but at any rate it ought to be in close touch with the Local Government Board, and I think also it ought to be in close touch with the Associations of County Councils and Town Councils. That connection would be obtained as I have said if names were suggested for membership of the Road 2414 Board by those authorities. The Development Commission being in close touch with the Board of Agriculture has been of immense use, and we look to the same kind of thing here. It has been said we ought not to go entirely by population in giving these Grants, and there, I agree. I think we ought to go by areas to some extent also. If you compare the Grants to England with the Grants to Scotland, you will find the Grants to England are very large, and owing to the area of Scotland approximating much more closely to that of England than the population of Scotland does to that of England, the burden of the roads becomes proportionately heavier in Scotland, and I think the question of area ought to be taken into consideration, and mileage, as well as population. A great deal has been said about traffic in London. A great deal of the London traffic goes to the Highlands in the autumn of the year, and our main expense in the Highlands has been incurred under the direction of the Road Board in improving the roads for motor traffic. Now I would admit at once that motor traffic does bring a certain amount of material prosperity to the Highlands through visitors, shooting lessees, and so forth, but the real prosperity of the Highlands is based on the products of the soil and the sea, and therefore to that part of the country applies in full force the argument I have used that the policy of the Road Board should not be to improve the roads for motor traffic, but, to improve them for the industrial requirements of the whole community. I have never been able to accept the contention that because the motors pay a tax they are entitled to have the proceeds of that tax administered for their benefit. I believe the proceeds of the tax ought to have been much more largely devoted, as I say, to the improvement of the roads in the interests of the whole community, and not from the point of view of one particular interest which entails such a very large expenditure on the maintenance of the roads of the country.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CHARLES BATHURST
I wish the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) had remained in his place, for I should dearly have liked to have given him a bit of my mind. I agree in the main with what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, but I think he underestimated the value to the country population of the new process of preserving the main roads, 2415 because although it is costly, not only is it in the long run probably by far the most economical method of maintaining the roads, but it has put a stop to what was a serious grievance previously, that of scattering dust on all sides of the roads to the detriment of cottagers, and particularly those who have gardens which they treasure. But I, for my part, join in the protest which has been made from all sides of the House that neither the Development Commissioners nor the Road Board are directly represented in this House. It has always been very difficult to bring our grievances on such administration before this House, and it is more difficult now as regards the Road Board than it was, owing to the lamented death of Sir Charles Rose, who, as a member of the Road Board, has taken part in our discussions in this House, and has given us direct information as to the proceedings of the body of which he was such a distinguished member. I am sorry in this connection that the Government has not thought fit to replace Sir Charles Rose by another Member sitting on the other side of the House. We all know that Lord Montagu of Beaulieu is an ardent motorist, and one who as such is interested in the preservation of the roads, but we have not the privilege of his presence in this House, and therefore we are unable to obtain direct information of what is going on upon that authority. The London representatives may talk as they like, and they are in a large force here to-day, but when all is said and done it is the rich men with their motors and the prosperous tradesmen too, with their motor lorries, coming largely from London and emanating mainly from the towns, who are tearing up the country roads, and as a result putting a quite undue burden on the shoulders of the overburdened country ratepayers. I represent a county which probably suffers to a greater extent than any other from this sort of traffic. I admit that my Highland Friends have a strong case, but at any rate, so far as England is concerned, I do not suppose there is any county which has a poorer population, a larger agricultural area, and a larger mileage of through trunk roads, than Wiltshire has, roads which are used very largely by motorists in search of pleasure; and, as the result, those roads receive quite undue use out of all proportion to local requirements; and as a result of what I think is the unfortunate system of giving Grants from the Roard Board, namely, in 2416 respect of additional expenditure only, a large burden is thrown upon the country ratepayers, But is it not only limited to that class of traffic and I think the more rural Home Counties have cause of complaint in this matter because, as we all know, there are large trading trusts and large stores in London which are sending their heavy motor lorries all round London picking up traffic at 40, 50, or even 60 miles from London, thereby not only depriving local traders of custom that they would otherwise get but imposing an additional burden upon them as ratepayers, and so operating to their detriment in two directions. [HON.MEMBERS. "The railway companies."] I have nothing to say about them; they have put up rates. Then there is the question of the Licence Duties. We who represent rural county councils do object to the system under which far less than our proper share of Licence Duties is returned to us. The present fixed rate was based upon a year which offers no proper comparison, because as a matter of fact the new duties had not been brought into effective operation on the one hand, and the county councils had not set up the machinery for their collection on the other. If they had taken any one of the subsequent years to that on which the fixed amount is based there would have been a larger and fairer sum available for rural councils for the maintenance of the roads.
I want to say a word about the Development Commission, which is placed in a very similar position to the Road Board as regards this House. An hon. Member drew attention to the desirability of practical men who know something about local conditions sitting on these two bodies. Whatever may be said about the Road Board, our grievance in rural districts is even greater with regard to the Development Commission, because although it is true that there is one practical farmer, a small holder in Wales, who does his work admirably, representing the farming community on that body, he sits alone representing that interest for the development of which this Act was mainly passed. He sits alone and has no support when practical questions of agricultural policy are before that body. I am not going to criticise the details of the policy of the Development Commission, but some of us are beginning to feel, and some farmers are beginning to protest, that the schemes now being put forward by the Commission 2417 are not really of a practical character, and are altogether too scientific and theoretical to meet the practical needs of the agricultural community. We have repeatedly made the demand, and I hope the Government are not deaf to our pleadings, that we should have more practical agriculturists among the members of the Commission, and if it is not possible owing to a vacancy occurring to have an additional practical agriculturist, we ask that an occasion may be found for an Amendment of the Act which limits the number to eight and the addition of two more men with a practical knowledge of agriculture and country conditions. The right hon. Gentleman drew attention to the lack of due attendance of the members of these two authorities at meetings of the authorities. If that applies to the Road Board, it applies equally, and perhaps more, to the Development Commission. It is very difficult indeed to get unpaid officials to attend meetings in London, particularly if they come from remote parts of the country. But surely gentlemen ought to be selected to fill these posts who are prepared to give up sufficient of their time to attend to their duties!
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
And as the right hon. Gentleman says, they ought to be turned off if they do not. They are administering enormous sums of public money, and have, as I think, a great deal too much discretion. They dominate the Departments which are supposed to advise them in that respect. They should be carefully selected and should have sufficient leisure to give themselves to their duties. I should like to see the whole of these two bodies entirely reconstituted, and their work brought much more. under the control of this House. I do not know how that can be done, bat I do think that as we are the custodians of public money in this House we ought to have a much larger control than we have at present over these public moneys. I ask, as regards the Development Fund, what other gentlemen have asked as regards the Road Board. What is the reason of this large sum, exceeding £2,000,000, being stored up and not expended on the many purposes for which application is being made from the rural districts? I venture to hope that it is not being treasured for some time, perhaps in the remote future, when unemployment may be considerable in the 2418 country, to be used for uninstructed persons in the country to plant trees with a view to further afforestation. That has been tried by various municipalities and has always proved an absolute failure, and. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of sylviculture, will agree when I say that planting trees requires some expert knowledge, and cannot be carried out by persons who in a normal state of employment are without any specific knowledge whatever of this kind of work. We are told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this sum of money is not going to be continuously invested with the view of only the interest being applied to the objects of the Development Act. If that is so, I want to ask how it is possible for the various Departments, and particularly the Board of Agriculture, to advocate certain schemes, like farm institutes, on the footing that there is always to be a sum coming from the Development Fund for the maintenance of these schemes? The county councils are embarking on these schemes on the footing that there is always going to be money coming for a maintenance fund, and if no more money is going to pass into that fund I think we are entitled to ask whether it is fair to expect local authorities to embark upon these schemes on the promise of a maintenance fund when maintenance money may not be forthcoming, with the result that an additional burden will be thrown on the ratepayers.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I listened with a good deal of sympathy to the plea of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down and another who has addressed the House that there ought to be another method of giving us greater control over expenditure under this Vote. It has been said that the method of to-day is a very clumsy method of criticising the work of the Board, but some of the criticism seems to me not altogether well founded, except that they are general criticisms of the financial methods of this House. After all, we are doing to-day what we do with all other financial expenditure in discussing the expenditure of the Road Board. I wonder how many two or three millions there are for which we do not give one-half or one-quarter day's discussion in this House. There is a Committee which devotes long hours every Session to going over the expenditure of this House and the nation in detail. That Committee reports every Session, but I think three years have now passed since the House found half a day 2419 for a discussion of the report of the Public Accounts Committee, and, therefore, there does seem to be a certain insincerity when Members say that we have not sufficient control over the expenditure of the Road Board, when the House exercises the smallest control over all expenditure.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
No doubt less legislation would give more time for the consideration of finance, but I am afraid the only result would be shorter Sessions and no more time for that consideration. We have the Chancellor of the Exchequer here to-day to defend the expenditure of the Road Board, but that is a course not so satisfactory as if we had a direct representative of the Road Board in this House to defend the expenditure of the Board, and I do appeal to the President of the Local Government Board as a Member of the Government, closely in touch with the Road Board, to consider whether there ought not to be in this House always at least one representative of the Road Board. I do not say necessarily the Chairman, I think probably not. I think to ask that would probably result in our not having in the House the man we should have. It was a great advantage to us when we had Sir Charles Rose who was intimately conversant with all his work, and it is desirable that some Member of this House should be a member of the Road Board.
