§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Sir Eric Geddes)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In asking the House to give a Second Reading to this Bill, I will refer very briefly to its provisions. It is the outcome, firstly, of the financial provisions altering the taxation of mechanically-propelled vehicles, from fuel to a horsepower tax or a weight tax. As those taxes take effect from 1st January next and the petrol tax ceases from that date, it is essential that we should have administrative powers to impose the new taxes. Roughly, one-half of the Bill deals with provisions for the administration of the new taxes and for giving effect to the conclusions of the House, on the Finance Bill. There is no important new principle involved. The second part of the Bill brings the statute into line with mere recent enactments, changes the possession of the funds belonging to the Road Board or under the control of the Road Board, and substitutes the Ministry of Transport for the Road Board in relation to those funds. We are amending the definition of "weight unladen" of a vehicle. "Weight unladen" was very loosely defined in the statute and was of importance only in so far as the speed of the vehicle was concerned. Five tons, for instance, was the term for the heavy motor, and in order to get a vehicle below five tons it was customary to strip it in a way which did not by any means give the real tare weight of the vehicle as such, but a hypothetical weight, in which condition the vehicle was unfit to work. Therefore we are, by definition, making the "weight unladen" more nearly approximate to the working tare weight of the vehicle.
The Bill is the result of the most exhaustive consideration by a Departmental Committee, which has worked throughout the summer and autumn with great assiduity and has, I think, reached a wonderful measure of agreement in this rather difficult and intricate matter. I would like to pay a tribute to the Committee's very excellent and arduous 1488 work. Clause 1 of the Bill provides for the collection by county councils (which includes county borough councils) of the new vehicle taxation. Clause 2 provides financial machinery and for the payment of what is known as the assigned revenue, amounting in all to some £600,000, which hitherto has been paid by the Exchequer to local authorities, and which, if this Bill is passed, will have to be paid by the fund to the local authority. Clause 3 establishes a Road Fund. This looks as if it was a new fund, but it is the same thing as the Road Improvement Grant. The same Clause provides for the transfer to the Road Fund of such unexpended balances and investments of money, and any other property belonging to or in charge, of the old Road Improvement Grant. The Clause provides also for the necessary expenses both of the county councils and county borough councils and for the administration of the fund to be paid out of the Fund, also for the proper accountancy, audit and control of Parliament. Clause 4 is merely an amendment and repeal of obsolete enactments Clauses 5 and 6 provide for licences and registration to meet the new conditions and also for certain penalties, which, I believe, are in common form. Clause 7 provides for a definition of "weight unladen" and also for another rather important matter, namely, that all licence fees and penalties shall be paid in future into the Road Fund of the county councils and county borough councils and for the reimbursing of their expenditure and the getting of the assigned revenue out of the Road Fund, so clearing up miscellaneous provisions which are not very regular.
Clauses 8 and 9 provide for certain concessions which were not dealt with in the Finance Act. There is a provision, for instance, in relation to tramcars and in relation to vehicles of a commercial character which are used also for carrying employés to and from their work. It also provides for the various uses of vehicles. For example, there is a growing custom in the North of regarding as hackney carriages vehicles which are, in fact, cycles with sidecars or trailers. Then there is the concession which we promised to consider when the Finance Act was before the House in the case of manufacturers and traders who wish to get a red identification plate 1489 at a reduced rate. It provides further what, hon. Members will recollect, has been referred to often in questions in this House—an appeal to the Ministry in the event of a local authority refusing to give this red identification plate to a trader. Clause 10 provides for a reconsideration and adjustment of all old mileage charges and annual payments, because the whole essence of the new taxation is that it shall be one tax, and that all the other taxes shall be merged in it or otherwise wiped out. The commercial vehicle owner will thus know exactly what he has to pay, and his payment will be in one tax, without irritating additions. Clause 11 provides for, a proper hackney carriage mark for hackney carriages. As many hon. Members know, a great many carriages are being used now nominally as hackney carriages with an ordinary mark, and for them a lower rate of taxation is paid. That is not fair. If we are going to adopt, as we have adopted, the basis that a vehicle using the road should pay a tax in accordance with its size or power or carrying capacity, and there is a special tax for hackney vehicles, such vehicles must be bona fide hackney carriages, and not, say, a private car handed over to a chauffeur.
Clause 12 provides for the Minister making regulations, and I believe that it is a merely a replica, with slight modifications to meet altered circumstances, of powers which already exist, with the exception of paragraph (g) Paragraph (g) has reference to the prohibition of certain classes of vehicles on certain highways. This is inserted in response to a great many requests in this House that there should be some method of stopping unsuitable vehicles from using roads which are not fitted for them. I think it is a little bit wider, or could be interpreted as a little bit wider, than was intended, and in Committee I will consider with hon. Members a modification of it so as to prevent it being used in an abusive way. Clause 13 provides penalties which, although they look rather terrible, will, I think, be useful. There is nothing unusual in that. Clause 14 abolishes the old licensing fees, just as we have under another Clause abolished the old mileage annual payments. They are now all one general tax, and a refund on the basis of one-twelfth of the amount paid for each 1490 unexpired month is provided. The Bill has two classes of powers which no doubt will appear to many hon. Members as rather extensive powers in regard to the making of Orders in Council and Regulations. When the Bill comes to Committee I shall be happy to discuss with the Committee these particular powers. With the exception of the one I have mentioned under Regulations, the others are really all brought forward from previous Acts, but of course I quite recognise that in any case the House did not look through the same coloured spectacles upon Orders in Council as they do to-day, but we can discuss that in Committee. The two Schedules, I think I am right in saying, merely give effect to the principle that the Finance Act, the Ministry of Transport Act or the provisions of this Act, and no new provisions are introduced by the Schedule. I think that concludes all that it will be necessary for me to say at this stage on this Bill which does not really lend itself to a Second Reading speech, because it deals with principles already accepted. I had a suggestion from my hon. and gallant Friend that it would be of assistance to the House if I published a Chinese copy of the alterations to the Schedule. I shall have one prepared and circulated before the Committee stage, and I think it will be very useful indeed.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
That is what you call a copy with the words struck out showing the alterations. I hope the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill to-day. It is coming to the House later than I hoped, but I think it will have saved time. As those Members who have been taking an interest in the subject are well aware, the Committee have threshed out innumerable interesting points with great ability and with a measure of agreement which was unexpected. I think that this Bill really is the last page of a new chapter in roads. In 1909, as the hon. and gallant Baronet so well knows, we had practically no national road policy. We started in 1909 with only £700,000 a year, and now, by the general consent of the mechanical motor users and their remarkable generosity and broadminded-ness, having regard to the financial conditions that prevail, we are able to come 1491 forward to-day, with the local authorities, with a very large programme of road improvement to meet the altered condition of the times, and instead of having an income of £700,000 provided by taxation on motor vehicles, we have an income which I hope from the 1st January will amount to £8,000,000 a year, also provided by the motoring community by an extraordinary example of voluntary taxation. This is really an administrative Bill, and I would invite the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. SUGDEN
How much of that income is derived from trade vehicles and how much from pleasure vehicles?
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I can easily get the figure for my hon. Friend, but, speaking from memory, it is something like £2,250,000 from private vehicles, but I can give the exact figures during the Debate.
§ General Sir IVOR PHILIPPS
I con gratulate my right hon. Friend on having found out that there is a Road Bill. Only on Monday he told us that he did not know there was such a Bill. I am sure it was only a slip and a temporary infirmity, which I hope will not last. Only on Monday a Noble Lord asked, "Will any classification be available before the Road Bill is carried in this House?" The right hon. Gentleman said he did not know of such a Bill. He said, "I am afraid I do not know what Roads Bill it is to which my Noble Friend refers."
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I should like to correct the impression regarding what I said on Monday and the suggestion that I did not know about my own Bill. What I was speaking about was the classification next February and not about this Bill.
§ Sir I PHILIPPS
I do not think that is a very satisfactory explanation. Because £8,000,000 were to be spent upon the roads we wanted to know how it was to be distributed. That was the reason the Noble Lord and other members interested in the Bill asked the question. The right hon. Gentleman has made a very temperate speech and has held out very great hopes of serious modification of the Bill when we get into Committee Therefore my remarks will be consider ably modified. The Bill has reference to 1492 the Finance Act and I am surprised to see no representative from the Treasury here. On all these occasions the House is entitled to have some Member on the Treasury present. The House ought to know how the right hon. Gentleman proposes to spend £8,000,000. The right hon Gentleman in introducing the measure has slurred over some of the points to which financial criticism may be directed. For instance, he has already told us that he will consider the question of Orders in Council and Regulations I should like to know whether we cannot see the draft copies of the proposed Orders in Council and the proposed Regulations before we go into Committee on the Bill. Members have already had the privilege of seeing draft copies or notes on these Regulations in the Press. Why should the House be debarred when they can for a penny be put in possession of information which the House has not got? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will supply to the House before we go into Committee full draft copies of these Regulations and Orders in Council which he proposes to issue, because a great deal depends upon the nature of those Regulations. If these proposals are adopted there will be considerable additional outlay on staff. That is why I am so surprised not to see anyone here from the Treasury, looking after the interests of the public purse. The Minister of Transport takes very autocratic powers throughout this Bill. I hope when he comes to consider this in Committee he will agree to include in the Bill that in cases where there is a question of an Order in Council or Regulations, they shall be laid on the Table of the House according to the usual custom, and that they shall cease upon a Resolution passed against them before a certain number of days. But the great move here which the right hon. Gentleman has passed over as a slight matter, is that he has placed at his disposal for the first time the large sum of £8,000,000 to do what he likes with. The Bill applies no restrictions whatever to him. Section 3 leaves the entire matter of control and management to the Minister. That is why I think he might have told us a little more how he proposes to use this very large sum. He can use it as he pleases. I am sure he will use it in the right way, but at the 1493 same time he has taken powers to use it any way he likes. For instance, at the present moment he has a great scheme for placing a barrage across the Severn. He will probably find that it will cost a great deal more than he thinks. If he wanted to use the whole of the £8,000,000 to build that barrage he could do so under this Bill. He has produced nothing to show how he was going to distribute it. We ought to have that information now, or at least a White Paper, so that we may know what the proposals are.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
My hon. and gallant Friend will excuse me if I say that all this was discussed under the Finance Act. The proposals of the Committee on which the Finance Act proposals were based went through the whole thing and laid a White Paper with a schedule of expenditure which provided out of the £8,000,000 a million and a quarter in a normal year of which there would be £500,000 this year and a £1,000,000 next year for new roads and for the maintenance and improvement of existing roads. Although those terms have not taken the form of an enactment, nevertheless they have been treated as binding upon us in every respect as a bargain with the community. We are to contribute 50 per cent, to first-class roads and 25 per cent, to second-class roads. That is set out in the fullest detail in the White Paper. My only reason for not mentioning it was that this was an administrative Bill and the whole expenditure was fully considered and I understood fully accepted.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. I did not remember it, but I remember it now. I think that a Clause to which very special attention ought to be drawn is Section 3, Sub-section (c). Salaries of the Road Department staff can be charged to this fund and need not be put down in the ordinary Estimate. It may possibly be a very large sum. I do not know how much. There are certain stories that large sums are to be paid to his staff and that a very large proportion of the money provided from this taxation is going to be absorbed by a Whitehall staff. I hope my right hon. Friend or the Parliamentary Secretary when he speaks will give us an estimate of the numbers of the staff and the amount he is going to take away from the 1494 £8,000,000 for clerical and supervisory persons.
