HC Deb 06 March 1924 vol 170 cc1725-81

Again considered in Committee.

[Mr. ROBERT YOUNG in the Chair.]

Question again proposed, That Item Class II. Vote 3 (Treasury and Subordinate Departments) be reduced by £100.


I should like to draw the attention of the House to the nature of the goods that are imported. It is sometimes thought that these are entirely fancy goods. Some people think that they are all articles that could be manufactured in this country. That is not entirely so. There are such goods as chemicals, minerals and other essential materials, such as dyestuffs. The Advisory Committee on dyestuffs issue hundreds of licences every month for the importation of dyestuffs. The division of Luton represented by one of my hon. Friends uses a considerable number of dyestuffs in the manufacture of hats, which are sent to all parts of the world. Many of these materials that come in are the raw materials of some industry, and we can readily see the difficulties that would arise to our export trade by hindering the import of goods that are wanted for the manufacture of other articles, thereby making the goods artificially dearer. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote what was said by the late right hon. Member for the City of London, the present Lord Banbury. If any name can convince hon. Members opposite, I think the name of Lord Banbury ought to do so. In the Debate which took place when this Measure was passed, Lord Banbury expressed the opinion that the Act would send a great deal of our trade to America, and that it would have a very bad effect on the American exchange.

The action of the Government, whatever opinions we may have as to their methods, and as to whether they have done exactly the right thing or not, shows that they have realised the impossibility of expecting British traders or British taxpayers to pay German reparation. It may be said that they ought to have brought pressure, that they ought to have put a pistol at the heads of the Germans. That is a fair argument, but I would point out that there is a Commission inquiring into the matter at the present time, and we shall have their report in due course, and if it can be proved, as has been proved, that in the meantime British taxpayers are paying the German Reparation Tax, I think there will be only one opinion, and that is that that ought to be stopped. With respect to the reduction of the levy to 5 per cent. I think the Government have done well to keep the machinery. My hon. Friends on this side are not entirely in agreement in regard to that, but I think it is a sound policy that the Government should keep the weapon in their hands until such time as the Commission has reported, and the whole question of reparations has been taken into consideration.

May I ask hon. Members opposite whether it is reparations they are concerned about, or whether they want a Protectionist policy? Some of us feel that, in spite of what their leader has said, judging from many of the speeches that we have heard, they are really out for absolute Protection, although in the stress of circumstances they have been compelled to give up Protection for the time being. We want to know what it is they are out for. Perhaps I may concluded with a story. Two niggers had been fighting, and one of them was so badly battered that he was thought to be dying. He was visited by his minister, and, as he was thought to be dying, he was asked whether he forgave the man who had injured him so badly. In a very low voice he said, "If I dies I do, but if I gets better, then that darned nigger had better look out." I want to know from hon. Members opposite whether it is reparations from the Germans they want or whether it is Protection they want in this indirect way.


Since 4 o'clock this afternoon we have had debate on this subject, and I rise now for the purpose of giving, not a full and adequate reply, but a reply, as far as I can, to some of the questions that have been put. Almost immediately, as I understand the arrangements, the House will want to pass to another subject which will be raised on this Vote on Account. I claim the indulgence of the House while I deal with what is undoubtedly an intricate and, from many points of view, highly technical subject. I want to say at once to hon. Members in all parts of the House, that there are very few of us who are experts in regard to this scheme, and very few of us who can claim to be experts in regard to the manner in which it has been applied. Therefore I hope the House will forgive me if I do not go into the intricate details. There are, however, one or two general considerations regarding this German Reparation (Recovery) Act of 1921, which we have to keep in mind. Undoubtedly, it was an effort to secure some form of reparation payment. The House will recollect that the Act provided for a maximum of 50 per cent., which was the percentage enforced for a few months in 1921. During that time a sum of about £12,000 was realised. Afterwards, the percentage was changed to 26 per cent., which continued in force until Germany defaulted or failed to make payments to her own subjects in the middle of November last. It is also true that the Act provides for an exception or an exclusion of certain classes of commodities by Order under the Board of Trade. That is more or less generally agreed. During the time that the Act was in operation we received a total of about £18,000,000 in reparation payments, spread over about two and a half years, but since the middle of November last we have, under the Act, received nothing at all on the 26 per cent. arrangement as from the German Government. During that time, certain sums have been paid, and it is the payment of sums of that kind by British importers which led us to do everything in our power to try to get a readjustment or a solution of this problem.

Viscount WOLMER

Can the hon. Member say how much has been paid in the last three months?


I have the actual figures of the amounts paid during the last three months. December, 1923, £717,000; January, 1924, £670,000; February, 1924, £512,000, obviously a diminishing sum. The state of affairs to which we succeeded was that a widespread change had taken place by reason of the failure of Germany to reimburse her own subjects. This led to deputations being received at the Treasury, and also by other Government Departments, asking for an adjustment of the kind we suggest in this proposal or, in many cases, for a repeal of the Act altogether. The repeal of the Act would involve a Parliamentary Resolution. We should require to go to both Houses of Parliament, but we could proceed by Treasury Minute if it was a mere matter of reduction. If hon. Members look at the Act of 1921 they will recognise that great difficulty emerges in the event of the German Government failing to make payment to its subjects. I remember well the controversy which took place at the time that the Act was introduced, but one thing certain is that for all practical purposes if Germany fails to make payment to her subjects under the Agreement, there does not seem to me to be any immediate and effective power which this country, in existing circumstances, could adopt. That, I think, explains a great deal of the difficulties which, I have no doubt, hon. Members in all parts of the House fell in connection with this subject.

An hon. Member put a question as to the cost of collecting the sum of £150,000 per month which will now be available under the amended scheme. My right hon. Friend has indicated that, so far as he can ascertain, the cost will be about £5,000. That is administrative charges, so that the balance is the sum which we shall actually get, if that estimate is correct, by the modification of the duty from 26 to 5 per cent. I turn now to a criticism which was made by the right hon. Member for Spen Valley, and I am afraid that I must detain the House for a minute or two in reading two passages which bear exactly on the point which he put. He asked who was to arrange regarding the new 5 per cent. Broadly the German Government has undertaken to repay to its exporters the 5 per cent., and they also provide for penalties against exporters who endeavour to pass on the 5 per cent. to the British importer. On that point there appear to be two questions. One is the second head of the agreement itself, which we reached a day or two ago, and then there is the Clause in the decree which has been issued by the German Government providing for the repayment. These two Clauses with the permission of hon. Members I propose to read. As the House knows the second Clause of the Agreement provides: In order to guarantee that no part of the sums levied under this Act at the above rate of 5 per cent. shall be charged to British importers the German Government agree to arrange for the compensation of the German exporters at a later date and to provide by decree that if in any case any part of the sums levied under the Act has been charged to the British importer the German exporter will forfeit his claim to reimbursement and will in addition be subject to a penalty. As to the "later date." I am afraid that that is the best which we can do in the full circumstances of the moment. After all, hon. Members will agree that it is very difficult fully and completely to enforce a proposal of this kind, especially in the conditions in Europe and in this country in which we are now living. I pass from that question of the date, because I do not know that at this stage I can offer any fuller reply. We can only hope that the German Government is going to stand to this amended Agreement, into which it has entered, and when we come to the question of the transfer of the burden, or any attempt in that direction, to British importers, I am afraid that we are bound to rely more or less upon the proposal, by way of penalty, which the German Government itself makes. This Decree was passed, as I have indicated, on the 3rd March, 1924. The Decree has been published by the German Government in full. In order that the House may know what the Clause provides, I will read it: Anyone who includes the reparation levy either in whole or in part in the bill to the English buyer or burdens him in any way with the reparation levy loses any claim to compensation and is punishable by a fine of five times the sum passed on to the buyers if there is no heavier punishment in accordance with the ordinance of the criminal law. These two points taken together answer one of the questions which were put by the right hon. Member for Spen Valley.


Will the hon. Member lay both these Papers? One is I know included in the "Board of Trade Journal," but it would be more convenient that it, and also the decree, should be laid as a White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted both and is bound to lay them. I believe that I am right in saying that it is not sufficient for the Government to say that they will publish it in the "Board of Trade Journal." Having quoted these documents they are bound to lay them.


I do not think that there can be any substantial difficulty on that point. We have already given a considerable amount of information. So far as I can see there is no particular objection on the part of anyone on this side of th House to lay or publish the terms of the Agreement.


I want these two documents which constitute the Government case in a White Paper as it is a more convenient form for Members. There is no use in laying one Paper and referring us to the "Board of Trade Journal" for the other. I believe that I am within my rights in insisting that as the hon. Gentleman quoted from them he is bound to lay them. All I ask is that he should lay the two documents in one White Paper for easy reference.


Apart from the question of right, there is the further objection that it is very inconvenient to have to go to the "Board of Trade Journal." I think that the document should have been laid originally as a White Paper.


I think that the Committee will agree that this last point has been a little difficult. We have only just got the documents, but I see no objection, and I think that I can meet the right hon. Gentleman on that point. The right hon. Member for Spen Valley also, I think, raised the question as to why Germany does not pay at once even the 5 per cent. tax. I think that on that point we are bound to look at the position in Germany at the present time, and also at the very great difficulties which she has in collecting taxes herself. It is only by a great effort that she has been able to hold her exchange reasonably steady since November last, and there is a danger of upsetting the very delicate equilibrium which exists at the present time. Though I do not profess to be an expert in these matters, I cannot believe that any tendency in that direction is going to help us in the least in this country, either when it comes to a moratorium, a reparation settlement, or anything else.

