§ Another Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words,1040
§ "But humbly regrets that His Majesty's Speech contains no reference to the unfair administration by the Road Board of the funds under its control."—[Sir John Bethell.]1041
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ Sir J. BETHELL
I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name upon the Paper. I observe, from the last Report of the Road Board, that the receipts from the 10th May, 1910, to the 31st March, 1913, amounted to £3,437,285, and the estimated income for the current year ending 31st March next is £1,340,000, making a total of £4,777,285. A sum of £700,000 has, I understand, been set aside for works to be carried out in periods of trade depression, and, after allowing £45,000 for administrative expenses, the amount available on the 31st March next will be upwards of £4,000,000. This large sum of money is under the control of an authority which is practically independent of this House, and it is only by raising the question in this form that we are able to obtain any information as to the policy of the Board in connection with the distribution of funds. I should like some information from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury as to the method of allocation of the funds between the various local authorities, and I should also be glad if he could inform me whether the money is distributed according to population, rateable value, or the needs of the districts. I observe from page 7 of the Third Annual Report of the Road Board that they have agreed to contribute a sum of £400,000, subject to Treasury sanction, towards the cost of a new road from Kew Bridge to Hounslow. This work no doubt is necessary and desirable, and I congratulate the Middlesex County Council on the excellent terms they have made with the Road Board. There is, however, a feeling that the Board is favouring the West of London at the expense of the East of London.
My main objection to the policy of the Board is their attitude with regard to two urgent public improvements required in the county borough of West Ham—the first being a proposed new thoroughfare from London to the Victoria and Albert Docks, at an estimated cost of upward of £300,000. The traffic to and from the docks is not local in its character, and it is felt that the burden of this great improvement should not fall upon the local authority, the West Ham Corporation, and unless we can obtain substantial financial assistance from the Road Board the improvement will certainly not be carried out. Two deputations have attended before the Road Board and fully discussed the matter, and the Board, while benevolently blessing the 1042 scheme, stated that its funds were earmarked for other schemes, especially the West London approach scheme. The Board appear to favour substantial Grants being made for widening and improving roads on the west side of London to facilitate the rapid transit of the light motor car; but they declined to make Grants towards the cost of improving the means of communication between London and the Albert and Victoria Docks. From a census recently prepared by the West Ham Corporation it appears that upwards of 11,000 vehicles passed daily over the iron bridge, Barking Road, to and from the docks, and I think, if the Road Board would take the trouble to make further inquiries into this scheme, they would reconsider their decision and make a Grant towards the cost of this very desirable and pressing improvement.
The second scheme is the widening of High Street, Stratford, from the Metropolitan boundary to the Stratford Market Station. This road is the principal artery for traffic between London and the eastern counties, and it is the most congested length of roadway around London. The present width of the roadway is about 50 feet, and it is proposed to widen the thoroughfare for a length of about three-quarters of a mile to 85 feet, providing a wide avenue between London and the eastern counties. The estimated cost of the improvement is about £200,000. The West Ham Corporation has been in communication with the Road Board for upwards of three years, but up to the present they have not been able to induce the Board to make a proper and adequate contribution towards this important widening. The daily average of traffic passing through High Street, Stratford, is upwards of 11,000 vehicles, a large number of which are heavily laden with market-garden produce for the London markets. The corporation of West Ham have not received one penny from the Road Board, and they feel that unless attention is called in the House to their claims, the borough will not receive justice at the hands of the Road Board. The population of West Ham is about 300,000, and if the money in the hands of the Road Board was distributed on a basis of population, West Ham would be entitled to an immediate Grant of £30,000, instead of a paltry £9,000, the figure suggested by the Road Board. I strongly protest against the attitude of the Road Board with reference to applications for Grants for the East of London, and 1043 appeal to the House to pass the Amendment.
§ Mr. WILLIAM THORNE
I beg to second the Amendment. During this week and the latter part of last week we have been engaged upon questions of a national character, but this Amendment is for the purpose of obtaining some little sympathetic consideration from the Secretary to the Treasury and also from the Road Board. Deputations from the Borough of West Ham waited upon the Road Board for the purpose of placing two schemes before that body, but on each occasion they got no sympathetic consideration at all. I think I am justified in saying that the Chairman of the Road Board stated, that their money was not for the purpose of carrying out widening of roads, and that it was the duty of the local authorities to carry out improvements of that kind. I may point out that as a matter of fact the Borough of West Ham, which I represent, has spent many thousands of pounds in the widening of roads in different parts of the borough. But the road which is in question in this instance is a main traffic road which passes through High Street, Stratford, and right to Aldgate. It is one of the most urgent improvements that we can consider. Anyone who passes along that roadway between six and ten o'clock in the morning, more especially on market days, is aware of the crowded state of the thoroughfare, and it is a difficult matter for motor omnibuses to get through the congested traffic in the manner in which they ought to be able to get along.
The Borough of West Ham are quite prepared to do even more, than their share to carry out this very important improvement, an improvement, the cost of which would amount to something like £200,000. All that has been offered to us, however, in relief of the burden imposed by such an improvement is something like £9,000. The reason why we press forward this Amendment and why we ask for more sympathetic consideration from the Road Board, is that the rates in the Borough of West Ham are now 11s. 3d. in the £, the education rate being 3s. 3d.; and when we are asked to carry out an improvement of the kind now under consideration, an improvement which is on one side of the borough, and which will cost £200,000, I think we are being asked to do a great deal more in a way of effecting an improvement for the accom- 1044 modation of general traffic than we ought to be called upon to perform. If we pass, on to the south side of the borough, where the improvement to be effected is just as urgent, we find that the traffic from the docks over the iron bridge, right up the main road, is just as congested as it is on the other side. It appears to me that unless an improvement scheme is carried out the congestion of traffic will be a great deal worse than it is at the present time. There is a scheme proposed to form a new road right over the level crossings of the Great Eastern Railway and right across the docks to the swing bridge road. The result of the presence of these level crossings is that on some days traffic is congested for about half a mile along the road, and many hundreds of very heavy vehicles are delayed.
In regard to the swing bridge, although the dock company provide a bridge for the purpose of passengers crossing the docks, yet when traffic is passing up the river and big steamers are coming in through the dock, it is found sometimes that the gates are open for twenty minutes, and even for an hour at a time. The result is that neither vehicles nor passengers can get across and often hundreds of men are compelled to lose an hour or two hours, because, according to the regulations of the factory owners who employ them, if the men are a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes late they are compelled to remain out until breakfast time. Therefore, it is a great injury, not only to the workmen, but also to the factory owners in consequence of the local traffic being delayed. That scheme will cost something like £300,000. That means, if the borough of West Ham is called upon to carry out the scheme on the north side to the extent of £200,000 and on the south side to the extent of £300,000, that an 11s. 3d. rate will jump to about 15s. in the £. We contend that we have not been fairly dealt with. I dare say we shall be told that as far as Essex is concerned, substantial sums have been granted to the Essex County Council for the purpose of widening and carrying out improvements on roads in the county. So far as the borough of West Ham is concerned, we have not received one single farthing, although I have heard that the Road Board has promised something like about £9,000. It appears that the Road Board has agreed, or, at any rate, partially agreed, to assist the Middlesex County Council to the extent of £400,000. The 1045 scheme which was first put forward by the Middlesex County Council, to carry out a new road from, I think, West Cromwell Road, viâ Hammersmith and Brentford, to Hounslow, would have cost over £1,000,000, but because the Road Board put a check on that, and said they were not prepared to grant the amount of money that the county council wanted, the county council altered the scheme and adopted a new one, which, I understand, has got the sanction of the Road Board, and will cost about £500,000. All that the Middlesex County Council are going to subscribe towards that is 25 per cent., while the Road Board has promised the remaining 75 per cent., which amounts to £400,000. I admit, of course, that the road from Kew Bridge through Brentford is a very narrow road, and no doubt at times very congested, but there is absolutely no comparison at all between that congested road and the road either on the north side or on the south side of the borough of West Ham.
If the Road Board can find money to the extent of £400,000 to carry out improvements in a direction not so necessary as the improvement which I have indicated, then it does appear to the local authority of West Ham that we ought to receive more sympathetic consideration. The Port of London Authority have promised that they will come to our financial assistance to some extent; but we have not been able, up to the; present, to find out to what extent they would help us The borough, of course, is quite willing to pay its share. I believe that the factory owners at Silvertown and on the other side, and that many factory owners even along Commercial Road and on the south side will be quite willing to subscribe towards the cost. A delay in their vehicles of twenty minutes or half an hour means a great loss to the factory owners, not only in the Borough of West Ham, but right, up Commercial Road, and even on the south side of London. Therefore, I do hope, in face of the heavy burdens we have got to carry in one direction or another, that the Treasury to-night will certainly indicate to the Road Board that they ought to deal with West Ham in a more generous spirit than they have hitherto done. We have done all we possibly could to try and persuade them by the force of our argument, but have absolutely failed. Therefore, now the only remedy, of course, is to come to the House of Commons to get the sympathetic consideration of the Treasury. It may, no 1046 doubt, be a difficult matter to attempt to-bring pressure on the Road Board; but in face of the position of a struggling body like West Ham, they ought surely to assist us to carry out these two very important schemes.
§ Mr. WILLIAM PEARCE (Tower Hamlets)
I have risen to point out that this is not entirely a West Ham question. The provision of this road really means some extension of the dock facilities to the whole of London. The Port of London Authority are engaged in a very large and very expensive work, and if there are not proper means of ingress and egress to the docks, the whole benefit is not possible to the different parts of manufacturing. London. This matter, to my mind, is of extreme consequence to the whole of the London district. Everybody knows that the Thames and river facilities are really the breath of London, and that industry entirely depends on their proper management and development. We have taken large and expensive steps in the development of the Thames, and those are likely to be checked unless there are proper approaches. There is no good in having a fine thing in the way of docks if you are denied proper ingress and egress. At the present time the road approaches to this new dock system in West Ham and East Ham are a perfect disgrace to the largest city in the world. Although I am supporting the lion. Member in one way, I have to quarrel with him in another. He suggested and recommended to His Majesty's Government and the House that the extra expense might be placed on the trade of London in this regard.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
As a matter of fact, the factory owners at Silvertown have agreed to subscribe some part of it, not to any great extent.
§ Mr. W. PEARCE
The House has already gone to a great extent in charging the development of the Port of London on the trade of London. I opposed many of the provisions of the Bill in that respect. London, after all, is the only city with, large docks which charges an enterprise of o that description on to the trade of the Port. The Port of London Authority have had to exert their power of raising dues 1047 to the full, and at the present time they are taking from the traders nearly £350,000 per year in port dues for the support of their undertaking. That is all very well in good times, and times have been good lately, but I think the Government and the House must see that £350,000 is a permanent charge on the industrial possibilities of London. Therefore, though perhaps I may be wrong in interpreting to the full the remarks made by the hon. Member who has just spoken—and he is as much interested in industrial development as I am—yet I do think they bore that interpretation, and the Government might be inclined to consider that the trade and business of London was still able to carry an extra burden. I think the burden that has been placed on them already is serious, and I do hope that nothing that has fallen from my hon. Friend will be interpreted by the? Government so as to put extra charges on London business. This is, as I have stated, by no means a West Ham or East Ham question, but it is one which affects the whole of the trade of London. Any money that could be spared from the Road Board, a large portion of whose income is derived from the duty on petrol consumed on the streets of industrial London, and any way they could see to help the scheme put forward by the Port of London Authority and the Borough of West Ham and East Ham, would be to the great satisfaction and to the good of the whole of industrial London.