This is a point I should like the House to remember, of very great significance. The Prime Minister has told us he has set up a Committee to cut down the Estimates to the lowest limit, and he asked the support of the nation, but here is a very easy way of pretending you have cut down Estimates and reduced your Whitehall staff, and putting it all on to the Road Tax. It is not in any Estimate.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
Oh, yes. The whole of the staff of the Roads Department is in the last Estimate, and will be in every Estimate, although the whole of the staff of the Ministry is not debitable to the Roads Department.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
Am I correct in understanding that the whole of the staff of the Ministry of Transport, including the Roads Department, although a portion is paid for out of this tax, still comes under the Estimate of the Ministry of Transport?
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
That is a most important point. In regard to Clause 3, Sub-section (3, d), payment to local surveyors, I do not know that this is at all a satisfactory arrangement. It does not say that the Ministry are going to pay a portion of the surveyors of the local bodies, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some information on that point. Turning to Clause 12, I understand it is proposed to add very much to the cost and expense of registration marks, or number plates, as they are generally called nowadays, and according to the Press there is going to be a card. The public get to know these things through the Press in a way which is not permitted to Members of this House. I understand there is going to be a card attached to every car, that a large number of records have got to be kept, and that every motorist has got to go about with a little book in addition to his licence, something like a soldier's pocket book, with which, every time he buys or sells a car, or anything happens to him, he has got to report himself to the Minister of Transport. We are indeed getting governed by bureaucracy. It is bad enough if a soldier loses his pocket book, but what will the British public 1495 do? How many officials will there be to look after these pocket books that every motorist and every motor cyclist, every boy or girl who rides on a motor cycle, has got to carry like a soldier's pocket book? I do not know how many hundreds of thousands the Minister has already ordered, but the expense will certainly be enormous. We are told in the Press that there is going to be a card on every motor, and that means fittings to the car. It may seem a mere detail to an official in Whitehall, but it is a very serious tax on the public, and a very great hindrance to their freedom and their liberty when all these restrictions are placed upon them without any benefit whatever. It is bad enough with all the number plates. It is almost impossible for the ordinary man to know whether the number plates on his car are right or wrong, for if the painter puts the number on an eighth of an inch too wide, the owner is liable to heavy penalites. Throughout this Bill there are crimes for which you are liable, with all kinds of penalties attached, that you may be altogether ignorant of, and where that is the case I hope the Minister will agree to put in the word "knowingly."
I was very pleased to hear that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to change the present system of charging heavy omnibuses for the use of the roads, and in this connection I do not quite understand why Clause 10 is necessary, as I should have thought that under Clause 14 you could have brought in that matter as an omission. The main objection I have to the Bill is that it hands over very large sums of money to a Department without any control in this House. We are handing over absolute control to one Minister. If that is necessary—and T doubt it—anyhow I think we should have some advisory committee or somebody to help the Minister. If this House hands over such a responsible charge to one Minister, it may be workable now, although some of us doubt whether the roads would receive the attention of my right hon. Friend, because we know he is more interested in railways than in roads, but there is a large body of public opinion which fears that much of this money may be wasted, or that it may be used not to encourage any use or improvement of the roads. There is one Clause, Clause 12, Sub-section (1, g) 1496prohibiting or restricting, on the application of the county council concerned, the driving of any vehicle or any class of vehicle on any specified highway or part of a highway.That might be a most dangerous provision. As it stands, a local body might say to motorists: "You pay, under this horse-power tax, something towards first-class roads and something towards second-class roads, and therefore you have a right to use them, but you pay nothing for the third, fourth, and fifth-class roads, and therefore you have no right to use them at all." Under this Bill, as drafted, that power might be used as a great lever to close up a great number of roads to motor transport. An hon. Member says "A good thing too," but I do not agree with him at all. The public have had the use of these roads for all time, and to restrict them in any way would, I think, be disastrous to the country. The chief point I wish to make is that we should see draft copies of the Regulations and Orders in Council which are now proposed to be issued, and that when those Orders and Regulations are issued, they should be laid on this Table under the usual system before they come into operation.
§ Mr. TURTON
My hon. and gallant Friend opposite seemed to find fault with the suggestion that these £8,000,000 should be placed under the control of a Minister. I think it is rather ungrateful of him, because I believe he is not entirely unconnected with Wales, and he seems to have forgotten that one of the very first grants which was given out of the Roads Board was made to gallant Wales. Some of us in England thought at that time they were receiving too much.
§ Mr. TURTON
Yes, but its share of taxation was entirely out of proportion to the grant that was made. I only want to say a few words on behalf of the County Councils' Association of England and Wales. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in bringing in this Bill, which is a corollary to the Finance Act and which meets with the unanimous approval of all the county councils' associations in England and Wales. I think one or two small drafting Amendments will be necessary, and I 1497 desire to call my right hon. Friend's attention to Clause 1, Sub-section (5), where we shall propose, after the word "Council" ["Provision may be made by Order in Council"], to introduce the words" after consultation with the county councils." The important matter to the county councils is the Clause providing for the refunding of the expenses of collection. My right hon. Friend, on the 6th July, told us that every penny of the cost of collection would be refunded out of the proceeds of the tax with as little delay as possible. I am not quite sure whether the concluding words of the Sub-section, "subject to Treasury Regulations," mean that the cost of collection will also have to be subject to Treasury Regulations. If they do, I protest against the Treasury being brought into the matter at all. We have had the very greatest difficulty in the past in obtaining our just share and proportion of the cost of collection. This very year we have had interviews with the Treasury to try to come to some arrangement with them with regard to the cost of collection of other local taxation licences. Under this Bill the local taxation licences are going to be divided under two heads. There is going to be the Vehicle Tax on the one hand, and, on the other hand, there will be the small game licences, gun licences, hawkers' licences, and so on. In regard to that latter part, we have had these interviews with the Treasury to see whether we could come to some agreement. They offered us 5 per cent., but it is utterly impossible for the smaller counties to defray the cost of collection of these taxes out of 5 per cent. Therefore I hope my right hon. Friend, in Committee, will consent to see that the pledge he gave on the 6th July is carried out literatim and verbatim, and that we are going to be recouped. We have had to pay far too much in the past for the collection of these licences.
We congratulate the Minister on dealing with the question of these manufacturers' motors which are so often sent out on joy-rides into the country, having on them the plate under which, by a subterfuge, they suggest that they are simply testing the car. As Chairman of Quarter Sessions, I can only say that it is idle for the police to attempt to hold Tip any of these ears, even although they know it is ridiculous to suggest that the car is only being tested. It is nothing of 1498 the sort, but if they are stopped by a policeman, they have only to go to the nearest telephone office, and telephone up to the manufacturer's office and say: "If any inquiries are made, say the car is out for testing." I hope this Clause will be put stringently into force. I am very pleased, indeed, from the county council point of view, that the Bill intends to deal with those smaller roads which can be closed to chars-a-banc and heavy traffic. At the present time, under the Motor Car Act, it is impossible to get a road closed partially to very heavy vehicles. If you get a road under 16 feet wide, you can make a complaint to the county council, and the highways committee of the council makes an inquiry on the spot, and then the Minister, if he is satisfied, closes the road, but it has to be closed altogether. Now there are a great number of roads all over the country which are not strong enough and which are not wide enough at the present time to carry this heavy char-a-banc traffic, and therefore, under this Clause as it is drafted, you will be able to have chars-à-banc warned off these roads, and at the same time other lighter motors would be able to go in peace over them. I can only say that I am very pleased, as Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee, to assure my right hon. Friend that he will get the greatest possible support for his measure in Committee from the Association, and to thank him on their behalf for carrying out the pledges he gave on the 6th July.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I am inclined to speak of this Bill and the Minister in charge of it in the words of the Duchess in "Alice in Wonderland," in which she says:He only does it to annoy,Because he knows it teasesThis Bill, to my mind, is annoying and aggravating. It puts one in a bad temper almost to read it. What had the Minister to do? He had to provide machinery to put into force provisions which were passed under the Finance Act. We have got to remember that he has already promised us that next Session we shall have a Bill dealing with motoring in its broad aspects and comprehensively. But what has he done in this Bill? He seems to me to have rushed in "where angels fear to tread" and to mix up with this Bill quite contentious legislation which should 1499 really be brought in next Session under his other Bill. Just as an exemple, let me quote such things as the new regulations with regard to the fixing of your number plate, the prohibition of certain traffic over certain roads, and the power which he gives himself to regulate the speed of such vehicles as agricultural tractors. To my mind, there are two classes of legislation that we pass in the House of Commons. One class of legislation is for experts; it has got to be dealt with by such people as county councils and bodies of that sort who are largely helped by Civil Servants. This Bill is not so much for them as for the man-in-the-street who is going to be shot at. He has got to understand about all this Bill. I showed this Bill to a garage man, and really he could not understand it. He read Clause 4, which says:Sections seven, twelve and fourteen of the Development and Road Improvement Funds Act, 1909, shall cease to have effect, and the amendments specified in the second column of the First Schedule to this Act shall be made in the provisions of that Act specified in the first column of that Schedule.That conveyed absolutely nothing to him. I do maintain that a Bill of this sort, which is going to hit the man-in-the-street, should be made patent and clear, and should not be dealt with in this very ambiguous way. I could have forgiven the Minister in charge if he had introduced into this Bill Regulations, not so much to make new roads as to save the roads we have at present. After all, there are two ways of dealing with roads. One is to keep on building very expensive and very desirable roads all over England, but another way is to see that the traffic which goes over the present-day roads does as little damage as possible. Unless one has gone into the subject a little, one has no idea of the hammering effect a heavy lorry has on the roads. May I illustrate in a way what happens? If I were to put on a knuckle-duster and hit you, Mr. Speaker, very hard on the nose, it would do you an enormous amount of damage, but if you were quickly to interpose two cushions between yourself and myself no damage would be done at all. The force of the blow would be actually the same, but you would have spread the time of impact over a longer period. In plain words, it means that you have got to see that your vehicles are designed to 1500 do as little damage to the roads as possible. No manufacturer when he makes his drawings for the building, say, of a three-ton lorry ever thinks of what harm he is going to do to the roads. He builds his back axle entirely unsuspended, with the result that when he goes over a new road he does thousands of pounds' worth of damage to the road which could, by Regulation, be avoided. I intend in Committee to move to give power to the Minister to make Regulations for the construction of heavy vehicles, so that he can in a way avoid this.