It is our business at the present time not to take any step which is going to make conditions in Germany more difficult or more insecure, or which in any way is going to postpone the time, which we all hope to see very soon, when we shall get back to something like sound conditions in that country. That is a consideration to be borne in mind on that point. The right hon. Gentleman also asked what was the use of collecting this 5 per cent.? It will bring us in about £150,000 per month, and I think that it would be wrong or unwise for this country to give up the claim altogether. I confess that I am in some difficulty to-night in speaking on that part of the subject, especially after the speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. He raised the whole issue of reparation and suggested that we were giving away a very valuable part of our claim. All I can say in reply to that is that that consideration, among others, was very clearly before us when we had to make a decision at the end of about three months' controversy in this connection.

It is practically impossible for anyone on this bench to make any reference to reparation which is not going directly or indirectly to render more difficult the task of the experts who are now in conference. I have no desire to embark on any controversy of the kind. I would only assure hon. Members that that consideration was kept in view, and that we did not consider that we were giving away any bargaining instrument when we were only modifying an arrangement which had broken down in practice, and which, hon. Members recognise, had to be modified in some form, though many of them would not go down to the level of 5 per cent. There were some other points put by hon. Members in criticism of our action. The suggestion was made that representations were put forward by German manufacturers and others which led us to this decision. I have no doubt that the German exporters are keenly interested in this Agreement, but during the five or six weeks in which we have been in office by far the greater pressure, so far as we are concerned, which has been applied has come from a large and increasing number of traders in this country.


Were there any manufacturers among these?

8.0 P.M.


Yes there were manufacturers too, and as long as the burden fell upon certain classes of articles there was not the same urgency about the matter, but when it began to affect the supply of raw materials the situation in the country became more urgent, and strong pressure was brought to bear on the Government to repeal the levy altogether or at all events to conclude negotiations on the lines which they have now followed. The suggestion was made by an hon. Member that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made no attempt to get the 26 per cent. That is altogether contrary to the fact. During the negotiations which lasted between two and three months every effort was made at first to get Germany to stand to her duty under the Reparation (Recovery) Act, 1921, but when it became plain there was no chance of success in that direction, and when this had resolved itself into a 26 per cent. protective tariff on certain classes of goods coming from Germany, it was plain that it was necessary to abandon the attempt to have the 26 per cent. maintained and to make the best bargain we could in modifying the terms. That, I suggest, is the only course open to us in the changed circumstances of the time. I do not know if there is any need for me to reply at greater length, but there is one thing I ought to say in conclusion. The step we have taken in this connection is not a step which I think will in any way weaken our hands in the general problem of reparations. That we kept carefully in view during the past five or

six weeks. I know, as a matter of fact, that it was before our predecessors, and I think that is the best answer we can give to the suggestion made in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs.

Question put, That Item Class II, Vote 3 (Treasury and Subordinate Departments), be reduced by £100.

The Committee divided: Ayes, 170; Noes, 240.

Division No. 17.] AYES. [8.5 p.m.
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Perkins, Colonel E. K.
Allen, Lieut.-Col. Sir William James Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Perring, William George
Atholl, Duchess of Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Philipson, Mabel
Barnett, Major Richard W. Harland, A. Pielou, D. P.
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent) Pilditch, Sir Philip
Beckett, Sir Gervase Hartington, Marquess of Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton
Berry, Sir George Henn, Sir Sydney H. Raine, W.
Betterton, Henry B. Hennessy, Major J. R. G. Rawson, Alfred Cooper
Blundell, F. N. Herbert, Capt. Sidney (Scarborough) Rees, Capt. J. T. (Devon, Barnstaple)
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Hill-Wood, Major Sir Samuel Rees, Sir Beddoe
Brassey, Sir Leonard Hogbin, Henry Cairns Reid, D. D. (County Down)
Briscoe, Captain Richard George Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone) Rentoul, G. S.
Buckingham, Sir H. Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey)
Bullock, Captain M. Hope, Rt. Hon. J. F. (Sheffield, C.) Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)
Burman, J. B. Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N. Ropner, Major L.
Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D. Horne, Sir R. S. (Glasgow, Hillhead) Roundell, Colonel R. F.
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Col. C. K. Russell-Wells, Sir S. (London Univ.)
Caine, Gordon Hall Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R. Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Sandeman, A. Stewart
Cassels, J. D. Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S. Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.
Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. H. (Prtsmth, S.) James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Savery, S. S.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm., W.) Jenkins, W. A. (Brecon and Radnor) Shepperson, E. W.
Chapman, Sir S. Johnson, Sir L. (Walthamstow, E.) Smith-Carrington, Neville W.
Clayton, G. C. Kindersley, Major G. M. Spender-Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H.
Cobb, Sir Cyril King, Captain Henry Douglas Spero, Dr. G. E.
Cohen, Major J. Brunel Lamb, J. Q. Stanley, Lord
Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Lane-Fox, George R. Steel, Samuel Strang
Cope, Major William Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley) Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.) Lloyd-Greame, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Croft, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Henry Page Lord, Walter Greaves- Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)
Cunliffe, Joseph Herbert Lorimer, H. D. Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)
Curzon, Captain Viscount Lumley, L. R. Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Dalkeith, Earl of Lyle, Sir Leonard Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell-(Croydon, S.)
Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H. MacDonald, R. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) McLean, Major A. Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Turton, Edmund Russborough
Deans, Richard Storry Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel- Vaughan-Morgan, Col, K. P.
Dixey, A. C. Makins, Brigadier-General E. Waddington, R.
Eden, Captain Anthony Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Ward, Col. J. (Stoke upon Trent)
Edmondson, Major A. J. Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K. Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)
Ednam, Viscount Milne, J. S. Wardlaw Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)
Elveden, Viscount Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden) Wells, S. R.
England, Lieut.-Colonel A. Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Wheler, Lieut.-Col. Granville C. H.
Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Wilson, Col. M. J. (Richmond)
Eyres-Monsell, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Morden, Colonel Walter Grant Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray Morrison-Bell, Major Sir A. C. (Honlton) Wise, Sir Fredric
Ferguson, H. Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph Wolmer, Viscount
FitzRoy, Captain Rt. Hon. Edward A. Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)
Frece, Sir Walter de Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield) Wragg, Herbert
Gaunt, Rear-Admiral Sir Guy R. Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward
Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Oman, Sir Charles William C. Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Gilmour, Colonel Rt. Hon. Sir John O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Greene, W. P. Crawford Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Greenwood, William (Stockport) Pease, William Edwin Mr. A. M. Samuel and Mr. D. G.
Gretton, Colonel John Penny, Frederick George Somerville.
Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. W. E. Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)
Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Aske, Sir Robert William
Adamson, Rt. Hon. William Alstead, R. Attlee, Major Clement R.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Ammon, Charles George Ayles, W. H.
Baker, W. J. Hindle, F. Raynes, W. R.
Barclay, R. Noton Hirst, G. H. Rea, W. Russell
Barnes, A. Hobhouse, A. L. Richards, R.
Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar (Banff) Hodge, Lieut.-Col. J. P. (Preston) Richardson, R. (Houghton le-Spring)
Birkett, W. N. Hodges, Frank Roberts, Rt. Hon F. O. (W. Bromwich)
Black, J. W. Hogge, James Myles Robinson, S. W. (Essex, Chelmsford)
Bondfield, Margaret Howard, Hon. G. (Bedford, Luton Robinson, W. E. (Burslem)
Bonwick, A. Hudson, J. H. Royce, William Stapleton
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Isaacs, G. A. Scrymgeour, E.
Broad, F. A. Jackson, R. F. (Ipswich) Seely, H. M. (Norfolk, Eastern)
Bromfield, William Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Sexton, James
Brown, A. E. (Warwick, Rugby) Jewson, Dorothea Sherwood, George Henry
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) John, William (Rhondda, West) Shinwell, Emanuel
Brunner, Sir J. Johnston, Thomas (Stirling) Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Buckie, J. Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East) Simon Rt. Hon Sir John
Burnie, Major J. (Bootle) Jones, C. Sydney (Liverpool, W. Derby) Simpson, J. Hope
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne) Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)
Cape, Thomas Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Smillie, Robert
Charleton, H. C. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Church, Major A. G. Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. (Bradford, E.) Smith, T. (Pontefract)
Clarke, A. Kay, Sir R. Newbald Smith, W. R. (Norwich)
Cluse, W. S. Kedward, R. M. Snell, Harry
Collins, Patrick (Walsall) Kennedy, T. Snowden, Rt. Hon Philip
Compton, Joseph Kirkwood, D. Spears, Brig.-Gen E. L.
Comyns-Carr, A. S. Lansbury, George Spence, R.
Costello, L. W. J. Laverack, F. J. Spencer, George A. (Broxtowe)
Cove, W. G. Law, A. Stamford, T. W.
Crittall, V. G. Lawrence, Susan (East Ham, North) Stephen Campbell
Darbishire, C. W. Lawson, John James Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Leach, W. Stranger, Innes Harold
Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) Lee, F. Sullivan, J.
Dickie, Captain J. P. Lessing, E. Sunlight, J.
Dickson, T. Linfield, F. C. Sutton, J. E.
Dodds, S. R. Livingstone, A. M. Tattersall, J. L.
Duckworth, John Loverseed, J. F. Thomas, Rt. Hon James H. (Derby)
Dukes, C. Lowth, T. Thornton, Maxwell R.
Duncan, C. Lunn, William Thurtle, E.
Dunn, J. Freeman McCrae, Sir George Tillett Benjamin
Dunnico, H. MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon) Tinker, John Joseph
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) M'Entee, V. L. Tout, W. J.
Edwards, G. (Norfolk, Southern) Mackinder, W. Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Egan, W. H. Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Turner Samuels M.
Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.) Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J. Varley, Frank B.
Fletcher, Lieut.-Com. R. T. H. Maden, H. Viant, S. P.
Foot, Isaac Mansel, Sir Courtenay Wallhead, Richard C.
Franklin, L. B. March, S. Walsh, Rt. Hon Stephen
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Marley, James Ward, G. (Leicester, Bosworth)
Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, North) Martin, W. H. (Dumbarton) Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Gilbert, James Daniel Masterman, Rt. Hon. C. F. G. Watts-Morgan Lt.-Col D. (Rhondda)
Gillett, George M. Maxton, James Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Gosling, Harry Meyler, Lieut.-Colonel H. M. Wedgwood, Col Rt. Hon Josiah C.
Gould, Frederick (Somerset, Frome) Middleton, G. Weir L. M.
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Millar, J. D. Welsh, J. C.
Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central) Mond, H. Westwood, J.
Gray, Frank (Oxford) Montague, Frederick Wheatley, Rt. Hon J.
Greenall, T. Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South) White, H. G. (Birkenhead, E.)
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Whiteley, W.
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Morse, W. E. Wignall, James
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Mosley, Oswald Williams A. (York, W. R. Sowerby)
Grigg, Lieut.-Col. Sir Edward W. M. Moulton, Major Fletcher Williams, David (Swansea, E.)
Groves, T. Muir, John W. Williams, Dr J. H. (Llanelly)
Grundy, T. W. Muir, Ramsay (Rochdale) Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)
Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth) Murray, Robert Williams, Lt.-Col. T. S. B. (Kenningtn.)
Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Murrell, Frank Williams, Maj. A. S. (Kent, Sevenoaks)
Harbison, Thomas James S. Naylor, T. E. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Harbord, Arthur Oliver, George Harold Willison, H.
Hardie, George D. Oliver, P. M. (Manchester, Blackley) Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Harney, E. A. Owen, Major G. Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Harris, John (Hackney, North) Paling, W. Windsor, Walter
Harris, Percy A. Palmer, E. T. Wintringham, Margaret
Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Harvey, T. E. (Dewsbury) Pattinson, S. (Horncastle) Woodwark, Lieut. Colonel G. G.
Haycock, A. W. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Wright, W.
Hayday, Arthur Pilkington, R. R. Young, Andrew (Glasgow, Partick)
Hayes, John Henry Ponsonby, Arthur
Henderson, A. (Cardiff, South) Pringle, W. M. R. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Purcell, A. A. Mr. Frederick Hall and Mr. G.
Henderson, W. W. (Middlesex, Enfld.) Rathbone, Hugh R. Warne.
Hillary, A. E.