The course of the Debate has very largely shown the danger of setting up a large fund of this kind to meet public expenditure, local or otherwise. Here you have set aside year by year for the purposes of the Road Board, automatically not voted year by year, a large sum of money. What is the result? This Debate has resolved itself into one in which London and rural Members get up and complain that they have not enough for their respective districts. Three Members I think got up and said that London was extremely badly treated by the Road Board. Perhaps it is because I represent a rural district that I do not agree that London has been badly treated by the Road Board, and if this is going to resolve itself into a Debate of that kind I think we in rural districts have far more reason to complain of the amount of money that has been given to us than has London. That is the worst of a fund of this kind. It is inherent in its very character. It is a 2420 game of grab, because each district tries to get as much as it can for its own particular needs. Complaint has been made that the Road Board has not resulted in the direct and immediate relief of the rates. I venture to say that it was never intended that it should to the direct and immediate relief of the rates. I yield to no man in my belief that there is the greatest possible need for a thorough overhauling of our rating system. I believe you are casting burdens upon our rural districts that ought not to be thrown upon them in regard to services which are national. One of the strongest criticisms I should wish to direct against a Liberal Government is that we have had it in power for eight years, and it has yet done nothing to deal with this most important and pressing problem.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I was not going into the question of the relief of the rates. I do not want to argue it.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
Complaint has been made that the rates have been increased and not relieved by the operations of the Road Board, and I only wanted to say that I do not think the Road Board was intended to relieve the rates. I think it was rather intended to supplement the work which has been done, and is being done out of the rates; to do work which could not be done at the cost of the rates, which were overburdened by the work already cast upon them. What everyone was conscious of in view of the condition of the country districts and the needs of the roads was that these roads would not be attended to, and could not be attended to, under existing circumstances. Therefore, this fund was provided by this House, I believe, largely to do work which would not be met out of the expenditure from the rates. It has been complained against the Road Board that they have been exceedingly parsimonious in their expenditure. They have two defences to put forward in regard to that matter. Personally I am not inclined to criticise the Road Board for having gone rather slowly at first. After all, they have not been long appointed. They have not had a long experience. I think they have done wisely in not starting off by spending or promising to spend every penny that possibly they could, but rather have gone slowly 2421 and felt their way. I do not think that we shall in the long run regret that they did not straight away plunge into as many schemes as they might have done, but rather took time to consider rather carefully the steps they could take. I would emphasise a point that has already been mentioned, that since the Road Board came into existence we have been in the enjoyment of a period of good trade throughout the country. It certainly was the intention of the House—for I remember the Debates well—in founding the fund for development that there should be a certain "holding up," if it could be done without injury to what I might call the development schemes, in order to do good later on when there was less employment. They then might come forward with the necessary schemes which they had been planning and put the work at the disposal of those men who were unemployed, and the men could be set to do it without delay; so periods of distress might be more or less dealt with. I think in every way, therefore, it is most important in the expenditure of this money not to lose sight of that object, which is by no means a secondary object, but one of the primary objects of this development of our national resources.
That brings me to another criticism which has been made in the method of allocating the money between the different districts. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leith Burghs touched there, again, upon an exact point of this fund. It goes hand in hand with the Development Fund. The whole object of the Road Board is to develop the idea. If we bear that in mind I think we will see that it is not population, or area, or any mechanical criterion of that kind which has to govern the expenditure. It is really not in the difference in locality, as to whether a rural district is poor or rich, or has a small population, or wide areas, or crowded areas; the real test which the Road Board has to propound to itself is whether the work and expenditure is needful and will be beneficial, and would not, under present circumstances, be done unless the Road Board came forward with a sum of money to do it. It is for that reason that you want an expert Board to consider carefully beforehand all these schemes which may be put forward, and decide, not on population or area, but merely on the needs and the merits of the schemes themselves. One other complaint, I believe, is made, and that is that the Road Board have not conferred enough with 2422 my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board. I am sure that is a very serious charge to bring against any Government Department. I certainly join in saying that they should confer as much as possible with my right hon. Friend. They will get nothing but good advice from him. It is well to watch this fund. It is a very dangerous thing to see a large sum of money being spent which is outside the ordinary course of our financial procedure and is not on the annual Estimates. The House should watch it closely. I think, however, provided we get our day every year to discuss this particular Vote, there will be less reason to criticise this expenditure, though there is a great deal of expenditure that we might look into.
§ Mr. CLANCY
If the discussion which has taken place on the administration of the Road Board on this Vote is quite proper, I think it is quite proper to discuss also the question of the administration of the Development Commission. In each case the Board makes a recommendation, and no money can pass and no Grant can be made unless the Treasury sanctions the recommedation. The hon. Member for the Wilton Division, I think, said it was hard to discover the principle upon which the Road Board acted in recommending Grants. I think it is still more difficult to abstract from the statement made on behalf of the Development Commissioners the principle upon which that body acts in the administration of the funds at its disposal. I myself have asked several questions in regard to one particular case. I mention this by way of illustration. My right hon. Friend the Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture in Ireland is, I think, acquainted with the fact which I am about to refer to. I would invite his attention, as well as that of hon. Members who usually speak on behalf of the two Boards. Earlier this year I asked a question as to the amount of money which it had been proposed to spend out of the funds of the Development Commission on Scotland and Ireland respectively. I asked whether it was not a fact that whereas only £50,000 had been recommended for Ireland, £100,000 had been recommended for Scotland. I pointed out that the disproportion needed explanation. The answer that I got was that I had not stated the total amount which it was contemplated to spend in Ireland, and that £50,000 had been recommended, for the congested districts of Ireland, in addition to the 2423 £50,000 which I had mentioned. The first remark I have to make on that is that a very curious phrase was used in making that answer. That phrase throws a good deal of light upon the methods of the Commission. The answer spoke of a contemplated advance of £50,000. Having spoken of that contemplated advance the Commissioners proceeded to ask for schemes in accordance with which the amount might be distributed and expended. It is a very curious thing that this body should have first to figure out for themselves what they were going to spend upon Ireland, and that until after they had determined the amount in their own minds, they should not call for evidence as to whether that amount, or a less or greater amount, was necessary. Apparently what is done is for the Commissioners to sit round a table and settle the amounts, £50,000 for Ireland; £100,000 for Scotland; and £500,000 far England; and then decide to make investigations and see whether or not they should spend the £50,000 in the one case, the £100,000 in the other, and the £500,000 in the last. It is an absolutely absurd way of going to work. It is violating the provisions of the Act. It certainly is contrary to the intentions of the House of Commons, and to those of the Minister who proposed the Act under which this money is distributed. I most certainly protest against any such method of distributing the money. I speak with great humility, because I have no more experience now than the gentlemen concerned had when they were appointed, but it would appear to me that what ought to have been done was to make inquiries before anything was done. Schemes should have been asked for.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present—
§ Mr. CLANCY
I was saying that the method the Development Commissioners ought to pursue is, first, to make inquiries, and, in the next place, to ask for schemes. After they had got the information and the groundwork for their method of distribution, they should then come to the conclusion as to the recommendation they will make as to the total sum. They seem to have pursued the opposite course. To me it wears an ugly look. In the next place, I should like to know to-day if any 2424 Minister is able to give information as to what amount of money has actually been expended in Ireland by the Development Commission, and what has actually been expended in England and Scotland. It is not very easy at any time to extract this information from the public documents of the Commission, because what is true at one moment becomes, as it were, untrue a month afterwards, and so on. And, therefore, it is almost impossible at any particular time to determine what money has actually been expended, and in this particular case I greatly doubt if the £50,000 promised to the Congested Districts Board has ever been expended, at any rate in its entirety, and, if it has not been entirely expended, I would like to know how much was. I should like to know also whether the £50,000 promised to the rest of Ireland has ever been expended, and, if some of that £50,000 has been expended, then how much? Unless we are told at some particular time the exact facts a false impression will be created. I may say on this point I fully expect that the answer will be made that Ireland is getting her share, and perhaps more than her share. If that answer be made, I would like to say in advance that, according to the doctrine laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, the proportion which Ireland ought to get is not to be regulated by the size of Ireland, or by its population, but by the needs of the country, and in this respect I should like to read a passage from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in advocating this Bill in 1909. On the 6th September, 1909, the right hon. Gentleman said:—The landlords have not taken advantage of information of that kind. I believe gradually that confidence is given, and if there is really a systematic effort made from outside to organise co-operation. I believe this country will begin to realise that the only way of competing with other countries like Denmark and Belgium and Brittany, is by such a system of co-operation, coupled with great improvements in the transportation arrangements of this country. I have had to deal with these matters at the Board of Trade, and with regard to light railways, for instance, there are several parts of the country where light railways are needed, but where there is no rich man to undertake the work. The landlords may be poor and the tenant farmers cannot find the money and there is no great capitalist to come forward with money for the purposes of development. It is just as essential for the development of these districts as making a road. The community never asks when money is raised for a road whether it is going to pay 1, 2, 3, or 4 per cent. They see it is necessary for the opening up of that part of the country and to provide facilities there, and the same thing applies to other forms of transport that will enable people to bring their goods into the market, and for that reason T put in the forefront of the Bill the improvement of transport for the poorer and more thinly populated parts of the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th September, 1909 col. 868–9, Vol. X]2425 That is the answer which I would give to any statement that may be made in reply to what I am saying. The right hon. Gentleman opposite pointed to Ireland as getting so much, or more than she is entitled to. The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the ground upon which he, advocated this particular proposal, was furnished by the case of thinly-populated places, of which there are many in different parts of Ireland; and it seems to me that, not only the Development Commission, but the Government itself, who have control over the Commission, or at any rate over its Grants, ought to have taken steps to see that wherever possible the case put by the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be borne in mind in the distribution of this money. As far as I can see that has never been borne in mind either by the Commission or by the Government, and I strongly protest against such dereliction of duty on the part of both. I want to give another illustration of the methods of the Development Commission. Everyone naturally deals with matters in his own constituency, and therefore I do not make any apology for pursuing a practice which is quite habitual. The case which I am about to mention is rather remarkable in itself. Skerries is a harbour in the county of Dublin, on the East coast of Ireland, and amongst other recommendations made by the Department of Agriculture in Ireland, was one that £11,000 should be spent upon the improvement of this harbour, and the recommendation was made in these words:—The Department's recommendation was made on the ground that Skerries afforded a favourable site for the further development of the herring and other fisheries.Here was a recommendation perfectly independent of Skerries' opinion, perfectly independent of the representativs of the county of Dublin specially concerned with this matter. The Department of Agriculture in Ireland has a branch called the fisheries branch. This branch, presumably investigated the claims of Skerries, and did not act, I am sure, without information. I happen to have the pleasure of knowing some of the officials of the fisheries branch.
§ Mr. T. W. RUSSELL (Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, Ireland)
As a matter of fact, the Board of Agriculture is the fishery authority for Ireland.
