§ Viscount CURZON
I beg to move, to leave out the Clause.
The object is to remove the charge for this Bill, when it becomes an Act, from the Road Fund. On the Second Reading of the Bill, I gave my reasons, I think, fairly fully for so doing, and the reason is really that the Road Fund was never instituted in order to defray the cost of such a Bill as this. The Road Fund applies to the whole country and not alone to the people of London, and it seems unfair that this charge should be levied, say, in Northern Ireland. I therefore submit to the Minister that the money for the payment of these expenses should be found from some other source than the Road Fund.
§ Mr. REMER
I beg to second the Amendment.
I object to the money subscribed by my constituents to the Road Fund being used for the purpose of defraying the expenses in connection with this Bill, and I cannot see any argument which can be brought forward by the Government why money so subscribed should be so used.
This Amendment, if carried, would at once reduce the Bill to a futility. The annual levy on the Road Fund would be extremely small, and certainly very much below the contribution to the Road Fund which is made by the contributors who live inside the London area. It is not 394 merely the London area, but the traffic area of 25 miles round, which really comprises, though I do not remember the figure, a very considerable portion of the total payers to the Road Fund. Considering the great advantage which, shall I say, the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon), who, I take it, is typical of a large number of those who contribute to the Road Fund in this great area, would obtain under the Bill, I cannot believe he would grudge this charge falling on the Road Fund. After all, the biggest purpose of this Measure is not merely to deal with omnibuses, but it is actually to promote the making of new kinds of traffic, to open up additional routes, and to open up new main roads, not merely in the centre of London, but within the 25 miles radius of London, and, consequently, I suggest that it is not going very far to say that it is a fair charge to put upon the Road Fund. I do not know quite what would happen if you knocked the foundations of the Bill entirely to the ground at this late stage. Surely we want this Measure to come into law at the earliest possible moment, and I appeal to the Noble Lord, having made his protest, to withdraw his Amendment. The whole Bill has been proceeded with on the assumption that it would be a charge on the Road Fund, and it is too late at this last hour to knock the substratum of the Bill to pieces.
§ Viscount CURZON
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman one question? Would he give me an undertaking that the expenditure thrown upon the Road Fund in respect of this Bill will not exceed, say, £50,000?
I have not got figures with me, but I could not imagine that anything under the Ministry of Transport would come to anything like that sum. Surely the Noble Lord means that there should not be more than that sum?
§ Mr. P. HARRIS
This is the Clause which makes the necessary provision for the money to carry on the work. If this be withdrawn, another Clause, or Money Resolution, will have to be introduced; but I do think that Parliament is justified in asking for some control over the expenditure of this particular Depart 395 ment. For all we know, there may be something involved which increases the expenditure, or creates very elaborate machinery to carry out this particular work. The Road Fund was established for one particular purpose, to improve the road services, not only in the London area, but throughout the country. I am very doubtful whether this is really within the purpose of the Road Act. I suggest that the Minister might insert some words an the lines of the Amendment further down on the Paper standing in my name that the House of Commons could keep its constitutional control over the expenditure, and especially keep its control over the expenditure of administrative Departments.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I hope my Noble Friend will not withdraw his Amendment. I have no doubt that it is important that this Bill should pass into law as soon as possible,, but the particular Amendment suggested by the Noble Lord would not mean more than the delay of a very few days. This House and the Government have spent a good many weeks before we have reached the present stage. A few days more or less would not matter very much. It is a very important principle that is at stake. I do not attach, perhaps, so much importance to what has been put forward by my Noble Friend, but I do think that the point raised by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. P. Harris) is a point of the first importance. If my Noble Friend's Amendment is carried, the result will only be that the Government will have to bring in a new Clause and will have to have a new Financial Resolution to the effect that the expenses of the Act must be met by moneys provided by Parliament.
That is exactly what I should like to see—that the Minister of Transport should have to come to this House every year for a Vote on the administration of this Bill. The House would then be enabled to get some control. The danger which the hon. Member for Bethnal Green has pointed out is a very real one. If you have a Department or a large branch of a Department, drawing its resources from a fund which this House does not control, this House has no control at all over that Department. The numbers of its officials may be enormously 396 increased—and all Departments naturally tend to grow—it may take on new functions that this House never intended, and this House may subsequently find it extremely difficult to correct any grievance that our constituents may want us to correct. Therefore it does seem to me to be a very unsatisfactory arrangement that the money should be drawn from the Road Fund. The Road Fund was instituted for agricultural roads all over England—[HON. MINISTERS: "No, no!"]—at any rate I do not think agriculture gets as much assistance as it ought to do from that fund. The actions of the Ministry should be controlled by Parliament and the expenses ought to be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament in order that Parliament may exercise some control.