Question put, and agreed to.

Original Question again proposed.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

I beg to move, That Item Class II, Vote 16 (Ministry of Transport), be reduced by £100. I wish to refer to this Estimate in relation to the administration of the Road Fund. A curious feature in this vote is that the current Estimates for the Ministry of Transport include no payment for the salary of the Minister. The only entry for Ministerial salaries is for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. I should be interested to know whether the hon. Member who is now Minister of Transport is doing his work without receiving any salary, and if that is so, whether it is going to be altered in next year's Estimates, and whether he will then receive £5,000 as the salary of the Minister of Transport, or the salary of £1,500, which is the only salary shown under the Ministerial heading in last year's Estimate. I want to draw attention to the great injustice which is felt by rural areas under the present system of administration of the Road Fund. The Road Fund became a valuable hen-roost in the year 1920.

Up to 1919 the Road Board administered a revenue which never exceeded £1,620,000 a year, but in 1920 the new taxes on motors suddenly made this Fund a very important source of relief to local rates. The revenue rose in the first complete year, a total of £10,800,000, and in the first 11 months of the current year the yield has gone up to £14,154,000. Yet this great increase in revenue is not in any way going to the advantage of the rural authorities; the whole benefit has been transferred to the urban areas, where the unemployment question is most serious. If hon. Members look at the report of the Road Board in the first year when it became affluent, they will see that commitments on road works which had been expedited for the relief of unemployment were £4,300,000. The next year it went up to £10,000,000, and at the present time, I believe, it is well over £14,000,000. The relief to county councils was not only withheld by this new burden being thrown on the Fund, but the position of county councils has actually become very much worse. Although the growth of the Fund is an accurate reflection of the increased wear and tear on the roads of the country, practically the whole extra cost of keeping up the roads has been thrown on the county rural authorities.

I will give the case of the county which I have the honour to represent. In 1914 their expenditure on main roads was £40,000, which involved a rate of 10d. That continued until 1921. In 1921, owing to the demand of motorists for more costly forms of road construction, and in consequence of heavy lorry traffic, the rate was doubled and went up 10d. in one year to meet an expenditure of £112,000. For the new year the estimate of expenditure is rather lower; it is only £101,000. But because of these other burdens on the Road Fund, the rate has to go up another 10d., and the road rate in West Suffolk has been trebled since the year 1920. The present system is a grave injustice, because it gives the whole benefit to the rich areas. Take the Borough of Westminster. The last volume in the Library of London statistics—the figures are for 1922–23—shows that a penny rate in Westminster produces £33,000, and Westminster got £54,000 from the Road Fund. In West Suffolk a penny rate did not produce £33,000, but only £1,850, and this poor county, instead of getting £54,000 from the Road Fund, is getting only £25,000. In Westminster the rateable value is nearly £8,000,000. In West Suffolk it is only £400,000 odd, and West Suffolk has 354 miles of road to keep up. It is most unjust that a rural area should get only half the grant which is given to a rich urban area with 18 times the rateable value.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the expenditure of these two districts?

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

The expenditure in Westminster was half as much again as in Suffolk, and the rateable value in Westminster is 18 times as much, and relief from the road fund twice as much. £188,000 was spent in Westminster, and in the county of West Suffolk in the same year the expenditure was £112,000. Therefore, with an expenditure about two-thirds that of Westminster's total, West Suffolk had only half the contribution from the Road Fund. There is a further grievance of the rural areas. In proportion to the use that is made of the roads a very small number of licences is taken out locally. Most people take out their licences in the towns. Yet the areas have to pay away half the licence duties which they receive. I appeal to the Minister of Transport to reconsider the whole basis of these grants. Could he not bring in a system to give special terms to necessitous areas? We have a precedent in the case of the assistance which is given by the Board of Education to necessitous areas, on the basis of the yield of a penny rate in proportion to the population. For road purposes I suggest that the yield of a penny rate be related to the mileage of main roads which the authority has to maintain, and that a sliding scale be adopted giving greater relief as the rate yield per mile of road is decreased.

We have had a very serious statement regarding agriculture since the new Government took office. We have been told that the agricultural industry is being thrown back on its own resources. No direct assistance is to be given, and we are to rely on our own efforts, and to get certain small forms of relief in the way of rating reforms and so forth. Surely this is one form of helping the rates which is of very easy application, and it is a very strong claim. The Minister of Transport is entirely responsible for the allocation of the money from the Road Fund. In the first year of its operation a circular was sent out stating that the 50 per cent. on first-class roads, and 25 per cent. on second-class roads, was only tentative. It was specially emphasised that the grant during the subsequent years could be fixed only in the light of experience of expenditure, and prices, and after fuller knowledge of the probable revenue to be derived each year from motor taxation. With this growing fund he can surely afford to do more for these necessitous rural areas. I know there are many competitors for the hon. Gentleman's favours and for a share in the Road Fund, but I suggest that the strongest claim is that of the most starving dog, namely, the rural ratepayer, and I move this reduction in the Vote in order that we may have a discussion how relief may best be given.


Is there any difference in the Estimate, of in the method of allocation this year as compared with last year when the Government of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was in power?

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

No, the method of allocation is exactly the same, namely, 50 per cent. for first-class roads and 25 per cent. for second-class roads, but the point is that this year there is a heavy additional mortgage on the Road Fund. For the purpose of relieving unemployment, an extra £4,000,000 has been put on to this fund as a prior charge before the relief of the local ratepayers.


I am pleased to have an opportunity of supporting the remarks of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down. Very serious representations have been made to me by various rural authorities, pressing for some substantial grant towards the heavy expenditure which is now being forced upon them in connection with third-class roads. The burden has become almost insupportable. We must bear in mind that the class which is asked to pay for the upkeep of these roads is the class which is now suffering so much, a class which has been described during the last two weeks in this House as being barely able to pay its way. Appeals have been made on behalf of the agriculturists of the country for relief in various directions. Now, on the top of their other burdens comes this demand, which means that in some cases they are being called upon to pay a rate as high as 8s. or 9s. in the £, simply and solely for these rural district roads. It is not as though this charge were to include the whole of their rates. This rate is for the upkeep of the rural district roads only, and in various areas it runs from 6s. to 9s. in the £. I have in my hand an appeal from the Market Harborough Rural District Council. They have a large mileage of roads, and if the demands of the surveyor are carried out, the rate necessary will be 7s. in the £. Two years ago the rate for the roads in that area was 1s. 4d. in the £. If they have to provide any such sum as is represented by 7s. in the £, it will place upon them such a burden that the ultimate outcome will be the neglect of the roads. In order to do the ordinary work, the rate in this area will have to go up to 2s. 4d. in the £, and the decision of the rural council is that, unless some substantial grant can be given by the Ministry of Transport, they will do nothing more than spend the 2s. 4d. rate, which is absolutely necessary in order to keep the roads in any kind of condition at all, without doing any of the reconstruction work necessary to put the general roads in order.

I suggested to the council that they should borrow the money and spread the repayment over a period of five years as the county councils do, but I was informed by the surveyor that the amount represented by the 7s. rate is not an abnormal expenditure for this year, but an amount which will be required every year. The council will be required, every year, to do as much work as it is proposed to do with the amount represented by a 7s. rate. I agree that the first-class and second-class roads are having every attention. But is it true that last year a sum of £1,250,000 or £1,500,000—I am not sure which—was specifically allocated to rural district roads, and that this year it is not proposed to allocate that sum? Is it the case that on account of the extraordinary pressure of the unemployment problem, even that small modicum previously allowed for the rural district roads is not to be forthcoming? If so, I ask that this decision should be revised and that there should be a grant enabling the rural areas to do some part of the work that is necessary if the general convenience is to be served. We have to remember that these roads are not altogether for the benefit of the particular districts which pay for them. Although they are third-class roads, a large amount of motor traffic passes over them from remote areas, and there is a legitimate reason why some relief should be granted to the rural district councils. I strongly support the demand which has been made, and I hope the Minister will give a satisfactory reply.


