§ (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, and subject to such regulations as may be made by the Treasury with respect to accounts and investments, the Road Fund shall be subject to the control and management of the Minister.
§ (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 representing accumulations of money standing to the account of the road improvement grant shall be transferred to such persons as the Treasury may direct, and shall, subject to the provisions of any regulations made by the Treasury under the foregoing Sub-section, be held by those persons for the purposes of the Road Fund.
§ (3) There shall be paid out of the Road Fund in every year—
- (a) to every county council by whom the said duties are levied such amount in respect of the expenses properly incurred by that council in or in connection with the levying of the duties, and in issuing licences to drivers of vehicles as may be prescribed by regulations made under this Act with the consent of the Treasury:
- (b) to every local or police authority such sum as the Minister, with the approval of the Treasury, may determine to represent the amount which would, if this Act had not been passed, have been received by the authority on account of fees or charges for the licensing of mechanically-propelled hackney carriages:
- (c) such part of the expenses incurred by and in connection with the Roads Department of the Ministry of Transport, including the salaries of the staff of that Department as the Minister may from time to time, with the approval of the Treasury, determine to be expenses so incurred in the administration of this Act:
- (d) any sums paid by the Minister in respect of the salaries and establishment charges of engineers or surveyors to local authorities under subsection (2) of section seventeen of the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919:
- (e) all expenses incurred by any other Government Department in connection with the collection of the said duties or otherwise in the administration of this Act:
§ (4) The Minister shall cause an account to be prepared and transmitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General for examination on or before the first day of October in every year, showing the receipts into and issues out of the Road Fund in the financial year ending on the thirty-first day of March preceding, and the Comptroller and Auditor General shall certify and report on the same, and the account and report shall be laid before Parliament on or before the thirty-first day of January in the following year if Parliament be then sitting, and if Parliament be not then sitting, within one week after the next meeting of Parliament.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-H1CKS
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "shall" ["Fund shall be"], to insert the words "subject to the advice of the Roads Advisory Committee."
"Under Clause 3 a large sum, over £8,000,000, is to be at the disposal of the Minister, under his absolute control, and management without any controlling authority whatever. Looking at the Chinese Paper which my right hon. Friend published a few days ago with 2634 regard to the sums given him under the provisions of the Roads Development Improvements Act, 1909, as amended by this Bill we will see what very large powers he has. He may make an advance to any highway authority for the construction of new roads and the maintenance or improvement of existing roads, or any company or person—I take it any company or person concerned with roads improvement maintenance and new construction—may come to the Minister and get very large grants out of the fund which is entirely at the disposal of the Minister without any control whatever. They may construct new roads, maintain existing roads, repair them, contribute to the cost of any such work, and for purposes like the improvement of roads, including widening a road, cutting off corners, levelling, and the provision of bridges, viaducts, footways, and subways. Those are very large powers. The Minister is also able compulsorily to acquire land if it is needed for road-making. The powers are given without control by county councils or anyone else.
When the Act establishing the Ministry was going through the House some of us made some rude remarks about the Minister, in expressing our fear that he would not be inclined to consider the roads as against the railways. Those time are past, and we are all concerned now to help my right hon. Friend to do his utmost for the improvement of the roads of the country. The House appointed by Statute a Roads Advisory Committee. We took three days in Committee upstairs hammering out the Clause which established that Committee. The Committee consists of a chairman nominated by the Minister, five representatives of the great local authorities, namely county councils and road authorities, and five representatives of the road users of the country. There could not be a better committee to advise my right hon. Friend on any road question. County councils on the one side can advise as to road improvements that are necessary and as to the need of new roads. On the other hand are the road users, among whom is included a representative of the Royal Agricultural Society in order that horse traffic might be adequately represented. Parliament set up that Committee for a purpose. It was not intended purely for amusement. But the Committee has met only twice 2635 since Parliament set it up, and it is not performing the function which Parliament expected it to perform.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
It is summoned by officials of the Ministry when they desire to have a meeting. We had a meeting the week before last and a great deal of work was done. That Committee might be made of real importance to the Ministry. Suppose my right hon. Friend wants to make a new road, say, in Cornwall or Yorkshire. The moment that fact is made known there will be questions in this House and representatives of other districts will ask, "Why cannot we have a" new road as well as the districts chosen?" The Minister will be able lo reply, "This road has been sanctioned by the Roads Advisory Committee which is a statutory and independent body. They have thoroughly considered the whole question of roads from one end of England to another and they are of opinion that the road is a vital necessity." I suggest this Amendment, not because I think the Committee should paramount over the Minister. I use the word "paramount" advisedly. Time was when I tried to control the Minister, but I found it far too difficult. The utmost I could dc was to seek to give him advice. The Advisory Committee, of which I have the honour to be a member, is neglected by the Ministry. I do not think it is deliberately neglected. It is a small question concerning his officials. If the Amendment is accepted it will imply only that the Minister shall be subject to the advice of the Committee. If my right hon. Friend does not like the word "subject" let him choose some other word. He can ask for the Committee s advice, but he need not take it.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I have a great deal of sympathy with the point of view of the Mover of this Amendment. When the original scheme was conceived in 1909 for devoting certain hypothecated revenues to the improvement of the roads, the sum involved was comparatively small. In the first year it was £700,000 and it grew to something like £2,000,000 At that time the arrangement sanctioned by Parliament was that a Roads Board should 2636 have control of the disposal of that money. Then the Roads Board was brought to an end and the Ministry of Transport was established, and it took over the function of the Roads Board. Under the present proposal the income of the Department now charged with the roads is a large sum. It ought not to be spent without adequate opportunity for this House to see that it is properly spent I agree that we must look at the matter from a different point of view to-day because it is a much larger sum. The reason why this fund does not come on the estimates in the ordinary way is that it is hypothecated revenue, and we carry it forward and invest it and do not surrender our balances. What opportunity has this House of considering the way in which this money is spent? It can raise the subject on the salary of the Minister or on the Estimates for the Roads Department. That gives it the opportunity, if it has the material before it, of criticising any forecast as to the disposal of the money. We are under a statutory obligation to present to Parliament an annual report and annual accounts. Those accounts deal, of course, with the money that has been spent. It is laid down in the Ministry of Transport Act that they must be prepared up to a certain date and be submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. I think it is reasonable that an opportunity should be given to this House to know what we are about to do, on the lines of an Estimate, with the money that is coming in in future. I accept that principle and will try to give effect to it. Let us consider the proposal put forward in the Amendment. My hon. Friend says he was largely instrumental in obtaining the appointment of the Advisory Committee.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I think my hon. Friend was largely instrumental in obtaining the Committee, and I would like to give him credit for it, because I think it is a useful part of the organisation. Let us see how the Committee works. At the time it was set up it was said, "You must not limit the Committee; you must make it free. It must be entitled to consider anything it likes." My hon Friend looked at me and I noted in his voice a reproach that the Committee has not been more used. The hon. Member made a mistake when 2637 he said that I appoint the chairman. It is provided that the chairman shall be elected by the Members of the Advisory Committee from among themselves. I appoint the secretary. The Committee is representative of the road users and the road-owning authorities, and the members come from all parts of the country, including Ireland and Scotland. It is provided that the Committeemay make regulations as to their procedure and method of voting, and may at their discretion consider and report to the Minister upon any matters affecting the construction, improvement or maintenance of the roads or bridges or the regulation of traffic thereon.When the Committee was appointed, I remember that I said that we would give it the fullest possible scope. The Minister has no power to go to them for advice, although I do not say that they would decline to exercise their discretion to give advice. The Committee is absolutely free. I have no power to summon them. I have no specific power to refer anything to the Committee. It is not the business of the Minister or any official of the Ministry to summon the meetings of the Committee, to regulate its conduct or to prepare its agenda. We provide a secretary and the Committee does the rest. It has only met twice. Possibly the reason for that is that one of the most active members (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) was away in India for a long time. I have no doubt he would have—