§ Mr. BLACK
I should like to support this Amendment. Coming from a district essentially rural, and which has to contribute to the Road Fund, I cannot see by what principle of justice and equity the money is to be deducted from this fund and diverted to paying the expenses of an advisory committee. It has been said that new main roads would be arranged for. Of course, they have their remedy to appeal to the Road Fund for any new main road. We should not object to that, or to improving the roads under the ordinary provisions of the Road Fund, but as the Member for a rural constituency, I object to this money being diverted from the fund when the Minister is denying to many of these counties money which they think they are entitled to receive. I trust the Noble Lord will carry this Amendment to a Division, and if he does so I am sure many hon. Members representing rural constituencies will support him in the Lobby.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I congratulate the last speaker upon bringing in the question of rural roads on this Amendment, but I appeal to the Noble Lord to withdraw it because at this time it is nothing more or less than a wrecking Amendment. One arrangement suggested is that the charge for administration for this particular Measure should be an Imperial charge. If that is so, surely the whole of England is contributing towards London, and the injustice complained of is the same in that case as in the case of drawing the money from the Road Fund. If you pretend that this is entirely 397 a London affair, then you must draw the money from London, and if you draw it as a rate then you must give complete control of that expenditure to the elected bodies of London. It is no use saying that the Road Fund is entirely in the hands of the Ministry of Transport, because they cannot deal with that money except by the consent of the Treasury, and they keep a very tight hand upon it. There is also the Vote for the salary of the Minister of Transport every year upon which we should be able to discuss the expenditure on London traffic.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I am not so much concerned whether this money comes from the Treasury or the Road Fund, but I am concerned about the control of Parliament over this expenditure. I shall certainly vote for this proposal if I do not get some assurance from the Minister of Transport upon this point.
§ Mr. D. HERBERT
I hope I have shown that, so far as I am concerned, I have been anxious to help this Bill get through to-night, but I am bound to say that, after what has taken place on this particular Amendment, I shall support the Noble Lord if he has to go to a Division, unless we have a most definite assurance on the part of the Minister that he will accept such an alteration as is embodied in the next Amendment on the Paper. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) suggested that it was not necessary to get rid of this at all, or to limit it, for two reasons—firstly, that the Treasury would keep a very tight hold over this Road Fund, and, secondly, that a Motion could be made for a reduction of the Minister's salary. But that does not meet the constitutional point in the least degree whatever. The Treasury may be, and presumably is, as bureaucratic as the Ministry of Transport, and these two could perfectly well put their heads together to defy the House of Commons and to prevent it from exercising that constitutional control which it ought to have over expenditure. A Motion to reduce the Minister's salary is merely in the nature of a Vote of Censure upon him for something which he has done, after it is done. To do that would be, in a case of this kind, merely locking the stable door after the steed has gone.
Here you have what, for present purposes, is an enormous fund, a fund estab- 398 lished for a special purpose, and now a particular Department is coming forward and proposing that that Government Department shall be, to the extent of that big fund, absolutely relieved of any Parliamentary control over its expenditure. I do not think there has ever been such a proposal before the House. We have had some extraordinarily revolutionary proposals during the four or five years that I have been in the House, but I have never yet, even in these extraordinary times, come across such a proposal as this to put, to the extent of that enormous fund, a Government Department entirely outside the financial control of Parliament. And this proposal, of all others, comes from the benches on which are supposed to sit the representatives of democracy. I sincerely trust that everyone who has any regard for the control of Parliament over expenditure and over the Government will press for and vote for the Noble Lord's Amendment, unless we get a specific assurance that there will be a modification of this Clause on the lines of the next Amendment.
With the leave of the House I should like just to say that all these terrible consequences which have been alluded to were certainly not in the minds of the Government in making this proposal. I am afraid that it is quite impossible to accept the Noble Lord's Amendment as it stands, for reasons which he will realise and which have been made sufficiently clear, but I want to say that we are quite prepared to do certain things. In the first place, there is no suggestion whatever that any of the expenditure of the Ministry of Transport as it stands at present will be shuffled off on to the Road Fund. That is not desired, and, if any words are necessary to make that clear, that can be done. The next thing is that it seems to me that there is a great deal to be said for the House of Commons preserving its power to pass a Vote, and, therefore, while I cannot commit myself to the exact terms, we will consider whether it is not possible to arrange to put down a Token Vote, so that the House may come to a decision upon it, and at the same time provision can be made for the total proposed expenditure under this Bill to be reported to Parliament. It is not possible, if we take it from the Road Fund, to put it in 399 the form of an Estimate, because that is a separate thing, but there must be some way in which it can be done.
§ Viscount CURZON
Can the right hon. Gentleman give me an assurance that he will embody, if not the actual words, the sense of the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. P. Harris)? If he will do that, I shall be prepared to withdraw the Amendment.
That is what I was trying to explain, but I was trying, in order not to mislead the House, not to say that in so many words because I think it would not be in order quite to put the words in that form. I may be wrong, but the intention of the Government is certainly to put in whatever can be done to meet that contention. The total amount, so far as can be foreseen, is not expected to exceed, perhaps not even to reach, £50,000 a year. There cannot be any question of an enormous sum. We wish to provide some way by which that can come out of the Road Fund and yet can be laid before Parliament in such a way that Parliament can in Committee come to pans a vote upon it. That may be done by a Token Vote, coupled with a statement of the amount to be taken from the Road Fund, or in some equivalent way, so that Parliament would have an opportunity of expressing its approval of the amount.