§ Sir ARCHIBALD WILLIAMSON
I wish to deal with another aspect of the policy of the Road Board which has subjected that body to very serious complaints and criticism in Scotland. There is very little doubt, I think, that when the House passed the Act constituting the Road Board that it was with a view to relieving and to meeting to some extent the complaints that had been made as to increasing rates for the upkeep of roads caused by the cutting up of roads by motor cars. The rates in the country districts in Scotland have been raised, even since the Road Board came into existence, to a very considerable extent. In many parts of Scotland the rates have been raised by 50 per cent. as compared with a few years ago, and the grievance which my Constituents and others similarly situated feel is that, while they are paying these greatly increased crates for the maintenance of their roads, they are paying for a condition of road 1048 which is required, not for their local traffic, but for motor cars, which are largely alien to the district. The policy of the Road Board has unfortunately not resulted, at any rate in my Constituency, in any diminution of the rates, or even in arresting the increase of the rates. The policy seems rather to have been directed to a course of action which actually raises rather than diminishes the rate—at any rate, for the time it raises them. The policy has been for the Road Board not to pay for the upkeep of the road, but only to contribute a certain proportion of the cost of the improvement of the road—an improvement in some cases beyond what, in the opinion of the locality, is required for their own needs.
In the county of Elgin the roads have been exceptionally well maintained. During the time that the motor traffic was rapidly increasing the roads in Morayshire were kept up at local expense, and were, I believe, considered to be in first-class condition, and superior to those of many others of the Highland or North of Scotland counties. That was very creditable to the local authorities in Morayshire; but, unfortunately, owing to the policy of the Road Board, the local authorities in Morayshire, so far from benefiting, have actually been losers by this "generous policy. Counties which had not kept up their roads, but had allowed the motor cars to cut them up, and had not properly repaired them, are now in a position to go to the Road Board and say that they are willing to go in for large improvements, and so obtain from the Road Board a considerable proportion of the cost; whereas a county, such as that which I have the honour to represent, which had maintained its roads and put them in first-class condition at its own expense, now finds itself in the position that when it goes to the Road Board and asks for assistance the Road Board puts forward such a proposition as, for example, that if the county will tar and macadam the roads, which admittedly they do not require, the Road Board will pay a certain proportion of the expense, leaving the additional amount to fall upon the locality. That is not exactly what Parliament intended when it passed the Act constituting the Road Board.
It is true that the Act, according to the legal interpretation, did not enable the Road Board to contribute towards maintenance, but I think the general impression of Members was that in such a 1049 case as that which I have quoted we should not find ourselves in the position of having no recognition for the good work and expenditure undertaken by the county and of being able to get assistance from the Road Board only if we are willing to put down something which, in the opinion of the locality, and I believe in the opinion of the Road Board itself, is unnecessary. The county has not received from the Board one single penny. We are on the main road running from Aberdeen to Inverness. Thousands of motor cars pass through during the summer, not only on the way to Inverness, but also to Grantown and Rothes. The roads are being cut up by all these cars, but from this fund we are receiving nothing at all, and we are obliged to pay 50 per cent. more for the maintenance of our roads owing to traffic which is foreign to the locality. I bring this? matter forward in the hope that the Secretary for the Treasury will see whether it is not possible for the Road Board to meet a grievance such as this, which I can assure the House is not confined to Morayshire, but is shared by other counties in the North of Scotland, where the population is somewhat sparse, and any addition to the cost of the maintenance of the roads falls very heavily, owing to the low valuation on which the rating is based.
§ Mr. ALDEN
I have the greatest possible sympathy with the hon. Member who has just spoken, and I am certain that the Road Board will sympathise with him, because it is perfectly clear that the time is rapidly drawing near when this or some other Government will have to take over the whole of the trunk roads of the kingdom. It is absolutely impossible for the local authorities to maintain these trunk roads in a fit and proper condition. Although, as it seems to me, the Road Board has done all that lies in its power with regard to these front roads, there is still much to be done, and I am sure the time is rapidly drawing near when we shall say that it is the business and a proper responsibility of the State to take over the high-ways. I wish to emphasise the point which has already been emphasised by two or three hon. Members, with regard to the roads in West Ham. I have lived there for twelve years, and only a few hundred yards away from the highway which has been described—the Victoria Dock Road. I can, therefore, speak with some authority on the subject. I have no hesitation in saying that it is one of the 1050 most important roads in Greater London, that it has to bear very heavy traffic indeed, and that it serves not only the local authorities in the immediate neighbourhood, but the whole of London. If we are to make the Port of London what we want it to be, something ought to be done to improve that entrance to the port. I do not see how you can expect West Ham to do very much in that direction. I represent a Middlesex division; therefore, it is perhaps not my proper function to stand here and plead for West Ham, which is in Essex. At the same time, I sympathise very much with West Ham, and I rather fancy that the Road Board, in its heart of, hearts, if it has a heart, also sympathises with them. It is perfectly obvious that you cannot expect a heavily-rated district, such as that is, with a very poor population, to undertake the work of providing a proper entrance to the Port of London. The road has been described as a perfect disgrace. So it is. It is a very narrow road; it was badly made in the first instance—it has been re-made, since; the houses on one side are in a tumble-down condition, owing to the heavy traffic which, goes along the road; and there is a railway on the other side, which also makes the houses insecure. What is really required is that the road should be widened, if possible, to double its present width, in order to make a first-class entrance to the port which is now becoming so important. I hope the Road Board: will consider this to be their duty.
As I read the figures — though, of course, I may be mistaken — the estimated income for the year ending 31st. March, 1914, is £1,340,000. There was available on the 30th June, £1,669,000. Since then £113,000 has been offered or allocated to the highway authorities in Greater London, and £269,000 to county and borough councils in England and Wales. There is still a fair margin left, and I most sincerely hope that the Road Board will see its way to make a more adequate grant to West Ham in order to assist them in the widening and remaking of these two roads, the Victoria Dock Road, and the High Street, Stratford, near Bow Bridge. I do not think the Road Board would expect, I do not think anybody expects, West Ham to spend half a million to do this work. I am perfectly certain that it will not be done unless some assistance is given. I know no other authority capable of giving this assistance except the Road Board. We do not expect the Government to make a Grant. 1051 The Government would hardly make a Grant to the Road Board except for such a purpose. I trust the suggestion will be reconsidered. It is a very small Grant, £9,000, which I believe has been made for the High Street portion. It ought to be very much increased, and a larger Grant made for widening and improving the entrance to the Port of London, namely, the Victoria Dock Road.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
The discussion, and the fact that the question has to be raised in this way, only illustrates one of the difficulties which I think from the first was seen to be incidental to the character of the Road Board. It is not a satisfactory state of things that this question can only be discussed on an Amendment to the Address, that in this matter the ratepayers who are intimately interested, and the taxpayers have, in effect, no practical control of any kind over the Road Board or even in the way in which it may choose to dispense the funds at its disposal. This is not surely a question for London, nor for Scotland. I could bring before the House grievances that have been brought to me by my own Constituents and ratepayers of the county of Bedford, who feel that they have been very badly used by the Road Board. I will venture to say that every Member of the House can do exactly the same thing. I think this is an illustration of the vicious principle—of the vicious control—which is bound to have an effect upon the work of the Road Board. As a matter of fact, I do not think anybody will be able to discover any principle on which the Road Board is now making its Grants. I do not believe that the Road Board itself has ever yet formulated a policy on which its Grants shall be made to the different authorities of this country. I hope the Government, if they have any influence with the Board, will use that influence in the direction that the Road Board should speedily formulate a policy, so that the local authorities of the country should know on what principle the funds at the disposal of the Board are being granted.
The Road Board appears to be, so far as one can make out, under the headship of a very distinguished ex-railway man, who has to carry on his back a number of decaying colonels whose views upon traffic would, I think, make a very interesting exhibit in some antiquarian museum. That is not the way in which this body ought to lay down a policy on which it is 1052 going to distribute its funds. In the first place, it was said that the funds at the disposal of the Board were not to be used for anything but permanent improvements. To-day the Road Board is making Grants for the maintenance of the road crust. That cannot be called a work of permanent improvement. It was the intention of Parliament that the money at the disposal of the Board should be used for road widenings, rounding of dangerous corners, and similar work. A substantial Grant is now being made to local authorities—I am not complaining about it except to point out the change in the policy of the Board—on road maintenance purely. The point was put to the representative of the Treasury that practically a very large proportion of the funds of the Road Board came from the Petrol Tax levied or raised in London, and that therefore London was entitled to some more consideration that it is now getting. I hope my hon. Friend will be very, very chary before he accepts any such statement. It may be the fact that a large amount of the Petrol Tax is raised in London, but I venture to say that the damage done to the roads in London is not nearly met by the amount of the Petrol Tax which is raised in London. The damage done, too, is largely distributed over the whole country.
Here I would point out that the authorities of the Road Board seems to have a most extraordinary idea—or had it at one time—as to the amount of the Petrol Tax which was raised by one important branch of the London traffic, the motor bus traffic. Most sensational figures were given by the Chairman of the Road Board to a representative conference. Those figures were at once laughed out of court by everybody who knew anything about the facts. So far as the Petrol Tax in London is concerned, even if the whole of the motor cars pay that tax, it is not nearly beginning to pay the damage that is now being done in London by these forms of heavy motor traffic. I hope Parliament will be given an opportunity of considering right through the present way in which the Road Board is using its funds, and see if some better system cannot be found. It appears to me that Parliament has created a Frankenstein which it cannot now control. I sympathise with my hon. Friend in having to reply to a discussion of this kind; and to make apologies for a body which is practically independent of him and of Parliament, and which can afterwards 1053 go on its own sweet way. I think it would be difficult to find a champion of the Road Board from any municipal authority in this country. It is not the fault of the Road Board. I believe they have done their best, according to their lights, but the way in which that body has been set up, and the system on which it works, makes it impossible for it ever to be regarded, I believe, as a permanent part of the municipal system of the country.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
I had not any intention of speaking upon this subject, because I thought that the matter might come up later upon the Estimates, rather than upon an Amendment to the Address; but I think that my Friends are justified in creating discussion upon this important subject. I can assure the House that there is a very great deal of dissatisfaction existing in the municipalities, especially as to the manner in which the Road Board is utilising its funds. I am given to understand that there were accumulations amounting to two and a-half millions in March of last year; added to that will be accumulations of this year. These are very large sums. I understood when the matter was debated last year that the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that they were accumulating the money for the purpose of meeting depression in trade that might occur at some future time. I think it is a very difficult matter to accumulate and spend all the money in that way, because it is collected from all parts of the country. Therefore, all the municipalities are very keen and very anxious to obtain their share of this Grant towards the improvement of their roads. I am given to understand that a very large amount of this money—I have gone through the allocations, for during the Recess I read the Report of the Road Board, but I have not got them in my mind—and I am bound to say it appears to me that a very large amount of this money is misapplied. For instance, if you take the improvements in the roads they are really made in the counties. There are no Grants awarded to the towns. That is what I complain of. In the first discussion that took place here, I made a very strong complaint on behalf of the non-county boroughs. I represent two non-county boroughs, and neither of them have any Grant whatever.