With reference to the remarks of the hon. Member who has just sat down, as far as I remember I do not believe that the provision for rural roads was forgotten in estimating future requirements and the allocation of the Road Fund money, but the Minister will be able to inform us definitely upon that point. I feel that attention should be drawn to the question of what would have happened had there not been a Road Fund in existence The claims every year become greater and greater, and I think the proposition put by my right hon. and gallant Friend who moved the reduction, is going to make the work of the Ministry exceedingly difficult, if there is not to be a fixed rule as to allocation for roads and if such grants are to be varied according to the rateable value and the rates in different districts. There are some very curious anomalies in regard to the county councils and the roads, and as to who pays for their upkeep. It is a pity that the right hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely) is not in his place, because the position in that particular county is one of the most farcical that it is possible to imagine. I am not capable of explaining it in all its intricacies and details, and I only wish the right hon. and gallant Member were himself here, because a relation of the facts would, at any rate, amuse the Committee. Although not very much differing in theory from the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) I feel that someone in this House should voice the feelings of the motorist in this matter, because the motorist is bled year by year to the tune of some £14,000,000, and so far we have had no complaint from the motorists in general, even when the Government, through the Ministry of Transport, has indulged in quite big schemes of road improvement. Those big schemes have sometimes been called unemployment work, but that strictly is not true. What has happened is, I think, that the Ministry of Transport have expedited works that would have had to be done later, and have taken the unemployment position that existed in the country and used it, not only to relieve unemployment, but to expedite the work which would have had to be done later, only at greater expense.

This is one of the few times, probably, during this Session when we are able to raise any question with regard to the Ministry of Transport. We shall probably not have this Vote among those which will come later in the Session, and, therefore, I make no excuse for touching on another matter, namely, the inequitable system whereby the poor motorist is taxed so badly. I do not ask the Minister to give us an explanation or account of what he proposes to do, because I know that that would be out of order at the present moment, and that it is wrapped up with the Budget, but I think one ought to draw attention to the fact that, under the present scheme, the tax is essentially inequitable, because the ordinary motorist pays on a formula which has little relation to horse-power and, what is more, no relation to what is really the fundamental thing, and that is, to the damage which the vehicle does to the road. There is, of course, the easy solution of the difficulty, as many people think, and that is a petrol tax, because under a petrol tax you are, at any rate, paying only while you are using the vehicle.


On a point of Order. Are we in order in discussing the relative merits of a wheel tax against a petrol tax? It is important for us to know whether the advocates of petrol are to be allowed to place their views before the Committee, and whether those of us who hold to the present system of the wheel tax are to be allowed to put forward our views.

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Entwistle)

It will not be in order to discuss the petrol tax, because that would be anticipating legislation, nor to discuss the merits of the wheel tax or the petrol tax. The discussion must be limited to the administrative questions of the Ministry of Transport.


Then I take it I was out of order in the remarks I was about to make. Anyhow, however you get your tax, it is interesting to note that, although there may be injustices, you do get to-day half your money paid by the pleasure vehicle and half by the industrial vehicle, and although the private owner may pretend that he is hardly hit over this, I think it is a fairly equitable thing that the extra tax which the private man has to pay is now going for the general benefit of the whole community. What I want to ask the Minister particularly is this: I believe the future of the Road Fund, from the point of view of the big road schemes which have been initiated for the last three years, is mortgaged for about another five years' time, and in view of the growing number of motor vehicles and the increased yield of the tax in consequence, we can say that in spite of the enormous works which are going on throughout the whole kingdom, at the end of five years, providing no other programme is indulged in, the Road Fund will be clear.

I should like to know from the Minister what policy the Government are going to take in this matter of the size of the Road Fund, because I can see claims upon it from every quarter of the country, and finally we shall have the poor motorist paying for all the roads throughout the country, which he in no way deserves to have to do. After all, it is always the pride of districts to keep their own roads up, and it is inconceivable to think that because motor vehicles run all over the country to-day, they alone should have to pay for the upkeep of all the roads of England. If the right hon. Gentleman can give us an indication as to what is the limit that he requires in the future for a Road Fund to bring in, I think it would be a relief to the car owner, be he ever so small or ever so rich, to know to what limit this tax is to go. There is no doubt that industry today feels these taxes very hardly. The formula is very inequitable. Any system which makes a Rolls Royce pay £1 a week and a Ford 10s. a week must be indeed wrong. I admit that perhaps the Ford, through its design, has a protective tariff put against it by this tax. I daresay the right hon. Member, being frankly a Protectionist, will look into that matter on that basis alone, but I maintain that to ask the owner of a Ford to pay 10s. a week for the upkeep of the roads is a perfectly ludicrous proposition, both from the point of view of the damage he does and from the point of view of the value of the car he drives.

Mr. J. DAVISON (Vice-Chamberlain of the Household)

Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us why they did not bring these things into existence when they were in power?


Speaking for myself, I was only at the Ministry for three months, otherwise something might have been done.


Apparently the right hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness), who has raised this question, looks on the Minister of Transport as a kind of fairy godmother, and, although, when his party was in power, they could not get these things done, they are expecting the new Government to settle them in the first few weeks I put the point that there was no material alteration in the method of allocation as compared with last year, and the answer was that we were getting about £4,000,000 and that that ought to go to a particular district in which he was interested.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

That is absolutely untrue. [An HON. MEMBER: "I only heard the right hon. Member refer to West Suffolk."] I am sure neither of the hon. Members wishes to misrepresent me. The hon. Member for North Lanark (Mr. Sullivan) asked a question whether there was any different position, as regards the rural ratepayer, to-day as compared with last year, and I answered that there was a larger mortgage on the Fund, which drained it before it could be used in relief of the rural rates. It is absurd to say that, because one gives an example which illustrates the point, one asks for the whole of this £4,000,000 to go to any one district, and I am sure the hon. Member would not wish to misrepresent me.


I thank the right hon. Member for the explanation, but I think the point remains that the Minister of Transport is taking much the same line that the Minister of Transport took last year. I represent a rural area, too, and we have a grievance, and if this matter could be reconsidered in a general sense, I think he would be quite willing to go into it, to try and alter the method of making various districts pay. The hon. Member below the Gangway made a complaint about the inequality of rating, and that is one of the points I would like to discuss. One of the areas in the North Lanark Division has a total rate of 28s. 6d., mainly caused by the fact that the keeping of the unemployed has been put on to the parish rate. We have a big grievance there—a much greater grievance than that in connection with roads—but, in addition to that, we have the same complaint as to the keeping of roads. I hope, therefore, when the Minister of Transport gets time to go into this matter, he may be able to help; but I do not think it is fair to suggest that he can do it after being four or five weeks in office.

An opinion was expressed as to motor traffic. I want to suggest that our roads never were made originally to carry the traffic they have to carry. One of the results of the new traffic is that we require wider roads and stronger roads. That is leading to great expense. I would like the time to come when the heavy char-a-banc, or the big machines you see going along the roads, would be required to assist in meeting the demand for roads, but, apparently, we have not reached that stage. I do not know how much sympathy exists for the Rolls-Royce. Frankly, I do not think we can have much here, because we are not troubled greatly with it. But when an hon. Member suggests that a Rolls-Royce is as easy on a road as a Ford car—


What I was trying to point out was the absurdity of a tax which asks a Rolls-Royce to pay £1 a week and a Ford to pay 10s. a week. If a Rolls-Royce should be asked to pay £1 a week, the tax for a Ford should be about 2s.


We are glad to get these explanations. You can, I think, buy a Ford car for £150. [An HON. MEMBER: "£110."] Hon. Members opposite can tell me what price they pay for a Rolls-Royce. [An HON. MEMBER: "£700."] Then, I am afraid, a Rolls-Royce is not paying its proper quota; but when he suggests it is as light on the road, I think the hon. and gallant Member will scarcely admit that is a serious argument. Somehow or other, a country gets the sort of transport that suits its roads. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I was in the United States some years ago, and I wondered how they got along with the light buggies, but when I saw the country roads I knew they would get along with nothing else. I take it that the Ford has been adopted for much the same purpose. They have adopted a car that will make less marks on the road than a heavy car. I suggest to the House that it would be much better to let the Minister of Transport get in touch with all the difficulties. It is unfair to suggest that he can cure them all, and I do not think it is cricket for hon. Members who were in a Government only a few weeks ago to have so many complaints against a proposition of this kind. I think it would be much better if we had an open mind on these questions. I would like the whole thing to be considered.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

That is what we are asking for.


If hon. Members care to ask the Government to appoint a Commission to go into this, I think they will get a big amount of support. The only thing is that they could have carried it much easier last year, and they failed to do it.


I would like to ask the Minister of Transport if he can hold out any hope, or give any pledge, that assistance will be given to the rural district councils, out of the money collected from the motor taxation. It is a very great grievance of the rural areas, owing to the very heavy increase of the heavy traffic—steam lorries, and so on—and also the consequential, and ever-increasing, cost of the upkeep of the roads. I myself have received several letters, as I represent a constituency where, I think, this is a great grievance. Only this morning I received a letter to this effect: That the Minister of Transport be urged to set aside, out of the money coming to him, and pay to rural district councils, an annual sum based on a percentage of the expenditure incurred by such councils upon highways; and further, that such sum should not be less than 10 per cent. of the total expenditure so incurred. As this is a great grievance amongst the ratepayers in rural areas, I do ask the Minister of Transport if he cannot give us a pledge, at least to give the matter his fullest consideration.