The other point I wish to mention is that there has been talk that all Army vehicles and vehicles belonging to the service of the Crown will not pay in any way their share as the public have to. Of course, it sounds at first as if you are robbing Peter to pay Paul; but it is not quite true, because a part of what is contributed goes towards the roads, and I do not think any of us has really seen a road rained unless such damage has been done by the military authorities. I do think that out of the Votes given to the Services a part should go towards our roads in some way to pay for the damage which they do.
I rise to ask, first of all, if this Bill refers to Ireland, I find various references in the Bill to England and Scotland and the officials connected therewith, but I find very little reference to Ireland. Perhaps the Minister in charge of the Bill will give me that information. I am given to understand that there are £8,000,000 set apart for the working of this Bill. We have such a thing in the collection and distribution of funds as an equivalent grant to the various countries, and if a sum is set apart for the roads of the United Kingdom, a proportion is usually set apart for England, Scotland, and Ireland. I was rather alarmed by the statement made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench when he said that the Minister of Transport could spend this £8,000,000, if he liked, on the Severn barrage. I think, before a Bill like this goes through the House, there ought to be something in the Bill which will limit the expenditure on any one particular work, and prohibit the expenditure of all the money in any one particular area, and if 1501 the Bill refers to Ireland, I think part of this money should be earmarked for Ireland, as I presume part of it will be earmarked for Scotland.
If the Bill does refer to Ireland, I would also like to ask a question with reference to Clause 3. I would like to give the right hon. Gentleman an illustration of what is happening at the moment. The Road Board's grant has been given to the widening of a bridge on a main road, provided that a number of ex-soldiers shall be employed. The point is that that grant has been given, the work is "going on, and these men are being employed. But recently a communication has been received by that local authority from the Local Government Board in Ireland to the effect that all unexpended money on the 31st March must be returned to the Treasury. These men then, for the time being, will be discharged, and I suppose the work will remain at a standstill until a fresh application is made and a fresh grant is given. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, with regard to Clause 3, if that" will facilitate a matter of that kind. It says:(1) There shall be established for the purposes of this Act, in accordance with Regulations to be made by the Treasury for the purpose, a fund to be called the Road Fund…(2) There shall be transferred or paid to the Road Fund all moneys which on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and twenty-one, are standing to the account of the road improvement grant or are payable to that account, and all investments.If all this sum of money is to be set apart for this purpose, and paid to someone of whom the Treasury will approve, and is continuously under the control of the Road Board, then the difficulty with regard to the grant to which I have referred in my own constituency will be avoided. If it is not so, I should be glad if 'the right hon. Gentleman would give that power, because it does seem to me, in the case I have instanced, perfectly absurd that some large work should be held up for the time being, because it comes near the 31st March, when funds so granted by the Treasury must go back to the Treasury, be asked for again, another grant given, and so on. Some of the important work suggested may take years to complete. In the meantime, that local authority has received the intima- 1502 tion from the Local Government Board in Ireland that money not expended, but which will be expended if the work is continued, must go back to the Treasury on 31st March. I should like to know, if this Bill extends to Ireland, will a case like that be dealt with under Clause 3 in a businesslike way?
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Commander Viscount CURZON
I desire to welcome the introduction of this Bill into the House of Commons. At the same time, there are one or two points at which I should like to level some criticism. On the whole, I myself, as a road user, very much welcome this effort of the Ministry to deal with the all-important question of roads. But, so far as this Bill affects motors—and it really is mainly, and, in fact, solely concerned with motors, and no other form of traffic—it does seem to me an example of piecemeal legislation. I am very sorry that one or two of the provisions of this Bill could not have been held over until the promised motor legislation is introduced by the Minister next Session. I quite realise it is necessary for the Minister to legalise the levying of the taxes, and provide for how the money is to be spent. The first point I would like to press upon the Minister is that the money derived from taxation of motors should be spent, as far as possible, on improvement. It is a very difficult thing to define where improvement begins and maintenance ends, but I hope that the Minister, when administering funds under this Bill, will see that as far as possible they go towards the improvement of roads and road surfaces. We have had very short time to consider this Bill, and possibly other points of criticism may arise, but one matter which I wish to refer to now is the question of penalties. Penalties under this Bill seem to be enormous. As a Member of Parliament, I have suffered somewhat from the penalties attaching to motor legislation in the past, and I am a little nervous as to the penalties that may possibly be inflicted upon me if, unhappily, I transgress any of the Regulations in this Bill. I hope that in Committee the Minister will be able to reduce to a certain extent the penalties attaching to one or two offences. There are penalties of £50 under this Bill, whereas in former Acts relating to the 1503 same subject the penalty was only £20 for the first offence, and £50 for a second.
The main question which affects motorists is that of the licence. I have only got a very hazy idea of what is intended under this Bill, but as I understand it the Minister will make Regulations which will compel every motorist to carry a card of some kind in a watertight case in a conspicuous place somewhere on his car. The Minister himself has not indicated exactly where this card will have to be carried, but it is important to motorists that they should know, because they will have to provide the case in which it is to be carried, and between now and the 1st of January they will want to know exactly where that case has to be fitted on the car. I hope that in these Regulations as much elasticity as possible will be given to motorists. Then we come to the registration, and this is another Regulation which a motorist may very easily transgress without, as it is put in the language of the police court, malice aforethought, and in any case it is casting an additional responsibility upon him. Supposing he loses his registration book, it will cost something to replace it, I understand, and, further, it will mean going to the county council and filling in fresh forms. Supposing I want to sell a car to somebody else through the medium of a third party, somebody in the second-hand car trade. I may not wish to have my identity disclosed to the person to whom I am selling the car; it might affect the price very considerably; yet nobody would ever buy a car unless the registration book was available—he might be buying a stolen car for all he knew—and it seems to me that a little elasticity should be allowed in any Regulations which the Minister may make in this connection for a case of that kind.
Then there is the question of red number plates. I believe this question has caused more anxiety to the motor industry than any other question for some time. The present charge for a red number plate is three guineas, and for that sum you have any number of red number plates, and the result has been almost unlimited abuse. Every Member of the House, probably, will congratulate the Minister on trying to put a stop to this abuse, but at the same time the fee in 1504 this Bill has been increased to no less than 15 guineas—fifteen guineas for every number plate he may take—a very high charge indeed. The British motor industry is now approaching a time of great difficulty and stress. We all know how we depended on it during the late War, and how we should have to depend upon it again in any future war, and, therefore, I think the industry ought to receive our special and most careful and anxious consideration, not only as a national trade, but from the point of view of the national defence. I hesitate very much to approve of any Regulation which may be held to be placing further burdens upon the industry at such a time. I realise that there has been a great deal of abuse of the red-number plate system, and that we must have a higher charge for the red-number plate, but can so high a charge as fifteen guineas be defended by the Minister? Will he not consider whether a lesser sum could not be taken?
I should like to refer also to Clause 12 paragraph (g). I expect everybody in the House who uses motors must often have seen motor vehicles using roads which were really never intended for them, and I congratulate the Minister upon this attempt to deal with a very difficult situation. At the same time I do not think we ought to be entirely at the mercy of the Minister in such a matter, and I shall urge, as far as the opportunity presents itself to me, that before any Order is made prohibiting the use of any roads in this country an inquiry shall take place on the lines of the inquiry that has to be held before a special speed limit of 10 miles an hour can be imposed. I think it is only reasonable, and I think it would strengthen the hands of the Minister when he came to prohibit the use of a road. Coupled with the prohibition of the use of any road an obligation should be laid upon the authorities, whoever they may be, whether the Government or local authorities, so to improve the road as to make it as far as possible fit for the traffic which wishes to use it and which has not been allowed to do so by the Minister. I do not know whether the Minister will endeavour to do that by means of any powers he may get under this Bill.