I complain that the non-county boroughs must apply through the county councils, and that they cannot obtain direct access 1054 to the Road Board. I dare say in the London boroughs it is the same. Many of these boroughs have very heavy rates. In the town I represent the highway rate—lighting, scavenging, maintenance of roads, etc.—comes to 3s. 4d. in the pound. That is a very heavy highway rate. In the county there is very little highway rate, because there are very large Grants from the Exchequer to the county councils, and there again the county boroughs get very little of the money. Taking everything into consideration, the non-county boroughs are suffering very great injustice, and there, again, they have to go to the county councils for grants for the maintenance of the roads and also for the Grants made by the Road Board. I hope that the Road Board will take every application into consideration fairly, and treat the counties better. In some localities, as I pointed out, they receive very little, and have little expectation of getting anything. I remember last year, I think it was, there was an application made to the Road Board from the district in which I live, where a new road was going to be made, and where they proposed to have this road, which was going to be made by the public authority in the first instance, and a very open through thoroughfare costing between £50,000 and £60,000. I think there is to be but a very small Grant towards that very costly road. There, again, I think there is a very grave injustice, because the Road Board ought to give assistance when new roads are made in this way, and I think the Road Board, which has this money, ought to give a Grant towards these main roads. I have raised some of those points which I think the Road Board, and especially the Secretary to the Treasury, ought to take into consideration.
I see the new President of the Local Government Board is present. In fact, we are in this unfortunate position that both the Secretary to the Treasury and the President of the Local Government Board are new to their offices, and although we were not dissatisfied with the past President, still, I think the new President ought to take the views I am expressing into consideration and try to bring pressure to bear upon the Road Board to distribute this fund in a fairer way. I hope the new Secretary to the Treasury will assert his authority. They do say, I do not know with what truth, that Secretaries to the Treasury are too much subject to the permanent officials. I should like to see a 1055 different state of things existing with the new Secretary to the Treasury I should like to see him assert his authority and look into this matter. There are cases, I can assure him, where the local authorities are dissatisfied with the accumulation of this money, and I honestly believe that you cannot, even when depression comes, spend this money in the way in which the Road Board anticipate. Let me put one case with regard to this depression. This is what I find in my experience in municipal life, and I have got a long apprenticeship of over thirty years in municipal work—if you have depression in towns, I do not care what town, you have a certain amount of work to do, whether by way of private improvement or public work, by making new roads or improving old roads. Now there are men engaged upon this work already. We have road men, drainers, paviors, and men engaged specially upon that kind of work.
What I have always contended and argued in my own Constituency is that when you have depression, say, in the shipbuilding or in other trades, and when you bring these men into that kind of work, you simply have a, displacement of labour. In other words, you take from the men engaged in this sort of work so much of the work which they ought to do, and therefore you have displacement of labour, and you do not create work for the unemployed, because if you employ men out of work in that sense you are simply putting other men out of work ultimately, and in that way you are not doing any good. I think the proper plan is this—that the Road Board ought to distribute this money so that roads can be improved. There is another thing I should like to bring before the House in which I think the Road Board should help, and it is this. In many of our towns, and especially our old towns, we have narrow streets and awkward corners, and it is impossible to get a grant from the local authorities to widen these roads and cut off these corners. I am very glad to say that the chairman of the Road Board comes from our district in the North of England. He is none the worse for that, because I believe he is a very progressive man, and we are very glad that the chairman of the Road Board for the time being is a North of England man. It is very important that the chairman should be a man of right disposition. I do think that when these improvements become a very onerous cost 1056 to the local authorities that this money which the Road Board have in their possession ought to go to the local authorities to assist them in carrying out these improvements. That was what I understand the Road Board was going to do, but instead of that nothing has been done.
If applications are made by the non-county boroughs, they have to go through the county council who knows nothing; about the road or the requirements of non-county boroughs. I know very few of them are main roads, and, therefore, the county authorities have not that control, over them which they have over their own county roads. Anyone who has had experience of county councils or local government, knows that you must have the men in the district who represent the ratepayers to sympathise with these proposals, and you cannot expect those living fifty or sixty miles away to know the requirements of any particular district in the county. So far as non-county boroughs, are concerned, the county councils are not the bodies to whom these applications should be made. On a former occasion I pleaded that the non-county boroughs, should have this right of direct application 10 the Road Board. To-night I hope that we shall hear something from the Secretary to the Treasury on this question, and I trust that he will undertake to make these representations to the Road Board. I had not the pleasure of listening: to the speech of the Mover of this Amendment, but I understand that he has been urging that more money should be given to the London authorities. I sympathise with that, and while I do not think this is the proper time to raise the question, and that it would be better to raise it on the Vote, still I think the discussion will do a great amount of good, and it will anticipate what the Secretary to the Treasury will have to meet when the Vote comes up for discussion.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Sir RICHARD WINFREY
I wish to place before the Secretary to the Treasury the considerable difficulty in which we have been placed in our county owing to the manner in which the Road Board has allocated to us a Grant. I am a member of the Peterborough County Council. We have, just on the very borders of Peterborough, the great North Road, and there is a stretch of about seven miles of this road in the Soke of Peterborough. That is a road which is not really used by the inhabitants of the Soke of Peterborough. I do not suppose it is used by any 1057 of the ratepayers with the exception of a few farmers who have fields adjoining that road on one side. The Road Board was anxious that this great North Road, which is the great motor high road to the North, should be improved. Probably they were right in that respect; I do not dispute that, although so far as I have observed, it was quite good enough for me and for most people. Still, the Road Board desired that that great road should have its efficiency increased and should be improved, and so they came down to the Soke of Peterborough County Council and to the Borough of Peterborough and said: "If you are prepared to do this road, we will make you a Grant of £7,000." That seemed a very handsome Grant, and the chairman of our Council, Lord Exeter, who, no doubt with the best intentions in the world, supported this proposal. We had a new surveyor, and I think he was anxious to get some increased work, and the result was that the council accepted this offer from the Road Board, the condition being that the ratepayers of the Soke of Peterborough should spend a like amount on the roads. That proposal was passed, and I had to take some responsibility for it because our highways committee agreed to it. It was a very small area, and the work being pushed on more rapidly than was wise, we have now discovered that we have landed ourselves in an extra twopenny rate for the administrative county, and the citizens of Peterborough are up in arms at the increased rate they have been called upon to pay. Two-thirds of our rate is derived from the Borough of Peterborough, and one-third from the rural districts. This means that the citizens of Peterborough have to find two-thirds of this £7,000 for improving the great North Road mainly for the benefit of the motorists of this country. I maintain that the allocation of a sum like that is unfair and unjust to those of us who reside in Peterborough. I think the Road Board ought to have given us a Grant sufficiently large to have done the work, and I do not think they are treating our rural areas in a generous spirit by making such an onerous condition that when a Grant is made the locality concerned must find an equal sum. I have another grievance. The Read Board seem to me to devote too great a proportion of their money to the improvement of the road surface. We have in the City of Peterborough a level crossing over which the Great Eastern Railway crosses 1058 our main road just as you enter Peterborough from the south. Before you get to the town bridge there is a level crossing, at which I dare say the Secretary to the Treasury, in motoring through our district, had to wait for some minutes at the gates. The city has grown considerably in the south, and here we have a large number of workpeople who pass to and fro at meal-times. We have a great deal of traffic, and it is not only extremely inconvenient, but it is very dangerous at the present time.
After getting a promise from the Great Eastern Railway Company that they would contribute towards the cost of the bridge, we approached the Road Board, because we thought, and I think rightly, that it was an appropriate subject for a Grant. Not only should the Road Board improve the surface, but they should help us to facilitate traffic, especially in such an important town as Peterborough, of which I have the honour to be mayor at the present time. I naturally desired in that capacity to get the assistance of the Road Board, and we approached them. After some time they told the committee, a special committee appointed for that purpose, that they would be prepared under certain conditions to make a Grant. What were those conditions? They were these: If they made us a Grant, say, of £10,000 to assist us in erecting this bridge, which is so necessary for our traffic, they would give so much less to the Huntingdonshire County Council, to the Isle of Ely County. Council, and to the Peterborough County Council. In other words, if they gave us that Grant, it was to be ear-marked and considered as part payment of the Grants that would be made to those three county councils. It was really giving us nothing. The Huntingdonshire County Council, which would have assisted us by making us a grant, said "No. If the Road Board are going to give you £10,000, but are going to stop it out of any Grant that they are going to give us in future, that is our contribution, and you cannot expect anything further from us." The Isle of Ely County Council said the same.
I venture to criticise the action of the Road Board in those two particulars. Where main roads pass through rural districts, and are used largely by the public other than the particular ratepayers of the district, I think that the Road Board when it wants that road improving beyond the ordinary upkeep, ought to contribute the whole amount. In the second place, I 1059 think that instead of allocating three-fourths or four-fifths of their money, as they do now, to the roads surface they ought to consider very carefully this question of the bridges. I remember when we had the disastrous flood in Norfolk two years ago several of our bridges were washed away. They were not perhaps as good as they might have been, but still they had lasted a good many years and had withstood a good many storms. They gave way, however, under that great pressure, and the Norfolk County Council naturally asked the Road Board to assist them in erecting new bridges. The Norfolk people feel that they have a grievance against the Road Board, that they did not get such generous assistance as they felt that they might reasonably claim on that occasion. It was a very exceptional circumstance, it is true, but it was one in which the local ratepayers deserved more consideration than they got from the Road Board.
My hon. Friend who has just sat down referred to the case of street widening in non-county boroughs. Up to now I have not heard of any non-county borough that has got any assistance from the Road Board at all. We are often very highly rated in these non-county boroughs, and why the whole of this money, which is raised, at any rate, from different sources and from all sorts and conditions of people, should go entirely to the assistance of the county ratepayer as distinct from the borough ratepayer I cannot see. I cannot see any force in it. It so happens that Peterborough has a street called Narrow Street. A street which is not only narrow in name but narrow in fact. The corporation have spent hundreds of pounds already in getting the owners of property, when it is being rebuilt, to set it back a few feet in order to widen the street. It has been a ruinous business for us. I should not like to say off hand how many thousands we have spent during the fifteen years that I have been on the corporation. No motorist can get into our market place from the south without he goes along that street. It is a street used not only by the citizens, but by all people who pass through Peterborough, whether from the North to the South or from the South to the North. I venture to back up the suggestion of my hon. Friend that we do deserve in these non-county boroughs more consideration than we have had up to the present from the Road Board, and 1060 that the question of street widening might be one of the subjects with which it should deal.