I am very glad the right hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) has raised this question. I can assure the hon. Member for North Lanark (Mr. Sullivan) that this issue of the rural areas will be more and more raised in this Parliament, and he should not blame a Member for voicing the needs of his own constituency. Indeed, I noticed he was curiously lacking in logic, for he very naturally dropped into talk about North Lanark, and it is natural that a Member should speak about conditions with which he, or she, is familiar. Rural England for ever seems to be in financial difficulties. It is true, not only in the matter of roads, but as regards many subjects, especially housing. The matter of the distribution of the money from the Road Fund with regard to rural England has rather a wider application than that, of the mere expenditure on the roads of county councils or district councils.

The fact is that a larger grant to the rural districts is badly needed at the present time, because you have an ever-increasing unemployment in rural England. More work is sadly wanted. In connection with that may I point out that the agricultural worker who is out of work and cannot get it is not in the position of receiving insurance money. Therefore it is essential that the Minister should give attention to the villages of this country when he is thinking about the distribution of his Road Fund, not merely from the point of view of the betterment of the road, or whatever the other grounds may be, but from the point of view of relieving the serious unemployment which now exists in many of the village areas in this country. The problem of the roads in rural England is from some points of view more grave than in urban England, because in proportion of the population the distances are more enormous. The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Mrs. Philipson) represents one of the largest, if not the largest, county constituency in the country. Having been up in that neighbourhood I can fully realise the difficulties of the rural district councils in that county, about which she has spoken, in trying to administer the Road Fund for that extraordinary area. I welcome the attitude on the part of the Front Opposition bench, and their advocacy that more consideration than has been given should be given for the distribution of the Road Fund in the rural districts.


I am glad to be allowed the opportunity of supporting the Motion for the reduction of this Vote. I am glad to be able to do so, because I feel that the Ministry of Transport has not got quite that energy and measure of efficiency that some of us would like to see. I should like to support that statement by urging that in future efforts should be made to issue the Annual Report with more expedition. Many of us are interested in this Annual Report. I understand the year closes on 31st March. The Report was not available until many months after the closing day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Whose fault was that?"] Again, we have a committee that has been sitting for two years and two months examining the question of motor taxation, which is a very important matter. We have not yet had a gleam of light, or any communication of what the views of that Committee are. I suggest that if important matters are to be relegated to Committees from time to time that these Committees ought either to report, or be disbanded, and other Committees set up in their place.

I, therefore, feel that some little criticism can, with justice, be levelled at the Ministry of Transport in this and other directions. There is the question of road transport, which becomes more important and more urgent as time goes on. If we desire to stimulate our trade and to avoid or lessen the increasing measure of congestion which takes place in our towns we must develop our roads and the road system in this country—and do it rapidly! I would like, if I might, in all humility, to offer to the House one or two suggestions which I hope may prove of some service to the Ministry.

9.0 P.M.

One of the difficulties in regard to roads and road making is the question of foundation. Under present circumstances a grant of 50 per cent. can be given towards renewing, or rather remaking, the foundations of main roads. In many cases that grant is really insufficient. There are many cases in which that grant, even if given to the full 50 per cent., still leaves a terrible burden on the local authority. I suggest that steps should be taken to review the position, and see if it is not possible, reasonable, and just in approved cases that the 50 per cent. should be raised to 75 per cent. in regard to questions like the re-making of the foundations of roads. After all, it is useless to make a good road surface unless you are quite sure that the foundation has been properly constructed. There is another matter which appears to me of great moment to the ratepayer and the taxpayer alike. That is the question of prescribing building lines along our main highways. Day by day you travel through the countryside, and you see, along the highway new houses and new buildings going up close to the highway; and you are quite sure in your own mind that in a matter of a few years these roads will have to be widened: then these buildings will have to be swept away, and enormous sums in compensation will be taken from the taxpayers' and the ratepayers' pockets to pay that compensation. It merely requires a little vision to prescribe building lines and to insure that buildings are not erected along our main arteries of traffic or along those roads which are likely in a short space of time to be main arteries of traffic. When these buildings are put up it is quite as easy to build them to a prescribed line in the right place, as to put them as now, in what may be the wrong place, in view of the fact that the roads may afterwards have to be widened because of the needs of our increasing population.

There is another point. Many hon. Members of this House are deeply interested in the development of small holdings. I feel that a certain definite sum should be set aside, from year to year, for constructing new roads, because there are still undeveloped country districts which it would be a great advantage to stimulate and assist in the interests of the small holdings movement. It is no use, however, establishing small holdings unless you have good highways on which the produce can be taken away. There is another point, which I much hope will not cost anything, and which I hope the Minister will give his attention to, that is the question of empowering local authorities to sweep away high hedges and plantations at cross roads, where they impede and interfere with the traffic. In my neighbourhood more than one fatal accident has occurred during the course of the last two or three years simply because of a plantation or high hedge which the owner refused to allow to be cut down. Personally, I think, that in the interests of the community an unreasonable objection of that kind should be met by the law—


That proposal requires legislation, and, therefore, the hon. Gentleman is not in order.


I apologise, but perhaps the Minister of Transport will take note of what I have said. I thank you, Sir, for allowing me to make these observations, and I, again, tender my apologies if I have transgressed the Rules of the House.


I rise for a few moments to support some of the observations of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) in his plea for greater assistance to the authorities in rural areas. What is said on occasions like this is not necessarily a criticism of the Ministry, but it gives the Minister an opportunity of hearing those representing rural areas, and of perhaps getting information that he would not under other circumstances obtain. Take the question of the increasing rates. It is serious so far as the rural communities are concerned, especially for the farmer, and, again, especially for the small farmer, because it is on the small man that the rates fall more heavily in proportion to his holding. Where you find a large number of small holdings in an area like that I represent there the rates require very serious consideration, for they militate, seriously against progress in the direction that I am sure the House desires.

I do not want to introduce other subjects—I should not be allowed by the Deputy-Chairman, but there are other matters of which I can speak: one is that there is no doubt the cost of the roads is definitely increasing. It might be worth while of the Minister to suggest other means of communication. I should say that light railways might be more extensively used to relieve the traffic on the roads. What the country-people in the areas generally feel is that they have the traffic from outside sources passing along their roads, and that there should be some source—preferably a natural source—if those who contribute to the motor taxation object to the money being taken from that fund—though I have never heard any special cry from motorists, for they get fairly good roads and seem to be fairly satisfied with what they do get at the present time. If that fund is a fruitful source of income and the Minister has sums at his disposal derived from what is largely a luxury, it is only fair that such sums as can be spared should be devoted to the relief of those people who have to pay very heavily for the upkeep of the road. I desire to ask the Minister whether any provision has been made for a special grant-in-aid of unclassified roads? That subject is very near to the hearts of the rural councils, and if the right hon. Gentleman will give us some assurance that an increased grant will be given for that purpose, it will give great satisfaction to the authorities in the areas which I represent.


I desire to raise my voice in support of what has been said with regard to rural districts in general. I do not wish it to be inferred that I am arguing that an unfair share of this money should go to my constituency in particular, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can complain of what has been said in this Debate in this connection. I am sure he will be the first to say that the views which have been expressed, and the remarks which have been made are very friendly and reasonable. When you come to think of it, no one could possibly expect the right hon. Gentleman, or any other Minister, to settle difficult matters of this kind in 10 minutes, 10 days, 10 months, or even 10 years. The question of practically reforming and rebuilding our rural roads is going to be with us for a very long time, and it is going to prove very difficult for my right hon. Friend to deal with. Therefore, I hope he will not think that we are expecting too much from him, because we all fully realise the difficulties of his position.

I would like to give an illustration of the sort of thing that is now happening rather commonly. Within a few miles of where I live, there is one road into which five other roads run, and on each of these roads there has been the ordinary increase of motor traffic, with the result that the cost of their upkeep compared with pre-War costs has increased at least five or six times what it used to be. The roads need more repairs because omnibuses now run over them. On two of those roads there has recently developed the daily running of motor omnibuses which pass through villages some eight or nine miles away from the principal town of Exeter. From Exeter to Tiverton these omnibuses make a detour through these villages, and they pass through these unclassified roads and join the main road.

The cost of keeping those roads in repair has increased to something like 60 or 80 times more than it was before the War, and if the roads are to be kept in anything like a good condition at all, they will entail heavy expenditure, because they are practically destroyed every two or three months, and after a heavy fall of rain they are absolutely destroyed and the surface has to be entirely remade. The result is that nothing but rebuilding and remaking these roads with new foundations of an entirely different type will meet the case. I think the hon. Member opposite spoke very reasonably from the point of view of the motor user, and he told us that the time would come when the owners of motor traffic would have to find the whole of the cost of maintaining the roads in this country. I think that will be so if you take into consideration what is the real source of the absolute destruction of our roads every few weeks.

All over the country people are gradually becoming motor users as they have done in the United States. Our summer holidays are changing, and people are getting more attracted by country life, and they indulge in it, as a rule, running about in motor cars, and the habit of using motor chars-a-banc is becoming more and more a national habit, not only on the main roads, but on the by-roads and the unclassified roads. The amount of destruction to these roads is almost incredible, because of the rapid development which seems to be going on in the heavier type of motor traffic. I do not want to go into the question as to whether they pay a fair share of taxation, and I only want to put before the Minister the almost helpless position of some of these road authorities, when they see, at intervals of a few weeks, their road surfaces entirely destroyed by motor traffic, and entirely new roads are afterwards required.


I do not know whether the Members of this Committee are aware that there is no Minister of the Crown who possesses such autocratic powers as the Minister of Transport, because he has this very large sum of money practically at his disposal. The Road Board Act has Regulations, Orders in Council, and references at the side such as no other Bill to any extent has, and no other Measure confers upon the Minister such great powers. Instead of looking upon the Minister of Transport as an autocratic despot, I rather look upon him in the light of a benevolent fairy, and it is well known that we can attract more bees to the honey-pot with compliments than we can by criticisms. I wish to refer to the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), who apparently now is to be the spokesman of the motorist.