§ Mr. CLANCY
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend; it is the fishery authority for Ireland, and I was going on to say that the persons who constitute this particular 2426 branch of his Department are men of great experience and have devoted themselves in a whole-hearted way to the discharge of their duties; in fact, they are among the very few officials of the British Government in Ireland who have the popular confidence. It might be supposed that after this recommendation the Development Commission would lend a favourable ear to it, or, if they did not lend a favourable ear to it, that they would take steps to hold a formal investigation, and would have evidence and witnesses produced before them before coming to a decision to refuse. What did they do? They held no local investigation. One member of the Commission, I think the vice-chairman, and the secretary, who, it appears to me, ought to have been kept to his stool in the Department here in London, for which he is paid, visited Skerries. They gave no notice whatever of their intention to visit Skerries. I have asked questions again and again on the subject, and I have never been able to discover the truth or, at least, the whole truth. I have not been able to find out whether they ever asked a single human being living in the locality whether this thing was true of Skerries or not. I have consulted people of various classes and creeds in Skerries and no one was ever able to tell me that these people were seen there. No one ever saw them so far as I know, and what they did in the way of investigation is of course entirely beyond the knowledge of the local people. After this investigation I asked questions in this House as to whether the investigation had been made, or whether an investigation would now be held if none were held before. I was told they did not see the use of any further investigation. Just imagine two gentlemen of this sort—I do not know whether either of them was ever in Ireland before; I am quite sure neither of them was ever in Skerries before—treating this case in this contemptuous way in face of the recommendation of a Government Department as high as themselves and having quite as important duties to discharge As I said, I asked some questions in this House on this matter, and I was told this—and this is a matter to which I direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman—that they acted not upon any information they got upon the spot, but upon something or other which a member of the staff of the right hon. Gentleman's Department had told them, or upon some document which had been 2427 presented to them by the Board of Agriculture in Dublin. Beyond that, I have never been able to get any information whatever as to the ground upon which they acted. I do protest it is a pity that they should not have been more frank in this matter. If they have taken this course of coming to a decision without any investigation, without taking any evidence upon the spot, they ought at least tell us frankly that they did so, and that they had good reason for doing so, and they ought to mention the reason. I do not like to attribute any unworthy motives to those gentlemen. I suppose they had no design upon Skerries, but what strikes me about it is this, that what has happened in Skerries may have happened elsewhere in Ireland.
The Skerries case may be typical, and that may be the explanation of many other cases in which claims for this money have been made and refused by the Commission. If so, that is a serious thing, and as long as 1 have a seat in this House I will try and worry out the truth and expose them. As to this harbour at Skerries, it is a fine natural harbour, and the only thing against it is that it has not many fishermen in it. It was said on behalf of the Commission that the value of the fish caught and landed there was a particularly small sum. These are matters which ought to have been investigated, because the allegation of the Commission on both these points has been denied by the local people, I believe, in the presence of the right hon Gentleman himself. It is a curious ground to take this because this harbour is capable of being greatly improved it has not to be improved to the end of time. I do not understand the high attitude taken up by the Commission in regard to these matters. With regard to this subject of the Skerries harbour, I asked whether or not the Irish Member of the Commission agreed with the conclusions at which they had arrived, and I was told that the Commissioners acted in their collective capacity, and they would not say whether the Irish Member of the Commission took any side on the question or what side he took. I have often thought that it would have been a far better thing if the Irish Member of the Commission had resigned his post altogether, and then the responsibility would have been left to the majority of his English colleagues. I do not wish to attribute any unworthy motive to the Commission, but I should 2428 like to have an answer to the statements which I have made. If no assurance can be given that in future another line will be adopted more satisfactory to the public in Ireland, all I can say is that we shall have to see it out here in this House.
§ Sir THOMAS ESMONDE
My hon. Friend has travelled over very wide ground, but I wish to say a few words upon the question of this Vote. It is the universal opinion in Ireland that something must be done to make these Commissioners do something. They have been appointed four years, and up to the present moment they have absolutely nothing whatever to show for their operations.
§ Mr. RUSSELL dissented.
§ Sir T. ESMONDE
The right hon. Gentleman opposite shakes his head, but as far as I know these Commissioners have done nothing whatever, and I think we ought to take some steps to make this Development Act operative in Ireland, so as to show some return for the money we have spent in supporting the Commission. We are in a difficulty with regard to these Commissioners. I can remember that the discussion that took place in this House when they were first appointed, and it was said that they were to be left, more or less, in an independent position, and were not to be subject to political control. I have no objection to this body being independent provided they do something, but I wish to see some return for our money. One hon. Member has suggested that it would be a good thing to appoint some practical person as a Member of this Commission. I understand the basis of this Commission is that most of the people who serve on it do so for honour and glory, and you will not get a practical man to serve for honour and glory. Something ought to be done to get these Commissioners to work. I think the Act admits of some amendment. The first Clause tells us how these Commissioners are to operate. It informs us of the many things the Commissioners may do, how they may encourage farming, develop industries, and improve harbours. When the Commission was first proposed I was anxious that some of these things should be done, but nothing has been done. Under the first Clause the Commissioners are empowered to make Grants to certain bodies who are qualified to receive them on the recommendation of the Government Department. I have the greatest regard for the right hon. Gentle- 2429 man opposite, and for his Department, with which I have been associated for a great many years. I may say, however, that there are forty or fifty other Boards in Ireland mostly occupied in fighting amongst themselves, and the only Department which makes any practical suggestion is the one which the right hon. Gentleman opposite represents. If that is not so, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will mention another.
§ Sir T. ESMONDE
That only deals with certain parts of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman is a most efficient public servant, but he cannot do everything. My objection to the whole of the proceedings of these Commissioners is the utter disregard that is shown to local Irish opinion, and they do not seem to care two straws what the people in the locality want, no matter what requests are made to them or how many resolutions are passed. No matter how many days, weeks, or months are spent in agitating for reforms, nothing happens, and somebody stops the Commissioners from acting, and all our energy and agitation comes to nothing. Really, some steps ought to be, taken to make these Commissioners act in a more popular way and pay some regard to popular opinion. It is impossible to realise upon what principle these gentlemen act, and what Grants they have made for the improvement of Irish farming. We were unable to get a Grant for the harbour of Skerries. I am in the same position as my hon. Friend in regard to other harbours, with this difference, that my hon. Friend the Member for North Dublin has had the advantage of an investigation.
§ Sir T. ESMONDE
The Commissioners have not made an investigation in any of the cases 1 have brought forward. We are going to have a long holiday, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will come over to Ireland and allow us to show him some of these harbours. There is another burning question, and that is tobacco, and I hope when the right hon. Gentleman gets up he will tell us something about tobacco growing in Ireland. I want to know on what principle the Commissioners have made a Grant for the cultivation of Irish tobacco. The right hon. Gentleman has been telling us for the past six months something about a Grant of £75,000, but 2430 this announcement has come to us like an aurora borealis. What we want to know is when the money is coming and how it is going to be spent. There is a good time coming, possibly next year, and then we shall have all these Departments in our own hands, but meanwhile we may be able to get something out of this Grant. We are discussing this question under very great difficulties, because there is nobody here we can really attack. I should like to attack the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but I will not do so because he appears too lonely sitting on that bench by himself. The Treasury is the evil genius in all these questions, and under Clause 4 of this Act it is provided that nothing can be done without the sanction of the Treasury. Something ought to be done to make us a little less dependent upon these ubiquitous Treasury officials who are to be found in every part of our body politic.
Attention called to the fact that forty-Members were not present.
§ Sir T. ESMONDE
I would suggest that some account be taken by these Commissioners of Irish local opinion, and when, requests are made to them some answer should be given to those who make them, and they should be told on what grounds their applications are refused. Some method should be found of making the Commissioners carry out the provisions of this Act. I believe the Treasury has millions of pounds tied up, and I would suggest, when we come to this House in regard to these matters, that some of the money should be spent. It is not fair to the ratepayers, and an endeavour should be made by the various departments to see that our constituents get some return for their money.
§ Mr. RUSSELL
I shall endeavour to, answer as far as possible the questions which have been put to me. I am sorry that the hon. Member for North Dublin (Mr. Clancy) is not in his place, because he has made several specific charges against the Department to which there is a bonâ fide answer. The first thing to be borne in mind is that there is only one Irish representative on this Commission, and see that notice of a Bill has been given by an hon. Member opposite to add to the number of the Commissioners. The Bill is 2431 introduced by a private Member, but I certainly hope that he will endeavour to find time for it, because it is a most serious matter in connection with this work that there is only one Irish representative on the Commission. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dublin stated that there had been a proposal to grant £50,000 for Irish fisheries. I must say that is not the case. There was a proposal to give £50,000 to the Department of Agriculture in Ireland for this purpose, but there was also a proposal to give £50,000 to the Congested Districts Board for fishery work; so that the Grant to Ireland really amounts to £100,000, and not £50,000. It is only fair that that should be known. Let me tell the House the history of this £50,000 promised to the Department. I have no control over the Development Commissioners, but they have a good deal of control over the Department. I will tell the plain story of what has taken place in regard to fisheries, and to the £50,000 for which my Department has responsibility. The Development Commissioners expressed the intention of granting £50,000 to the Department, and they requested that the Department should draw up a scheme which could be discussed and investigated.
The Department was very willing and even anxious to give all the assistance they could, and, as a result of their request, we submitted to the Development Commissioners a scheme which involved the spending of something like £50,000 on three harbours on the East coast of Ireland. The West is more in the hands of the Congested Districts Board. These places were Helvick, in Waterford; Kilkeel, in county Down; and Skerries, in county Dublin. The scheme has been cut down, and Skerries has been cut out of it. A deputation from the Commissioners visited Ireland, and examined those places for themselves. We were told that they were experts. I rather think they were not; at all events, they were spending money, and they had the right to come and see how the money was to be spent. They came and saw those places, and made their arrangements. They accepted Helvick, in Waterford, and Kilkeel, in county Down, but they rejected Skerries. The Department's view of Skerries was that it was an old centre of the fishing industry, and we thought it could be revived. We thought, in addition, that there was urgent neces- 2432 sity for a harbour of refuge for fishermen, and on those grounds we recommended Skerries as a place where money could be advantageously spent. Skerries was rejected; Helvick and Kilkeel were accepted. Now we are asked, what has been done with the money? Let me say what has taken place—let me tell a plain, unvarnished tale. Our engineer's plans for Helvick and Kilkeel were sanctioned by the Development Commissioners. They were not only sanctioned by the Development Commissioners, but by the Treasury, and that sanction, of course, authorised us to proceed with the work. We had been at work at Helvick for some time, an engineer had been appointed, and a large number of labouring men employed, when we were called upon by the Development Commissioners to stop the work. That was after Treasury sanction had been given, and the Development Commissioners themselves had given their sanction. It is not right that the Department should be asked, "What are you doing?" Complaint has been made that the House of Commons can get no information. I am going to give the information, at all events.