§ Mr. CROOKS
I have only one or two observations to make about the desirability of improving the new southern road, in West Ham. It will be in the recollection of Londoners that London has extended away down East. It has the Victoria Docks, one hundred years old, and it has the Royal Albert Docks, about twenty years old, but there has never been any serious attempt to make a road. Nearly all the food supply goes along this road, and the men from the North and from the South would not live if it were not for this particular road. It has been noted for two crops a year for the last forty years. When I asked what the crops were they said, "One was a crop of mud and the other was a crop of dust." It retains its reputation to this very day. Traffic is sometimes held up for the want of a pull, or perhaps a taxi gets stuck. There is no necessity to have the police here. All you want is a little more power. You can always get a champion from the North or from the West of London to talk about the needs of a proper road surface for motorists, but the facilities you get for the merchandise of London to these so-called new docks still remain the same. You have only to say it is in the East End and they turn their noses up and walk away. Ninety-eight per cent. of the traffic of those roads is alien traffic, distributed over the whole of the Metropolis and various country districts. It would perhaps be a good thing if the Chairman of the Road Board would get a motor and come down and see us. We would take him over the road. If he were not able to see it, I will undertake that he would be able to feel it.
It passes the wit of man to regulate the traffic when it is hung up like that. If we get this road we shall have no repetition of the old story of the Parliament Street policeman who was stopping traffic to-allow Members of Parliament to cross the road. A lady looked out of her carriage window, and said, "You really must let me go by, officer, I am the wife of a Cabinet Minister." The policeman replied, "It does not matter to me if you are the wife of a Presbyterian minister, you won't get by here!" If what I have suggested is done you will be able to walk across the road quite freely. I want you to give some help to our end of the town. It would be really a boon. Let the Port of London 1061 Authority agree to make a grant. The local authorities are expected to make another grant. This is one of the main arteries for the food supply of London, and, I think, therefore, the Board should bear the whole expense. It is often remarked in the House of Commons, "The poor are very good, they help one another; they show their local patriotism, why interfere with them? May I put in a plea for the East End?
§ Mr. WALTER REA
I want to say a word in favour of the Road Board. Although I have considerable sympathy with my lion. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk and with his demand on the funds of the Road Board, I would point out we are all anxious on behalf of the localities in which we live and the constituencies which we represent to get our share of this money. But there is an obvious danger in carrying out the suggestion of my hon. Friend that if the Road Board is to pay the whole cost of constructing all these roads, we shall have one wild scramble to create unnecessary roads in every area in the country, the pressure on the Road Board will be such that they will be unable to give proper consideration to what is really required, and the money will be frittered away in areas represented by the most persistent Members of Parliament. My hon. Friend took exception to the fact that the Road Board does not contribute as much as it might to non-county boroughs. I have the honour of representing a non-county borough, and I do my share in seeing it is not unduly robbed by the county area; but I cannot be unmindful of the fact that, after all, the ratepayers in this class of county borough and in rural areas both have to contribute to the same rate, and any amount granted by the Road Board to the rural area is an actual relief to the pockets of the ratepayers in the non-county borough. That is an argument, therefore, which my hon. Friend must not press too far.
§ Mr. REA
I do not suggest that what I said was of universal application, but it does prevail to a large extent, and, so far, it is a relief to the ratepayer in the non-county borough. But I did not rise to find fault with the speeches of my two hon. Friends. I rose rather to protest against the attacks being made from all quarters on the Road Board, and in particular 1062 against the attacks being made in London. It seems to me a most unfair thing to say that a large amount of the money which the Road Board controls is raised in London, and that it ought, therefore to be spent in London. I am one of those wicked persons who runs a motor car, and, although I use it considerably in London, a large amount of the wear and tear of the roads of which my car is guilty occurs outside London, and, therefore, I think it is perfectly justifiable for the Road Board to say that much more than the share proportionate to the amount raised in the country should be spent in the country, because there is no doubt that a very large number of motor cars, mostly used in the country, are registered in London, which gets the benefit of the registration fees and similar payments. I feel that a great many of the local authorities, within a radius of 100 miles from London have a great grievance, inasmuch as these motor cars tear up their roads while the receipts are allocated to London, and it is only by means of the policy which, I understand, the Road Board are carrying out, that this thing can be made a little bit fairer.
I want to say a word in favour of the policy of the Road Board. We are told that they are hoarding money, and not spending it as quickly as it comes in. This, road problem has to be considered as a whole. It is no use building roads in a great hurry simply because there is money in the bank. There can be no more spendthrift way of getting rid of money than spending it merely because it is there. We want well-thought-out schemes for the benefit of the whole country, and if that involves a certain amount of delay, I am not going to say that that is an undesirable thing. Members in various quarters of the House have stated, both publicly and privately, that it is desirable public authorities should spend their money with discretion, and with an eye to the mitigation of unemployment in bad times. If the Road Board had spent all their money during the past year, they would have been doing the work at a most expensive time, when labour is scarce and employment plentiful. I am strongly of opinion it is greatly to the advantage of this House that the Road Board and the local authorities generally should reserve such work as they have to do, which is not of an urgent nature, until bad times, and then they may be able to spend the money and give out the work when it is required, and they will 1063 not be competing against one another, and paying uneconomic rates for roads which are needed, but which, after all, are not urgent.
I have in my mind a scheme for a road which is desired by many in the Lake District. There is a problem there which has to be faced, and one of the gravest dangers is that, if the Road Board is forced to consider the matter and receive local objections before the proper time, it may lead to irretrievable disaster to the amenities of this county. The Road Board has been pressed very hard to make a road from the centre of the Lake District to the West Coast, and, knowing something of the district, I am prepared to say that it would be an outrage to construct a road such as is attempted to force on the Road Board. There happens to be an alternative road much more free from objection, and I trust the Board will consider long before they decide. The alternative road is in the jurisdiction of three counties, and therefore there is considerable difficulty in getting everybody into line; but I strongly hope it may be possible for all the bodies to come together and to contribute what may be a fair share of the cost of the road, and thus prevent the desecration of some of the most beautiful valleys in the Lake District by roads which motorists and motor papers are trying to ram down the throat of the Road Board. I have no doubt the same thing applies to other districts throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. All these things require to be considered most carefully. Plans have to be made, and objections heard, before we can commit ourselves to the enormous expenditure involved in building brand new roads. Therefore, although I have the greatest sympathy with every Member who desires a larger amount to be spent in his own constituency, I feel it is most unfair to press the Road Board unduly to spend money before it is required, simply because they have that money in their pockets.
§ Mr. M'CURDY
No one, I am sure, can fail to realise that the national service which Parliament entrusted to the Road Board some four years ago is not only at the present time one of the most important of our national services, but it is a service which is growing in importance year by year. The revolution which the last ten years has seen in the conditions of our road traffic have been wholly unac- 1064 companied up to the present time by any corresponding revolution in the condition of the main roads of the country. We have, on the one hand, automobile traffic increasing in most extraordinary proportions year by year, and, on the other hand, we have all over the country roads which are mere relics of cattle tracks laid down by ancient Britons, wholly unsuitable to the modern forms of traffic they have to bear. It is an important service having regard to the amount of money involved in that expenditure year by year. At the present time I believe there are something like 2,000 different local authorities spending between them £15,000,000 a year upon the surface of the roads, an expenditure wholly unco-ordinated, an expenditure carried out not in pursuance of any general scheme laid down by any central authority, but in the hands of all those far too numerous authorities. We created the Road Board some four years ago, and I very much regret that we did. I think it would have been far better, if on an occasion like this, when the administration of the great public roads of this country comes up for consideration, we could be talking to the head of a Government Department, responsible to us and the country for the administration of the money concerned. But Parliament in its wisdom has decided otherwise, and we are under the painful necessity—always painful to Englishmen with their essential justice—of having to criticise the administration of people who unfortunately cannot be here to put forward their defence or views on the matter.
What is the real indictment on the part of the people of this country against the administration of the Road Board? I do not think it turns upon the minor matters referred to by some preceding speakers—it is rather a matter of broad principle. It is that, considering the fact that the coordination of the main roads and the connecting roads of this country is every year becoming more and more important, having regard to the great growth of traffic, and considering also the fact that we have entrusted to the Road Board vast responsibilities and very considerable funds for the purpose of carrying out those responsibilities, that up to the present we do not think that in their administration of those funds the Road Board is showing either the wisdom or the courage to grapple with those great problems of national traffic upon the scale that the time and occasion demands. The revenue in the hands of 1065 the Road Board amounts to more than £1,000,000 per year. Up to the present time the principal use which they appear to have made of that great revenue is to lock it up in investments. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I am ready to be corrected if I am wrong, but I think I am right in saying that of the first £3,300,000 received by the Road Board for the purpose of carrying out the duties entrusted to them, at the end of the three years of their existence a sum of £2,500,000 was safely invested. That may be a prudent financial policy.
I am not at all overlooking the fact that it is desirable that when expenditure upon great constructive works is handed over to any Department of the Government or any fresh departmental body, such as the Road Board, which was created by the Government for the purpose, they should have regard in their expenditure to those cycles of unemployment to which we must always be subject, and that they should, so far as possible, arrange that their expenditure of public money on great constructive works should be applied in those seasons when it will afford a real relief to unemployment, unaccompanied by any of the evils of indiscriminate charity or the pauperising of the recipients of the relief. When all those considerations are taken into account, I think we have a very substantial grievance against the Road Board in that a great central authority of this kind has not done all that they might and ought to do if they fully realised the great opportunities that lie before them. Consider for one moment the case of London alone Of the £1,200,000 which rolled into the coffers of the Road Board a very large proportion comes from the area of London—a much larger proportion than might be expected from the relative population of London and other parts of the country. The tax is provided mainly from o two sources, the product of the tax on petrol and the Carriage Duties, taxes to which London undoubtedly contributes a larger proportion than other parts of the country. What is the position with regard to London? I forget the exact date, but it must be two or three years ago since I received, as I have no doubt a good many other Members present received, a very large, bulky and interesting volume published by the Traffic Committee of the Board of Trade. I am speaking from memory, and may be misquoting the title of the body which published that very interesting volume. It was a volume con- 1066 taining a very large number of plans of London, and most elaborate and minute statistics with regard to the growth of traffic along every main road leading out of London at the present time. North, east, west, and south, the observers of the Board of Trade had waited day by day and hour by hour during the busiest hours of the day, during a certain period of time, and the Report showed at what an extraordinary rate the growth of traffic of all kinds has been increasing for some ten or twelve years and is still increasing in every direction out of London.