I regret that under your ruling, Mr. Entwistle, we are not allowed to go into the relative merits of the petrol or the wheel tax. That subject will stand over for the Finance Bill, and then we shall have every opportunity of discussing the relative merits of those two taxes. The hon. and gallant Member apparently thinks that the motorists are subscribing to a larger degree than is fair or equitable towards the upkeep of the roads, and he asked us in a somewhat pathetic manner whether it was expected that the motorists should pay for the whole of the upkeep of our roads. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Practically they have driven us off the roads at the present time. Recently we have had heavy frosts during the night with the result that anyone who attempts to go on our main roads is bound to come to grief. I have myself been obliged to present the sorry spectacle of a master of hounds leading his horse to the meet on account of the glassy surface of the roads. I ask what ransom ought the motorist to pay to us to whom the roads belong, and who have an undoubted right to the use of those roads?

When on a previous occasion I addressed the House on the question of roads, I was told by a right hon. Gentleman who held high office in the previous Government that he was confident that I was lineally descended from the daughters of the horse-leech. Whether that was to be taken as a compliment or not is open to question, because we, on behalf of the county councils or the local authorities, are saying, "Give, give," and it is for that purpose that we are here again this evening. I think we are in a position to make out a very fairly strong case for an increased grant towards the roads in the rural districts. An hon. Member on this side has suggested an increase for the main roads, but the question we are discussing to-night is rather the question of the district roads. It will not be disputed that those are roads which were never originally intended for carrying the traffic which is put upon them at the present time. It is well known that in the majority of instances they were simply field roads going from one farm to another, but to-day they have to carry all these large commercial motors. The brewers send out their beer to the public houses in motor vehicles, which return laden with barrels. Our district roads are used for traffic of that kind, and by all the other industries in the towns, which do not contribute in the way they ought.

I do not want to say a single word against chars-a-banc. I delight to think that people are able to go out and see our beautiful country by means of the char-a-banc, but these vehicles do an enormous amount of destruction to the roads, and, although I am not asking—and it would not be in order to discuss the question—for further taxation of chars-a-banc, it is only right that, when the char-a-banc gets into these ill-constructed roads in rural areas, we should ask for an increased grant for the upkeep of those roads. The road grant is for three purposes—firstly, for making entirely new roads; secondly, for making improvements on existing roads; and thirdly, for contributing towards the cost of maintenance. We ought to press, and we intend as far as we can to press, the Minister that 50 per cent. should be given towards the upkeep, maintenance and improvement of these rural roads. I think that that is not an unfair thing to ask. I do not think I shall be going outside the limits of order when I say that at the present time the incidence of local taxation is so grossly unfair that the rural district councils are being compelled to pay for the upkeep of these roads, and they are rated in a most unbearable way. Considering the incidence of local taxation, and the heavy burden which the ratepayers at the present time have to bear for the upkeep of these roads, we have a right to come here and ask for this increased grant, and I hope that, when the Minister comes to reply, he will at any rate give us the assurance that he will look very carefully into the suggestions we are making. There is no question, of course, of our taking a Vote on this. It is only, I take it, for the purpose of trying to bring the matter to the notice of the Minister. There is no question of any complaint against him, but we do ask him to consider very carefully the claims of those who live in the rural areas, in view of the immense amount of traffic that comes out of the towns and passes over their roads. I feel quite confident that, when he has given the matter his consideration, he will say that the claim we put forward is fair and just and equitable.


I should not intervene in this Debate but for the fact that I am in doubt as to what this Vote really means. We have the assurance from several hon. Members opposite that this Amendment to reduce the Vote by £100 does not, in effect, mean any censure upon the present Government, or the proposers of the present Government, which leads me to ask, "What does it mean?" Does it mean an expression from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness), on behalf of the late Government, that they have failed to do what they should have done on this question of transport? Is it a gesture suggesting their failure? Does it mean that this question of transport has only arisen suddenly since the day when the Labour Government came into power? Or is it a question which is as old as the beginning of motor transport? It must be quite plain to every hon. and right hon. Gentleman in this Chamber that this is not a new question. Those who have been responsible for government years before a Labour Government came into power must have seen this problem growing and becoming more complex. They must have seen the necessity for the reconstruction of roads, and yet nothing has been done, and now the hopes of the House appear to be centred on a Ministry which is not two months old, and which is expected to work a revolution on its first essay.


May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? These criticisms, which are directed nominally at the present Minister, are really directed against myself. They are directed against the administration of the Ministry of Transport, and it is only this Motion to reduce the Vote by £100 which gives us the opportunity of raising this question.


That is the point I am making. I was in doubt, until the hon. and gallant Gentleman reassured me, as to whether it was intended to convey to the Committee that the present Minister of Transport was not doing what he should do. Now we have an assurance, on the best authority, that it is the past Government that have neglected this matter, and they are moving that this new Government shall take the matter in hand. I am sure it is not necessary to labour the question. It is not very much, I venture to say, a party question. I think that everyone, from every point of view, must see the need of improvement in our roads for purposes of transport. The problem in connection with the roads in non-rural areas are just as great as in rural areas. While the roads in rural areas are sometimes inferior to the main arteries, those who live in the neighbourhood of those main arteries know the difficulties that are due to the large accentuation of heavy traffic over those roads, and it is a question of taxation.

Every Member of this House will agree that this is a matter which touches trade and which touches our social condition. The advance of civilisation is wrapped up in the road problem to some degree, almost as much as is the housing problem, because, if people are to live in the country, they must have proper means of transport from the country to the town. If small holdings are to be developed, facilities must obtain for transportation of the produce to the market. This inequality of taxation should not fall on any one particular area. We have to see to it that it becomes a national burden rather than a local burden, because you cannot equalise these things fairly with regard to localities. I am pleased to have the assurance from that side of the House that, as far as taxation imposed on motorists is concerned, the Rolls-Royce is not paying its quota.


May I again make myself clear. My illustration was to show that the Ford was paying a great deal too much.


This discussion about Rolls-Royce must stop. It is not in order. This refers to a proposed amendment in taxation.


I accept your ruling. We hold that this should be a national burden. The tendency is in the right direction when we make funds for these purposes. These funds should be, as time and opportunity present themselves, developed and extended so that on no one locality should fall an unfair or an unequal burden of rates for these roads—in some cases, arterial roads—which are used more by people who come from hundreds of miles away than they are by the people in the locality.


The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, when he has been a little longer in the House, will find that even in this House we do sometimes discuss questions without the party spirit behind them. We sometimes deal with questions upon their merits only, and I do not think anyone in the House wishes to make this question of the roads of the country a party one.


I thought I made that point.


The hon. Member made it at the end of his speech, but not at the beginning. Nobody in this House knows better than I do the difficulty, in a discussion of this kind, of avoiding referring to questions of policy. The border line between questions of policy and questions of administration is very narrow, and it is very difficult indeed to distinguish between the two. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Palmer) has said that this is no new question. It is not entirely a new question, but it has been one that has been gradually growing up, and has now reached a position when it is very critical and very vital that something definite should be done to deal with it, and I am sure the Minister of Transport will find that this will become a more and more important question as the years go on. One does not like, in any great movement, to dissociate entirely the urban asd the rural aspect, but in the matter of roads there is a large difference between the position of the rural community as regards the upkeep of roads, and the expenses of them, and what exists in the urban districts. What used to be the position of the roads? I will not say quite before the introduction altogether of motor cars, but before the present condition of affairs with regard to motor cars, say five or six years before the War, the country roads, with the exception of a few light motor cars, were almost entirely confined to farm carts and horse-drawn vehicles. As regards the wear and tear inflicted on the roads, it was totally different from what it is under present conditions.

An entirely new condition of affairs has grown up, and, although that new condition of affairs was growing up before the War, it has become much more acute, because during the five years of war very little, indeed, was done to the roads. What we are trying to do at the present time is to make the country roads exactly the same as the urban roads. They have to carry identically the same traffic as the urban roads, which they never did before. The present system which is adopted with regard to the upkeep of these roads in devoting a certain amount of the funds which are derived from the taxation of motor-cars to the upkeep of roads, is obviously the right one. The old principle of making those who use the roads pay for the use of them must be the proper way to deal with the question.

The question, however, which the Minister of Transport has to consider is how the funds derived from this source of taxation from motor-cars is distributed and allocated to the different authorities, and also to the different classes of roads. Until quite recently it has only been on the first and second class roads that motor 'bus traffic in the country districts has been in existence. It is only quite recently that that motor 'bus traffic has been extended to all the third class and unclassified roads. Those roads were never meant for that sort of traffic. They were never constructed to carry that weight of traffic, and the consequence is that, after a few weeks of that sort of traffic—heavy motor buses going over them regularly—they are practically destroyed and have to be re-made.

That constitutes an entirely new condition of affairs and it is for the Minister of Transport to consider what is to be done. I do not want to go into the question of policy. I think we are right in using this Debate as an opportunity to see the way different opinions are working as regards this question so as to give the Minister warning as to what he should do when the time comes to make a decision. There are one or two things he has to decide. He has to decide how this money is to be distributed between different authorities. All different areas are not of the same rateable value and if you have a similar cost of upkeep of roads in pretty well all the different areas it is quite easy to see that in an area with a low rateable value it is more expensive than in an area with a high rateable value, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in considering the allocation of these funds, to take that into consideration and to realise that in some of these country districts, which have practically to make urban roads for the traffic they have to bear, with their low rateable value the rates will really be oppressive. I only rose to make these few remarks not in any way, as the hon. Member for Greenwich seems to think, in a spirit of party opposition to the Minister of Transport, but to give him an opportunity of considering the various views of Members of Parliament representing different constituencies all over the country as to what he should do when the time comes for him to decide.