The present position with regard to some roads which chars-à-banc are using is really most unsatisfactory. There are 1505 several places in the country approached by little bye-roads largely used by motor traffic. I have one in my mind at Lull in Dorsetshire. There is a pretty little town, in one of the prettiest bays on the whole of the South Coast, which has been discovered by the town of Bournemouth, and enormous fleets of chars-à-banc take visitors out to this little town every day throughout the week, and pass over a road that is really, quite unfit to carry them. The road surface is really not strong enough, and the road is full of sharp turnings, and, in fact, any char-à-banc going along that road cannot pass another one, or any other vehicle upon it. It is obviously very much to the financial interest of the little town concerned that these motor coaches should go to it. There is a case where the local authority is not likely to protest against the use of the road, because of reaping a rich harvest, but at the same time it is very unsafe from the point of view of those who use the vehicles and of the public. That is a case which would be dealt with by the Minister under this Bill, and I think that the obligation should be laid upon those local authorities, or the Government, or both, to make that road suitable for such traffic. The only other point I would like to allude to is one raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Rochester (Lieut.-Colonel J. Moore-Brabazon), namely, the question of service cars. It is quite clear that cars employed by the services or by the Government ought to pay for the use of the roads in the same way as every other motorist in the country. It will be very unfair if they do not, because they use the roads and wear the roads down, and there is no reason why they should not pay their share to the road fund. I can only end up by congratulating the Minister on the introduction of this Bill, and hoping that it is really the first step towards taking all motor legislation in hand and revising it, and, as far as possible, bringing it up to date.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY
The hon. Member for North Armagh (Lieut.-Colonel Allen) asked whether this Bill applied to Ireland. I am not sure whether it does or not, but I believe it applies to Scotland, yet I notice that the name of the Secretary for Scotland is not on the back of the Bill. I think it is usual in such cases that the name of the Member of the Cabinet who is responsible 1506 for Scotland should be on the back of the Bill, otherwise, how are we to know whether the Bill has his approval. I do not think the Minister in his speech made out a case for the registration books which he proposes to inflict upon motorists. We have got along very well without them so far, and I do not know what has occurred recently to necessitate such an additional burden upon the public, and, indeed, upon the Department of State and the local authorities concerned in issuing these books. Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman sitting on the Front Bench (General Sir Ivor Philipps) asked the Minister whether before we go into Committee we might have copies of the Orders in Councils and Regulations, and I hope the Minister will consider that point in order that we may have that information at our disposal. I am not quite sure what the hon. and gallant Gentleman had in mind when he suggested that large sums were going to be handed over to a Government Department under this Bill, and that there will be no control by Parliament of those sums.
Is not the case of the Road Board similar to what will happen under the Ministry of Transport? We have very little control over the expenditure of the Development Fund or the Road Board, and, as far as I am concerned, I am unable to understand the distinction drawn by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. May I thank the Minister for having accepted the suggestion I made to him and for issuing what he calls a Chinese copy of the Schedule. I must confess that I never before heard that term, but it does explain very clearly what I had in mind and what I found it difficult to put in words when I was drafting my question to him. I now come to paragraph (g) of Clause 12:Prohibiting or restricting, on the application of the county council concerned of the driving of any vehicle or any class of vehicle on any specified highway or part of a highway.I think the Clause is a very important Clause and that this is a very important Sub-section. I am glad that the Minister has introduced it into this Bill instead of leaving it to his Omnibus Bill to be introduced next Session. To my mind it is 1507 most important in dealing with the question of motor chars-à-banc—or "motor bangs," as I believe they are commonly called on our country roads—these vehicles that have grown up like mushrooms in the night during the last six months, that we should have sufficient power. The legislation at present on the Statute Book is not competent adequately to deal with them. There are country roads, as hon. Members have said, and highways, and side-roads in this country which are not fit for these heavy motor chars-a-banc and in connection with which the county council have not adequate powers at present to ensure prohibition of the use of these roads. In point of fact orders have been issued by county councils under, I think, D.O.R.A., prohibiting the use of these roads by motor chars-k-banc. Such a case I know has happened in my own part of the country, where a Regulation was issued, but if and when D.O.R.A. comes to an end this Regulation also comes to an end. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has introduced this into his Bill.
I am not sure that I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rochester (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) who suggested that the powers of this Clause are not sufficient. As I understand it, he suggested that the Ministry should have powers to decide the design of vehicles. I cannot go so far as that. It would mean that in every motor manufactory in this country you would have a Government inspector saying: "You shall build this type of vehicle and not that." I certainly should not support my hon. and gallant Friend knowing his intentions in that respect. Then my Noble Friend (Viscount Curzon) said that the powers of the Minister in this Subsection were too great. I do not know that I am inclined to agree with that either. He suggests that there should be an inquiry into the whole circumstances of the case before the Minister issues a Regulation under Clause 9. But I presume there will be an inquiry. If a county council applies to the Ministry for permission to issue a Regulation under Clause 9 the Ministry, in the ordinary course of events, will make an inquiry 1508 before they give that permission. Therefore, I do not quite follow the Noble Lord in that particular suggestion, nor do I follow him, nor would I agree with his suggestion, that the Minister should have power to compel the local authorities to improve a particular road so that it can bear the traffic which hitherto it has not been able to sustain. I do not agree with that. Let us take a particular instance. Take a small narrow bit of road in some part of the Highlands over which the Noble Lord wishes to drive at 50 miles an hour.
My Noble Friend says he refers to chars-a-banc that they may wish to drive over these roads at 50 miles an hour! But consider the idea of those concerned going to the Ministry of Transport and asking them to bring pressure to bear upon the county councils to spend vast sums of their money, and of the national money, to put a road in order so that the Noble Lord may travel over it once or twice a year! For these reasons I could not support the Noble Lord if he brings this forward in Committee. On the whole, I would wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on bringing in this Bill, and I hope he will be able to consider, when we reach the Committee stage, some of the points put before him this afternoon.
§ Mr. RENWICK
I desire to ask the Minister of Transport two or three questions. This Bill refers to mechanically-propelled vehicles. I read the preamble of the Bill, and it says, "The Bill is tomake provision for the collection and application of the Excise Duties on mechanically-propelled vehicles and on carriages.What are meant by carriages? If we refer to Clause 1 it says:(1) The duties on licences for mechanically-propelled vehicles (in this Act referred to as 'vehicles'), imposed by Section thirteen of the Finance Act, 1920, as amended by. this Act, and the Excise Duties on licences for carriages imposed by Section four of the Customs and Inland Revenue Act, 1888. …and so on. In 1888 we practically had no mechanically-propelled vehicles. I want very clearly to know whether or not this Act only applies to mechanically-propelled vehicles. I also want to inquire, if the roads are closed for heavy mechanically-propelled vehicles carrying 1509 seven or eight tons, are they going also to be closed to horse-propelled vehicles also carrying seven or eight tons? Probably some hon. Members are not aware that it is quite common to-day for one horse to bring down a load of seven or eight tons. Perhaps they do not know that such horses continually bring to our wharf seven or eight tons? We do not want these roads closed also to horse-propelled vehicles carrying this load. They do not go at the same speed, naturally, as mechanically-propelled vehicles. I should like a very definite assurance on this point that we are not 40 be interfered with.
§ Mr. RENWICK
Then you and I differ upon that. What I say is that if the right hon. Baronet were to come down to our wharf, I could show him a horse-propelled vehicle carrying seven or eight tons. Only last week my son found fault with a man for badly using one of our horses, and when he asked the man what the load was he was told it was only seven tons. It is quite easy for a horse on a level road to pull a load of seven or eight tons. They are doing it, and I am prepared to show it at any moment to any hon. Gentleman. I want, I say, a definite assurance that we are not to be interfered with in this matter of horse-propelled vehicles.
There is another defect in this Act, a defect that practically all the Bills that are brought in at the present time have—no one on earth can understand them. Take this Bill. Look at Clause 1. It says, after referring to Customs and Inland Revenue Act, 1888, that there are to be certain duties levied in accordance with the provisions to be made for the purpose by Order in Council. We want the Bill that deals with purposes of this sort one that everybody who has anything to do with vehicles can understand. Take Subsection (2). It says:(2) Subject to the provisions of this Act, and of any Order in Council made under this Section.Take Sub-section (3). It says:(3) Every county council shall, subject to the provisions of any Order in Council,1510 Sub-sections (4), (5), and (6) all deal with these Orders in Council. Who on earth is to understand this? We want a Bill that can be understood by any man in a garage, say, or other places connected with these vehicles where vehicles may call at any moment for repairs, and such like. Why should we have in every Bill these references to Orders in Council? Surely we want Bills brought in that can be understood, and I trust the Committee, when they thrash this thing out, will try and get rid of these Orders in Council. I would like two answers definitely from the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. First, does this Bill only refer to mechanically-propelled vehicles; and next I would appeal to him to get rid, if possible, of these references to Orders in Council, and give us a Bill that everybody can understand.
§ Mr. SUGDEN
I should not have risen this afternoon—for I did not mean to speak—had it not been for the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton) who spoke on behalf of the county councils of Great Britain. Whilst many of us have enjoyed the splendid uses and purposes that follow the work and organisation in the counties of the various councils, we also know their sometimes autocratic powers in respect to urban and rural district councils. In this measure we are going to be put under the beneficent providence of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport, under Orders in Council, under a representative of the Treasury, and not least, the county councils themselves. We who are associated with the rural and urban district councils are not quite sure whether we are going to have a say in respect to the little corporate existence we have so far possessed in regard to our roads, paths, and hedgerows. I ask the Minister to give us an assurance that the small communities, whether they be industrial or rural, shall have protection, and be able to say whether motor cars and the commercial motor-vehicles that are now ploughing their way through our midst shall continue to do so at their own sweet will and pleasure just whenever they like, and how they like, or whether we shall have the opportunity of saying whether our roads shall be made for commercial work or for pleasure work, and whether 1511 we may have a voice in deciding whether new roads are to be constructed, or old roads repaired, enlarged or altered.
There are counties in this land of ours where the roads are made for beauty, pleasure, and commercial transport travel, but I think those associated with county councils will support me by reason of their knowledge of the facts when I say that although there may be one or two patriotic country gentlemen who represent some of these urban and rural councils in the county where they live, yet the predominating section of commercial men who represent the artisan hamlets and villages, give very little consideration to the wishes of the rural and the urban sections of the community; therefore, I want the Minister either to give mo an assurance or give this House a definite promise that he will introduce some Amendment making it possible for these rural folk to have their say in this matter of roads management, because there is no protection therein for them in the Bill. The same must obtain, and should obtain, in the case of the commercial sections. I know there are counties where the opposite state of things obtains, and where the dominating representation is rural and pastoral, and the commercial representations require protection I suggest that there should be brought into this Bill some protection from the powerful influence of the county council, which is helpful sometimes, but not always. I want this power in the Orders in Council of the Minister of Transport and the Treasury, so that little people may be saved from the gamut of this officialdom. We must consider exactly what proportion of the money is coming from the commercial vehicle and from the pleasure vehicle, and we must see that the outlay from, these two sources is proportionate to commercial farming and pastoral interests. Are the commercial people going to have their money spent only on roads which will be made more suitable for them, and the residential countryside demanding roads purely for beauty and the artistic? That state of things should not obtain, and the whole matter should be considered en bloc. I hope that protection will be given to the urban councils and the rural councils, in 1512 order that they may have a say in what fashion their roads should be made, altered, and "improved" for both pleasure and commercial vehicles, and that their corporate life may remain in their own hands. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to protect us in this matter.