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I have no doubt he would have been very active. That mere fact shows to my mind the impossibility of using the Advisory Committee for the day to day work of sanctioning expenditure, etc. Imagine the position, with a Committee drawn from all parts of the country, if we had to have them sitting from day to day while we were dealing with the recent question of arterial roads and the contributions to be made to them. Advisory Committees are very useful, but I think they are more useful when they have matters referred to them for advice rather than when they are left to regulate their own activities, because in the first case the working of the departmental machine provides materials for them to consider. However, this Advisory Committee was appointed in this way and constituted in this way and given 2638 its present powers. It has only met twice, but I have no doubt it will meet more frequently. Its very constitution and the way its membership is scattered do not make it a useful machine for day to day work. I would ask hon. Members to go back with me to what preceded the Advisory Committee. It was the Roads Board.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to this provision in the first Clause with respect to the setting up of the Advisory Committee.
For the purpose of giving advice and assistance to the Minister with respect to and for safeguarding any interests affected by the exercise of the powers and the performance of his duties under the Act.I submit that that provision does imply that the Minister has the distinct power of going to this Committee for advice and assistance with respect to, and the safeguarding of, any interests affected by the exercising of any powers which he possesses. That was why the Committee was appointed by Parliament. I rather demurred when he said he had no powers. That provision gives him ample power to consult the Committee. It was the object of the Committee to safeguard the interests of anything affected by what he does. If the Committee is not told what he is going to do, how can it safeguard the interests committed to it by Parliament?
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
The hon. Baronet has read out the first Clause, but the procedure of the Committee is regulated by Clause 4, which I read. The Committee may make their own Regulations and advise upon any matter at their discretion. I do not wish it to be understood that I desire to remain aloof from the Committee. Advisory Committees fulfil a very useful function, but I do not think, for the reasons I have given, that an Advisory Committee constituted like this is the most useful body for regular day to day work. The Roads Board existed from 1910 to 1919. It was a smaller body, and it had direct responsibility. It was one of those parts of the constitutional machine set up in exceptional circum stances with financial responsibility, but with no Department responsible for their actual work. The Roads Board between 1910–19 consisted of five honorary members, with a paid chairman, and it held 41 meetings, or 4.5 2639 meetings a year. Here is a typical agenda. They went through the financial statement of receipts, expenditure and investment. They considered the grants made since the last meeting, and they considered a report of applications which had been received and any other business. Being a small body they were more easily got together. Most of them either lived or had residences in London and came up here for their work. Therefore, we had two kinds of committees: one drawn from all parts of the country composed of busy men who could not be in constant attendance. These decisions are taken from day to day, and grants are made. Undertakings are given from day to day, and promises are made. If the Minister is to be responsible to Parliament, even with all the modifications which my hon. Friend introduced at a later stage of his speech as to the class of advisory work he suggested, I do not think that Parliament or this Committee would wish that an advisory committee of that kind should have the power to sanction certain moneys being devoted from time to time to different objects. That is daily work done from day to day.
I ask hon. Members to consider what is the real Parliamentary control over this fund. We have an Annual Report of what is being done, which shows the way the fund is going. There are considerable investments in this fund. An annual account is submitted. The whole of the expenditure of the Roads Department comes before Parliament. That we shall come to later. There is ample opportunity for discussing road finance in prospect. Parliament ought to know, and those who are interested ought to know, the road finance in prospect, and there is nothing to prevent the Advisory Committee going into these matters if it wishes. I would welcome it. They have absolute power to do so.
I will see whether I cannot so adjust the issue of the annual Report as to make it come in at a useful time, so that Parliament can have before it, as nearly as possible in the form of an Estimate, a statement upon which they can criticise the future expenditure of the Road Board and its future income from year to year. Parliament will have the opportunity of discussing that. The Roads Advisory Committee can within their discretion advise the Minister upon it, and that 2640 Report will be available, and when the Estimates come up for the Director-General of Roads and his engineering staff, and on the Minister's salary, Parliament will have an opportunity of raising any question. I suggest that that is the more convenient way of dealing with it, and I ask the Committee to consider whether the proposals which I have made, which I make in all sincerity, because I believe that Parliament ought to have control in this matter, are not sufficient to meet the needs of the case.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
I hope the Committee will not now be put to the trouble of a Division after the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) appears to hare in his mind chiefly the idea that this Advisory Committee, to whose setting up I was also a party a year and a half ago, has not functioned, except to the extent of two meetings, because of some unwillingness on the part of the Minister of Transport to summon it. My hon. Friend read a portion of Clause 22, but I am not sure that he read the whole of it. At all events, it seems to me that Subsection (4) makes it perfectly clear that the onus and responsibility of this Committee functioning rests upon the Committee itself and not upon the Minister, as was suggested by my hon. Friend. The Sub-section to which I have referred reads as follows:The Roads Committee may mike regulations as to their procedure and method of voting, and may at their discretion consider and report to the Minister upon any matters affecting the construction, improvement, or maintenance of roads or bridges or the regulation of traffic thereon.The whole power and responsibility rests upon the Committee, and if they have not met and dealt with this matter, then upon them be the blame; not upon my hon. Friend, because we know he has been performing great public duties in India for six months; but now that he is back again in the ordinary course of his duty as a member of that Committee, I am sure the Committee will meet regularly. The question before us now is as to whether we shall accept an Amendment which would compel the Minister to refer these questions to the Advisory Committee. I venture to say that my right hon. Friend has demonstrated quite clearly that sufficient control already exists over this matter, and so 2641 long as you get parliamentary control in a sufficient measure, then surely it is not necessary to interfere with the constitution and duties of this Advisory Committee, which, as my hon. Friend said in the course of his speech, was set up under a Section which he himself had most to do, with others of us, in framing. He is as responsible as anyone for the framing of that Section, and he therefore must take the responsibility of allowing it to continue without interference if it can be shown, as I think I have shown, that the responsibility rests on the Committee itself. As to the merits of the Section, there are some county councils and rural district councils which have antagonistic interests. I have myself when coming to this House from my home in the country to go round corners, not merely at right angles, but at angles of 25 degrees, and my life is endangered almost every morning as I come towards this House from my home in the country. Why is that? Why are these roads left in that condition? It is because the authorities cannot agree, and, therefore, we must have some Ministry which can deal with these matters, and override, if necessary, any diversity of interests between the local authorities. I hope that my hon. Friend will not consider that the Amendment need be pressed after the very clear exposition which the Minister has given, that he will find himself able to reestablish the activity of the Advisory Committee, and that its present powers will be quite sufficient to do everything which is practical and necessary for the protection of the road users and those who are otherwise concerned
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
The question rather turns on the duties of the Roads Advisory Committee and whether they can meet without being called together by the Minister of Transport. I think the Hon. Member who spoke last has shown that they can meet as often as they like, and that is clear from the Act; but what is not clear is this, that unless they have business put in front of them by the Minister, there is nothing for them to meet about. They do not know how the money is to be divided, and they cannot initiate new schemes themselves.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
Yes, but they have not got a staff to start new schemes and 2642 proposals, and unless proposals are put before them by the Minister, it is practically useless to hold a meeting. I think this is the most important and governing line in the whole Bill and that it is essential that this money should be expended in such a way as to give general satisfaction to those who subscribe it. It is necessary, too, that the local authorities who have control of the roads on which this money is to be spent should also be satisfied that they are getting a fair proportion of the money collected in their area and that it should not all be given to certain favoured districts while other large parts of the country are neglected.