Like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness), I represent West Suffolk, and I am a member of the county council, and I should like to emphasise what the right hon. Gentleman said as to the condition of affairs in that county. In 1913 and 1914 we spent a tenpenny rate in the upkeep and maintenance of main roads. Last year the rate was 1s. 9d., and at the meeting next Monday the chairman of the roads committee and the finance committee is asking for a rate, to maintain the same roads, of 2s. 7d. in the £. We are a very poor county with a very large mileage, and a penny rate at present merely produces £1,860. The greater part of the roads are really second-class roads. It is true that we took last year, and shall take this year, from the taxation on motor-cars £45,000, which is remitted to headquarters, but we get back this year, I am told, approximately, £24,000. In an area like ours, a poor agricultural county—one of the poorest in the whole of England—this is a very serious burden upon the already overtaxed ratepayers. I addressed a question to the Minister of Transport and, in consequence of his answer, I am raising the question to see whether, in a county like ours, we could not get a very largely increased grant, in order to meet the overburdened ratepayers. The suggestion has been made by the whole of the rural councils in my area that the Minister should consider allowing the difference in the rate for the upkeep of roads between 1914 and the present time, because the local surveyor of one of my urban district areas says that this year the amount they will require to put their roads into anything like order is £18,000, whereas years ago the annual upkeep would be about £900. I admit that the £18,000 is to give the road a very firm foundation in order to meet the requirements of modern motor traffic. We are getting on our main and local roads through traffic, principally from London, but also some from the Midlands, that goes right through the county to the coast. A census taken by the Ministry themselves last year shows that the overwhelming bulk of the traffic that passes along our roads comes from other centres and is really through traffic. I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman, not in any spirit of antagonism, that he should take into serious consideration counties and rural districts like my own, which are very heavily burdened in rates, and endeavour to give them increased grants to meet the heavy cost of repair and maintenance.

Lieut.-Colonel LAMBERT WARD

I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for North Lanarkshire (Mr. Sullivan), who has retired, I suppose, to recuperate after his telling remarks. At the same time I am afraid I cannot congratulate him on his knowledge of the incidence of the motor tax. He hoped that chars-a-bane might be taxed. He seemed quite ignorant of the fact that chars-a-bane already pay taxes of anything from £70 to £80 a year, every penny of which has to be found by the people who ride in them, thus placing a tax on poor people out for an afternoon's enjoyment which might be very much better found in many other ways. I am not criticising the incidence of the tax in any way, but I consider it is levied unjustly and is levied on a wrong formula. With that idea in view I have been pressing the Minister, by means of questions, to expedite the appearance of the Report of the Committee which is sitting under one of his Departments. The Committee has been in session for something like 18 months, but he would not admit that any unnecessary delay had taken place. I am sorry to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, but I think 18 months is sufficient time for any committee to produce some kind of report. While that Committee is sitting the export motor trade is being ruined by the incidence of the tax and nothing else. You may travel on the Continent for months at a time, as I have done, and you will be able to count on your fingers the number of cars of English manufacture that you see. That is entirely due to the fact that this tax has compelled manufacturers to build and design a type of engine which the foreigner will not buy, and which our colonial customers will not look at. That has thrown into the hands of our competitors the entire colonial market and a great deal of the foreign market. At the commencement of the motor industry we started well ahead of most countries. France had a small lead of us, but we were more than level with Germany, and we were streets ahead of the United States of America. To-day, for every 10 cars we make in this country, America turns out approximately a thousand. That is entirely due to the incidence of this tax, in regard to which the Departmental Committee has been sitting for 18 months, and has failed to produce anything approaching a report. I will not deal further with that matter, because the Deputy-Chairman has ruled that it might require legislation, and consequently is out of Order.

The right hon. Member who moved the reduction had a good deal to say about the unfair distribution of the grants between the main roads and the country roads. I should like to ask him on what principle are the roads classified, what constitutes a first-class, a second-class, and a third-class road. It seems to me that the authorities arrive at their decision in a most arbitrary manner, without any real data which would justify them arriving at their conclusion. We all admit that the wear and destruction of the roads has increased one hundredfold in the last eight or 10 years, and opinions differ a great deal as to the causes of that wear and destruction. It is a very difficult question to decide what particular type of vehicle is guilty of the worst destruction. Certain roads are what one might call speed-proof. By that I mean cars or other vehicles can travel at almost any speed over these roads without inflicting a great deal of damage. Other roads are what one might call weight-roads, over which vehicles of any weight can travel without causing undue destruction. The weight-proof road has a good solid foundation of heavy metal, and the speed-proof road has a smooth, hard, waterproof surface. The latter type of road is proof against, and is suitable for, high-speed traffic. The road with a solid foundation, although it may be easily damaged or destroyed by high-speed traffic, will stand vehicles up to five or six tons, without being damaged to any perceptible extent.

There is another cause of destruction on our roads. It is a most extraordinary thing that no sooner do we get a road laid down and finished than we see a gang of men, with misdirected energy, tearing up the surface which has only just been laid down. A short time ago, I saw something that interested me, although it pained me, and that was the process that was being carried out upon one of the main roads going west out of London. It was a road which had only just been entirely rebuilt—an old road which was being adapted for motor traffic, at a cost of something like £17,000 a mile. Before the whole of the road was completed, I saw a gang of men at one end of it breaking up the road and digging a trench right across the entire surface. So well was the road made—it was of the latest ferro-concrete pattern—that it took nearly ten days to cut through it, and it was only by using bolt-cutters, and all kinds of picks and crowbars, that the men succeeded in cutting through. I do not know what was their object, but I suppose it had something to do with water, gas, electric light, or somebody's drain had gone wrong. When they had finished, they relaid the surface of the road, but the continuity of the surface had been broken, and before long a distinct depression appeared where the trench had been dug, with the result that now the road is going in waves at the point where the trench had been dug. Vehicles passing over this depression set up a vibrating effect, which is causing the entire surface of the road to go into waves. By the damage that the workmen did to that road they have probably reduced the life of the road by several years.

I want to know whether the Minister of Transport has any power to restrain the misdirected activities of these gangs of men. If he has not the power, will he apply and get legislation to enable him to deal with these cases? By this building and then breaking up of roads, we are doubling the amount of money that has to be spent on the roads, every penny of which has to come out of the pockets of the already overburdened taxpayers.


I do not propose to follow the hon. Member who has just sat down in his somewhat sweeping statement as to why so few English cars are observed abroad. As far as I can see, it has nothing whatever to do with the discussion that was so aptly brought forward by the right hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness). With the exception of two unfortunate speeches, it is generally recognised that this is a subject not of a political or party nature. It is a very important matter for representatives of rural constituencies. This question of motor transport, char-a-banc traffic, and so on, in the rural districts, and the upkeep of the roads is entirely new, and is altering every day. The question as to where the tax is to come from does not really affect us.

There is a very large sum of money which is being given in various directions, and I understand that complete control of that money is in the hands of the Minister of Transport. In our poor rural districts we require a great deal more money spending on specific classes of roads. It is often the case that the poorest and those who need help most get it the last, and get very little of it. But this is a very important case, because it affects the whole industry of agriculture. We heard in Debate the other day about plans for agricultural co-operation. If those plans are going to be a success, this whole question of better class roads will have to be dealt with. It is a very large question. It involves the whole matter of farming co-operation and the organisation of the farming industry of this country. Hon. Members have mentioned their constituencies, and mine suffers in this way. It is a place where the constituents of a great many of other hon. Members come in the summer—I refer to the Broads of Norfolk. It is a district with nearly all third-class roads. Going there is not exactly like going to a seaside place, which is a definite place, but these people come to my constituency and spread themselves all over the roads, and the damage which they do is very great. I hope that this Debate will bring before the Minister how urgently we do require this help in the agricultural rural districts of this country.


We are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) who raised this question. He and I worked together for many years, and if I had no salary that fact was not different from that we expected in connection with all my public work. I have been reminded that the position which I hold now is an autocratic one. If that be true I must be very much more careful as to what I do than if I were in a freer position. The arguments seem to me to be mainly either a Vote of Censure on the late Government or friendly advice given to me so that I may keep out of their evil ways. If that be so, and that is the way in which I like to regard it, the Committee has been very kind. Everything has been said in a friendly way, and I am sure that a Minister who has only been in office for a few weeks, and is expected to be careful, and who is an autocrat with large sums of money to be spent, should be careful of his promises to such a large multitude as is making claims to-night.

10.0 P.M.

I would first point out that there are very many points which have been raised which I could not have been ready to meet. I will give them very careful consideration. I will go through them all, as I shall have an opportunity of doing, and take the advice that has been given to me wherever I feel able to do so. On the main question, the giving of grants from the Road Fund for the poorer rural areas, the total allocations which have been made from the Road Fund revenue for 1923–24 and 1924–25 amount to £2,750,000 for special assistance towards the improvement of important roads in rural areas of Great Britain. In distributing these moneys consideration has been given to the financial resources of the local authorities concerned so that the greatest measure of assistance might be rendered where it was most needed, and the extent of the assistance has not been limited to 50 per cent. of the cost. An hon. Member suggested that a sliding scale should be adopted giving greater assistance from the Road Fund to those areas where the penny rate provides only a very small sum per mile of road kept up. It would not be possible to adopt this course without either increasing the scale of taxation or sacrificing the paramount interest of the main trunk communication.

The Road Fund is derived from the taxation of motor vehicles, and is primarily intended for the improvement of important through communications by road. That is on highways where the through traffic is greatest as distinguished from local traffic. In deciding what assistance should be given from the moneys provided, regard must therefore be had to the importance of the roads to the community as a whole. Since the 1st April, 1921, grants have been made from the Road Fund on the following scale: 50 per cent. of the approved cost of maintenance and improvement of Class I roads and 25 per cent. of the approved cost of maintenance and improvement of Class II roads. The sums allocated for grants to Class I and II roads under this heading will amount, in the financial year 1923–24, to about £9,000,000 out of a total net income to the fund of about £13,500,000, and it should be remembered that the assistance thus rendered to the county council is reflected in the county highway rate, and so affects the minor constituent authorities in the country.