Not only was there in that Report the most abundant material for thought, but it was followed by what I venture to say were very valuable recommendations on the part of that Committee as to the policy which should be adopted with regard to providing this great Metropolis and centre of the Empire with means of exit and access somewhat adequate to the needs of the great population which it contains. First and foremost, they found the absolute necessity of finding a new means of exit and access for Londoners towards the east. At present we go in our motor cars along the ancient Roman road along which Queen Elizabeth used to travel by easy stages to take the pleasant air of Essex. It remains pretty much as it was in Queen Elizabeth's time. Traffic and population have altered considerably since the days of "Good Queen Bess," and the Committee of the Board of Trade reported, as the first necessity for Londoners, that we should construct a new eastern approach to London which would give access from London to the Eastern Counties. What did the Road Board do, or, for that matter, what has anybody done, in respect to that very important suggestion since the day when that very valuable and voluminous Report was issued? So far as I know, nothing whatever. And yet if we were to go and ask the advice of the Valuation Department of the Inland Revenue, we should be told, and rightly told, that every year, nay every month, which elapses without the Road Board or some other proper authority turning its attention to the necessity for constructing these new main roads, so much required in and out of London, is costing, and will cost the taxpayers of this country, who will ultimately have to pay for them, very large sums of money. We ask, and I think reasonably ask, that the Road Board, constituted as it is as the one central authority to con- 1067 sider this traffic problem, should not only take into their consideration an important report of that character, but should formulate some policy, should press that policy, and if necessary, seek the assistance of the Government to carry it out. What is true of London is equally true in a minor degree of the urban districts of this country. The urban districts contribute much the largest proportion of the funds which the Road Board have at their disposal; but do the urban districts get anything like their reasonable proportion of the Grants which are doled out from time to time. The exact opposite is the fact. The Road Board are mainly confining their energies to the petty and parochial task of rounding off road corners in rural districts, instead of turning their attention to great schemes or improving the main roads where the great centres of population are. I regret that this is not a matter which is placed by Parliament in the control of a Government Department, which might answer these criticisms with responsibility, and I regret that it is necessary to have to make these criticisms on a public body in their absence. But that is a fault for which I am not responsible.
§ Colonel YATE
I should like to join with the hon. Member in expresing my entire commendation of that voluminous Report which was submitted by the Board of Trade on the question of arterial roads in and out of London, and I should like to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give us some particulars to-night as to what is to be done to carry out the recommendations of that Committee. The Committee certainly drew up a most magnificent scheme for the great arterial roads in London, and it is not only the eastern roads which require to be done, but I would especially bring to mind the great urgency of the western roads. That question is hung up for the present, I understand, by various committees and councils which have not been able to come to a common understanding, and I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to collate all these different authorities and try and get them to come to some determination to carry out these roads at the earliest possible date. The want is increasing, and every day's delay means many thousands extra expense, and the sooner we can bring these various schemes to a settlement, and get something definitely decided on, the less cost 1068 there will be to the State. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us exactly what is being done to bring these schemes to a conclusion, and get a really good exit out of London, provided for in the East and the West, which is so urgently required. I trust that, in addition, he will tell us what is being done by the Road Board throughout the country to remove the tremendous dangers there are now, owing to high hedges and other things, at the cross roads, junctions and dangerous corners throughout the country. Those high hedges at cross roads have been the cause of many accidents throughout the country, and I trust that measures will be taken to keep them properly trimmed and cut low. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us a full explanation on these two points. What is being done to carry out the scheme of the London Arterial Roads, and what is being done throughout the country generally, in view of the great danger of accidents to motor traffic, at dangerous cross roads, junctions, and corners.
§ Mr. FARRELL
I should like to say a word on this Amendment from the Irish point of view. We find there is a very considerable increase of motor traffic in our country for the last couple of years, and in order to meet that new form of traffic the county councils have been endeavouring to have the main roads of the country improved. Towards that end they have been praying for Grants from the Road Board to enable them to make the roads wider and better, and more suitable for this kind of traffic. So far as I understand, there is no representative of any kind of Irish interests on this Board at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is one."] He is, so far as our experience of his interest in the work which the Board is supposed to do goes, very inefficient for our purpose. We in the county of Longford applied to the county council, of which I am a member, for the usual Grant, and before we received any consideration for our application at all we had to submit a regular scheme to this Board, which involved the ratepayers, between all the costs incurred in the purchase of machinery and plant, and everything of that kind, in an expenditure of close on £30,000. When all this was done, we found that in order to secure a paltry Grant of some £1,250 we had to prepare a scheme which meant double that sum. After that, through influence which was brought to bear by a Noble Lord in another place, a small additional Grant was given for the 1069 purpose of doing some short distance of public roads in the immediate vicinity of the town of Longford. But beyond these comparatively trifling sums, though the ratepayers of the county were involved in an expenditure of close on £30,000, we received no Grant whatever from the Board, except what I mentioned. I believe the same applies to other counties. I have seen it stated in the Irish Metropolitan Press that other counties, with a larger valuation than ours, have been even worse treated.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell as what steps the Board of Trade, or the Treasury, will take in this matter, and that they will consider the advisability of giving some direct representation to Irish public bodies on this Board—the county council for the county, or the general county council for Ireland, which is a very representative body, comprising men of standing in the country who take a great interest in the work of local government and the development of road traffic in that country. I hope we shall have a sympathetic reply which will assure public bodies that before they plunge into a large expenditure of public money, such as I have mentioned, they shall have their claims sympathetically considered by this Board. Up to the present it has been a struggle to get even small Grants from this Board, and such small Grants as they have been able to get have only been given to us on the condition of imposing a very large expenditure on the public bodies of the country. I do not think that that is fair. I think when a Board of this kind is placed in charge of the disposition of large sums of public money it should certainly not impose on the ratepayers more than their due share of loss in connection with the working of those schemes. The roads of Ireland, owing to the poverty of the country, have not been as well made in old times as your roads in England, and they have not been so well kept. That is the inevitable result of the administration of the country for many years past, but now that you have come to have a different system of road making, and that you are applying money secured through great public revenue towards that purpose, I hope the hon. Gentleman will give some attention to the claims of roads in Ireland. We are endeavouring to meet the new circumstances in that country as well as we can out of small means, and I submit that it is too bad that conditions should be 1070 imposed on public bodies which are beyond our means and which mean to our people burdens almost intolerable to bear.
§ Mr. BENTHAM
I wish to draw attention to an additional iniquity of the Road Board. I sincerely hoped that when the Government, four years ago, gave to this responsible Board the distribution of large sums of money local authorities would get more liberal treatment. I hope that the precedent will not be followed again. I do not know what is going to happen to the large sums of money in the hands of the Board. They may mount up to £5,000,000 or £10,000,000, and it may be that in future a Chancellor of the Exchequer in need of money might observe these fat sums doing nothing, and, with a subservient majority at its back, might use them for objects for which they were not intended. We in Lincolnshire have a distinct grievance. There is from the sea to Gainsborough a distance of fifty to fifty-five miles and no bridge at all over the Humber or the Trent. We made application to the Road Board for a very modest amount of money—only a few thousand pounds—to enable us to free the toll on the bridge at Gainsborough. If they had given the smallest encouragement—only a paltry £5,000, which is a large amount to us, but a small amount to the Road Board—it would have induced the county councils and the town to contribute the balance, and thus we would have been very materially helped indeed. The answer of the Road Board was that they could not give a penny for such a purpose as this, as the money was only given to them to improve roads, and they went so far as to say that if the toll was removed there would be more traffic, and the roads, instead of being improved, would be deteriorated. I should like to say that, in my opinion, the Road Board would find no better use for their moneys than in enabling local authorities to get rid of this incubus on traffic and locomotion, and in encouraging them to free such bridges as I have mentioned.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Montagu)
In the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend regret is expressed that "His Majesty's Speech contains no reference to the unfair administration by the Road Board of the funds under its control." Most of the speeches have been addressed to asking the Treasury to use its influence. I think 1071 my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. J. Samuel) said that I should assert my position and try to persuade the Road Board to make Grants for Middlesbrough, East Ham, and for places all over Scotland, and England. The Treasury has absolutely no voice at all in this matter. It has no voice by the express desire of Parliament, because, when setting up the Development Fund, this House was afraid of what was then termed "political corruption," and in the Act of Parliament, from which the Road Board gets its power, the independence of the Road Board of Treasury control was very carefully provided for. I should like to read to the House a quotation from a speech made during the passage of the Bill by Sir Samuel Evans, who was then a Law Officer of the Crown. Speaking on behalf of the Government as to the members of the Road Board, he said:—Their position, therefore, is one of complete independence. The right hon. Baronet said that they will be the creatures of the Treasury; but they will in no sense be the creatures of that department, except in the sense that the appointments rest with it. In no other sense will they at all be the creatures of the Treasury. The Treasury will have no control whatsoever over the Commissioners. The Treasury cannot take away from the Commissioners any application or scheme which any authority or responsible body may send.The case for Ireland has been forcibly raised by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Farrell). The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) said, in a speech when the Bill was before the House, that on the whole, he was rather disposed to think that there should be independent Commissioners to distribute this money. I think anyone who has listened to this Debate will realise that the difficulties would be increased a hundredfold if, instead of having the Road Board dispassionately and independently considering the merits of schemes referred to them, a Minister in this House had been made responsible for every action, and had to listen to the heartrending appeals of various Members in various quarters of the House on behalf of particular constituencies. All that it is necessary for me to do is to protest in the strongest possible manner against the wording of the Amendment, though not against the speeches delivered in support of it. There is no evidence whatever, and none has been produced to-night, that there has been anything at all unfair in the allocation of money by this independent body of Commissioners who administer the Road Board Grants. I can supply hon. Members with the most recent figures up to 1072 the 31st January, 1914. The net income available for Grants and loans to the Road Board on that date was very nearly £1,250,000, and if you add together the Grants that have been made and the Grants which will be made in accordance with schemes that have already been approved, there has been an excess of expenditure over actual revenue of nearly half a million sterling.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
The amounts paid under Grants are just over £1,000,000 sterling, and the Grants indicated in excess of payments come to over £2,000,000 sterling.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I am coming to that point in a minute. I do suggest to the House that it is a great mistake to insist upon the actual expenditure. These are large sums, and it takes some time to provide schemes and some time to allot contracts, and to suggest that the Road Board has not been paying money out fast would be a great mistake. The hon. Member who moved this Amendment asked me to explain in what way the Road Board proposed to allocate this money. Hon. Members say that they can detect no principle in the way in which the money is allocated. I will tell the House the principle. It is allocated upon the principle, roughly speaking, of population. In accordance with this rough allocation according to population, England and Wales get 82 per cent., Scotland 11 per cent., and Ireland 7 per cent. Scotland, as I would point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Elgin, who told the pathetic tale of the conditions in Morayshire, gets slightly more than her share, according to population, because the Road Board take into account the exceptionally large amount of what can be described in Scotland as foreign motor traffic.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
When the Road Board is entrusted with this responsible task of allocating money to particular counties, or districts in counties, or parishes in districts, it is a matter which requires the sifting of all pressing needs and the weighing of one claim against another 1073 and a strong determination to prevent the judgment being fogged by the attractiveness of the method in which the appeal has come to us from the hon. Member. Then, there is a second principle upon which the Road Board allocates Grants. They believe it to be the right thing to do to allocate the money first for the process which is technically known as the reconstruction of the crust of the road rather than for widening. When the hon. Member thought that he was attacking the policy of the Road Board, the was supporting it. He dislikes tar macadam. So also do the Road Board. The policy of the Road Board is that they consider that their first claim is to prevent the necessity for continuing repairs to the road by improving the crust at a time when the matter is so urgent that if the work was not done the road crust would be destroyed because it was not sufficiently solid, so that it would be entirely spoilt and have to be rebuilt. Bo the first distribution of money has been for a reconstruction of the crust.