That is why many of us feel that it is desirable that some form of Advisory Committee should be called together by the Minister of Transport to advise him as to the allocation of these funds. I know, of course, that the funds are mainly going to be allotted to first and second class roads, but the Minister in allocating the money should receive help. It would be a great help to us here to-day if the Minister could give us some idea upon what lines he is going to allocate first and second class roads. Some of us who live in far distant parts of the country are very anxious about this matter. Will the first-class roads only be in thickly populated districts, and wild districts in the far west of Wales or the far north of Scotland be ignored? —because when they took the traffic returns on these roads they had only one-twentieth of the traffic that went over the roads in more thickly populated areas. On what basis is he going to make a first-class and a second-class road? If this Amendment were accepted, these questions would not arise, and we should not have to ask them: but we are giving the Minister powers over, roughly, £10,000,000 a year for all time. I have not seen the paper he has published, but I have made inquiries, and I find no basis on which he is going to distribute this large sum.
The Minister told us in the House the other day, in reply to the Noble Lord sitting below the Gangway, that he was not going to have this Report until the end of February. Of course, if he has got anything further to tell us we shall all be de lighted to hear it. There should be a fair division for all the roads, so that not only the taxpaying community may be satisfied, but also the great local authorities, which are the highway authorities of the country.
2643 I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be impossible for the Minister of Transport to be hampered with every little item. I think he talked about cutting off corners and making small improvements of a hundred pounds here and there. Nothing like that was in my mind in putting down this Amendment. But if he could get advice on the big main schemes before they were carried out, that is a different matter. As the thing stands now, he can do anything he likes. It is true the Minister of Transport tells us that he is going to submit to Parliament full details of expenditure, but then the whole money will have been spent.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
That is the problem. It would be as if the Secretary of State for War took £100,000,000 for war, and did not tell us whether it was for Mesopotamia, Palestine, or anywhere else. This House, it is true, will go through the Estimates and pass the expenditure, but it will only be on the certificate of the Administration, and there will be no details. The right hon. Gentleman must have the decision, but if he could give us some assurance that when he was having a big scheme before him he would give us an undertaking that it was his intention to refer the matter to the Roads Advisory Committee, I should be content. Personally, I have experienced the very greatest help in road matters from the Minister of Transport, and I do not suppose that while he is at the Ministry, with all the excellent officials at the Roads Department, there will be any trouble whatsoever. In fact, I am sure if other local bodies have received the assistance in the same way as the county council on which I have the honour to be, they will have nothing to say against the Minister of Transport and the Roads Department. It is, therefore, quite clear that my criticisms are not against the Ministry of Transport as at present run, but only aimed at securing safeguards over a great public expenditure. I do think we are entitled to a little more information as to the way in which the Minister of Transport means to carry on this very impor- 2644 tant matter of the division of public funds in different parts of the country.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
If I may say so, I share the anxiety of my hon. and gallant Friend. The expenditure of this sum is really hedged about by many conditions. In the first place, the money is to be raised after a very careful inquiry. There was no dispute as to the amount to be raised, or the way it was to be spent. There was a certain difference of opinion as to the spreading of taxation, but the amount was not in dispute. The sums were to be spent in this way: Fifty per cent, for first-class roads for maintenance —that is not simply tarring and macadamising the surface, but it means widening and strengthening bad corners; and 25 per cent, for second-class roads. Then, in this year, there is £500,000 for arterial roads. That is in accordance with the programme that was laid down, at any rate for London. The other items throughout the country must come out of that sum. Next year there is a million for arterial roads, and the remainder goes to maintenance, but not purely maintenance. In a normal year, out of the expenditure of £8,000,000, there is £1,250,000 for arterial roads. That is spread over England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland in the report of the Committee. It was the basis upon which the Finance Act was passed, and I consider we are committed to that on that basis.
How is the classification to be carried out? The bulk of the money is to go on road maintenance, including improvements I have described in road-making— 50 per cent, first class, 25 per cent, second class and nothing to the rest. The local authorities have been asked to send in their proposed classification. They have classified the roads. Of course, in most of the cases the surveyor will have discussed things, and we shall not find a first-class road in one area and a second-class road in the next area. They will be linked up so as to get the first-class road gauged right through, and the second-class roads gauged right through. The money involved will about permit of contributions on this basis: 12 per cent, on the whole first-class roads, 14 per cent, on the whole second-class roads, making 26 per cent, altogether; and 74 per cent, on the "also-ran" type of roads. There is not very much difference between the treatment. Scotland has more first-class roads than 2645 we have. The big roads run up the valleys, and you do not get the large number of little cross-roads.