§ Sir T. ESMONDE
I was not referring to the Department; I said the Development Commissioners had done nothing.
§ Mr. RUSSELL
When we were called upon to stop the work at Helvick, we protested and said we had engaged a large number of labouring men, that the Department had gone to considerable expense, and that it was very inconvenient to have to dismiss these men and stop the work. The reply we received was that if the thing was not reconsidered they would advise the Treasury to withdraw the Grant. Other engineers were brought in, and the result was that after the loss of very considerable time the Department's original scheme was adopted and was re-sanctioned, both by the Commissioners and by the Treasury, and the work is now far advanced. Hon. Members ask me what has been done? That has been done at Helvick, and these are the kind of difficulties we have had to meet. The Department were not contemplating a naval base at Helvick, but a fishery harbour, and we thought we were right in proceeding on the original lines. We have not gone so far at Kilkeel. There have been disputes between the county council and the fishermen. The fishermen naturally think they know better than the county 2433 council what should be done in harbour work, and I am not quite sure that they are always wrong. At all events, the dispute has gone on, public meetings have been held, the county council has taken one line, the Department has taken another, and in the end the whole of the preliminary work was stopped. The Department's scheme has now been adopted at Kilkeel. These disputes and difficulties take a long time to get settled; you cannot ride roughshod over meetings of fishermen, and you cannot defy county councils. We must go slowly and surely, and both in Helvick and Kilkeel the work is in progress and is being carried out effectively. Coming to Skerries, I have to tell my hon. Friend that I went there myself to investigate matters, and I greatly regret to say that we could not prevail upon the Development Commissioners to allow the work to go on. They asked us to reconsider our policy and to bring in some other place than Skerries. The Development Commissioners were perfectly frank about it, and the real truth is that they have not very much sympathy with these small fishing communities. They desire that the fishing industry should be done from large centres. Therefore, so far as the fishing industry was concerned, we were compelled to recast our plans and leave Skerries out. We have, I am glad to say, been able to get the Development Commissioners? to add £2,500 for a small dredger, and my hon. Friend will know how valuable that will be in his own constituency. I will take the case of forestry as another sample of the difficulties that beset us. The question of forestry in Ireland is an urgent one, and as soon as I took up office I appointed a Departmental Committee, and they sat -and reported within eighteen months.
§ Mr. RUSSELL
Yes, probably less. The scheme attracted a good real of attention and a good deal of support. That is probably four or five years ago, and I can understand the impatience of hon. Members, and why they ask me questions day after day and week after week in this House. It is entirely right and proper that, this pressure should be applied, but it ought to be applied to the right person. I am only too anxious to carry out the scheme. The Development Commissioners visited Ireland, and, after investigating the question for themselves—
§ Mr. RUSSELL
I think Lord Richard Cavendish, Mr. Vaughan Nash, Mr. H. Jones-Davies, and the Secretary. No body like the Development Commissioners sanctions the expenditure of money in this way without seeing the place for themselves. After four years the Development Commissioners recommended, and the Treasury sanctioned, a loan of £25,000 for the purpose of purchasing land for forestry operations in Ireland. The loan is a very remarkable one. It is a loan without interest for thirty years, but, as I explained in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Clare (Mr. William Redmond) yesterday, the receipts from the land, which are already considerable, do not go to the Department and are not expended on forestry work; they are surrendered to the Treasury.
§ Mr. RUSSELL
From grazing rents and timber. I will take a concrete case. We bought an estate, the timber was very valuable, we erected a sawmill, we appointed foresters, and the receipts last year amounted to some hundreds of pounds from the sale of timber. All that goes back to the Treasury under the ordinary rule. It is not a thing invented by the Development Commissioners. It goes back under the ordinary Treasury Rule and is surrendered every year. I have pressed upon the Development Commissioners and the Treasury that whilst this is surrendered according to the rule it ought to be earmarked and spent upon forestry. I have not been able to get their assent to that, but I have certainly used every effort to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Wexford (Sir T. Esmonde) said that there was nothing to show, but -he is entirely wrong. Take the Grant of £10,000 a year for horse breeding. That Grant has been very useful. It was most cheerfully given, and it has been an enormous help to horse breeding. There are a great many Grants which the Development Commissioners give which are extremely useful to the Department of Agriculture and to Ireland. I have often chafed at the control the Development Commissioners, a body not familiar with Ireland, exercise, and I have 2435 often said that I think they might trust us as the Treasury trust us. The Treasury rely upon the Department to spend the money properly, and we have power to act. I believe that Ireland, so far as the amount of the Grant is concerned, has been fairly treated, and that we have got our share of the money, but I do think more freedom ought to be allowed in administration. That is my contribution to the Debate, and it is made after four years of active work in connection with the Commission.
§ Mr. DILLON
I think the statement we have just had from the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture for Ireland has been an exceedingly interesting one. It is well to remember that the Development Commission was set up for the purpose of making Grants towards the development of the resources of Great Britain and Ireland under certain heads, and we certainly understood that the Act creating the Commission had been passed on the understanding that all possible regard would be paid to local opinion. Above all, we were led to understand that, in dealing with agricultural matters, and with harbours and the fishing industry, which are under the control of a Government Department, whether in Ireland or in Great Britain, regard would be had to the opinion of that Department, as well as to the opinions of county councils and other local bodies. But what do we find? During the last two years the Development Commissioners have taken a pride apparently in ignoring and trampling under foot all local opinion, whether it be the opinion of county councils or of local bodies, and certainly in Ireland, at any rate, the opinion of the Government Department in that country in charge of the interests affected. There is one remarkable impression which has been conveyed to the minds of Irish Members by the administration of the Development Commissioners during the last two or three years, and that impression has been more than confirmed by the statement we have just had from the Vice-President. There is a remarkable condition of things —I think a condition quite unparalleled in the previous history of this House, which has emerged from this administration, and it is this: We have a paid staff to which is entrusted the administration of large funds voted by the House of Commons, and there is no Minister responsible for the conduct of that staff 2436 to this House. The only Minister who has taken part in these Debates representing Irish interests has made it perfectly plain in his speech that he has been in conflict with the Development Commissioners and that his Department has been hampered and obstructed by their decision, and, furthermore, that they have openly taken up the position that they need not be guided in the spending of this money by the opinion of the responsible Government Department in Ireland, but that they are a superior body of men, who feel themselves perfectly qualified to set aside the decisions and opinions of the Department and to act upon their own judgment.
That leads me to inquire what justification have they for taking up this position? Who are these Development Commissioners? They are a body of English gentlemen. I remember an occasion when the use of that phrase in this House gave great offence. I could never understand why. But these Commissioners are a body of English gentlemen who are wholly ignorant of the conditions that obtain in Ireland. There are six or seven of them, and only one is an Irishman. Look at the curious position in which we are placed. They are a corporate body. They act together, and we have no means of discovering the opinions of the Irish Member of that body. We have endeavoured in vain to find out whether he agrees in overriding public opinion, but we are met by the information that this is a corporate body, that Commissioners act as a cabinet, and that there must be no investigation as to the opinions of individual members. What we are up against is this: We have this body of English gentlemen residing in this country who have no special knowledge of Ireland, and, so far as I know, the great majority of them, it may be the whole of them, never set foot in Ireland until they were appointed Development Commissioners. Yet these gentlemen come over to Ireland and undertake to decide whether Skerries Harbour is a proper harbour to be made, and to set aside the opinion of responsible officers of a Department established specially to decide these questions. Could anyone possibly imagine a more grotesque illustration of the administration of public money. I was under the impression that these gentlemen who had to do with the administration of whatever share of the money came to Ireland would be guided entirely by Irish opinion, whether voiced by an Irish Department, which is half a 2437 Government Department and half a popular body, or by the Irish county councils. But these gentlemen from the beginning have taken up the position that they are entirely above Irish opinion and that their duty is to treat Irish opinion with absolute contempt and to be guided entirely by their own judgment.
I cannot understand what brought these gentlemen to Ireland at all. The Vice-President said, very politely, that being entrusted with the distribution and expenditure of the money they were perfectly right in coming over to investigate the matter of Skerries Harbour and the condition of the woods and forests on which money is being spent. But he might just as well have said that the Secretary to the Treasury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer should also have investigated the condition of Skerries Harbour because they are charged with the duty of looking after the finances of the country. What makes it, to my mind, more intolerable is that we are placed in this extraordinary position in the House of Commons that we Irish Members have nobody whom we can call to account. I do not think we realised that when the Development Commission was set up. We did not realise what it was going to develop into. We never dreamt that we were going to vote large sums of money to be administered by men who held themselves entirely above criticism and correction by this House. Certainly, whatever may have been the result in Great Britain, the result in Ireland has been intolerable, and, so far as I am concerned, I shall continue to contend, with all the earnestness at my command, that some alteration should be made in the administration of this money which will enable us to criticise effectually the conduct of these men in dealing with the money placed at their disposal. The Vice-President evidently does not approve of their administration. Neither do I—
§ Mr. RUSSELL
I was very guarded in what I said. I want to tell the hon. Member, perfectly frankly, that I cannot buy an acre of land or construct a harbour in Ireland without the consent of these Commissioners.