The second distribution of money has been for making new roads rather than for widening roads. It has been the policy of the Road Board to put off, as being the least urgent, eases in which the vast bulk of the money which they would grant would be spent, not on constructing the roads, but on the purchase of property, for the simple reason that these matters, being spread over a large number of years, are really better subjects for loans than for grants of money, and are of necessity less national in their purpose than roads that can be attended to without the expense of purchasing. The hon. Member who seconded this Amendment compared the road which he wants built at Victoria Docks, in the matter of expense, with the new road which is suggested to be built, the Brentford loop road, as an approach from the west. That road would be five miles long. The road which he suggests would be a little more than a mile long. These are all conflicting claims. The Road Board have to exercise their independent judgment and to decide on the principles, which I have tried to explain to the House, what are the most urgent and what ought to come first, having regard to the amount at their disposal. Everybody would like to see his own pet scheme carried out, but this income is just over £1,000,000 a year and it is impossible to carry out everything, or nearly everything. I do not think, if the hon. Member 1074 will forgive me, that any cases have been so unsympathetically dealt with as he suggests they have been dealt with by the Road Board. A deputation waited upon the' Road Board, as he described, in support of the proposed new roads. I think the hon. Member himself was present, and the Chairman answered it, and refused the application. He said:—The conclusion the Board came to on consideration of all the schemes affecting Greater London was that the Western Approach Road was the one that should be taken first, not to the exclusion of others, but merely in priority. The Board had to deal with the whole of the United Kingdom.That is the whole of my case. I am quite certain that hon. Members will achieve the object they desire in expressing their views in regard to the Road Board, because this Debate will be reported, and the Road Board, of course, will read the comments which have been made.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
The non-county boroughs is the case to which the hon. Member referred. I would point out that, although they have a highway rate of their own, the money granted to the county councils has some effect on the non-county boroughs, even if it has no direct effect in rounding off corners of narrow streets in Stockton and Peterborough. It is, after all, a conflict of two methods. The Houses of Parliament might have decided in their wisdom that they would not allocate the funds to one of the Departments in order that they might bully the Minister in charge of that Department, with a view to getting something. I am bound to say, after listening to this Debate, that I should not envy the Minister in charge of that Department if Parliament so decided. But Parliament decided differently. It decided that the Road Board should be an independent body appointed by the Treasury, and should have complete control over this money. I beg to suggest that anybody who has listened to this Debate to-night will say, that although, as is his duty, he made out a strong case on behalf of those of whom he speaks, there is absolutely no ground to suggest that the Road Board, to use the words of the Amendment, has been unfair in its administration of the funds under its control.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have listened to the speech of the hon. Gentleman, who 1075 I will not say was defending the Road Board, but was answering for that body, And I am not surprised that he took refuge in the Act of Parliament, and that he expressed his pleasure that he has not been subjected to the pressure which undoubtedly would have been put upon him by Members of his own side—[AN HON. MEMBER: "And your side"]—if he had been responsible for the allocations of the moneys of the Road Board. I am not quite sure who has spoken on this side, but the complaints made have come from all over the country—Stockton, Peterborough, West Ham, and the eastern counties—and I think that every complaint came from that side of the House, and every attempt to get money out of the Road Board has come from that side. I do not want to be offensive in my suggestion, but it will be quite a pleasant feeling among Radicals that there is a chance of getting pickings for their own constituencies.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
If we are all right, I have not got any of those pickings. I will let the hon. Member into a secret in regard to that. Two days ago I presented a Petition to this House from the inhabitants of High Street, Brentford, against it. I have taken no part whatever in that matter, and it so happens that in my Division there is very divided opinion with regard to that road. I hope very much I shall not be a member of the Private Bill Committee which has to decide that question.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I thoroughly agree with the answer of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, that it is very undesirable that any Minister should have official charge of giving out these Grants. When the Bill came before Parliament, an undertaking was given that it should be an independent body, and that it should not be in the power of any Minister to submit to the pressure put by hon. Members in order to get funds for roads in different parts of the country. But I am afraid I cannot altogether acquit the Road Board in regard to the way in which they have managed those funds. I am not saying one word as to the particular locality, but I dc want to say a word as to the whole 1076 method in which they have allocated or dealt with those funds. The hon. Gentleman gave us the figures. He gave us an income up to the present time, January, 1914, of four and a quarter millions, which the Road Board had received almost entirely from the extra taxes placed by the Act both upon pleasure and upon commercial motors, owing to the Petrol Duty. These taxes were imposed upon motorists by reason of the motor traffic. The motoring community, in some respects, were entitled to bear, for pleasure as well as commercial motors, a part of the expense, and I fully and frankly accepted their obligation to contribute to the expense of widening and improving the crust, which must be necessary, because of the new form of traffic brought upon the road. The income was four and a quarter millions, and the Grants paid amount to one million. The Grants indicated amount to two millions, and I assume the balance is accumulating.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I only gave the rough figures. I have here the accurate figures. You will have to add together the Grants paid and the amounts paid in loans, and that comes to £1,377,000 actually paid. The Grants indicated in excess of payments amount to £2,380,000, loans £906,000, which together makes £3,280,000, or an excess over the income up to the 1st January of £453,000.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I will not trouble about the odd figures, but that is that the sum of £3,000,000 is to be paid in Grants and Loans, but the sums indicated are not yet paid. The point I desire to make is that the Road Board might have spent some of that money which is covered by Grants and Loans indicated. I tried last Session in this House to get out of the representative of the Road Board when they thought those Grants would be really required. I ventured to make the prophecy that certainly one million of them would be wanted during the current year. I should be very much surprised indeed if, when I put the question to the hon. Gentleman, he is able to come and show me that £1,000,000 out of the three and a half millions is at all likely to be paid out during the current year. If that is the case—and I think he will find it is—we are entitled in this House to say to him that though the Road Board is independent of him, and is an independent body, he is either by Statute or by some decision of the House appointed here to answer for the Road Board, and he at least can convey to that Board the opinion of the 1077 House that they must not go on hoarding this money, but that if the Grants for loans are not taken up within a reasonable time by the local authority to whom they have been indicated, they must put them on one side and deal with the more pressing roads and the more pressing Grants required. There is a very strong feeling throughout the country amongst the motorists who pay this tax against the Road Board hoarding this money. They do not object to paying that money, but they want it spent on the improvement of the roads. Roads are waiting for improvement in the crusts, and corners have to be rounded off, and widenings have to be effected.
I may say also I see no reason why the Road Board should not take a share in the widening of roads. We want the hon. Member to convey to the Road Board that we do feel in this House that they might spend their money more freely. I think some of the complaints made by hon. Members opposite with regard to the poorer districts were perfectly justified. The Road Board likes to make a contribution or Grant where there is a certainty that a rich county council will make a correspondingly large Grant. There is a very great difficulty in poorer districts in getting the county council or the local authority to make a corresponding Grant. I do not think the Road Board ought to be very strict in that way, and if there is a poor locality where the roads are used by motorists and cut up by them, and where there is difficulty from the poverty of the neighbourhood in getting a contribution, they should not be so insistent in regard to those localities, but help them in doing the work of improving the crust, rounding the corners and widening. They should make Grants, and see that they are spent quickly, and not continue to hoard up the money in the way they are doing now.
§ Mr. WILLIAM FIELD
I desire to point out that the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said very little about Ireland. I am a member of the General Council of the County Councils of Ireland, and I am also a member of the County Council of Dublin. We had several deputations, on this subject, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that it seems to be exceedingly difficult to get any money from the Board. So far as I am able to understand the finances of the Road Board, the 1078 money appears to be hoarded up and not given, sometimes, in cases in which Grants might be very well made in aid of a particular district. The hon. Gentleman stated that one of the main ideas in regard to the Road Board was population, and that according to the population Grants would be given. I would like him to convey to the Road Board that a sparse population means a poor country. If you have two big cities lying at each end of a road through a poor district, surely that is exactly the kind of road that ought to be helped by the Road Board. It seems to me that the poorer districts and the sparsely populated districts are precisely the places where Grants ought to be given. The Financial Secretary spoke about a Minister being bullied in this House. I have been twenty-two years a Member of this House, and my experience is that the Minister generally bullies the House instead of the House bullying the Minister. I think it is quite obvious under our system of Government. The Government takes all the time of the House, practically, and the private Member is almost reduced to a cypher. Except to ask a question or to vote according as he is told, they appear to have very few rights, and the idea that private Members are going to bully a Minister is a kind of fairy tale I do not believe. I think the majority of Members would agree with that. I know that this Board is founded on what appears to me to be quite a peculiar principle.
I do not know how we are to get at this Board, except through this House. I am a practical man, and I want results. I have been on deputations to this Road Board; we have got plenty of compliments, sympathy, soft talk, and all that sort of thing, but very little money. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but money is no laughing matter. So far as Ireland is concerned, lack of sufficient railway accommodation is a reason why the Road Board should be more generous in Ireland than in England. In England you have the whole country covered by railways supplying the necessary means of communication, which is not the case in Ireland. Now that motors have come to stay, I think it will be the duty of the Road Board to provide not alone for the pleasure seekers, but for the commercial traffic. I am more interested in the commercial side. We in Ireland are not satisfied with the hon. Gentleman's explanation in this respect, and if 1079 it is in order for him to give a further idea of what he is going to do, we shall be very glad to hear him. Apparently the Road Board is in an almost impregnable position. We can only approach them by deputation or by writing or reasoning with them, and it is all lost time. I think that a more sensible policy ought to be adopted. The Road Board ought to endeavour to provide, wherever possible, proper transit facilities on the main roads of the three countries. I agree that the policy of hoarding up money is indispensable. That money has been collected mainly through the Petrol and the Motor Taxes, and it ought to be expended. Whether it is in the bank, or wherever it is, it has been collected, and it ought to be spent. The hon. Member who spoke last was quite right in saying that the Secretary for the Treasury has given us an indication of how the money is being dealt with. But we want more than an indication; we want facts, and we want money, in order that the improvement to the roads may be carried out. I hope the hon. Gentleman will give a further explanation with regard to the policy to be pursued in Ireland.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
With regard to hoarding up this money, I think, if the hon. Members refer to speeches made from the Front Bench when the Act was under discussion, they will find that it was distinctly understood that the money should be kept as far as possible for times when unemployment was rife. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Very great complaints have been made against the Road Board. They have a very difficult task, and so far as my experience goes, they have carried it out very well. They have very, very great difficulties, and the only remedy for all this complaint is one which cannot be far away, namely, that all this road expenditure should come upon the Imperial Exchequer. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not all."] Very nearly the whole of it.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
The main roads; that is what I mean. What struck me as being a most extraordinary thing was the attitude of my hon. Friend on the Front Bench who answered on behalf of the Road Board, although he took no responsibility for the Road Board. His speech seemed to me to be very 1080 reactionary. The Road Board has been created, no doubt, partly owing to the appeals made from the other side, but it is certainly a most extraordinary thing that we in this country should have a body dispensing millions of money, and yet that nobody in this House is responsible. My hon. Friend says that he does not envy the position of the Minister who would have to answer for this money. On the Front Bench there are Ministers who answer for the expenditure of twenty, thirty, and forty millions. Of course, when the Government take over the main roads, there will not be so many local applications, because then there will be, or may be, a challenge in the House over any particular main road. It will be the same then as with the telegraphs and the telephones. I cannot understand the present position. It is a very bad principle which has been followed. As I have said, I have no fault to find with the administration of the Road Board, but there is the Development Commission which has got large Grants, and who controls them: who says to them, "What are you doing?" I can point to one or two Grants which they have made which I should strongly challenge, and will do so when I get the opportunity. But there you are again! Parliament has given them the powers, but the time must come when any body who has the spending of taxes, or the expenditure of income derived from taxation, must be represented by a Minister who shall be held responsible to the House, and who can meet the challenging of the House from time to time when his vote comes on. It is no use our moving to reduce the salary of my hon. Friend by £100 on account of the Road Board. He is not responsible for it. Yet he defends the Board. Very properly no doubt. I have no complaint to make. I find fault—and I am sure the House will when they come to consider it—with the principle which enables a Board outside this House and outside Parliament, to expend millions of money.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
While no Member of the Front Bench is responsible for that expenditure, this cannot go on. These main roads will, I suppose, be put upon the Exchequer, and then some Minister will be held responsible for the whole of the roads of the Kingdom, and the money that comes from these various taxes. Until that is done you will always have these complaints, and sectional 1081 complaints, without any satisfaction, with the same defence, from the Front Bench from a Gentleman who is not responsible for anything.