That is the classification which is really the basis of the grants. As a matter of fact schemes have been submitted to the Roads Advisory Committee, and were at the first meeting approved by that Committee. There is no intention of keeping the Advisory Committee out of it altogether. We are not working in that sense at all. As the matter progresses we shall get our annual reports, and the apprehensions which I might have shared had I not known how the thing was working of hon. Members will be found to have had little ground. Parliament has sanctioned this fund as a specific fund. It is for the improvement of the roads of this country. But you cannot say you will give £5,000,000 this year and £1,000,000 next year. That is a wasteful, extravagant, and perfectly useless method. Such a way will cost far more than a better scheme on a progressive basis. You have to look forward to the development by the local authorities of the various schemes, of the provision of their stone-crushing and other plant, and in all these ways there is to be co-operation between them and the Ministry.
Therefore there will be, it is hoped, this continual and gradual progress steadily going forward, and bringing the roads up to a higher level, with the possibility in Parliament of criticising what is being done. It would not be good to go suddenly into a great capital expenditure. Our annual report will show what we have done on the basis of classification, and so on. I look upon myself as a trustee for the fund, and I have always endeavoured to act in that way. I shall look at these things very carefully. I have offered to give the House a forecast and estimate at the time we submit the estimates for the road staff of the yield of taxation, the prospective expenditure, how much is going to each country, and as to what roads are put into the first class, the second class, and so on. I agree the House ought to have this. Those who find the money are entitled to special consideration, and we propose to give it. Here is a Department working with the local authorities, but which cannot spend money wholeheartedly on any scheme of its own. The local authorities have to pay their proportion towards the roads. There is another safeguard. In practice 2646 our work will be in partnership with the local authorities. It has been suggested that before the Minister makes a grant he shall take the advice of the Committee or act in accordance with their advice—
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I distinctly said that though the right hon. Gentleman might listen to that advice he need not take it.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
There are nine or ten grants per day. If you are going to make the Advisory Committee responsible in this matter, it must be remembered that the Members are not easily got together? it is different from the days when the Road Board was small. Such procedure as proposed would be hampering the efficiency of the Department. As I say, I have offered to give the House a forecast, an estimate of what is going to be done, with Reports of what has been done, and I hope that will satisfy hon. Members.
§ Mr. ATKEY
As I understand, the Minister thinks the Advisory Committee has a certain volition of its own. It can meet as often as it likes, and take under review such subjects that may be brought before it. Would it not be to the interest of his Department to ensure a definite amount of control being placed in the hands of the Committee, as suggested by the Mover of the Amendment? Would the right hon. Gentleman, at any rate, allow the Committee to meet as often as they felt disposed, to take into consideration such matters as they desire to be brought before them, and thus enable the Committee of its own volition to take sufficient interest in these matters, and so render him every possible assistance in their power?
§ Mr. R. McLAREN
Advisory Committees—at least I so felt as I listened to the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment—are Committees set up to advise somebody. I expect that this Advisory Committee is to be set up to advise in connection with matters of road transport. To suggest that the Minister shall require advice upon all little details is absurd, but on any question of allocation, and in respect to these very large schemes to be undertaken in various parts of the country, I do not see why advice should not be asked. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to tell us to-day that before he sanctions any schemes he will come to Parliament. But 2647 what is likely to be done after the thing has been decided by his Department? I must confess, having some knowledge of departmental work, that I have no faith whatever in the Departments. This may be an exception. On the question of allocation I think it will be very wise for the Minister to call together the Advisory Committee. In Scotland, for instance, in this matter of road transport, the amount of traffic on the roads coming under the authority during summer time, especially from May to September, forms a very large amount of the traffic. Money beyond the ordinary should be given to these roads, because the traffic is so enormous, and it costs a good deal more to keep these roads up. I have heard it repeatedly stated by local authorities that they have a grievance even against the Road Board in not giving them a sufficient sum of money to make these matters right. I hope, if the Minister of Transport cannot accept this Amendment, at least he will give the House some assurance that in the large schemes undertaken the matter will be submitted, first of all, to the Advisory Committee for their advice, and that they shall be asked to allocate sums allocated equivalent to the upkeep of the roads in the manner I have described.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I do not want to put the House to the trouble of a division, but I think that this discussion has been of great use, and I desire to acknowledge the way in which the Minister of Transport has met my wishes. Of course, I do not want all the details given before the Committee, although I do not think we have been made as good use of as we might have been. I realise now, after what has been said, that we have power to call ourselves together when ever we like, and take any matter into consideration. That statement has rather opened my eyes, and my right hon. Friend may find us in the future inclined to sit more frequently, and we may pass more Resolutions. I did not refer to what we have done, because I thought that until a decision had been arrived at our recommendations should be treated as confidential. My right hon. Friend has power to borrow for these purposes, but I hope that before he goes in for a large loan he will let the Advisory Committee know that he has such an idea in order that we may discuss 2648 it and give our humble advice before he gets rid of this £8,000,000 a year.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
We know that the Government is bound to take up very great works for the unemployed, which I agree must be undertaken, and this will throw a very heavy and a very proper burden on the State. What I want to do is to make sure that these particular funds will not be taken for that purpose, because all such charges should come out of the general funds of the country. I hope my right hon. Friend will give us some assurance on that point because we are leaving the disposal of this £8,000.000 a year entirely in his hands. I think we are entitled at least to express our view that the whole of that money should be used for the roads and not for any general national purpose.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. NEAL
I beg to move in Subsection (3, a) to leave out the words "such amount in respect of the," and to insert instead thereof the words "an amount equal to any reasonable."
There are four Amendments standing in the name of the Minister of Transport which are intended to deal with the subject-matter of certain other Amendments on the Paper, and the first of them is the one which I have just moved. During the discussions on this Bill some doubt arose as to whether the county councils would be refunded the actual cost of their administrations in connection with carrying out their duties under this Act, and objection was taken to the words "as may be prescribed by Regulations made under this Act with the consent of the Treasury." The hon. Member for the Thirsk Division (Mr. Turton) called attention to a statement of the Minister of Transport in connection with the Finance Act in which he gave a positive assurance that the whole cost incurred by the county councils in the performance of their duties under this Act would be refunded to them. In reply I pointed out that although the pledge would be redeemed fully, yet it was obvious that it must be deemed to be reasonable, and that it would not mean that whatever sum a county council might spend would necessarily be refunded to them, if it happened to be of an altogether unreasonable character. Since then the matter has been the subject of discussion with the County Councils Association, and the 2649 words of the various Amendments standing in the name of the Minister of Transport are intended to produce a complete arrangement, and they have the assent both of the Treasury and the County Councils Association. I would like to read the Clause as it will stand as the result of these various Amendments—
to every county council by whom the said duties are levied an amount equal to any reasonable "expenses properly incurred by that council in accordance with directions issued by the Minister with the approval of the Treasury.I think those words meet the points which were raised.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
I do not think this Amendment carries us much further. The county councils ought to be reimbursed their full costs. There is far too much being imposed upon local authorities involving expenditure on their part. The idea of deciding what is reasonable may lead to the possibility of friction between the county councils and the Ministry. I have an Amendment down on the Paper to insert the word "all" because the local authorities are entitled to receive the full amount. If the Ministry of Transport is of opinion that the local authorities are extravagant, there are means for redressing that, but where a county council is exercising its function properly, it should be reimbursed the full amount of their expenses. The Departmental Committee on the Taxation and Regulation of Road Vehicles on the 31st March, 1920, recommended that the whole cost of collection should be paid out of these funds. I observe that a number of other hon. Members have Amendments to deal with this point. May I say that I have been asked by the city of Glasgow to move the Amendment which stands in my name. The Corporation of Glasgow are much concerned about this duty being thrust upon them with no assurance that they will be reimbursed the total expenses incurred by them in their discharge of the duty. I am bound to say that I do not think the words proposed meet the case.