§ Mr. DILLON
Here we have a grotesque position! Here we have a Government Department of Ireland which has been deliberately set up and organised for the purpose of combining Government responsibility with popular influence, because the right hon. Gentleman is controlled by a 2438 more or less popularly elected body, which is quite different from the Department in this country. He is obliged to stand up at the Table and answer our criticisms by saying that he cannot buy an acre of land or construct a harbour in Ireland without the consent of these five gentlemen who reside in England.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Earlier in the day I pointed out that that was a question with regard to the Act of 1909. I understand the disclaimer of the right hon. Gentleman is that under that Act he has no power.
§ Mr. RUSSELL
No, Sir, I thought I had made myself perfectly clear. It is part of the ordinary administration of the Development Commissioners, which I justified on the grounds that they were spending money. If we desired land for forestry purposes, under the Treasury, we have no difficulty. We select the estates. The Development Commissioners, under their administrative rules, then visit Ireland and decide whether our selection of the land is right or wrong, and they approve or otherwise of it.
§ The CHAIRMAN
In so far as it is a matter of spending the money it would be quite in order, but the fact that they have that power under the Act is a matter that would require legislation to alter.
§ Mr. DILLON
I quite agree. That was not the point of my criticism at all. On the contrary, what I said was that when we were consenting to the Act we never dreamed that this Commission would take up this position. The Treasury could do exactly the same. The Secretary to the Treasury could, if he liked, say to the Department, "Under the Treasury regulations I will not allow you to buy an acre of land or carry out any forestry work or do any portion of your work in Ireland unless my man—some secretary or clerk in the Treasury—goes over and examines the forests to see whether the land is suitable. "That is competent under the present system. It never entered our minds when we supported the Development Commission Act that the Commissioners would adopt a wholly new method and system that is so irrational and indefensible that I do not understand it. We cannot be blamed that we did not anticipate it. It never occurred to us that men would be so 2439 stupid and perverse as to think that they would be properly conducting their trust and carrying out the charge laid upon them by going over and taking out of the hands of the Government Department, especially founded and endowed with large salaries, and with experts around them for this particular purpose, and saying, "Oh, no, we throw aside all your expert and local knowledge. It is true you live in the country and have done this work for years and have experts to carry it out, but we who live in London and who have had no experts to guide us, and have no knowledge of the local circumstances, our wisdom is so great that we can walk over and in twenty-four hours know a great deal more about Ireland and its wants than you who have lived in the country and whose business it is to attend to these matters." No human being would have anticipated that Englishmen would have been such fools as that. Even our long quarrel with the British Treasury never habituated us to expect such treatment as that. We have to go to the Development Commission to find it. I shall not enlarge upon the question any longer. I say it is intolerable. It cannot be allowed to continue, and it will not be allowed to continue, and it is one further proof of the absolute necessity of Home Rule.
§ Mr. MUNRO
We have heard a good deal in the course of this Debate in regard to England, and we have heard a good deal in regard to Ireland. I want, with the permission of the Committee, to direct its attention for a few moments to the question of the policy of the Road Board as applied to Scotland, and, in particular, in regard to the twelve northerly counties in Scotland, with which, in this matter, I am chiefly concerned. The problem with regard to the local authorities in those counties has latterly become a very acute one. At a recent meeting held at Inverness, presided over by Lord Lovat, a strongly-worded resolution in regard to the policy of the Road Board was passed. It is very short, and as it summarises what I want to say I will read it. The resolution says:—That Road Authorities in the North of Scotland deserve special consideration at the hands of the National Road Board in respect of sparse population, long road mileage, high rates, small assessable valuation, the increased cost in the maintenance and the demands for further improvement of roads entailed by outside motor traffic.The last part of the resolution is the important part, namely, the increased cost which these local authorities have to bear 2440 in consequence of the motor traffic from outside. Let me put before the Committee one or two facts in regard to the situation. The roads in these parts of Scotland were, of course, not constructed for the purpose of coping with traffic of that description. They are quite suitable for the purposes for which they were made, but they were not made for the purpose of dealing with heavy motor traffic. They have no bottoming, they are light in their construction, and although quite fitted for their original purposes they have proved to be quite unfit for the purposes to which they are now applied. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the rates have sprung up with extraordinary rapidity in consequence of outside motor traffic. Something has been said about high rates in England in the course of this Debate, but I do not know whether in any English or Irish parish there has been such an extraordinary increase in the rates owing to motor traffic as there has been in Scotland. In many places the road rates have arisen from Is. to over 2s. in the £. I doubt whether in any English or Irish parish you will find the road rate at present as high as 2s. 3d. in the £. In the constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutherlandshire (Mr. Morton), the rate at the present time has risen to that extraordinary figure. In other parts of the North of Scotland, where there is no motor traffic, say the outer islands, the rates have remained practically stationary. Accordingly, it is easy of demonstration that not only have the rates risen, but that the cause of the rise has been the outside motor traffic. In addition to that let me remind the Committee that of that motor traffic which has brought that result, according to censuses which have been taken, about an average of eleven out of twelve of the motor cars do not belong to the residents or the ratepayers in the locality, but come from outside. I think it was Lord Lovat who, in the course of a deputation to the Chairman of the Road Board, said that although one quite recognised that many benefits flowed from motor traffic to the Highlands of Scotland, very often these cars merely pass through, leaving nothing behind them except broken roads and a very strong smell of petrol.
That is the position in which these local authorities in the twelve counties find themselves. It is an intolerable situation that the rates should have more than doubled in consequence of the traffic of 2441 cars from outside, which do not belong to the ratepayers or residents in the locality. It seems a little hard primâ facie that people living in these parts, largely agricultural people, who certainly do not own motors, who in many instances have never been in a motor car, should have their rates raised to that extraordinary extent in order to provide decent roads for motorists who come across the Border for their pleasure and profit. Many of these local authorities will, unless the Road Board gives them money upon less onerous conditions than it is now doing, resort to a policy which has been adopted already in some places of refusing to spend the money tendered on these onerous conditions by the Road Board, letting the roads go down and thereby excluding motor traffic and rendering it impossible in the neighbourhood. That may be justifiable, but it is unfortunate and undesirable if it can be avoided. The strong point I want to make against the policy of administration of the Road Board in these places is that the amount of money which they seem to feel justified in spending is computed according to the wholly fallacious standard of population. In connection with the particular point of motor traffic from outside, it will be very apparent what an entirely delusive standard that is to apply. If you had all the English motor traffic in England and all the Scotch motor traffic in Scotland, I mean English cars restricted to England and Scotch cars restricted to Scotland, the standard might be satisfactory, but when, as is notorious, for three months in the year at least in Scotland, you have the roads overrun with English cars—I am far from saying we are not glad to see them for many reasons—it must be obvious that to suggest population as a standard for distribution is a wholly indefensible and ridiculous proposition. Yet so far as I know, the Road Board has no other standard by which it goes. In fact, the Chairman of the Board told a deputation which I recently attended:—The amount allocated to Scotland had been allocated, more or less, on a population basis. Indeed, we give Scotland perhaps a little more because of the consideration of the many foreign motors using Scotch roads.The point I desire to make is that the standard ought to be the standard not of population but of need, and if that standard were applied in Scotland, and in particular in those Northern counties, they would not have the grievous cause of complaint against the Road Board which undoubtedly they have to-day.
§ Mr. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I agree, to a certain extent, with the suggestion that it might be well if the Development Commissioners paid some greater attention to representations from local opinion in different parts of Ireland in regard to Grants, because, after all, the people in the locality are perhaps better qualified to give information and to form ideas as to local needs than people who come from a distance. At the same time, I do not agree with the violent attack which has been made on the independence of the Development Commissioners. There was an occasion not so very long ago when the Development Commissioners in Ireland exercised that independence in a remarkable degree, and a good deal of the fulminations we have heard from the benches below the Gangway may be traceable to the recollection of that. In regard to the Road Board, I was in the House at the time of its birth, and I have taken considerable interest in its proceedings ever since. I hope, on another occasion, whoever is responsible for the production of the Papers will endeavour to so arrange affairs that we get the Report in our hands a little earlier that the morning of the day on which the Debate is to take place. I do not think that is at all a satisfactory thing to have happened. It not infrequently happens, but it is of such importance, there is so much information and so much that requires very careful reading in the Report, that I hope on another occasion it will be in our hands earlier.
I have heard a good many attacks made, many from my own side of the House, upon the Road Board. I do not know that I can agree that some of these attacks are quite justified. The Road Board has been attacked for its policy of hoarding the money which it has drawn. If that attack were made in two or three years time, there would be a good deal more substance in it than there is now, because the Board was set up primarily, not for the purpose of building new roads, but of improving the existing roads. Our knowledge of the proper way in which to improve road surfaces in this country for the purpose of motor traction is really only a thing which we have had to acquire by experience. A lot of money has been spent by local authorities and a good deal has been spent by the Road Commission which has been spent, as experience has shown us, unnecessarily and unwisely, very largely because people did 2443 not realise in the early days of this problem that it is no use tinkering with the surface of the road crust, but you have to go deeper down and deal with a deeper layer and undertake far larger operations than you bargained for, and unless you are prepared to tackle the problem from the bottom and to face very considerable expenditure, it is really a waste of money to try and tinker with the road surface. We have had to learn all that by experience, and if the Road Board had made all these so-called improvements at the earliest possible moment, a great deal of the money which they now have invested would very probably have been wasted expenditure. But I think we have now got to a stage in the science of road making when we can usefully say that we know more or less how the money ought to be spent, and I hope the policy of hoarding, which has been perfectly properly pursued in the past, will pot be unduly continued, and that a larger proportion of the Grant will in future be made by the Road Board than has been the case in the last two or three years.