§ Colonel WESTON
On behalf of a north country constituency, I just wish to say that having had considerable experience of the Road Board, I think the impartial manner in which they have administered their funds has been extremely satisfactory. But I do think there is a very strong feeling in my constituency that where counties have a very large extent of roads, that we should get something for the maintenance of these roads, apart from mere improvements. We are put to enormous additional expense. We have a very large through traffic, and that wears our roads in a manner well known to those who have to use them. We feel very strongly that some of this money—I do not say the whole of it—ought to go to repairs of the roads. I think that ought to be pressed upon the Road Board with great urgency. There is another point; that the counties are vieing with each other as to who can get most out of the Road Board by the amounts they themselves contribute. I think that is a wrong principle. I think we ought to have these Grants made apart from local resources. I think that counties having to subscribe one half and the Road Board another half is a wrong principle. We are going on with a deal of work which is really unnecessary, just because the Road Board will help with one half, though the county does not consider the work necessary. That is my criticism of the Road Board, the administration of which, I think, is otherwise fair and impartial.
§ Mr. O'SHEE
The Secretary to the Treasury in his speech stated that the principle upon which the Road Board is distributing this money between England Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, is, roughly, the principle of population. I have just refreshed my memory on the figures of population and I find if this money was distributed on that principle, the population of Ireland being 4,390,000, and the population of England and Wales being 36,070,000, if 7 per cent. is the right proportion, roughly, for Ireland, then the right proportion, roughly, for England and Wales would be 57¾ per cent., not 82 per cent., which England and Wales are getting. And Scotland, the population of which is 4,760,000, would only be entitled to 8 per cent., whereas, according to 1082 the figures, she is getting 11 per cent., so that the basis of population has not been, roughly, accepted. It is clear from the figures that if the basis of population, roughly, were accepted, England and Wales are receiving 24 per cent. more than they ought to receive, and Scotland is receiving 3 per cent. more than she ought to receive. When the Road Board Bill was in Committee in this House, the suggestion was made that the proportions between the three countries should not be 80, 11, 9, which is the proportion adopted for England, Scotland, and Ireland in other matters. It was suggested to the Irish members on that Committee that it was likely Ireland would receive, out of this fund, a larger proportion than 9 per cent. The roads in Ireland are not, as everybody knows who travels on them, at all as efficient as the roads of England, Scotland, and Wales. The poverty of Ireland, taken as a whole, does not enable it, out of its own resources, to keep the roads of the country in as good a state as the roads of this country, and it was suggested that the proportion of 80, 11, 9 should not be inserted, because Ireland would be likely to receive a larger proportion than 9 per cent., which is the proportion allowed Ireland out of the Probate and Whisky Duties.
The result has been that Ireland has suffered a very large loss indeed in the adminstration of this fund by the Road Board. It is, therefore, very disappointing to hon. Members from Ireland to hear the figures which have been given by the Financial Secretary. I should like to know what staff the Road Board has got in Ireland. I am told it consists of only one county surveyor who has, I understand, his own work to do in his own county, and to him is dedicated the entire work of supervision and report for the Road Board as far as Ireland is concerned. It is obvious that this gentleman, having his own duties as county surveyor to attend to, cannot be in a position to report satisfactorily or sufficiently to the Road Board as regards the requirements of all the counties in Ireland. I will give one instance of what has been done. The Road Board has undoubtedly recognised that the great circular coast road through the most picturesque scenery of Ireland, running from Dublin through Wicklow, Wexford, Cork and Kerry, deserves from them recognition. What I complain of is that although they give it recognition it is very inadequate. In the county 1083 of Waterford, which I represent, through which that circular road runs, the only money the Waterford County Council has got from the Road Board in respect of that great circular route from the coast of Ireland is £2,200. I know they have been promised a further sum of £2,000 to improve twelve miles of this road, but it is obvious that £4,200 is not sufficient. On the basis of population Waterford County, with a population of 90,000, by getting only £4,200, is not receiving one-half of what it is entitled to on the basis of population. I trust the result of this Debate will be that the Road Board will reconsider this allocation, and if they do adopt the basis of population, I hope they will adopt it more accurately than they have in the past. Let it be a fair allocation, and not a rough one on the basis of population, which hits Ireland so much, as it has been hit by the allocations of the past.
§ Mr. LYELL
My hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury waited long and patiently to the criticisms of the Road Board, but if he thought he had waited until those criticisms had been exhausted, the speeches he has listened to since must have disabused his mind of that notion. Unlike hon. Members who have spoken, I do not desire to make any claim for the Constituency I represent. A great many complaints have been made and, of course, we all complain when we do not get the money we want. A short time ago there was a distribution of public money for Scotland, and hon. Members for all parts of Scotland were extremely anxious that the allocation should meet the views of each of their particular constituencies. In the picturesque language of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, they vied with one another in the attractiveness of the arguments they put forward. It seems to me that a great deal of the difficulty which has exhibited itself in the Debate to-night arises from the obvious fact that at the present time we are in a state of transition, and that in more senses than one. In the first place, we are in a state of transition from horse traffic to mechanically propelled traffic. It is only necessary in order to realise that to study the difficulties of road authorities in such places as London, where a surface has got to be kept which is suitable, as far can be for both, and which, as a result, is not as suitable as it might be for either. We have got to get a road surface which 1084 will stand the heavy weight of mechanically propelled traffic, and at the same time we have got to get a road surface that will give a holding ground for the few horses that remain. It is a state of transition, but it is not a very wild prophecy to indulge in to say that before many years have passed horse traffic will be extinct, then the problem of making a road suitable for mechanically propelled traffic will not be so difficult.
We are in a state of transition in another sense. I want to associate myself very warmly with the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire (Mr. J. M. Henderson). If it were not clear before, this Debate would certainly have made it clear that the present position is one which cannot last. There is no Minister directly answerable for the Department which has the administration of these large funds. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no political or Parliamentary pressure should be exercised upon it; but it is perfectly obvious that this question is getting larger and larger, and must get larger and larger as time goes on. I venture to associate myself with my hon. Friend in what he said about the nationalisation of the main roads. That seems to be an urgent question, and a way out of the difficulty, but, as he pointed out, if the main roads are to be nationalised, it is quite clear that there will have to be a Minister responsible for them. What we call him does not much matter. In other countries where they take a more serious view of these matters, they have a Minister responsible for communications only. There have been cavillings over the multiplication of officials. I think, if and when the time comes when hon. Members opposite occupy seats upon this side of the House, that they will discover that the growing complication of governing any country renders some such multiplication a matter of urgent necessity, no matter which party happens to be responsible. By means of the nationalisation of our roads we shall avoid a great many of the injustices of which hon. Members have complained to-night. The hon. and gallant Member the Member for Westmoreland informed us that there was an enormous amount of through traffic. It is obviously unfair that a county without any high rateable value should be compelled to keep up roads for the benefit of this through traffic, which is getting a larger and larger feature of that which goes past upon our roads. The best 1085 instance I know of is in the constituency of West Perthshire, represented by the Noble Lord opposite (Marquess of Tullibardine). He knows very well—indeed he will not contradict me—when I say that the county of Perth has a comparatively low rateable value, and yet, when one takes up a position in the months of August and September along the road from Perth to Inverness, he will see a regular procession of motor cars going past—cars which return later, and which do not contribute a single penny towards the upkeep of the road. He will bear me out also when I say that since the multiplication of these motors the roads has very considerably deteriorated. I think a great many of the arguments which have been put forward to-night would be met by the policy of nationalisation of the main roads. My hon. Friend who has answered for the Road Board has exhausted his right to speak, but I have no doubt he has taken note of the criticisms offered since he spoke, and we may hope that those notes will bear good fruit in the future.
§ Mr. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I agree with a good deal of what fell from the last speaker. This is one of those comparatively rare occasions in this House when it is possible to adopt a non-party frame of mind, and it is with some satisfaction I find myself in a partial measure of agreement and a considerable measure of disagreement with what has been said by hon. Members in all quarters of the House. There has been three criticisms put forward on the present position. It is said that the Road Board is inaccessible from the point of view of the House, that it has made a mistake in hoarding its funds, and that when it distributes those funds it does so on wrong principles. In the first place, I will deal with the question of the accessibility of the Road Board from the point of view of this House. Hon. Members should remember that when the Road Board was created it was deliberately and of set purpose and after full examination made inaccessible to Members of this House, and the reason for that was plain. It was the warning which we had had in different countries—notably in New Zealand—of the evil effects of making a Department like this directly amenable to Parliamentary pressure. I admit if you are to nationalise the main roads the case assumes a different aspect, but I sincerely want to press upon hon. Members who have spoken about the present position of the Road Board that Parliament ought 1086 to think long and carefully before it reverses a position deliberately arrived at so long as the existing state of things continues and makes this Board vested with the duty of dividing sums of money entrusted to it among different localities in the country, directly amenable to Parliamentary pressure in the House.