§ Mr. ATKEY
The Minister of Transport has referred to those members of the Advisory Committee who have been assisting him during the last month. I am sure hon. Members will appreciate the work they have done. I hope the Minister of Transport will not fall into the same error that so often is fallen into by Ministers of entirely relying upon the advice and conclusions arrived at by an advisory committee, and that he will remember that hon. Members of this House arc just as desirous of helping him to mould this legislation as those who have been good enough to assist him on the Advisory Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said that we were starting a new era with regard to roads, and I think it would be a fitting opportunity to mark that new era in some other respects connected with motor legislation. I ask whether this is not an opportune moment to start a new era with regard to the general outlook upon the road problem. I think it is time that the Legislature should have some regard to the heavy penalties which are inflicted upon those who use the roads.
In the early days, when there were no commercial vehicles at all on the roads, and when the only person using a mechanically-propelled vehicle was looked upon as a sort of outcast and regarded as a most undesirable person, the penalties then inflicted might possibly be justified. All that is gone, and I suggest that the penalties placed upon users of the roads should now be brought into conformity with the merits of the case. As one who has to administer this kind of legislation locally, I have often been struck with the entire disproportion of penalties to the nature of the offences committed. Viewed from the point of view of society generally, a man does greater harm to society by jumping on his wife or inflicting personal injury upon any other of his fellow-creatures, but if you do not send him to prison for that, a very modest fine is considered adequate to the occasion.
1513 On the other hand, if a motorist unfortunately forgets something it is laid down in the Act or violates a regulation, apparently he is considered such an exclusively aristocratic person that a fine of something like £20 is considered necessary to meet his case. [An HON. MEMBER: "It ought to be £50!"] I am referring to such trivial offences as a man failing to produce his licence, and failing to carry a card or having his number plate obscured. I am sure my right hon. Friend will find a very strong support if he will consider some modification of these penalties and regulations. We all want to assist in identifying any vehicle, but when the right hon. Gentleman proposes to introduce a system whereby the whole record of a motor car is to be kept in some sort of a book or form with a heavy penalty if it is lost, then I think he is inflicting an unnecessary amount of trouble and inconvenience, and he is also swelling the number of officials, both locally and imperially, who would be necessary if this system is to be followed up. Why a motor car should be selected for special legislation I cannot understand.
I wish to say a word or two with regard to the red number plate. Already attention has been called to the abuse of the present plates. I have not a word to say in defence of such abuse, but these vehicles, although they may be using unauthorised plates, have paid their measure of taxation to the country. The point I wish to lay before the House is that merely because abuses have crept in with regard to a certain regulation, that does not afford any justification for unduly penalising or adding to the burden of an industry, which at the present moment has a very heavy load to bear. I would like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House how utterly impossible it is under existing conditions for certain manufacturers to comply with these suggestions. Take, for example, the case of a manufacturer delivering 100, 200, or 300 vehicles.
We hear a good deal about mass production, and some of our manufacturers have laid themselves out to do that kind of thing. Supposing they are required to deliver a large number of vehicles on one day. They will have to buy separate plates for each to use, perhaps only for a very limited period of time. These plates, which cost £15, have to lie idle until they 1514 are used again. The case of the retailer or agent is harder still. You have all these small garages up and down the country, where the payment of £15 for a plate would be an enormous tax. One of these small repairers might want to send two or three repairs home on the same day, and he might have to spend no less than £45, although those three plates may only be required to be used four or five times during the year. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way either to entirely abolish this proposal or to very materially reduce the price.
I have one suggestion, in conclusion, which I hope will be taken as being of a constructive character. Of all the abuses which have crept in with regard to the use of motor vehicles on the road, I think the meanest and most contemptible is where a private owner, who can well afford to pay the full duty licence, has evaded it by nominally disposing of, say, an expensive Rolls Boyce ear to his chauffeur, who pays 15s. and turns it into a hackney carriage with a little plate upon it, and that is the only penalty he has to pay for evading the proper amount of taxation. That is provided for in the Act. It is easier to stop these abuses at the source, and if the Minister could, on the formal application for a hackney carriage licence, make it necessary to have a declaration that the hackney carriage would never be used as a private carriage, then I think a good many people who have quite light-heartedly paid this 15s. for a hackney carriage licence would hesitate about doing so. I have some other points, but I will reserve my observations upon them until we reach the Committee stage.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
While I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that the charges put upon the motor industry by this Bill may result to a certain extent in killing the industry, I cannot agree with him in regard to the provisions of this Bill. If there is anything which is nearly as dangerous as joining the Army and going to war, it is an endeavour to cross the streets of London. Every day I get up I doubt whether I shall be able to return to my home in safety, and I frequently hesitate on the kerbstone before I cross the street. If the hon. Member who has just spoken will look at the police return of accidents, 1515 he will see that an enormous number of serious injuries and a considerable number of deaths result every year amongst people who are run down by motor cars.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
If a motorist runs over anybody he generally takes good care that his number plate is obscured, and it is to avoid those things that this Bill might prove effective. I should like to ask one or two questions as to the Bill. A number of observations have been made with regard to Clause 3, dealing with the establishment of the Road Fund, and it has been defended on the ground that there is a precedent for it. But surely that is no reason for repeating a bad system, and I hope we shall have some assurance either now or in Committee, that before any considerable sum is spent there will be a statement as to the method and manner in which the money is going to be spent. We are face to face with the fact that there is a great desire on the part of Departments to spend money, and we certainly want some more efficient check than that suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently. It is not sufficient to say that questions can be raised on the Vote for the salary of the Minister. It is quite possible that those Votes may be delayed till the end of the Session and then be passed under the guillotine, or it might be suggested that already so much of the money has been expended that it is not worth while or advisable to stop the outlay. Therefore I trust we shall have some statement from the Minister in Committee in regard to this expenditure, and that some such course will be adopted as was followed in the Transport Bill.
I rather object to Clause 12, paragraph (g), which, it is suggested, may have the effect of preventing chars-a-banc from using country roads which are not fit for them. There has, I know, been considerable complaint on that ground, but we must not allow one's opinion on a subject to be controlled in such a way as to lead to the creation of other and greater grievances than the driving of chars-à-banc on narrow roads. As I read 1516 the Sub-section, there is nothing in it to prevent the London County Council from saying that no omnibuses should be run in London. We all know that the London County Council are desirous of stopping the running of omnibuses in London, because they have made a bad bargain in building their tramways, and, having made a bad bargain, they are desirous to perpetuate as far as they can a system which is altogether out of fashion at the present moment. I am afraid if we got a more powerful Minister in the position of the right hon. Gentleman, if we got someone who had been a member of the London County Council—and that would be quite possible under a Liberal Government—and if we got a Labour majority on the London County Council, the result would be that motor omnibuses would be prohibited using a large number of roads in London, and then a Bill would be introduced to put tramways down those roads, and all that would be done on the strength of powers put into an apparently innocent provision of this Bill with a view to preventing chars-a-banc using narrow roads. It might go very much further even than their mere prohibition of chars-a-banc, and have financial results which would be very serious. An hon. Member from Ireland objected to the old-fashioned but well-established system of compelling all sums of money not spent in the current financial year to be returned to the Exchequer. That has been a subject of much dispute for many years. In my humble opinion there are many reasons which could be advanced to show that the system is a proper one and should not be altered, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will adhere to it when he comes to reply. I thought that now we had passed the Home Rule Bill we would not be troubled with further demands from Ireland for money or anything else. But the hon. Member who spoke just now inquired whether Ireland was going to share in this particular grant. Personally I hope it will not. We have already spent a great deal too much money in Ireland, and I think it is time we kept some of it in our own pockets. All these Regulations about carrying plates in prominent positions, and doing certain things, or not doing other things, are symbolical of the bad system of the present Government. We can never do anything now without getting a permit from some official, and it is not unusual to 1517 have to get a permit from another official to enable the first official to issue the permit. I hope that all these small Regulations will be modified, and that a more simple procedure will obtain so that owners of motor vehicles may be able to use them without undue interference from officials.
§ Mr. BILLING
In all these matters it would be perfectly sound policy for Members of this House to say, "No." The time has come "when any proposal put forward by the Government involving an expenditure of money should be automatically negatived by the House. I do not know what this Bill is, I know-nothing about its provisions, but from the speeches I have listened to I gather that it is extravagant and likely to prove vexatious. I join issue with the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir F. Banbury) on one point. I have never known any case where a motorist has gone out deliberately to kill anybody and, to start with, has rubbed mud on his number plate. I think motorists are a very much maligned class. They are big taxpayers, they represent a great proportion of the industrial classes of the country and they get less consideration than any other class. They are the by-play for every policeman, and if the slightest accident happens^ to them, say the sudden disappearance of the tail light, or a slight increase in their speed beyond the limit—and the right hon. Gentleman who presented this Bill to the House knows how easy it is to exceed the speed limit—involves a fine immediately. It is not the 40s. or the 20s. that anyone complains of. No one would mind paying that; but it is the inconvenience to which the average motorist and especially the old motorist is put.
