HC Deb 01 July 1919 vol 117 cc815-8

"For the period of two years after the passing of this Act it shall be the duty of the owners of any railway, light railway, tramway, canal, inland navigation, dock, harbour, or pier undertaking, and the authority or person liable to maintain any road or bridge, to furnish to the Minister, in such manner and form as he may direct, such accounts, statistics, and returns as he may require for the purpose of his powers and duties under this Act."— [Sir E. Geddes.]

Brought up, and read the first time.

The MINISTER (Designate) of WAYS and COMMUNICATIONS (Sir Eric Geddes)

I beg to move, That the Clause be now read a second time.'' This Clause was the subject of discussion in Committee, but was eventually ruled by the Chairman to be out of order, and was reintroduced. It speaks for itself. If, during the two years that the Bill allows for the consideration of these matters, we are to arrive at a satisfactory understanding as to their working it is essential that we should have statistics and figures. The Clause follows, not so drastically as appeared in the Port of London Bill, the precedent of the Government being able to call for such statistics and figures as they require and while it is a matter of great importance for the undertaking that these figures and statistics should not be unduly voluminous, it is absolutely essential that we should have power to call for them.

Question put, and agreed to.


I beg to move, to add the words, (2) It shall on and after the sixth day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty, be obligatory on all highway authorities to keep their records and books of account in such manner and form as to show expenditure solely incurred and made on the construction, reconstruction, im- provement, or maintenance of roads, bridges, and culverts to meet the requirements of wheeled traffic separately and distinctly from any expenditure incurred in executing work on or to roads, bridges, and culverts, for purposes or reasons including sidewalks, cleansing, watering, lighting, sewerage, subways and public conveniences wholly or in part other than to make provision to carry wheeled traffic, and to furnish to the Minister from time to time with certified extracts, copies, or analyses of such records and accounts. The object is to ensure that the local authorities shall keep apart the cost of maintaining the highways and the costs of maintaining other things. It sometimes happens that certain moneys are allotted to road improvement. When the Petrol Duty was established some few years back that was allotted to road improvement, and in 1915 it was taken away and put into the general funds, and now that the War is over we have great hopes that we shall get it back. In the road account of many highway authorities they jumble together all kinds of things which are not properly road matters, such as subways, sewers, and public conveniences— all very good in their way, but they ought not to be paid for out of money allocated to the upkeep of roads. It is in order to give my right hon. Friend the authority to demand that the accounts shall be kept in this particular manner that I move this Amendment.


I bog to second the Amendment.


I have the fullest possible sympathy with the Mover of this Amendment in his desire to obtain this division of the accounts of expenditure on the roads and auxiliary matters. At the-same time I hope he will not press the Amendment. There is power to-day to require a division of the account, and if there is not power when the Clause which I moved myself just now is passed by the House there will be power in this Bill to obtain this. There is no difference between us on principle, but I should much prefer that we should not pick out one particular item and say that certain accounts should be kept in a certain way. I give an assurance on behalf of the Government that if this Bill becomes law we will get the accounts in that way, but I do not wish to stereotype the demand, because we might want to amend it in some small point.


I accept the assurance, and as: leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, at the end, to add the words Provided that nothing in this Section shall remove the liability of the owners of any railway to render the accounts required under the Railway Companies (Accounts and Returns) Act, 1911. When this Bill was in Committee the Home Secretary gave an assurance that there was nothing in the Bill as it then stood that interfered with the provisions of the Railway Companies (Accounts and Returns) Act, 1911, as to the obligation of the railway companies to make up their accounts,: in a certain form. This Amendment is simply put down in order that we may get an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill that, as the Bill will stand after the acceptance of his new Clause, which I hope will be accepted by the House, the same result will follow; in other words, that there is nothing in the addition he proposes to make to the Bill which will relieve the owners of railways of their liability to make up their accounts in the form laid down in that Act. It is of the utmost importance that accounts should be rendered in the future as they have been rendered hitherto under that Act. Otherwise the only basis for comparison that exists between the working of the railways before and after they come into the possession of the right hon. Gentleman will be gone. I think the House will realise the importance of that point when they come to consider, as they will later on, the question of compensation. Compensation has to be arrived at by comparison with the value at the end of the period during which the railways will have had the advantage of being under the right hon. Gentleman's administration and the value before that period. The only real evidence that we have as regards the latter is in the accounts which have been returned under the Act referred to, and it seems to me to be most important that we should preserve the continuation of the accounts in that form.


I beg to second the Amendment. As the hon. and gallant Member who moved it has said, it is most important that we should have these accounts in the same form as hitherto. It may be that there is nothing in this Bill which removes the obligation to continue to supply them, and, if that is so, this Amendment will, of course, be unnecessary; but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will either give us an assurance that the accounts will continue to be rendered as in the past or that he will accept the Amendment.


I entirely agree with everything that has been said by the Proposer and Seconder of this Amendment. I am advised by the Parliamentary draftsman that nothing in this Bill affects the Railway Companies Accounts Act at all, and that there is no power in this Bill to alter the provisions regarding those statutory returns. Apart from that, there is no intention of altering them, and, indeed, we should be very ill-advised to do so.


In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn Proposed Clause added to the Bill.