Then it is said that the Road Board in the course of a comparatively brief existence has contrived to accumulate a great, deal of money. While a certain amount of that is ear-marked for future Grants and loans, a considerable sum, it is said, ought to have been spent. I do not agree. We have had to learn, as far as road-making in this country is concerned, by experience. The time was when our roads, were great highways, and were the means, of communication by mail coaches, and in those days road-making for the purposes, of that kind of locomotion reached its very highest point. Now we have a new form of traffic altogether to deal with. We learn by experience and by the experience of other countries. An hon. Member mentioned the case of France. I say, without hesitation, that even at the present moment our roads on the whole compare very favourably indeed with the French roads. I have recently had opportunities of making personal inspection, and I say that except in a few cases where, owing to the heavy motor omnibus traffic just outside London, it is possible the roads are in a bad condition, our roads do compare very favourably with those of France. I repeat we have to learn by experience. If the Road Board immediately on being entrusted with this large sum of money had proceeded to expend it on the improvement of the existing roads, I think the House would now find that a very considerable proportion of the amount so spent would have been wasted. It is only comparatively recently that road engineers have come to realise that when dealing with a road it is no use tinkering at the top of it; that a road is to be regarded as a species of bridge, and that the whole of the road has to be strong enough to carry the traffic put upon it. Now we have arrived at the point when road engineers in this country are becoming equal to dealing with the strain put upon the roads by mechanical traction. I join with my hon. Friends who expressed the view that the policy of hoarding should not be continued. It has been a wise policy in the past, but I hope it will not continue as a permanent policy.
1087 With regard to expenditure on roads, I hope the House will remember that the money was originally given not so much for the construction of new roads as partially for the improvement of corners, and other things, on existing roads, so as to enable a higher rate of speed to be maintained. It was money given for the improvement of the surfaces or crusts of existing roads. I certainly think that ought to be the first charge. As to the third criticism, namely, the problem of distribution, the hon. Gentleman who spoke from below the Gangway (Mr. O'Shee) mentioned the basis of population as being, in his opinion, a satisfactory basis for distribution. He talked about the Goschen basis of 80 per cent., 11 per cent. and 9 per cent. I entirely disagree with the view that population is a fair basis for the purposes of distribution. The criterion ought not to be population, but necessity. Money ought to be given to improve roads, not where 100,000 or 200,000 or even 10,000 people live in the locality. It ought to be given, if it is wanted, for the upkeep of the road. That, and that alone, ought to be the test. I hope the House will not let it go forth as its considered opinion that population ought to be considered as the sole factor. If it is, many parts of the country which have to bear a very heavy cost at the present moment through the depredations upon their roads of motor cars registered in great commercial centres or great cities would come off very poorly. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Ireland?"] What would happen in many country districts in Ireland if you took population as the basis, with motor cars registered in Dublin or Belfast going about those districts?
§ Mr. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I have no objection to seeing that Ireland gets its fair share of any Grants that are going. All I am anxious about is that when one is made it ought not to be appropriated by the great centres of population to the exclusion of the rural districts, because it is in the country districts that the greatest necessity is felt. It is there that much the greatest damage is done, and certainly when the contribution is being made I hope regard will be had not merely to population, but to the basis of real necessity, which ought to be the basis of all your Grants.
§ Mr. NORMAN CRAIG
As regards the question of nationalisation of roads from the point of view of property that is a question altogether outside the area of this Debate, but in the limited sense of nationalisation, I think that the expenditure of the money available for the Road Board should be upon national lines, not from the point of view of nationalisation, but from the point of view of national means. I agree entirely with what has fallen from my hon. Friend, that as regards expenditure of money upon roads it is not by the counting of heads that the expenditure of money should be determined. It is by user, by need, and not by population that this question should be dealt with. I hope that in the hoarding of their money the Board may bear this in mind, that that money may be available for the maintaining of roads which are national in this sense, that they are used by the people as a whole. It is not for the sake of building local roads where there are no local needs, that money voted for this purpose should be spent. It is for the purpose of maintaining roads which are maintained at present by local rates, which are in fact used by the people all over the country, that the monies should be devoted. Where you have local expenditure to a large extent, you should have Imperial assistance if that local expenditure is upon rates which really go to meet national needs, and it is, I imagine, for that purpose that this fund was originally created. I agree that there is some ground for criticism of the Board for the hoarding of its funds. I do not altogether disagree with the fact that they have hoarded to the extent of waiting to see where the need was, but I hope they will see their way to spend in the proper direction. I hope too they will see, not only that they spend their money properly, but will see, too, that to the extent of their ability, contribution is made to their funds which go to the maintenance of the roads by that class of vehicle which does more to destroy the roads than all the ordinary vehicles which use them. I shall be glad to see, either on the part of the Road Board, or on the part of any other body some determined attempt to see that the heavy vehicles which destroy the roads, make large profits, and pay no special contribution, should be made to contribute to the funds of the Road Board, and make available to that Board much larger funds, to make good the 1089 damage which unquestionably is done by the user of that class of vehicle.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 55; Noes, 263.1091
|Division No. 8.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Anson, Rt. Hon. Sir William R.||Gilmour, Captain John||Sanders, Robert Arthur|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Gretton, John||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Bathurst, Charles (Wilts, Wilton)||Harrison-Broadley, H. B.||Strauss, Arthur (Paddington, North)|
|Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks||Hibbert, Sir Henry F.||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Bethell, Sir J. H.||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Thompson, Robert (Belfast, North)|
|Blair, Reginald||Hope, Major J. A. (Midlothian)||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Down, North)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hunt, Rowland||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Jessel, Captain H. M.||Touche, George Alexander|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Joynson-Hicks, William||Weston, Colonel J. W.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Larmor, Sir J.||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Cave, George||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Williamson, Sir Archibald|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Malcolm, Ian||Winterton, Earl|
|Dalrymple, Viscount||Newton, Harry Kottingham||Yate, Colonel C. E.|
|De Forest, Baron||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Duke, Henry Edward||Pollock, Ernest Murray|
|Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.||Pryce-Jones, colonel E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Fell, Arthur||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)||Mr. Norman Craig and Mr. Sanderson.|
|Fitzroy, Hon. Edward A.||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour)||Crooks, William||Hayden, John Patrick|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Crumley, Patrick||Hayward, Evan|
|Adamson, William||Cullinan, John||Hazleton, Richard|
|Addison, Dr. Christopher||Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)||Helme, Sir Norval Watson|
|Agnew, Sir George William||Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Hemmerde, Edward George|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Davies, Ellis William (Eifion)||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)|
|Alden, Percy||Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbarton)||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Henry, Sir Charles|
|Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud)||Dawes, James Arthur||Herbert, General Sir Ivor (Mon., S.)|
|Armitage, Robert||Delany, William||Higham, John Sharp|
|Arnold, Sydney||Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Hinds, John|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Devlin, Joseph||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E.|
|Baker, Harold T. (Accrington)||Dillon, John||Hogge, James Myles|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Donelan, Captain A.||Holmes, Daniel Turner|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Doris, William||Holt, Richard Durning|
|Barnes, George N.||Duffy, William J.||Hope, John Deans (Haddington)|
|Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs)||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey|
|Barton, William||Duncan, J. Hastings (Yorks, Otley)||Hudson, Walter|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Edwards, John Hugh (Glamorgan, Mid)||Hughes, Spencer Leigh|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Elverston, Sir Harold||Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh)|
|Benn, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George)||Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)||John, Edward Thomas|
|Bentham, George Jackson||Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)||Johnson, W.|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Essex, Sir Richard Walter||Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Black, Arthur W.||Falconer, James||Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Boland, John Pius||Farrell, James Patrick||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles||Jones, Leif Stratten (Notts, Rushcliffe)|
|Bowerman, Charles w.||Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)|
|Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)||Ffrench, Peter||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)|
|Brace, William||Field, William||Jowett, Frederick William|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Fitzgibbon, John||Joyce, Michael|
|Brocklehurst, William B.||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Keating, Matthew|
|Brunner, John F. L.||France, Gerald Ashburner||Kellaway, Frederick George|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Furness, Sir Stephen Wilson||Kelly, Edward|
|Buckmaster, Sir Stanley O.||Gelder, Sir W. A.||Kennedy, Vincent Paul|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Gill, A. H.||Kenyon, Barnet|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Gladstone, W. G. C.||Kilbride, Denis|
|Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Glanville, Harold James||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)|
|Byles, Sir William Pollard||Goddard. Sir Daniel Ford||Lardner, James C. R.|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Goldstone, Frank||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)|
|Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich)||Greig, Colonel J. W.||Levy, Sir Maurice|
|Cawley, Harold T. (Lancs., Heywood)||Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Griffith, Ellis Jones||Lundon, Thomas|
|Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Guest, Hon. Major C. H. C. (Pembroke)||Lyell, Charles Henry|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)||Lynch, Arthur Alfred|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)||Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)|
|Clough, William||Hackett, John||Macdonald. J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)|
|Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock)||Hancock, John George||McGhee, Richard|
|Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth)||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis (Rossendale)||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Macpherson, James Ian|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds)||MacVeagh, Jeremiah|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||M'Callum, Sir John M.|
|Cotton, William Francis||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||M'Curdy, Charles A.|
|Cowan, W. H.||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald|
|M'Laren, Hon. H. D. (Leics.)||Outhwaite, R. L.||Sheehy, David|
|M'Laren, Hon. F.W.S (Lincs, Spalding)||Palmer, Godfrey Mark||Shortt, Edward|
|M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Parry, Thomas||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook|
|Markham, Sir Arthur Basil||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)|
|Marks, Sir George Croydon||Pearce, William (Limehouse)||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Marshall, Arthur Harold||Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)||Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N.W.)|
|Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)||Strauss, Edward A. (Southward West)|
|Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix)||Pollard, Sir George H.||Sutton, John E.|
|Middlebrook, William||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||Tennant, Harold John|
|Millar, James Duncan||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Molloy, Michael||Pringle, William M. R.||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Molteno, Percy Alport||Radford, G. H.||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Money, L. G. Chiozza||Rattan. Peter Wilson||Tullibardine, Marquess of|
|Montagu, Hon. E. S.||Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Mooney, John J.||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)|
|Morison, Hector||Reddy, Michael||Wardle, George J.|
|Muldoon, John||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Munro, Ft. Hon. Robert||Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)||Watt, Henry Anderson|
|Murphy, Martin J.||Rendall, Athelstan||Webb, H.|
|Nannetti, Joseph P.||Richards, Thomas||Wedgwood, Josiah C.|
|Needham, Christopher T.||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Neilson, Francis||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Nolan, Joseph||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)||Whyte, Alexander F. (Perth)|
|Norman, Sir Henry||Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)||Wiles, Thomas|
|O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Robinson, Sidney||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Nuttall, Harry||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Roche, Augustine (Louth)||Williams, John (Glamorgan)|
|O'Doherty, Philip||Roe, Sir Thomas||Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)|
|O'Donnell, Thomas||Rowlands, James||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)|
|O'Dowd, John||Rowntree, Arnold||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.)||Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|O'Kelly James (Roscommon, N.)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H, L. (Cleveland)||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|O'Malley, William||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)||Scanlan, Thomas|
|O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—?|
|O'Shee, James John||Seely, Rt. Hon. Colonel J. E. B.||Mr. Illingworth and Mr. Gulland.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ It being after Eleven o'clock, and objection being taken to further proceedings, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Thursday).