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that this Amendment will not give security to the local authorities. In the past the Treasury have been so parsimonious that in London they have only given £4,000 per year, although the 2650 collection has cost as much as £16,000 a year. In future, the duty of collecting these licence duties will be more difficult and costly than in the past, because the class of vehicles liable has been greatly increased, and the London County Council will have to control all the commercial vehicles as well as those used for other purposes. Therefore, we ought to have some security that the Treasury are not going to be allowed in the future as in the past to make the local authorities their tax collectors and then shirk paying reasonable expenses. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman feels it necessary to put in the word "reasonable" in view of the words "properly incurred" already occurring. Surely, if the expenses have been properly incurred they are reasonable. The Amendment which some of us have down to leave out the words "such amount in respect of" and at the end of the Sub-section to omit the reference to the "Regulations prescribed by the Treasury," so that it would read that the local authorities should get back the expenses properly incurred, would give far better security for a fair repayment of the costs to which they had been put in collecting the taxes than the suggested Amendment of the hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir F. BLAKE
I was very much surprised to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport say that the Amendment had the full consent of the County Councils' Association. Of course, he speaks with great knowledge, but that is not in the least in accord with the information that was conveyed to me as late as the evening before last, when I had a consultation with the Secretary of that Association and with the hon. Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins), who, unfortunately, is not here to-day. I understand that he was one of the deputation—I was not one myself —who attended from the Highways Committee to discuss the matter, and I was asked to come here to-day and urge the right hon. Gentleman to meet the local authorities in this matter. I think that the words suggested are likely to lead to the most undesirable friction between bodies which ought to act in complete harmony and accord. There is no necessity to put in any other words. I have an Amendment and other hon. Members have Amendments, but, if we can get 2651 the repayment of the expenses properly incurred, I do not see the necessity for any other words.
I should like the Committee to know what the right hon. Gentleman said with regard to the repayment of these expenses which makes us rather insistent in this matter. In the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, on 6th July, he was asked by the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Buckinghamshire whether the collection was to be made by the local authority, and, if so, whether consideration would be given to the local authority. The right hon. Gentleman replied that the question was one of considerable importance. The collection throughout would be by the local authority, and every penny of the cost of collection would be refunded. That had been allowed for in the figures which had been given. The hon. Member asked how it would be repaid, and the right hon. Gentleman said that it would be repaid out of the proceeds of the taxes. We say that this Amendment does not properly carry out that definite undertaking given by the right hon. Gentleman. A definite promise was given that every penny of the cost of collection would be refunded out of the proceeds of the taxes. It is most unfortunate that words should be introduced that are likely to give rise to dispute as to what is reasonable. The Committee must bear in mind that this is a purely national service. The county councils will be acting as agents, and they ought not to run the risk of having to meet out of the rates absolutely necessary expenses, especially when every penny collected has to be paid into the Treasury and there is no certainty that they will get a single penny of it. For these reasons, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to reconsider whether he could not put in some words which would give more effect to the very definite assurance and promise that he gave to the county councils in July last.
§ Mr. MILLS
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to reconsider the matter and to accept the suggestion to substitute the word "all. "As a member of a local authority. I know from the few meetings that I have been able to attend that there is an obvious reluctance to take up these duties unless tie local authorities are certain that the cost will be borne by the Treasury and that a form of words will be inserted here to make 2652 that clear. If the word "all" were substituted, it would be so free from ambiguity that the county councils would be willing to get on with the job.
§ Mr. NEAL
I do not think that there is any real difference of opinion between us. It is only a question of finding appropriate words to do two things which will be desired by every member of the Committee. First, we wish to secure to the county councils to the full all the costs which they properly incur in carrying out the duties imposed upon them under this Statute, in which, in point of fact, they have a direct interest, because county roads will be materially assisted out of the funds. The next point on which I hope there is equal agreement is that we must have some sort of safeguard against extravagant administration. These are the points we desire to cover by the Clause as amended. A suggestion has been made since I last addressed the Committee that we should insert the word "all." I have no objection to that being done. I do not think it adds anything to or detracts anything from the Clause. If you say you want to pay people reasonable expenses properly incurred it means all expenses, and if it will satisfy the hon. Member we have no objection to accepting the suggestion. The other suggestion was that the word "reasonable" should be omitted. It seems to me that if expenses are properly incurred they must be reasonably incurred. I am, however, quite prepared to see whether we can put in any words which will exactly meet the desires of the hon. Member. I suggest the Clause should read
to every county council by whom the said duties are levied, all the expenses properly incurred by that Council in or in connection with the levying of the duties, and the registration of the vehicle in accordance with directions issued by the Minister with the approval of the Treasury.It is the directions which must have the approval of the Treasury, and not the specific amount to be paid by way of expenses. I think the Section as amended might fully satisfy the Members of the Committee, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment originally proposed.
The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E.Cornwall)
Does the hon. Gentleman 2653 withdraw all the Amendment he has moved?
Then the Amendment is to leave out the words, "such amount in respect of the," and to insert the words, "an amount equal to any."