I heard a number of my hon. Friends dealing with this question from the point of view of London and the big urban centres. It is very difficult, of course, to find out what sort of standard a body of this kind ought to work to in allocating its Grants. It is perfectly clear that whatever standard you take, at all events population is a wholly delusive and fallacious standard. "But," says the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hayes Fisher), "admitting that, what about taking the standard of the returns for Motor Licence Duties," and he built up a very elaborate case for London which, he said, ought to receive greater Grants because it contributed so much in the way of Motor Licence Duties. That is wholly fallacious, because it overlooks, for instance, the fact that almost every motor car manufacturer and motor worker has agents in London, a very large part of their business is transacted in London, a very large number of their cars are sold in London, and in sonic cases even where the manufacturers have their own works in the provinces the cars come up to London with the manufacturers' mark. They are not really registered until they are bought in London, and they are registered in London, but it is not in London only that they run. They run all over the country, and it is in country areas very largely that a large part of the depreda 2444 tions on the road surface are committed by cars which are registered in London. It is not only motor cars. It is not only by pleasure vehicles and light motor cars that this destruction takes place. It is far greater in the case of industrial motor traffic, and especially in the case of motor omnibuses, and indeed the new system of trackless trolleys of which we shall probably have more in future. Something will have to be done very soon—I cannot say more at present, because that would involve a reference to legislation—to see that this traffic which has such a destructive effect on the road services of the country bears its fair share of replacing those services. I was appalled the other day when I received a prospectus of a new motor-'bus company, out of which a map dropped. That map shows the whole of this country covered with rings radiating from various centres, and showing proposed motor services to cover the whole country. There are twenty different services indicated on the map. If that sort of thing is going to happen, all I can say is that I am extremely sorry for the ratepayers in the country districts. It is bad enough at the present moment, but what it will be if that happens, I cannot imagine.
I wish to refer to the broader aspect of the question. Some of my hon. Friends have pressed for what they call greater Parliamentary control over the Road Board. I think it all depends upon what they mean by greater Parliamentary control. If they mean, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) seemed to suggest, that on almost every Grant made the opinion of this House might be liable to be taken, I say it would be a most unfortunate and disastrous policy. There is only one criterion by which the Road Board can distribute Grants. The criterion of population is a fallacy. The only real criterion is that of need. That implies discretion. Somebody must judge of the need, and if this House is to be asked to sanction every different item of expenditure in every different locality, it would be impossible for a Board like that to carry on, unless it adopted a cut-and-dried system. In every case of a little bit of road patching you would have local pressure put on the Members of this House. I think that would be very unfortunate and regrettable. If that is what they mean by this Parliamentary control, I do not know that I can agree with them. There is a sense in 2445 which you might have greater Parliamentary control over the operations of the Board. Personally, I think it is unfortunate that we have to discuss the operations of the Road Board on the Treasury Vote, and I shall be very glad if some opportunity offers in future years to transfer the responsibility for the Road Board from the Treasury to some other Department. Far be it from me to say which Department it ought to be. I think it might be the Local Government Board, but that is a matter of policy which I cannot go into at present. This much is certain: It would be a very great advantage from the Treasury point of view alone if the control of a great spending Department like this were removed from the sphere of Treasury activity. That opens a wider question. I think this is one of the instances in which this House will have to insist that the control of and the actual responsibility for the spending Department should be taken away from the Treasury and placed in the hands "of some other Department. The Treasury is gradually being driven from the position which it ought to occupy in this House, namely, that of watch dog over the expenditure by other Departments. That has been carried too far already, and I hope that in this particular instance it will not be carried any further, and that when we next discuss the Road Board it will be under the aegis of some other person than the right hon. Gentleman who is now responsible for the operations of the Road Board.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I wish to associate myself with the speech delivered by the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs. His case is exactly the same as mine. We suffer from a real and serious grievance in the North of Scotland in connection with the action of the Road Board. I think there could be nothing more preposterous than a distribution of the Grants of the Road Board on the population basis. In the North of Scotland cars come to us during the summer from the South which have no connection with the locality at all. There are few populous districts, and the ears go into districts where there is no population of any kind. I know districts in my own county where the roads have been destroyed by motor traffic from the South. These roads were constructed for the needs of a simple people. They were constructed so as to allow a farmer or a local proprietor to use a gig going to 2446 church or market. Now we find that for two months in the year more damage is done to those roads by alien cars than would be done by local traffic in years.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I have a grievance against the,Chancellor of the Exchequer in this matter. I certainly understood when he introduced his great Budget in 1909 that local rates were to be relieved considerably by taxes to be imposed for the purpose of road construction. He said in one of his speeches—the hon. Member for the Oswestry Division (Mr. Bridgeman) quoted it last year—We are raising £600,000 to improve roads. All that involves great relief to agricultural land and what is the amount of that relief? I reckoned it up and I am prepared to substantiate the figures. It is a moderate estimate to say that there will be a relief of 4d. in the £ on the rates on agricultural land.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I think my hon. Friend might have pursued the investigation a little further. I also stated, in answer to the speech of the hon. Member for the Oswestry Division, three days afterwards, that when I said 4d. I meant that it would cover also part of the charge for old age pensions and national insurance.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I think my hon. Friend made that remark in his speech too. What has actually happened is this: It is true that we did not expect the whole of the amount so collected to go in alleviation of rates, but we did expect some of it. What conditions do the Road Board lay down for getting a Grant for the construction of new roads in the North of Scotland, or, indeed, in any part of the country? The local authority has to subscribe half of the cost of the roads or of the improvement. In the North of Scotland the rate in some parts is 32s. 3d. in the £. In several parishes the rate is over 28s. in the £. The road rate has gone up in greater proportion than any other local rate. Something should be done to secure a, more just distribution of this large sum which has been gradually increasing during the last few years. I remember my right hon. Friend the Secretary of the Treasury stating that appeals such as this were useless because there was no representative of the Road Board in this House to endorse them. I think that some rule ought to be enforced with regard to this and that we should have some representative of the Road Board sitting in this 2447 House, in order to convey the appeal of hon. Members from all parts of the country to the proper authorities. In approaching the Road Board we are always received civilly and a good deal of kindness has been shown to us in the North of Scotland, but so long as population is the basis of distribution of this kind it will be hopeless to have the roads properly constructed and maintained.
§ Mr. NEWMAN
When the Development and Road Improvement Act was passed in 1909 it was argued against it by some hon. Members on this side that it would have the effect that many Members of this House would become what are called in Australia "roads and bridges men," that is, men returned to try and get something for their constituencies. I do not know whether the prophecy has conic true, but I quite admit that I am going to try to play that game myself. I am not trying so much to get money as to get the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a practical man. I happen to be representative of one of the greater London Divisions. It is through our Division that all the great trunk motor roads come into London, and over these roads thousands of motor cars travel into the Metropolis in the morning and out again in the evening. Until this Act was passed it developed on the local ratepayers to keep those roads in condition, and it was a matter of duty and pride with them that these roads should be well maintained, and they did so. Every year there has been an increasing cost. Business men are more and more coming to live some thirty miles outside London and they motor in in the morning and go back in the evening, and there is an ever increasing problem of motor traffic. Of all the many Clauses of the Budget of 1909 none were so slightly resisted on this side as the Petrol Tax and the motor-car licences. It was felt, and I felt it myself, that if we raised a dust we were going to be fined heavily, and we have been fined heavily. The Petrol Tax costs me £25 a year, and my motor licence also costs me £25 a year; so that these two taxes practically mean giving £1 a week to some man to work on the roads. Up to a short time ago the Road Board did grapple effectively with this increased motor traffic, and the roads that led into London, as the hon. Member for Chelsea said, were practically the best in Europe. I have motored through most capitals of Europe, and up to a short time 2448 ago no roads were as good as those leading into London. Within the last few months a different state of affairs has come about, and I should say now that, with the exception of Stockholm, there is no capital. in Europe in which the main roads leading into it are not in a better condition than are our roads at the present moment.