§ Mr. D. HERBERT
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of a token Vote. I am not sure that that would satisfy us. What we want is not an opportunity for the House of Commons to pass judgment on what has been done. We want a definite undertaking that the words shall be such that the House of Commons can restrain and prevent expenditure which it does not approve of.
That is what is intended, but I cannot at this moment say whether the words of the suggested Amendment would suffice.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I gather the intention is to put a token Vote down, so that the proposal to spend can be discussed in advance, and not an examination post mortem of the appropriation. I wish to ask you, Sir, how that can be done in another place.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is just the point which has been present to my mind. I do not think these suggestions could be made in another place. Seeing what the time is now, would it not be well to take a little while to consider the matter rather than continue the Debate, unless this also were done on recommittal, and then I do not think we can complete the Schedule to-night.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
This will give the Government an opportunity to consider what form of words would be best to meet the point which I think every section of the House desires so that another day, without any further debate, we can carry the form of words which the Government are advised would be most suitable to effect the purpose the House requires. It obviously cannot be done now. If you go on and get past this stage, you have either to go against the present sense of the House or you have to accept an Amendment which the Government are not satisfied about. You cannot remedy this matter in the House of Lords, and therefore I think it will be to the advantage of everyone that the Debate should be now adjourned.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Mr. Clynes)
We have no objection whatever to this course, perhaps mainly for the reason that in the time at our disposal to-night the concluding stages of the Bill cannot be completed. The President of the Board of Trade did not say it was intended to insert any words in another place. What was in mind was that we should hear and discuss the merits of the Amendment later on on the Paper, and accept it if, in our judgment, it met the intention referred to by my right hon. Friend. In the circumstances I think the best course would be to adjourn the Debate. If we are to pass this Bill speedily into law, we must have the co-operation of all those who urge on the Government the character of the Bill. It is not the work of the Labour Government. We took it over after being strongly urged to do so for a definite and very urgent purpose, and we say that not much more time of the House of Commons should be spent upon it.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
May I suggest that, as the Bill will have to be recommitted in regard to one Clause, it would be better if it were recommitted in regard to this Clause also. That would allow an opportunity for the draftsman to consider a very difficult situation.
§ Mr. CLYNES
There will be an opportunity for considering that matter if the House carries the Motion made by the Noble Lord.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
It may be convenient to the House if the adjournment takes place now, not only in regard to this particular Clause but the Clause which we discussed at our last sitting on the Bill. The Deputy-Leader of the House said that this Bill had been pressed upon the Government. It has not been pressed upon the Government by the House. It was introduced without any request or appeal from any quarter of this House. It was due to an undertaking come to outside this House, and in the circumstances I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can complain of the way it has been received.
§ Sir GERALD HOHLER
I much regret the decision of the Government. I would have supported them in regard to this proposed Amendment, which I believe to be a wrecking Amendment. This is not a question which divides us on party politics: it relates to traffic in London. I deeply regret that this very useful Measure should be subject to attempts to wreck it in this way. The Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) proposed a wholly different Amendment in Committee.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Motion is that the Debate be now adjourned. We cannot go into the merits of the Noble Lord's Amendments.
§ Sir G. HOHLER
Is it not in order to show on this Motion that it is a wrecking Amendment, and that it was put in a different form in Committee, and has never been presented before in the form in which it has been presented to the House to-night?
§ Sir G. HOHLER
The Noble Lord says he is not trying to wreck the Bill. It is not what people say, but what they do.
§ Sir G. HOHLER
On that Motion, I should like to continue my speech. If this Debate is to be adjourned, to what date do the Government intend to adjourn it? The Bill which was passed last night is to be discussed in Committee on the Floor of the House. When do the Government suppose that they are going to have time to resume the adjourned Debate on this Bill? The Liberals are always ready to kill the Government except when it is material, but when they think the Government are really going to go, they always support them.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Perhaps it may satisfy the hon. Member opposite if I tell him that we intend to put down this Bill for Thursday night.
§ Mr. REMER
We have had no Member of the legal profession on the Government Front Bench to give advice in the difficulties in which the House has found itself. The Attorney-General has not been here at all this evening. The President of the Board of Trade a few minutes ago could not ascertain what was the exact position, but if some legal luminary of the Government had been here, we should not have found ourselves in the present impassé. I strongly protest against the absence of the guidance which this House should have in the matter of legal knowledge, to explain the exact meaning of the different Amendments. The Government would get their Measures through the House much quicker if they had one of their legal Members on the Front Bench.
§ Viscount CURZON
Then I want to put forward another point, if you will allow me, and say a word on the question of the Adjournment. I am anxious that the Government should have fall opportunity 403 to examine the whole situation brought about by my Amendment. I do not think the Government can fairly complain that they did not have warning as to what was intended. On the Second Reading of the Bill, I made the most energetic protests I possibly could against the cost of this being borne on the Road Fund.
§ Sir G. HOHLER
On a point of Order. I desired to draw attention to the very point my Noble Friend is raising, and you ruled it out.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.