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I object to the Amendment being withdrawn. I am in favour of the original Amendment. I am sorry to disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend, who seemed to think that the withdrawal of the word "reasonable" would cover his point. I do not think it will. I want to see the word "reasonable" inserted, so that if a county council should choose to incur unreasonable expenses, it would be obliged to go to the ratepayers. I do not share the opinion that county council people can be trusted. I look upon them, as a whole, as most extravagant bodies. I was living in the hope, at any rate, that to-day I might have the pleasure of supporting the Minister of Transport and following him into the Lobby. Now he dashes all my hopes to the ground, and accepts an Amendment which I think will encourage extravagance and put on the taxpayers a burden they ought not to bear. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his position and to stick to the Amendment which he recently introduced. I know that the Labour party are in favour of the altered Amendment but, naturally, they are all for extravagance, because they hold the more money that can be spent the better it is. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have seen the red light which the Labour party has shown. I object to the withdrawal.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MOLES
It is too bad of my right hon. Friend to deny to the right hon. 2654 Baronet who has just spoken the only anticipatory pleasure I have ever heard him express in this House, and if there were no other reason, I think the right hon. Gentleman should reconsider his proposal at the request of the right hon. Baronet. I. rose, not so much for the purpose of getting elucidation on this point, as because, as my right hon. Friend knows, the position in Ireland, with which I am more immediately concerned, is somewhat different to what it is here. I will take the case of Belfast, with whose interests I am specially charged. The corporation there has revenues from registration fees, fees on drivers' licences, transfers and hackney carriage licences, and these represent a substantial sum, having during the last five years averaged £3,000 per year. Before I can consent to any transfer of this revenue from the left-hand trouser pocket to the right-hand trouser pocket, or from both pockets to the pocket of some other garment, I want to be perfectly satisfied as to what is going to happen to the corporation. I am not clear now, and I submit that the position should be made clear. The Belfast Corporation, and bodies similarly situated, incur at the moment certain expenses for the collection of these revenues, and I think there should be a clear and explicit assurance that they will continue to get the revenue in addition to all the expenses necessarily and properly incurred in connection with the collection of the motor licence duties. I want a distinct assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that the position of these bodies will not be prejudiced. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the official return published by the Department in regard to collections in Ireland, he will find that six counties and boroughs collect between them £7,600, of which the Corporation of Belfast alone collects £4,750. If I take two or three counties adjoining, I find in precisely the same way the major portion of the duties collected come in effect from five counties and one borough. How does Belfast come out of the transaction? It gets 5 per cent.—£237—for collecting nearly £4,800 for the Road Board; and every appeal that has been made by the corporation to the Road Board for assistance in the maintenance of roads has been met by a stern refusal. That £4,750 odd, contributed by owners of motor cars in Belfast, is drafted out 2655 into remote parts of the South and West of Ireland for the benefit of their roads at our expense. Philanthropy is one thing, but sheer robbery is another, and no milder term will describe proceedings of that sort. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that a plea from a corporation which treats him so well is listened to with more sympathy than it has so far received. I observe that a tax of 15s. per tramway car is to be imposed, and we are to have that cast upon us as well. An enormous amount of damage is done to the tramway tracks by heavy motor lorries, and the ratepayers have to pay the bill out of their own pockets. I do not think that is fair treatment.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
The hon. Member who has just sat down is apparently thinking of the next paragraph. The object of the Minister of Transport ought to be to protect the Road Fund from improper use, and I was prepared to support the Amendment which has been moved by the Parliamentary Secretary. The local authorities will say, "Here is a splendid fund. We can pay our clerks and our printers and everything we like, and charge it all to the Road Fund. We can have a large staff of public officials, and we do not have to collect the rates. It is an ideal system. Let us send down all the hon. Members we can to force this upon the House, so that in future we need not collect the rates, but can charge it all to the public Exchequer." I am a member of local bodies myself, and try to be as economical as possible, but it is well known that expenditure of which the Exchequer pays half, or a third, or three-fourths, as the case may be, is easier to get through a council than expenditure the whole of which has to fall on the rates. Under a proposal like this, the Clerk of the County Council will say, "How many clerks do you want to run this? Two or three? Well, we may as well have four. The motor car users pay it. Then, So-and-So is a very good fellow; let us put his salary up a bit. We do not pay it." In fact, there will be no limit to the expenditure. I do not think it is even strong enough as it is, and I was going to ask the Minister of Transport to lay down a limit. I see that he estimates that the cost of this collection of tax will be £300,000; but, unless we are very particular about this Sub-section, it will not be £300,000, but £600,000. I hope, there- 2656 fore, that sufficiently strong words will be put in to afford some check. It is a great misfortune if there is discord between county councils and any Government Department, and there must be someone to decide. Unless some words are put in to provide that, say, the Treasury must decide in case of a dispute, there will be constant discord between the local body and the Government Department, which is very unsatisfactory for the general concerns of the State. This Clause needs strengthening, so that only fair and reasonable sums may be expended, and in case of any dispute the Treasury should be the final arbiter.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Most of us on this side wish to support the withdrawal of this Amendment. So far as the intention is to limit expenditure in regard to this particular duty, we agree, but the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) was all that was desirable. I am not an authority on the exact meaning of words, but I should like to know if anyone can tell me the difference between expenses properly incurred and reasonable expenses. I think the authorities in this House would have some difficulty in defining the exact difference between those terms, and, so far as the words "properly incurred" are concerned, they will meet all that the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) has in mind. I do not think, so far as this Amendment is concerned, that he can accuse us of being extravagant. Who is going to carry out these duties? It will be the county councils, and I think I am accurate in stating that the county councils of this country are largely made up of members belonging to the party to which the right hon. Baronet belongs. If his statement is true that this is leading to extravagance, he is admitting that the party with which he is associated politically are the most extravagant people in the country, and that he is not prepared to trust his own party. I think that that is a logical inference.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not admit that at all. I admit that some people who used to be Conservatives still nominally call themselves Conservatives, but they are really something quite different. They are extravagant, but the old reactionary Tory is not.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I have not a very long experience myself, but I can say that 2657 most of us recognise that the right hon. baronet is at least consistent in his principles. However much we may differ from him with regard to his principles, we are always prepared to admit that he is very frank and fair and courteous in Debate. I think that the object and intention of the Ministry will be met by inserting the word "all"—"all expenses which are properly incurred." I agree that, as far as possible we ought to prevent any unnecessary friction between the Treasury and the local authorities, but that will be met best by not pressing the Amendment which has been moved by the Parliamentary Secretary, and by accepting the Amendment which is down in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds. If you begin to put in reasons why expenses are properly incurred, you have a multiplicity of words, and you have to show, first, that they are reasonable expenses, and, secondly, that they have been properly incurred. The hon. and gallant Member for Southampton (Sir I. Philipps) said that there could be a multiplicity of clerks, and that printing expenses and a great many other things could be charged to this account, and passed as properly incurred expenses. But does anyone for a moment believe that the Government auditor would pass accounts of that character as being proper expenditure? I do not believe for a moment that the auditors who examine public accounts would be guilty of so gross a negligence. I do not think anything of the kind could happen if the Amendment was withdrawn. If the Government cast upon the local authorities certain duties which it is the duty of the State to perform, in their stead the State ought to be prepared to pay to the extent of the expenses incurred in carrying out those duties. It is just possible that the words which were proposed to be inserted would lead to an amount of friction as to reasonable, expenses, and it might lead to an amount of dissatisfaction, and it might lead to the county councils saying, "We do not want this duty any further because the Government is not prepared to pay for the duties we are willing to perform." Therefore I hope the Minister in charge, now that he has stated he is willing to withdraw his own Amendment and accept one which states that all the expenses properly incurred shall be paid, will stick to the Resolution he has arrived at.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
We all really are after the same thing. It is a question of words, and under these circumstances the fewer words we have the better. My view is that it would be better to leave out both the word "unreasonable" and the word "all," so that the county council should be entitled to recover expenses properly incurred. If you leave out the word "all" you create an onus of proof on the Treasury to show that any particular expense has been improperly incurred. If the words are "expenses properly incurred" alone it will be left to the local auditor.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
Yes, it really means all expenses. "Expenses properly incurred" means in fact all expenses, but it does not put that additional little emphasis which you put if you put in the word "all." We have to be pretty careful about these words, because in a case like this where you are making the local authorities your agents you have to see that that agency is carried out economically. We have to protect the taxpayer in that respect. We have to ensure that local authorities in carrying out these duties we put upon them get their expenses, but not more than their proper expenses, and therefore it would be a great mistake to put in the word "all," and it is very undesirable to have redundant words like "reasonable as well as proper." Therefore I urge the Government to reduce the Clause to the smallest number of words possible, not to accept the word "all" and leave out the word "reasonable."