That is not the fault of the local authorities. They have not stinted money. During the last few years they have been spending money like water on the upkeep of these main roads. In 1890 the cost per mile of these main roads was £49 2s. In 1909 the cost had risen to £107. In 1911 there was a further addition of £15 9s. on rural roads and £16 is. on urban roads. That is a rise of 350 per cent. in twenty-one years. The extension of the tramway system into the country meant the widening and improvement of the main roads, which was done at the expense of the local authorities and at very great cost. I can refer to a concrete example of what was done to a road in the county which I represent. I will not give the name. This particular road was widened to a depth of 32 feet between kerbs and 50 feet over all. It was strongly reconstructed and heavily coated with granite macadam four years ago, when the tramway was laid down. The motor omnibus has come and revolutionised the whole thing. Within the past few weeks a motor bus service has been inaugurated to a part of the district which I represent—quite a rural part. You might imagine when there that you were forty miles from London. Yet you can take a motor omnibus from outside Palace Yard which will carry you for more than twelve miles For the first eight miles the motor omnibus passes over wood pavement, and not very much harm is done except for some wear and tear. But for the last four miles it passes over an ordinary macadam road, which was not meant to bear this heavy traffic. This is a half-hourly service, and. the result is that for the last portion of the route—about a mile—things are so bad that the road surface is torn up by the motor omnibus and men are sent by the motor bus company themselves, not by the local authorities, to put it back with shovels as well as they can. Therefore, we have two problems: The first problem that of private motor traffic, which merely means tarring the roads, widening the roads, and rounding-off corners: and: then we have the problem of the public traffic conducted in motor omnibuses and things of that sort- 2449 These are two distinct problems. The latter part of the problem, the problem of the motor omnibus, divides itself into two parts. If hon. Members were to look up the exact wording of the Road Improvement Funds Act in Section 8 they would find it is as follows: "The Road Board shall have power to make advances to county councils and other highway authorities in respect of the construction of new roads or the improvement of existing roads." So far, so good. Sub-section(5) of Section 8 says: "For the purposes of this part of the Act the expression 'Improvement of roads' includes the widening of any road, the cutting off of corners, the levelling of roads, the treatment of roads to mitigate the nuisance caused by dust, and the doing of any other work beyond ordinary repairs." It is perfectly obvious that where a road has not been treated for any sort of motor traffic before, and where it is something like our main roads going out of London and has never been adapted for motor traffic, there the Road Board ought and does come in to improve the crusts of these roads, and that is very necessary. The state these roads have been reduced to by motor omnibuses has become a bye-word and almost a joke in motoring circles. There is a regular name given to them. The motor omnibus tears the road up into holes, and it looks like a man looks when he has recovered from an attack of small-pox, and has his face marked with holes. The road is reduced to road waves and potholes. That is what the motorists call them, and now smart motor manufacturers have come out with inventions to mitigate the danger caused by travelling over these roadways and potholes. I have in my hand a picture of a motor omnibus travelling over a surface of country which looks like a furrowed field or a rough crossing in the channel. and there is an invention brought out to mitigate that kind of thing. It is obvious that the Road Board ought to deal with that sort of thing. It does not deal with it quickly enough, but it deals with it. Now take the other side of the problem, where a few years ago there was good macadam laid down especially to deal with motor traffic, but not for motor omnibus traffic, and where motor omnibus traffic has come along and cut these roads up. Has the Road Board under the particular Section which I have quoted, Sub-section (5) of Section 8, got the power, if they are applied to by local authorities, to make Grants to the local authorities to put those 2450 roads into repair—those roads which were well repaired a few years ago? As a matter of fact, I have been encouraged by my division to play this game of "grab," and ask if it is not possible for me to represent to the Road Board that they should contribute towards the repair of these roads, which have been damaged by motor omnibuses during the last few months. The problem is a pressing one. The question of motor omnibus traffic must be dealt with. I am very glad myself that the London County Council did not see its way to sanction this great road being driven out of London towards the West I understand the Middlesex County Council are considering the scheme for a road at Hounslow, but if that is so I suggest that we ought to do what is done in Austria, where two or three years ago a great road was built over the Dolomite Mountains. If you want to use that road how much do you have to pay? If you are a motorist and want to go over these passes, using the Dolomite road, you have to pay 18s. in two instalments: you pay 9s. before you start, and then, when you get to the top of the pass, they take another9s. from you. Supposing they did that on the Great Western road, could they not make motorists pay a very heavy toll? Then the Road Board would have more funds to devote to mending these roads which are killed by motor omnibuses, and relieving the heavy charge on the local ratepayers. I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell me if the Road Board has got power to advance money to mend roads which were put in good repair a few years back, but which are now knocked to pieces by motor omnibus traffic.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
We have had a very suggestive and serviceable Debate on the Road Board, and to a certain extent on the Development Commission, but criticism in the main has been confined to the Road Board. I shall, therefore, limit my observations to what has been said about the methods of administration of this fund. Member after Member has reminded the House that the Treasury are only nominally responsible for the administration, and, as a matter of fact, they have only got the power of veto. But that was the deliberate Act of the House itself. The hon. Member for Down, I think, was a member of the Committee; at any rate, I know he took part in the Second Reading Debate of the Bill, and he remembers 2451 perfectly well what happened. There was a good deal of criticism from his side of the House, and I think he contributed to it, from that point of view, as to the expending of considerable sums of money of this character in promoting road improvements and for agricultural and other developments. And one of the criticisms was that it might lead to corruption. That was a criticism, I think, put by two or three hon. Members on that side of the House. It was said that pressure would be brought to bear by individual Members of Parliament, and through them on Ministers to spend money in particular constituencies. They called attention to what was happening in America and Canada and in other countries where pressure was always being brought to bear on Ministers to spend money on railways and roads and in other directions in particular constituencies, and where it was suggested that that was a recognised method of political corruption in those countries. The Government assented to a proposition which, I think, came from the other side of the House, that these Commissions should then assume a judicial character, and that the only power vested in the Ministry would be a power of suggesting and ultimately the power of vetoing. That meant that the Government had no power of allocating the money to any particular district. It could veto a recommendation of these Commissions, but it could not of its own initiative distribute the money which Parliament voted under this Bill. That was the deliberate action of the House. It was the considered action of the House, and I think my hon. Friend below the Gangway was also a member of the Committee and remembers what took place on that occasion. I am not responsible for that as a Minister. The only function I have is the function of vetoing. It is true I can convey to the Road Board and the Development. Commission the views expressed by hon. Members to-day, and also communicate to them the view which I have formed after listening to the Debate. But I cannot go beyond that unless Parliament deliberately determines to alter the character of the Commission itself, and although I am not entitled to go into the merits I may be allowed to say this, that I hope before the House of Commons comes to that conclusion it will consider very seriously whether it is wise to do so. It is a very grave departure, and may be the beginning of something 2452 which the House of Commons would regret. At any rate, I hope it will not be done merely as the result of a single debate, but only after mature consideration.
Having said so much, I would like to say a word about the Department which at the present moment is nominally responsible for the administration of these funds. There again I am not at all sure Parliament has not taken a wise course. Here the Treasury is not a spending Department. The money is fixed in the case of the Road Board by the revenue derived from certain sources, and therefore it is not to that extent a spending Department. We are purely a vetoing Department here as in the case of every other Department of the Government, and there is no other Department I know of which would cover the whole ground unless you are prepared to follow the suggestions of the hon. Member for Mayo that you should distribute the sums nationally. If you distribute them nationally you can then hand them over to the Local Government Board in each country, but so long as they are a fund which is pooled for the whole United Kingdom, there is no other Department I know of which would cover the whole ground. There is a Local Government Board for England, a Board for Scotland, and a Board for Ireland, but it would be impossible to hand over the administration of these Departments unless Parliament had deliberately come to the conclusion that you were going to distribute the fund, and if that were to be so I would like to know on what basis you would distribute them. If you were to do it on the basis of nations, the old Goschen basis, you would be in a difficulty, because the revenue derived from motors and petrol in Ireland is very insignificant, and the money spent at the present time is considerably in excess of the income derived from motor traffic in that country. That is for Parliament to decide, and not the administration. Neither the Road Board nor the Treasury can have any control unless Parliament decides that you are to distribute the fund nationally, and then I agree the best method would be to hand it over to some local department or separate commission. I express no opinion on that, because that is a question of policy. In the meantime, I do not know what could represent the whole of the four countries except the Road Board and the Development Commission, and, therefore, I think, until Parliament has reconsidered the 2453 whole question and has decided the two points, namely, in the first place, whether it is going to continue the present method of allocating these funds by means of an independent judicial commission, or whether it is going to hand them over to Government Departments; or, in the,second place, whether it is going to distribute them on a national mathematical principle between the four countries, that is a matter with which I have nothing to do in Committee of Supply, because I have only to defend the expenditure as it is.
I will, therefore, proceed to examine the criticisms of the administration purely from that point of view. The hon. Gentleman, who opened this discussion in a very careful and very able speech, directed his criticisms, in the main, rather to the proportion of this fund which is expended in the London area. He complained that London, which contributes a very considerable sum of money towards this fund, did not get its fair share. I think that has been, I will not say disposed of, but very ably answered by the hon. Member for Down. There is no other answer, and it is a complete answer. After all, although the licence is paid here, and although petrol is very often stocked here, and, therefore, the actual contributions come within the London area, the roads torn up are the roads outside. I think there is something to be said for the criticism that this document [Third Annual Report of the Road Board] might have been circulated a little earlier. I do not think, however, the Road Board were aware that the Debate was coming on. If they will look at the traffic statistics in Appendix Eleven, they will find actually what has happened. I do not know that you can do better than take Surrey (page 60). There you have the number of motors that pass through at a given point in the course of a single day. Take Kingston Vale. About 2,000 motors pass every day through Kingston and Kingston Vale. Then take the Portsmouth Road at Malden and Coombe. There you have 1,119 motors passing through every day. Most of these are motors registered in London, probably the petrol has been bought in London, and the revenue collected in London. You have only to look at the number of motors which pass along these Surrey roads and you will find that the London motors paying revenue inside the London area are tearing up roads scores and sometimes hundreds of miles away from London. It is obviously unfair in that case to treat 2454 the London revenue as though it were revenue which should be spent entirely on the improvement on the London streets. It is not the London streets alone which suffer. Take these sorts of circuits about great towns with these heavy motor omnibuses ploughing along the road. You go thirty miles from London, and you will still find them: there are ruts in the roads; they pay the Petrol Tax in London, but they damage the roads outside. Therefore, I do not think the hon. Member has been quite fair to the rural districts in the demand which he has made that London ought to get a larger share of the Grant, merely on the ground that London has paid a very heavy contribution towards the taxes.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
What the hon. Gentleman said was that the rural areas were not getting enough, nor were the urban areas. After all, there is only a certain sum available.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It is not merely a technical expression, but a fact, and you have to distribute this money somehow. You have only a certain amount to distribute, and if you give too much to one area you give too little to another. You cannot say they are both getting too little.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
These roads are largely torn up by motors coming from the towns. They are really not country roads in the vast majority of cases, and the motors are motors that belong to people who live in the towns. So far as I can understand the hon. Member, his view is that these roads torn up by these town motors are being given too much towards their improvement. I do not think that is the view of the vast majority of Members of this House on either side. Quite the reverse! I think a, fair distribution of cash has been made. May I also say this 2455 with regard to London: It is not the fault of the Road Board that London has not had more. I am not now criticising the action of the London County Council, but the Road Board offered the sum of £875,000 towards the Western Approach road. A part of the road will probably be made, and that is undoubtedly in the interest of London as a whole. Over five hundred thousand pounds is being expended upon the new Approach road from the West into London, and out of that money no less than that £400,000, three-fourths, are to be contributed by the Road Board—a very considerable sum to be expended for that purpose. In addition to that, I think there is £280,000 which is to be allocated towards the improvement of the roads in the police district; so that already the sum of £680,000 has been allocated for the purpose of improving the roads in and around London, and for the benefit of London. I do not think that is an unhandsome Grant. The hon. Member for Chelsea was disposed to carry the matter very much further. He wanted to treat London as one unit as against the country. He talked about the cities inside London. He talked about the roads between Stepney and Lambeth, and between Chelsea and somewhere else. That is quite an impossible proposition. No Road Board ever constituted would distribute the fund upon those principles. You might as well go to the county of Surrey and say, "Here is the parish of So-and-so, which has not got its fair share of the money in comparison with the parishes on the north side, or the west side, or in other parts of Surrey." It is quite impossible to administer the fund upon those principles. I think it would be a most wasteful method. On the whole, I am disposed to accept very largely the contention that need should be the dominant principle. A good deal can be said for the proposition of the hon. Member for Leith Burghs.