I have been driving since 1899 consistently. I say that the average motorist regards his licence as something he should cherish and keep clean. It is a blot on his escutcheon to get it endorsed and I am proud to say that, after 21 years driving, I still have no endorsement whatever on my licence. That is due to the expenditure of an immense amount of time and money, I do not want hon. Members to misunderstand what I am saying. Every time I have been summoned I have made a point of appearing personally. Sometimes I have gone right to the North of England in order 1518 to answer a summons. It may be thought that I was foolish in so doing, but I preferred to personally conduct my own case in order to see that at least I got justice from the Bench. It is only after having taken an immense amount of trouble to point out how unjust it is that I should have been summoned that I have been enabled to escape the endorsement of my licence. If a motorist does not take that trouble, the first time his tail light goes out he gets summoned and fined, and if he does not appear his licence is endorsed. It is a most vexatious thing that a man who happens to be driving along Piccadilly at 8 o'clock at night, and who therefore could not possibly escape if his tail light goes out by accident, should be summoned. Surely a warning from the policeman would be quite sufficient in such a case. It all depends whether the policeman is a bureaucrat or not. If he is, then one is "in for it." Any hon. Member who has been listening to this Debate must realise that the vexatious restrictions proposed in this Bill will make the position of the average motorist absolutely hopeless. Other hon. Members may have chauffeurs who drive them hither and thither, and they may not notice these vexatious incidents, but the position is that, as compared with starting to drive a car after this Bill has become law, starting out to the North Pole will be a small thing. First one will have to look at the car to see if this is right or that is right; then one will have to search one's pockets to see if all the necessary papers are there that may have to be shown to an inquisitive policeman, and whether they are in proper order and all of the right date. The whole thing is preposterous for two reasons; firstly, because it is making matters more bureaucratic every minute, and life is becoming less worth living every day that this Government in power: and, secondly, because it is going to involve the raising of more money. Trade is to be victimised, and the motor is to be driven off the road in this country. Transport is a trivial thing in the minds of some people, but it is a very important thing in the minds of others. The most liquid form of transport—if I may so describe it—the most easily controlled, the most economical, and the one most calculated to do good to the industries of this country generally, is motor transport: and yet it 1519 is going to be penalised and worried out of existence. A heavy tax is now going to be put upon it in order that the Government may have more funds to pay more bureaucratic officials to tease the motorist off the road. That in itself, should be enough to put us in the Lobby against this Bill.
What is even more important is the £8,000,000 which I have heard mentioned. Of course, it is only a trivial matter, this £8,000,000, but if this House of Commons does not put this Government in liquidation within the next few months, the Government will put practically every industry in this country into liquidation. That, at any rate, is the feeling outside the House. I do not know whether hon. Members feel as keenly about it when they are in the House as when they are out of it, but I wish they would come into the Chamber and talk half the stuff to the Government Bench that they talk in the smoking-room. We see nothing but ruin staring the country in the face—more legislation, every bit of it demanding more money; fresh taxation; unemployment rife, simply because the Government pouch all the wherewithal with which we could create employment if we could only be allowed to have it. Industry is being taxed out of existence. The Government have created unemployment by their own foolhardy recklessness in regard to finance. I wish that hon. Members, directly they see a new Bill, would refrain from reading it for fear that they might be swayed by any persuasive words or Clauses in it, and would simply ask the Government the straight question, "Does this Bill involve the expenditure of any public money?" And, if the answer is in the affirmative, simply vote solid against it, and vote early and vote often against every Clause. I think the time has come when we should do that. I do not consider that this Government is fit to handle the finance of this country. Yesterday afternoon the Treasury were lending money at 6½ per cent, at 4 o'clock, and were borrowing it back at 6½ per cent, at half-past 6. That is an actual fact, and the Treasury are frightened to face it, and therefore they do not answer Private Notice questions about it. I suggest that the very word "Treasury" will be a misnomer within the next three months unless the House does something with the present Government, for there will not be such a thing as "treasure" 1520 for them to look after. We are going to have a General Election before February; that is why the Government has dropped the Liquor Control Bill and the Education Bill.
§ Mr. BILLING
I will try to be in order, but sometimes one's feelings run away with one. I only want to give my reasons for asking hon. Members to vote against this measure, and I would simply say to them, "Do vote against this Bill; it will be very sound electioneering stuff between now and next February."
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I should like, with all deference to my hon. Friend, to bring the Debate back to the Bill itself. This is not a Bill for raising taxation at all. It is a purely administrative Bill.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
No, to enable taxation to be raised which has already been authorised by this House in the Budget of this year. It merely enables my right hon. Friend the Minister to arrange with the county councils for the raising of the taxation which we have already authorised, and then to decide in what way the money sould be spent. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), who represents the County Councils' Association, made one of those speeches which we are accustomed to hear from him from time to time. I sometimes think that he or the County Councils' Association must have descended lineally from the daughters of the horse leech. It is always "Give, give, give." My hon. Friend never makes a speech on behalf of the County Councils' Association without asking some Member of the Government to give them something more because they cannot afford to keep going. We have not, however, had a word of thanks from the hon. Gentleman for the taxation which we motorists have voluntarily placed upon ourselves under the provisions of the Budget of this present year. My right hon. Friend the Minister, I would say at once, has been more than courteous in acknowledging the free and open way in which the motorists have met the Government, but 1521 not one word of thanks have we had from the County Councils' Association, although we are providing, by special taxation placed upon users of motor cars, a sum of between £8,000,000 and £9,000,000 for the benefit of the roads, all of which must inure to the benefit of the county councils, who up to the present have been responsible for the roads.
I am more or less joining in the chorus of praise which my right hon. Friend has received in regard to this Bill—but not quite. I am not opposing the Bill on Second Reading, because, as I have said, it is purely an administrative Bill, and must, I think, be amended in Committee. I must protest, however, on behalf of this House, against the introduction of another Bill of this kind, as it is one of the most vicious types of legislation by reference and by Orders-in-Council. It is a Bill to amend no less than four other Acts of Parliament. It amends them by references in the schedules and by reference Clauses which have been read out by hon. Members opposite, and I defy anyone, lawyer or no lawyer, when it has been passed, to find out what is the law in regard to these motor-car questions. There are two or three Clauses which provide for the making of Orders-in-Council, and there are two or three enabling my right hon. Friend to make Regulations which are to have the effect of law. The Bill does not provide that any of the Orders-in-Council, or any of these Regulations, shall be submitted to the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend takes the most complete power into his own hands. After all, everyone in the House knows that an 'Order-in-Council is merely a formal confirmation of the decision of the Minister who gets it passed through; His Majesty's Council is a mere matter of form, and there is really no reference to this House either in regard to 'Orders-in-Council or in regard to the Regulations which the Minster is entitled to make by his own mere ipse dixit.
My right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), and also my hon. Friend below me (Mr. Billing), referred to some of the penalties. My hon. Friend the Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Howard Gritten) will forgive me for saying that he represents, perhaps, the most dangerous vehicle of all—the push- 1522 bicycle, which shoots in and out through the streets, and is really far more dangerous than a motor car; but I do not think that he is really as hostile to motorists as he would have us believe, and I would ask him to join with me in protesting against the savage penalties which are included in this Bill. Under the old Act the penalty for non-compliance with the Regulations with regard to number-plates might be £20; my right hon. Friend has raised it to £50. I do not know whether that is included in the cost of living, which is supposed to have gone up 2½ times. Under Clause 13, which deals with a very minor question, a penalty of £100, or six months' imprisonment, is imposed, and for what? Not for driving a car to the common danger; not for running over even my hon. Friend the Member for the Hartlepools; but simply for making a misleading statement in filling up the form for obtaining a licence. That is really rather strong. If I make a misleading statement in filling up the form when taking out my licence—perfectly ignorantly and unknowingly, or even honestly—I am to be subject to a penalty of £100 or six months' imprisonment. Moreover—indeed, this is the most extraordinary provision in the Bill—I have to prove that I am innocent, and the Crown does not have to prove that I am guilty. It is one of the first principles of our criminal law that, if the Crown prosecutes a person for any crime or a breach of any Regulation, the Crown has to prove that the accused person is guilty. Instead of that, my right hon. Friend, in his zeal against motorists, puts in a Clause to the effect that the accused person shall be presumed to be guilty unless he can prove his innocence. That is the kind of support for which my right hon. Friend is angling—the motor-hater who comes from Hartlepool, and would like to see them all given six months or fined £100 for making a perfectly innocent mistake as to the horsepower of their motor car when applying for a licence. I think it must be agreed that that must be got rid of.
With regard to the Road Fund which is created under the provisions of this Bill, the County Councils' Association wants to get the whole of that Fund for maintenance. It is very difficult to understand this Bill without referring to the Roads Development and Improvement Act, 1523 which was passed in 1909. That was the first Act which placed taxation upon motorists, in the form of the petrol tax, and under its provisions the whole of the funds raised were to be spent on improvements. Under the provisions of this present Bill—which, I admit, we have accepted in principle—we are prepared to agree that this Fund—which, fortunately, is a large one—should be spent, not merely for improvement, but for maintenance of existing roads. Nevertheless, I do want to see that a portion at least of this taxation which is placed upon us is definitely earmarked for improvement pure and simple, and not merely for maintenance improvement—the rounding of corners, the widening of streets here and there, and even the making of new roads. I know that my right hon. Friend differs from me in this respect, and it is a debate-able point, but I think we should have an assurance from him that there is a definite intention on the part of the Ministry not to spend the whole of this to satisfy the cry of my hon. Friend who represents the county councils. I think he will agree with me that it is fair that, as we provide the whole of the money, at least some of it should be spent on improving the roads and making new roads where they are wanted.
I want to ask my right hon. Friend if he can tell us, as I think this will be a convenient opportunity, what he is doing with regard to new arterial roads in London. We understand that large new roads are going to be made, and that this particular Fund is going to be mortgaged for some years ahead in order to provide the cost of those roads. Can he tell us for how long he is going to mortgage this Road Fund for London arterial roads, leaving out altogether the new improvements required all over the country. I want to put this point also. I want to put this point to him—not offensively. The whole House knows unemployed and unskilled labour is much more costly than skilled labour. My right hon. Friend should be perfectly firm. This should be provided out of the, unemployed fund and not out of the road fund.