§ The CHAIRMAN
Perhaps I may make a suggestion which might meet what I think is the purpose of the Committee. Leave to withdraw the present Amendment is refused, so I am bound to put the Question. Therefore I hope the Committee will decide to leave out the words "such amount in respect of the" and will also negative the proposed insertion of the word "reasonable." Then we should be open for another insertion.
Will not that prejudice the question of "all"? If you leave out "reasonable" you cannot accept the word "all."
§ The CHAIRMAN
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me to complete my suggestion. I was going to suggest that, having negatived the proposed insertion, these words might meet the case:
"an amount equal to the expenses." It would then read—to every county council by whom the said duties are levied an amount equal to the expenses properly incurred by the council.
§ Mr. NEAL
On behalf of the Government I should like to express our indebtedness to you for putting this matter in substantive form. I think it will meet everyone's view. I should be content to vote against the Amendment, as leave to withdraw has beer, refused, and later to move the words which the Chairman has intimated might be appropriate.
§ Question, "That the words 'such amount in respect of the' stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.
§ Question, "That the words 'an amount equal to any reasonable' be there inserted," put, and negatived.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
I am quite agreeable, after what has been said, to cancel my Amendment, and to accept that of the hon. Gentleman.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made: In Subsection (3, a), after the word "council" ["properly incurred by that council"], insert the words "in accordance with directions issued by the Minister with the approval of the Treasury."
§ After the word "duties" ["with the levying of the duties"] insert the words "and the registration of vehicles."
§ Leave out the words "as may be prescribed by regulations made under this Act, with the consent of the Treasury." — [Mr. Neal].
§ Mr. GRANT
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (3, a), to insert the words:and such Regulations shall provide for advances to be made to the said county councils at the commencement of each year and from time to time as may be necessary during the year on account of such expenses.For some years past county councils have been financed in carrying out State-aided schemes. This has resulted in 2660 long delays and great inconvenience to the councils. Representations have been made and it has been more or less the practice that payments on account have been made. The object of the Amendment is to give statutory permission for such practice as a matter of convenience to the county council. There can be no real objection to the Amendment which will only carry out what is more or less the practice at present.
§ Mr. NEAL
My hon. Friend is quite correct in saying it has been the practice in the past to make these advances. It is intended to continue that practice, but we cannot quite accept the form of words which he suggests. I will accept the Amendment with the substitution of the word "may" for the word "shall" and leaving out the words "at the commencement of each year." It is not necessary that the advance shall be made at the commencement of the year. I think the purpose he has in view will be met if the Amendment is moved in the form I suggest.
§ Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
§ Captain GANZONI
I beg to move, in Sub-section (3, b), after the word "the" ["represent the amount"], to insert the word "nett."
I have given notice of a subsequent Amendment so that if both were adopted the paragraph would read—to every local or police authority such sum as the Minister, with the approval of the Treasury, may determine to represent the nett amount which, after allowing for the costs of administration and collection, would, if this Act had not been passed, have been received by the authority on account of fees or charges for the licensing of mechanically-propelled hackney carriages.The object is to have the local or police authority in no better position than they are in now solely on account of the old licences having been swept away and new licences credited to the Road Fund. I and those who think with me think if the Clause is left as drawn it will put the local and police authorities undeservedly in rather a better position. If the right hon. Gentleman, with his 2661 usual thoroughness and courtesy, shows me that that is not so I will be satisfied. If, owing to this Clause, the local authorities receive larger amounts and are let off the cost of administration, which they should not be let off, it will permit extravagance and will fail to protect the Road Fund. The last Amendment moved by the Minister was devised to protect the Road Fund.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
The object of the Amendment is one with which I entirely agree. In theory it would be perfectly right to say that the police and local authorities should obtain nett cost. The only reason this has been put in this way is to save money. In certain areas, I am told the Metropolitan area is one, the police are, in fact, out of pocket. I understand from those who have inquired into this matter that exactly the same work will be done. There will be no extra charge, and it is a charge which will be included in the general licence duties.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
If the police are collecting duties at a loss, and if that amounts, say, to £11,000, there is no reason why they should be given £10,000 out of the Road Fund. It is quite obvious that it would be wrong to pay more than the nett cost.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
This deals with hackney carriages and is not what was covered by the previous Clause. The work will have to be covered just the same. What had to be considered was whether there should be paid the ascertained out-of-pocket expenses or what they get to-day. That would involve an elaborate ascertainment all over the country as to what were out-of-pocket expenses, and as the thing is so very small, it is considered better to let them have what they are getting to-day.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will further consider the matter between now and Report?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg to move in Sub-section (3, c), after the word "expenses" ["part of the expenses"], to insert the words "not exceeding ten thousand pounds."