Take the case of a place in the Highlands where the population is very sparse, and where the roads are very largely used, in the summer months, by motors from the South, even from as far South as London. They were complaining when I was up there some months ago of the way in which the roads had been torn up by people from the outside. I do think it is in the interests of the country as a whole that the road accommodation should be improved in cases of that sort. 2456 That is why I rather criticise some of the views that have been put forward by the hon. Member for Chelsea when he came to deal with the two Grants made in Ireland. The Road Board departed from their usual practice of demanding 25 per cent. from the contributions of the locality. They only demanded 10 per cent. from these poor districts. If they had demanded 25 per cent. the roads would not have been improved. If the hon. Member for Chelsea was a Commissioner and sitting on judgment in these cases, although he is a Member for London, I am perfectly certain he would have voted in favour of that expenditure, if he had been satisfied that the district was too poor to raise anything beyond a 10 per cent. contribution The same applies in other parts of the country where the population is sparse and the rateable value low, and where it is impossible to get the regular contribution. What is true of the Highlands is true about Ireland, that the roads are very largely used by outsiders. The other point of criticism is that the money has not been used for the purpose of depressing the rates. I think that is a very false point of view to take up. I do not think that the object of the Road Board's operations is merely to reduce the rates—quite the reverse. I have not the faintest doubt as to its affect in checking and increasing the rates. I will not put it any higher than that. I must correct a statement made by one hon. Member that I committed myself to the proposition that this would have the effect of reducing the highway rate by 4d. I agree that the words which I used some time early in June. 1909, rather gave that impression, but a few days later I made perfectly clear—and that is not something I said recently, but only a few days after, the first statement—the view I held in reply to a question put by the Member for one of the Divisions of Birmingham.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I have not seen that speech of my right hon. Friend, but I repeat what I have just said. I cannot go further into that now because it involves going into the question of old age pensions. But that is by the way. I have no doubt that this expenditure has checked a very rapid increase in rate. During the last 2457 few years, as the hon. Member who has just spoken pointed out, there has been a very rapid growth in the highway rate in this country. I agree, but the result has been that we have undoubtedly the best roads in the world. The hon. Member for Chelsea said they were the best roads in Europe, which means that they are the best roads in the world. That was generally acknowledged at the International Road Congress held in London last month, and whereas a few years ago we were studying the French roads, they are now studying our roads. I think the hon. Member for South Down said we went at first on an absolutely wrong principle. We were not producing watertight roads; we were only producing a thin surface which became water-logged, but now we have undoubtedly the best roads in the world. But it costs a very considerable sum of money to put up these roads. This is a very substantial contribution, I do not say towards the maintenance of roads, but towards their improvement, and I hope this Committee of the House of Commons will really understand that this money is to be used at present for the improvement of roads and not their maintenance. There are many roads that might be improved, that might have better surfaces, that need widening, and cutting off at the corners, and that need drainage in many places, and I should also like to see very much one or two new roads constructed where there is real need.
I am very glad the Road Board has come to the conclusion to improve the approaches to London. That is not merely a motor question, it is very largely a housing question. My estimate of this revenue was that it would produce some-thing like £600,000. As a matter of fact this year it produces £1,300,000. That is a very considerable sum of money to be granted from the Exchequer towards the improvement of the roads of this country. It is a matter of 12 per cent. on the whole expenditure on maintenance of the roads throughout the country. That is a very substantial contribution, and I am very glad we have had this discussion because I think it is very important that the money should be wisely spent. One hon. Member complained that the money was being hoarded, and that criticism has been taken up by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. That I think is carrying out the policy of the Act, because at the time the Act was introduced there was very grave commercial depression throughout the country. The unemployment=2458 figures were very high. Parliament was full of all sorts of alternative suggestions for the purpose of dealing with unemployment. We met it by means of all sorts of temporary Grants. We have done everything to prevent waste of expenditure in this respect; but in spite of that waste was inevitable, for the simple reason that there were temporary Grants, and people had to make shift to spend the money. Roads were made which began nowhere and ended nowhere; they were made across moorlands leading nowhere. You had hundreds of people calling themselves unemployed, simply digging holes in the ground to no purpose. Of course, my right hon. Friend checked that and controlled it, but it is impossible to do that effectively unless you have a definite Grant in which you take years to consider the method of expending. That is why you have the Development Commission and the Road Board, and if the Development Commission and the Road Board had from the very first year said, "Here we have £300,000 or £400,000 let us spend it," and if the Development Commissioners said, "We are entitled to spend the money on forestry, let us buy the first block of vacant land and put trees upon it," what would happen? You would have ridiculous waste sand the whole thing would end in most contemptuous failure. How can you prevent that except by hoarding the money? You have got to set aside a certain proportion of the money for the evil day. You have also to think out your plan. Take these approaches to London; that is a thing that will take a long time to mature. You have to lay down your plans and get the consent of the county councils and the local authorities. The London County Council has refused to come in. I am not criticising them, but I regret it. I am very glad the Middlesex County Council has come in.
These fluctuations in trade come in cycles. When they come you have a scheme that has been carefully prepared months, and perhaps years in advance, with the cash in the bank ready to be expended, which is an infinitely better plan than all sorts of haphazard methods improvised in the course of a few hours for doing something which nobody wants. That is why I hope the Committee of the House of Commons will not press the Road Board to squander its funds now, and I say the same thing with regard to the Development Commissioners. I have been a little bit disappointed myself that 2459 we have not made greater progress in afforestation, but very likely the Commissioners are right: they are taking their time to consider the best methods. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Munro-Ferguson) thought that they were taking too long. At any rate, I hope they will have their plans ready by the time the period of unemployment comes again, and I hope, all the same, there will be no undue pressure brought to bear on the Road Board and the Development Commissioners to scatter their cash at the present moment. It is well to lay something by for the rainy day. I think I have dealt with all the criticisms directed at the various Boards. My hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) criticised the Development Commissioners very severely, and he talked as if they were all fine English gentlemen. My recollection is that there is an Irish gentleman there also. [An HON. MEMBER: "One."] That is a very fair proportion; it is one-eighth, and what is the proportion of population? Ireland is represented on the Board. Suppose you took instead an Act of Parliament, definitely allocating money to Irish purposes, I would ask hon. Members from Ireland to consider very carefully before they come to that conclusion. I put it to them when thee Act was going through. An hon. Member from Ireland pressed me, and I put it to him whether he was quite sure that it was in the interests of Ireland that the money should be split up, because if it was split up it must be on the basis of revenue derived from motor cars and petrol; and the revenue derived from Ireland from motors and petrol is very small indeed.
I am not at all sure that Ireland would gain by what the hon. Member suggests. At the same time, if you are going to distribute sums of money in one case, you will have to do it in the other case. I ask my hon. Friends from Ireland to consider the matter very seriously, before they conclude that they would like the funds distributed in that way, whether it is to the advantage of Ireland. Personally, I am doubtful about it, because I think Ireland stands far more to gain than lose by the present method of distribution. That is a matter which I hope they will consider very carefully. As far as the Treasury is concerned, it makes no difference to them which way it is done, and I am not so sure that the Treasury would not gain rather than lose by having a fixed and rigid distribution of that kind. That, 2460 however, is a matter of policy which I cannot discuss on this Vote, and it will have to be discussed in some other way.
I think I have pretty well covered the whole of the ground except one or two points of administration. The hon. Member for Chelsea rather complained of the way in which the office was kept, and one was that they kept no minutes. When the hon. Member has had experience of a Government Department, as I have no doubt he will when his party sit on this side of the House, he will realise that there are no minutes kept in a Government Department. You have simply got your papers, and you note what is done, but there is no minute book kept, and the Road Board have pursued exactly the same method as any other Government Department. When the documents come in, they report upon them. They have all the specifications and details before them, and the decision of the Board is given upon them. That is how a Government Department transacts its business.
I am sure the hon. Member did not wish to criticise this Department unfairly, and I think, when he realises that they are only pursuing the same method as every other Government Department, he will see that his criticism is not quite fair. With regard to the Chairman, he complained that by paying him £3,000 a year we were paying rather more than was paid in the Civil Service. It was very desirable that we should get the very best man we could for the purpose. The present Chairman of the Board, when he was manager of the North-Eastern Railway Company, got £5,000 a year, and at the time he was taken over by the Government he was being paid £8,000 a year for the management of London Underground Railways. He accepted this £3,000, because, after all, the position as head of a Government Department does give a man a position which he does not get even as a director or general manager of a railway company. May I also say that I do not think there is a pension in this case, and in the Civil Service that is an important consideration? Very often there is a very substantial pension, but that is, after all, deferred pay. When the hon. Member says that the representative of a great Department only gets £2,500 a year, he must recollect that he gets, as a rule, a pension as well. This appointment is fixed for a definite term of years, just the same as was done when we appointed Sir Francis Hopwood as Vice-Chairman of the 2461 Development Commissioners. He was getting £2,500 a year, and we gave him £3,000 as the head of the Development Commission, but that is not so good as £2,000 a year as the head of a Department with a pension. All these things have to be taken into account.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I think not. I do not think we could make a greater mistake than to underpay these men, because in the past many of our best men have been taken away from the Civil Service. The moment a man develops first-class business qualities in the Civil Service it pays the big business concerns to pay him a very heavy sum. In some cases they pay them £10,000, and I know men who have been offered sums of that kind who are in the Civil Service, but they have remained in the public service because they think it is a more honourable position. At the same time, I hope the House of Commons will not be too niggardly when it appoints men to high positions of this kind, which require independence and judicial capacity. I have now done my best to meet all the criticisms which have been made.
§ Mr. MORTON
So far as I am aware, it was never intended that this money should be distributed according to population or rateable value. What was understood was that it should be distributed according to the needs of the districts. Sutherlandshire comes under that heading more than any other county I know. In Sutherlandshire we have 160 miles of main road, and an assessment of only £100,000. We have the heaviest road rate in all Scotland—that is, 2s. 3d. in the £. We cannot possibly get railways into Sutherlandshire. The roads are bad and torn up by vehicles from outside districts, but if we can get them put into a better condition, so that they can be used by the motor service, it would be a great advantage to the county. Personally, I do not want to complain of the Road Board or of the Development Commission. All I say to them is that we want more money spent upon the roads to keep them in good condition. I object to the condition which they put upon their Grants, namely, that you must spend a certain proportion of your own money raised from the rates before you can get a Grant.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.