The next point I desire to raise is, that under the Bill the whole of this £8,000,000 is to be spent as he may direct. That is an enormous power to put into the hands 1524 of the right hon. Gentleman. When the Transport Bill was going through this House last year, we did our best to provide him with Advisory Committees which to some extent could control his action. I do venture to suggest that a particular Advisory Committee set up by this House—The Roads Advisory Committee included in the Ministry of Transport Bill—was carefully formed. It was composed of not less than 11 members, five of them representing the highway authorities and the rest representing the users of roads. [AN HON. MEMBER: "And not one cyclist!"] That was not my fault. I did my best to get representatives of cyclists appointed upon this Committee. I should have been glad to see my hon. Friend on it. Parliament appointed this Committee to advise the Minister on road questions and they were to have power to make regulations as to their procedure and consider and report to the Minister upon any matters affecting traction, the improvement or maintenance of roads, or bridges, or regulations affecting the traffic thereon. That is a Statutory Committee and I should venture to ask the House, when we come to the Clause giving the Minister of Transport power to deal with this money, to say that he must consult that Committee. There is no good having a Committee of that kind unless it is going to meet and work. It has only met twice since the Bill was passed—once last winter and once last week. It is composed of men representing highway authorities, county surveyors, and representatives of the users of roads, who are eager and willing to help the right hon. Gentleman in his work of improving the roads of the country. I think the House would feel that it is desirable that it should be consulted by the Minister before the right hon. Gentleman spends such an enormous sum of money as £8,000,000, simply and solely as he likes to do.
The only other thing I need refer to is paragraph (g) in Clause 12, which relates to the power given to the Minister to step in, in conjunction with the county council, and say that any particular highway may be closed to any vehicle whatever. He may make that Regulation without even laying it on the Table of this House, without any local inquiry, prohibiting and restricting, on the, application of the county council, any 1525 vehicle, or any class of vehicle, on any specific highway or any part of that highway. The Minister said he would be prepared to consider modifications of that Clause. He must see that his advisors have gone a great deal too far. He might close any road he liked. Complaints have been made about chars-a-banc. The House have no interest in chars-a-bancs. I hate meeting them when I am driving. But, after all, they are the motor-cars of the poor man. They have come to stay, and they are going to increase. This House must not set itself, and the County Councils' Association must not set itself, against any form of traction which is increasingly popular in our large centres of population, and which enables the workers, after their day of toil, to go out into the country and the seaside. There must be no dead set against them because we richer people do not like them.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
My hon. and gallant Friend is one of the worst offenders. I should like some of his poorer constituents to question and heckle him on his action in this House with regard to chars-à-banc. The Minister has said he would consider an Amendment of this Clause. I shall ask him to consider an Amendment on the lines that he should really satisfy himself by inquiry that it is in the public interest that these roads should be closed before he confirms the order. I have promised to put before my right hon. Friend the views of those in whom I have no personal interest—the traders. The motor trader before he sells his car has to take out a licence, and he can have a licence for three guineas, which enables him to put a red plate on his car. Of course there must be these number plates, but when the Bill was going through it was assumed that a certain number of millions would be provided by the motor industry and the motor users for this taxation. This system of allowing traders to pay one three guineas fee was only found out afterwards. Now my right hon. Friend in this Bill is to impose a tax of £15 per plate—some manufacturers have as many as 180 plates—which will produce a taxation of something like a quarter of a million over and above what the House has passed. I suggest that the people in America are so 1526 interested in the success of the motor trade there that they have merely put a nominal fee on the trade plate. The right hon. Gentleman should reduce the figure of £15 very substantially because we do not want to check the motor manufacturing industry in this country, particularly at the present time. It is in a very serious position. Shops and factories are being closed, men are being thrown out of work, and any additional burden, such as this £15 on, say, 100 plates, would be a very considerable one to all concerned.
I am definitely authorised by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to agree to any Regulations you like to make in regard to penalties, however severe, for improper use of these plates. It could be done. It only needs a little ingenuity and care. The society desire me to assure the House that they are prepared to co-operate with my right hon. Friend in stopping the improper use of these plates. I think I am entitled on behalf of the trade, which needs encouragement and not discouragement, to ask the Minister to reconsider this particular Clause of the Bill and to considerably mitigate the amount of the licence duty he proposes to place upon them. I hope my right hon. Friend will consent during the progress of the Bill through Committee to moderate it in the direction suggested, particularly in regard to the laying before the House of Commons the Regulations and Orders in Council he proposes to make; and, secondly, in regard to utilising more fully the Roads Advisory Committee set up by this House; and, thirdly, in mitigating the severity of some of the penalties which, I think, are too severe.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Mr. A. Neal)
May I at once acknowledge on behalf of the Ministry the kindly reception which this Bill has received. One hon. Member made a confession that he had not read the Bill, and he advised other hon. Members not to read it. Certainly he was unable to criticise the contents of the Bill, and to speak on topics which seem to me to call for no reply. The hon. and gallant Member for Southampton (Sir Ivor Philipps) spoke of this Bill as an Amendment of the Finance Act. It is in one or two minor details a Bill of that description; but so far as 1527 it does amend the Finance Act, another opportunity can be given to the House to consider it under the appropriate Money and Ways and Means Resolution. The Amendments of the Finance Act are so slight and so technical that I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me if I do not pursue that at this particular stage. A good deal of criticism has been urged to the effect that the Bill mentions in several places provision to be made by Orders in Council and by Regulation. The Government is fully aware of the objection that Parliament entertains—with which I do not in the least degree quarrel—to legislation by Orders in Council and Regulation: but I think there must be something to be said in favour of a distinction being drawn as to the character and nature of Orders in Council and Regulation. So far as these are purely administrative machinery and details, surely they are more conveniently dealt with by Regulation than by enlarging Statutes. So far as they are due to absorption of the powers of Parliament by legislation of a direct character, they seem to me to be open to very great criticism. I think that, when hon. Members look at this matter in detail, as I know they will do in Committee, they will see that we have followed the precedents of the past in the Regulations and Orders in Council that are contemplated, and that they are of the less pernicious character I have indicated. Subject to the exigencies of time—because this legislation must be operative by the New Year—and to the necessity for the Orders in Council and the Regulations to be operative, we will do our best to meet the criticism which has been addressed to us on this particular matter.
§ Mr. NEAL
At the present moment they are not in existence, but I hope that, by the time we reach the Committee stage, we may be able to meet in substance the wishes of the House as expressed in reference to that. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members have spoken of the creation of the Road Fund, and of what they assume to be the arbitrary right of the Ministry of Transport to administer that fund.
This fund is created in substance under the Finance Act which received the assent 1528 of this House earlier in the year. It is an enlargement of the fund which was created by other forms of taxation under the Development and Roads (Improvement Funds) Act, 1909. The expenditure of this money is by no means so freely in the power of the Minister of Transport as the criticisms we have listened to would appear to indicate. Under the Development and Roads (Improvement Funds) Act, 1909, there are certain definite uses to which the fund must be applied. These are the improvement of existing roads and the construction of new roads. By the present Bill it is proposed to enlarge those powers to some slight extent by putting in the maintenance of roads because it is very little use bringing roads up to a good standard unless you are going in the future to endeavour to maintain them at that standard, and to prevent them getting into a condition which makes their use uncomfortable, and the cost of repairs excessive. In, addition there is a definite limitation upon the amount of the fund which the Minister may use for the purpose of the construction of new roads as distinct from other purposes. The object and intention of the Government in this matter is indicated most clearly in the Schedule which was put to the Report of the Departmental Committee, to which reference has been made, Command Paper 660, in which—and this answers the question put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Armagh (Lieut.-Colonel Allen)—there is a provisional balance sheet set out. The net income of the fund is estimated at £8,125,000. The expenditure is shown in detail as regards first-class roads and second-class roads in England and Wales and Scotland. In Ireland, a sum of £500,000 is set aside for that purpose. The balance which in a full year is estimated to be available for improvement purposes, new roads, etc., is £1,250,000.
May I here deal with the question raised in the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) as to the arterial roads in London and elsewhere, which are at present under construction or in contemplation? I hope he will forgive me if I fail to answer his question to-night, for the very good reason that there are Estimates which have to come under the consideration of the Committee within a very short time, probably to-night or to-morrow, when it would be more con- 1529 venient to deal with the matter in detail. My hon. Friend the Member for North Armagh spoke about the works in Ireland which, he fears, may be suspended owing to the usual Treasury Regulation that moneys which are not expended by the end of the financial year fall into the Exchequer and have to be re-voted. My hon. and gallant Friend did me the courtesy of mentioning this matter some time ago. It is only a question of a little prevision. There is no difficulty in the works being carried out if ordinary foresight is exercised. The money for those works is not money raised under this fund, but is money expended out of a particular fund ear-marked for the purpose of dealing with unemployment in Ireland.
The hon. and gallant Member for Southampton (Sir Ivor Philipps) dealt with a point which I think my right hon. Friend covered by interruption, as to the cost to the Ministry of Transport in regard to this matter. The provision with respect to the allocation of the fund provides for certain prior charges. They provide for the making good to the local authorities a sum in lieu of carriage licences, and they provide for making good to them the cost of the collection of the revenue. Here, may I say, in answer to the hon. Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton), that the Minister has fully in recollection the statement which he made in the House on the 6th July, with regard to the reimbursing the local authorities the cost to which they may be put in collecting this particular revenue. My right hon. Friend would be one of the last men to go back on any statement which he has made; but that statement must be interpreted in reasonable terms, and it was not, and could not, be intended to mean that there should be no check whatever upon the expenditure which a council might incur. We hope to be able to meet my hon. Friend's point of view if he puts down an Amendment to the Clause.
Something has been said as to the absence of Parliamentary control over this fund. This fund is very much in the nature of voluntary taxation of a particular kind. The motorists have consented to raise money by this particular tax, on the definite undertaking that the money shall be expended in the improvement of roads. It is a national object 1530 which they are helping in that direction, and it is one which is most urgently needed. The roads have to be brought up to a condition to deal with modern traffic and to be maintained in that condition. Therefore, this fund, specially raised by taxation of a particular class, is specially safeguarded against its expenditure being diverted from the use for which it is raised to the relief of general taxation. Bearing in mind the difficulties of the matter, I am sure my right hon. Friend would desire to have any assistance that can be given to him in order to see that this fund is reasonably and properly applied to the purpose for which it is designed.
A good deal of attention has been paid to the licence which is to be attached to the car, and the registration book. This part of the scheme has received the unanimous approval of a Committee which was fully representative of motor manufacturers, motor users, and the general public. It is not a scheme which will impose a burden upon motorists, but will rather relieve them. I hold in my hand the kind of disc which is to be attached to the car. It will have in it the current licence. So far from its being any sort of trouble to the motorist, he will never be caught when he has left his licence at home and fined for not having it in his possession. It will be attached to the car. The registration book is entirely designed for his protection and convenience. It is not intended that he should carry it with him. He thus avoids the difficulty which so many of us experience of carrying everything we want, of all sorts and kinds, in our pockets, and forgetting to change them from time to time. The registration book will be the history of the car. It should be left at home. There is a liability to produce it when required, but that is all. I do not think that anybody who has studied the question will regard the registration book as imposing any burden upon the motorists. It is strongly believed that the registration book, being kept apart from the car, will be a very severe check upon the stealing of motor cars. The police hold that view very strongly.