I move in order to find out the amount by which the Road Fund is going to be mulcted or reduced by the expenses. There is a tendency of all those Departments to increase the staffs. There must be an ample and sufficient staff to carry out the work but this is our only chance to protect the interests of the Road Fund and to see that too great a proportion of the expenses of the Ministry is not allocated to the Road Fund. I think all these are national matters and should be allocated to the Ministry generally, but as it is decided that the Road Fund must pay something I have inserted a definite figure and should like to know from the Right Hon. Gentleman what is likely to be the estimated charge under this head.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
The total expenses of the Road Department will come annually before Parliament, and the House will have that opportunity to criticise. I have been in negotiations with the Treasury as to how we should interpret this Clause. I have been able to make an arrangement with the Treasury that it is to be limited strictly to expenditure incurred for the work for which the old road fund was originally intended. None of the other duties, such as lighting on vehicles, or any question which may arise in future which is not strictly applicable to the proper use of the fund which has succeeded that of the old road development, is to be charged upon this fund. The expenditure to-day, representing the administration of the old road development fund in its new form, is £48,790. If possible, I would like to show each item separately on the estimate so that full protection will be given.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am beginning to feel that my efforts to improve the Bill are quite unnecessary. My right hon. Friend has been so kind in showing such a desire to protect the road fund that I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.2663
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
I beg to move, in Sub-section (3), to leave out paragraph. (d).
I move this Amendment in order to get some explanation as to what sum it is proposed to set apart for the purpose specified.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
The principle of paragraph (d) was assented to in the Ministry of Transport Act. We have here only a new profession of it. This is necessary because of the huge development in mechanical road traction during the last fifteen or twenty years, more particularly since the War. The reason which actuated the House and the Government in providing that power should be given to contribute to the staff of a local authority for road work was simply this. Roads are no longer a purely local interest. They are a national interest. The expenditure to-day is roughly £40,000,000 on roads, and it is necessary that we should try to get highly skilled engineers on the staffs, because that would be the greatest economy. I am assured that an incompetent surveyor can waste more money on roads than an incompetent man in almost any other branch. Our object, therefore, is to get a good standard of men appointed throughout the country. The local authorities have got a great interest in appointing their men, but no one can contest that if you have a man such as Sir Henry Maybury at the head of your Roads Department, who is looking at roads on the whole, who is seeking to get a classification and comparing the cost of maintaining and making a mile of second or third class road, you ought to have some intimate touch with the surveyors and the officials who are carrying out that work, and know what their qualifications are.
It is impossible to say what this will amount to. The contributions which those for whom the hon. and gallant Member speaks in reference to the roads of the district depend on the classification. If every local authority in the country were to ask for a half, the cost, I am told, would be about £350,000 a year. It is in conceivable that they would all ask. I hope that they will, because I think that it will give a better standard of road engineering throughout the country, and I believe that you will save far more than any possible cost by getting really good 2664 engineers on the work. You cannot spend money better on roads than in helping local authorities to have really first-class engineers, who make it a profession. The suggestion of contributing a half, subject to approval, goes much further than the money or the approval. It makes the closest possible touch between the Minis try as trustees for the road fund and the local authorities, and ensures that road engineering is going to be a co-ordinated profession in the future, and not some thing which anybody can take up. I feel strongly about this point. The maximum possible will be £350,000, but that is quite fallacious, and the amount is more likely to be about £100,000 a year.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I cannot argue the whole thing now, but this is one of the Clauses which I fought most strenuously last year. It removes the control of the servants of the local authority from the local authority to the right hon. Gentleman
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
It does very largely. The appointment of officers of the local authority is subject to the approval of the right hon. Gentleman and half the salary is paid. That is exactly what local doctors and sanitary officers have been trying to get for a long time so that they may get out of local control. The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the figure of £100,000 as the probable amount of expenditure. I do not know whether he would be prepared to limit the amount to that figure. £350,000 is an enormous hole in the Road Fund. The engineers will be there all the same and will be doing their work all the same, but you are taking possibly £350,000 out of £8,000,000 contribution to local rates that otherwise would not be paid. I think the right hon. Gentleman might consider, between now and Report, whether he would accede to some limiting amount.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I understood the Minister to say that this will not interfere in the least with the supreme authority of the local authorities over their engineers. Is that so or not?
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
This new system will have a very great effect on local government. In future the county surveyor or the urban or rural district sur- 2665 veyor will look to the Ministry for half his salary.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
The authority will be the Fund. The surveyor does not look for his salary to the Ministry. He is entirely under the local authority.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
The local authority will look to the Minister of Transport for half the salary of its surveyor. This also carries with it the natural corollary that the Minister would settle whether the man to be appointed is fit for the appointment which the county council or district council has made. It is interfering in a great way with the duties of the county councils, but at the same time it is raising the standard of the county surveyor, and I think the whole country will welcome that. We all know how in the old days the County of Kent had an overwhelming superiority over any other part of England in regard to its roads. I do not think I ever met the county surveyor, but he was known as a very superior workman in his particular trade. I believe he is the present head of the Road Department of the Ministry. If ever a man deserved promotion to the top of his profession it was certainly the man who made the roads of Kent. While I welcome this proposal, I hope it will not mean too much interference from the Minister of Transport.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I think that the hon. Gentleman, and other speakers, have failed to notice that the whole thing is permissive. No local authority is to ask for any contribution that it does not want, and its supreme authority is in no way interfered with. I have no authority over it unless it willingly comes to me and says, "We wish to obtain this grant, and if we get the grant we are prepared to see that the man who is to be paid as to half his salary by you through us, shall be mutually agreed to." That is all. It is open to them to accept the grant or not. The only reason we have for this proposal is that we feel much money could foe saved by doing what is proposed and intended, namely, the raising of the standard of the local surveyor. There is no obligation upon any local authority, but if it wishes it can come into the 2666 arrangement. Although we are not yet making these payments, we are already receiving, in anticipation, applications from all over the country from people who are saying, "Here is a man and here is another man. Whom would you recommend?" They are recognising that a road engineer's job is a specialist's job, and that money can be saved if a good man is appointed.
§ Major HAYWARD
The observations of the Minister have certainly removed any misapprehension that was in my mind. He states that the whole provision is permissive. Of course, if local authorities are to come in and take advantage of the provision, they must be subject to some sort of control by the Minister. It seems in all respects an admirable proposal that the Minister, recognising the vast importance of raising the standard of the surveyor, is adopting this means of doing so.
§ Mr. G. BALFOUR
This is a matter of very great importance, and I do not think it has been made quite clear to the Committee or to the country. We have heard from the Minister of Transport that the Ministry proposes to pay one half of the salary of the various road surveyors throughout the country. The Government reserve the right under the principle Act to say that wherever a contribution is paid in respect of the salary of any of these surveyors they have the right to approve or disapprove of the appointment of such surveyor. In effect that amounts to this, that no local authority will be free to appoint its own surveyors; it will be absolutely in the hands of the Ministry. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be a matter of mutual agreement. We all know what mutual agreement means as between a Minister of State and a county council. It means that the Minister of State is supreme and the Minister of Transport in this matter would be supreme.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Further Amendment made: In Subsection (3), after the word "a" ["to a police"], insert the words "local or."— [Mr. Johnstone].
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 4 (Amendment of 9 Edw. 7, c 47) ordered to stand part of the Bill.