The new system has another advantage. The licence is in respect of the vehicle, and on the sale of the car it will be the ordinary course of business for the purchaser to pay a proportionate sum in respect of the unexpired value of the 1531 licence which has been paid. A point was raised by my Noble Friend (Viscount Curzon) with regard to the difficulty of having to disclose one's identity. That will not arise. You need not disclose your identity if you sell your car through an agent, until the moment that the contract is made and must be observed. In regard to Crown vehicles some observations were made, but I suggest that it is too late to raise that on this Bill. The Crown is not liable to taxation of any description unless by its leave, and that taxation is imposed by a Finance Act. This is not a Finance Act, but an administrative Act. Therefore, the question of Crown vehicles is one which will hardly be capable of being dealt with upon any stage of the present Bill. It has not been overlooked, but it is not one upon which it would be convenient for me to make a statement at the present time. Considerable discussion has taker, place about the position of the manufacturers and dealers under the red licence. I think it is common ground, as the result of the discussion, that these licences have been badly abused in the past. Apart from that, if I might put it on more general grounds, the vehicles to which these licences are attached are users of the road and, therefore, ought to contribute to the maintenance and upkeep of the roads just in the same way as vehicles of other classes. It is by no means an easy problem to settle what is the exact sum which shall be paid for this privilege. Vehicles which run upon the roads may vary between the lightest form of motor ear and the very heavy motor car. They may vary from those which pay duty of £6 and those which pay duty of £84. Therefore, to arrive at a correct sum is not easy. The question was carefully considered by the Advisory Committee and my hon. Friend (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) brought a deputation to see me on the matter. I have no doubt that in Committee the question can be further discussed, but I do not think it need be discussed at greater length to-day.
The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Renwick) gave some interesting information as to the kind of loads which horses are apt to deal with in his district. He talked about horse-propelled vehicles, but if he puts seven tons behind a horse 1532 going down hill I think it will be the horse that will be propelled and not the vehicle.
§ Mr. NEAL
I do not know how the horse grapples with such a load on a level road. It seems to me to be a matter calling for inquiry from several points of view: First, from the point of view of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and secondly, from that of highway authorities, to see whether such a load with very narrow wheels is not highly destructive to the roads. Those are matters that we cannot inquire into too closely, unless my hon. Friend gives us particulars of the case.
§ Mr. SUGDEN
Clause 1, Sub-section (5)—the Amendment was suggested by the hon. Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton).
§ Mr. NEAL
I do not quite understand how that would assist my hon. Friend, and the smaller councils whose interests he has undertaken. For the moment I do not think that they are affected by the matter, but if he will be good enough to explain to me in detail later on, privately, what his point is we will take care to see whether we cannot meet him. At present I do not quite understand it. The remaining point which has been very much discussed is as to the control of motor traffic upon roads. As the law now stands there is great confusion, which makes it very difficult for any control whatever to be exercised over those vehicles. The Bill has been drawn purposely wide in its terms as a matter for discussion. There are certain interests to be regarded in this matter. It is difficult to deal with it by a general Clause prohibiting the use of certain vehicles on certain roads. That must be in every case, I think, the subject of inquiry. Then the drawbacks that have to be considered would seem to be, first, how far it is necessary to restrict the use of the roads, remembering the first principle that the roads are for the common use of the 1533 King's subjects. Second, how far the vehicles may ply upon the roads in existing circumstances with safety to their own occupants and also with safety to the other persons using the roads. You must have some regard to the width of the road, its condition and the amount of traffic. As the law stands we are advised that the Minister could in no case act except upon the initiative of the council, and if he acted at all he must prohibit vehicular traffic which he might not wish to prohibit on that particular road. This particular Sub-section certainly is one on which we desire in Committee all the assistance that can be given to the Minister to arrive at formula; which will enable him to carry out the duties with which Parliament may entrust him with reference to this matter. It must not be forgotten that chars-a-banc and heavy vehicles have come to stay. They are used largely by classes who cannot afford private vehicles for their own use, and we would not wish arbitrarily to interfere with the use of that particular type of vehicle on the roads. I hope that I have met the point raised in discussion, and I shall be grateful if the House will now allow the Bill to have a Second Reading.
Colonel L. WARD
This matter is of great interest not only to me but also to many of my supporters in my own constituency, and I have had a great deal of correspondence on the subject. Unfortunately, owing to the fact that an important Committee was sitting upstairs the whole afternoon I have been unable to be in the House to listen to the entire Debate, and though I hurried down immediately, or, if anything, before the Committee finished its sitting, all I arrived in time to hear was a rather impassioned but extremely irrelevant attack on the Government financial policy as a whole which gave no information on the subject on which I wish to obtain it. I wish to add my protest to that of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) at the very drastic nature of the penalties which are likely to me enforced under this measure. I suppose that the penalty which is likely to be enforced more than any other is that in reference to false declarations, but I would submit that the owner of a car in very many cases is in other people's hands. Of course where anybody buys a car direct 1534 from the manufacturer, especially a car of a well-known type, the dimensions of the cylinders are almost common property, but if a person purchases a second-hand car of a type of which there are not many in this country—there are many types where the cylinder bore varies to a small degree—he is entirely at the mercy of the man from whom he buys the car unless he goes to the expense of having the engine taken down and carefully measured. In almost every case he will have the measurements given to him in millimetres and to convert that into fractions of inches is rather difficult and anybody who has left school for any length of time is liable to make a mistake. Therefore I respectfully suggest that the somewhat savage penalty of a fine of £100 or six months' imprisonment with hard labour, or both, is in excess of the needs of the case.
Coming to the question of the use of motor vehicles as commercial vehicles, and the position of those who apply to use more than one vehicle under the cover of what is to be known as the red number plate, may I take it that, provided a man has 10 number plates and does not have more than 10 vehicles on the road, he is covered to all intents and purposes for these 10 cars? With regard to the new roads for motor traffic, are they to be used exclusively for motor traffic? I ask that question because the surface which gives the best results for motor traffic is almost universally admitted to be unsafe for use with horses, and we are constantly being confronted with complaints on one side or the other. If the road is designed for horses it is unsafe, for motors, and in the majority of cases very soon breaks up. If it is designed for motors it is very dangerous, and I would almost say very cruel to use horses on it. What are the intentions of the Ministry with regard to that? The hon. Gentleman who spoke last produced a very neat little round metal disc which he said was to carry a licence for a car. Are we to understand that in future the driving licence which we have hitherto had to carry is to be done away with and that that little metal disc carries both the licence of the car and that of the driver? If not, I fail to understand what is meant by the statement that it would be most convenient, because it appears that in future you will not only 1535 have to carry the car licence on that beautiful little metal disc, but also the driving licence in your pocket, and consequently if you happen to leave your coat behind, you are as you were before.
§ Mr. HOHLER
There are two provisions of the Bill which interest me particularly. The first is the second Subsection of Clause 2 which says that the sum of money to be paid out of the local taxation account is fixed and based upon the amount that is paid within the year 1909 in respect of duties of carriage licences. As I understand the law the position at present is that the county in which you are granted your licence takes the fine. Therefore I ask myself, will the effect of limiting the period of time to the 31st March, 1909, cut down the fines to which the county council would otherwise be entitled? If that is so, I certainly object to this Clause, because, obviously, it will increase rates in the county. Since 1909 these licence duties which are payable to the county in regard to motor cars have largely increased, and if by a side wind it is proposed to diminish in any way the receipts of the county council from this source I shall oppose that portion of the Bill.
The other point to which I wish to refer is Clause 7, Sub-section (4). There, again, you are going to deprive the county councils of relief which it received in the way of rates, because the Subsection providesall sums received by a county council by way of fees for licences granted under Section 3 of the Motor Car Act, 1903, and all penalties recovered in respect of offences under the Motor Car Acts, 1896 and 1903, shall be paid into the Exchequer.7.0 P.M.
Everybody must know that the fines for all offences in regard to extreme speed—I think I can say broadly, all highway offences—are payable to the county councils in aid of the police fund. I understand that they amount to a very large sum indeed. I see no compensation made to the county council which gives relief in respect to the police rate under this Bill. On the contrary, you are going to take away these sums recovered by virtue of prosecutions under the Acts referred to and hand them over to the Exchequer, and I can find no equivalent given to the county councils. I do not 1536 intend to oppose the Bill on Second Reading, but I do hope that some explanation will be given as to why that date, 1909, was selected, for if it does not offer the equivalent of the sums that the county councils are now receiving this Clause ought to be opposed, and I will do my best to oppose it. Again, if you are going, under the Bill, to deprive the county councils of these fines resulting from motor prosecutions and pay them into the Exchequer, then you ought to pay over to the county councils a like sum for this sum which is a very large one. I am satisfied it was never the intention of anybody who voted in favour of these increased licensed duties—and I personally am entirely in favour of them—that the county council should be mulcted in anything they hitherto received. The result would be to increase the rates by a purely side wind, and I do hope that even now the Minister of Transport or the Parliamentary Secretary will give some explanation as to that and as to why the year 1909 was fixed. These, to my mind, are important points, and the more so because, in my view, it is not desirable at this stage to do anything which will increase the rates of the county. To my mind, if this work were left to the local authorities it would not have been possible to distribute these moneys between the county councils and the county boroughs and the like and have got them to carry out on the highways the benefits which we expect without creating new departments, new surveyors and new officers going about the country at considerable expense. I would like some assurance that you are not reducing that which the county councils now receive in the way of licences. In the old days I am informed that the police pensions were entirely paid out of highway offences on which proceedings had been taken. My right hon. Friend laughs at the idea. I wonder if he has made the least inquiry. I have, and that is the information I have received. At any rate, the sum is considerable enough, and it is not to be lost sight of.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Sir E. Geddes.]