That relief that comes to the county council after all is a relief in the rates taking the country as a whole. These grants to Class I and Class II roads represent 11½d. in the £ in the county rate, and, in addition, 1¾d. in the £ in the rural district rate, so that the total effect in the rural districts in the county is 13¼d in the £. Therefore as regards the point that has been raised about the extra cost thrown upon the rural districts for the lower grade roads, this method of dealing with the money does give the rural districts more money than otherwise they would get, and is a real relief. As the Committee is aware, any surplus funds available are at the present time mainly allocated to the construction of new roads, and the improvement of the important existing roads in areas suffering acutely from unemployment, but it is not possible to depart from the fundamental principle underlying the 50 per cent. and 26 per cent. grant to Class I and Class II roads, which are the main arteries of through communication by road. The only other point that was put to me was one that I cannot answer to-night. I cannot say what the resources of the Road Fund will be before we stop. The money is allocated for five years. I do not expect to be in office all the time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] That must be left for later consideration. In other words, you must first catch your hare before you cook it.


In view of the great increase in motor traffic, will the hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision not to consider a road as a first-class road simply because it is an alternative route to another first-class road?



Captain Viscount CURZON

I am glad to have a chance of intervening in this Debate. I heard an hon. Member on the benches opposite say that this question was a new thing. When he has been a little longer here, he will realise that this is a hardy annual. Every year there is an organised attack by the hon. and right hon. Members who represent rural constituencies upon the motor-using and motor-owning fraternity in this country. They seem to forget that with every increase in motor taxation a very definite and direct tax is placed upon the industry, and that the industry to-day is bearing very heavy taxation. Supposing motor taxation is increased in order to provide for the demands of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who represent rural constituencies, it will only have the result of putting more and more men on the streets. In times like these you want to be very careful before you advocate proposals which may have that result. I have every sympathy with those hon. and right hon. Members who want relief for rural districts in respect to the use of their main roads by motor traffic, especially heavy motor traffic, but they must not put all the blame on motor traffic alone. Look at their own road authorities. Look at their own road surveyors. Anyone who goes far over the roads of this country will soon realise that the roads in different areas are made of very different sorts of stuff. In some districts there is very good stone, and in other districts it is very bad. It is not the fault of the districts, but it is the fact.

Another thing the hon. Member will realise is that the methods of road surveyors differ very much. I would like to ask the Minister to bear in mind that if there is to be an increased tax on users and owners of motors, he must expect a corresponding demand on the part of those who are to pay that tax to have some say in how the money is spent. I would like to ask hon. Members who advocate increased taxation whether they are prepared to grant to the motor fraternity a say in who the road authorities are to be? Are they prepared to gant to the Minister greater power over the appointment of road surveyors? In regard to rural district roads, it is quite true that some rural district roads are suffering severely. There are some that are actually main roads and nothing else, and these roads should receive, and the motor community would wish them to receive, the special attention of the Ministry. I could give an illustration of what I mean. The rural district of Eastbourne maintains several miles of arterial main road along the South Coast of England, and that community should receive the special attention of the Minister. There are other rural roads which have been alluded to in the course of this Debate where I cannot believe that the motor traffic causes much increased wear. Last year, when I was speaking on this same topic, I fairly startled hon. Members of the House by saying that I frequently followed traction engines. [Laughter.] It is perfectly true, for this reason, that one of the things which tear up the rural district roads are traction engines. I submit to the Minister that when he is considering this problem he might consider whether he has power, or can get power, to regulate traffic of this sort. The rural community do not want this traffic driven over their roads. When traction engines, with heavy loads following, insufficiently-tyred vehicles, go along a road after a frost when there is a little thaw, they can do more damage in 15 or 20 minutes than could be caused by all the other traffic using the road for the remainder of the year.

I would suggest another line of attack to the Minister, namely, that he should consider whether he cannot, out of the motor taxation, give us a certain rebate in respect to heavy commercial vehicles which are fitted with pneumatic tyres. Anyone who uses the roads much in this country will know that what does most damage to the roads are solid-tyred vehicles. If you encourage them to use pneumatic tyres you will lessen the damage to the roads. I suggest to the hon. and right hon. Members who represent rural constituencies that they might usefully pursue these two avenues of attack. If exceptional damage is caused to the roads by heavy commercial traffic, I submit that the roads should be so constructed as to be capable of bearing the weights. If the Minister, by increased grants, or by increased say in the appointment of road surveyors, can secure that, I hope he will endeavour to do so. The motor fraternity has borne and is bearing a very heavy load of taxation. I do not agree with the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Lieut.-Colonel Lambert Ward), who said that taxation is responsible for the type of engines in the cars to-day. I do hope that the Minister will do what he can to press forward this taxation inquiry. It is a perfect scandal. This inquiry has been sitting for about two years.

From time to time inspired announcements are made in the Press that the inquiry is proceeding, I suppose to cheer up people and to let them know that those employed on the Committee have not altogether gone to sleep or abandoned their duty in despair. But it is really just about time that this Committee issued its Report. The motor fraternity and the country have waited long enough for it, and the delay is having a bad effect on industry. I hope that the Minister, as a result of this discussion, will make quite certain that we have not to wait for another interminable period, that he will adopt a policy of direct action, and see that the Committee reports forthwith.


It would be a pity if this Debate closed without the voice of Scotland being heard. I would probably not have said anything about the matter had not the Minister reminded me that the Road Fund is mainly provided for through traffic. Those of the Sassenachs who may be present will know that every year our poor country is raided by wealthy motorists from the South, who tear up our roads, leave little of their money behind, and compel the county councils to raid the poor taxpayers to the tune of 5s., 6s., 7s. and even more in the £. I hope that these figures will be well noted by my hon. Friends from the South. It is quite a serious matter so far as the Scottish counties are concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) is particularly interested at the moment in a very important road that runs from Perth to Inverness. There the main portion of the traffic from south to north passes, and he is doing very good work now in trying to get an extra grant. I represent a county where much traffic passes from south to north. In one particular town of Banffshire, the town of Keith, through which the main traffic passes, the road used by that traffic has to be made up no fewer than two or three times a year, whereas other roads in the town last for two or three years. The result is that such roads cost far more, both to the town and the county council, than they ought to cost, and it is due to the fact that this traffic passes through, and we get nothing for it.

The position in regard to Ross-shire, Inverness-shire, Banffshire and various northern counties is this: A larger percentage of grant ought to be given for first-class roads. Fifty per cent. is not enough. Seventy-five or 80 per cent. ought to be given. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not 99 per cent."] I will take 99 per cent.; I do not object. But this is a very difficult matter for these county councils. I would like the Minister of Transport to take the question into particular consideration. The rateable value is low, the roads are difficult to maintain, they are very narrow and there are very few of them, and the traffic that passes over them is very heavy, especially the heavy motor traffic from the south and a lot of wood traffic that of late years has come there. Without a bigger grant the roads will go to ruin, and they are bad enough as it is. I confess that in going over southern roads I realise that there is such a big rateable value that it must be quite easy to keep them in good order without a large grant from the Minister. It is not so in the north. We have not the rateable value there, and we require a bigger grant. I think I shall have the Committee with me in asking that a larger amount be given to these counties, and I hope the Minister will give the matter his careful consideration.


I am sure the Committee have listened with great interest to the plea of Scotland for further attention with regard to this money which is said to be due to them in respect of roads, but the hon. Member who has just spoken fails to realise that, before the motor cars of which he complains arrive in Scotland, they have to pass through some of the southern counties. When the journey is finished, when these cars and their owners arrive in Scotland, they leave their money there. They deposit much cash in these Scottish constituencies, and that cash which is taken from the owners of cars cannot be spent, therefore, on those unfortunate counties of England through which they have passed in order to reach Scotland. I did not rise, however, to speak of Scotland particularly, but to support the view put forward by the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Mrs. Philipson) regarding the difficulties from which we suffer in the rural districts. I was rather disappointed with the reply which the Minister of Transport gave to our claim. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that the county councils were, in fact, gaining a certain advantage from the grants which are made from the Road Board, and that they were not suffering to the extent which some of us indicated. I wish to impress upon the hon. Gentleman that, notwithstanding the grants from the Road Board, notwithstanding the £9,000,000 which is being paid at the present time, the actual highway rates in most of these counties are three times what they were at the beginning of the War.

That being so, I think the Committee will appreciate our feeling that we are not getting much benefit from the Road Fund, and that we should get something more than we have been receiving up to the present. The Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) raised a very interesting point regarding the damage to roads If I am not going outside the limits of this discussion, I would impress or the Minister the necessity of giving consideration to the Noble Lord's point, as to the damage done to the roads by different types of vehicles and different types of wheels. The Noble Lord pointed out that the greatest damage is caused by the iron-shod or steel-shod vehicle, and that there is an enormous amount of damage done by solid rubber tyres. If I may carry his illustration a little further, the next degree of damage is that inflicted by very big pneumatic tyres; there is less damage done by smaller pneumatic tyres, and so on all down the scale. If you wish to see that the damage is paid for by the wheel which does the damage, it will be necessary to institute some form of tax on tyres, according to the damage which they do. That is the way in which to get a fairer return to the roads, and a return made according to the damage done—by taxing the tyre, according to its size and material. The Minister and the Committee must realise that conditions have changed enormously, even in the course of the last few years, and even since the classification was originally made. A question was asked as to how the classification was originally made. I believe I am right in saying that the first-class roads were originally classified as first-class, because they happened to be the old turnpikes.

So it went on till, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton) said, we got down to the ordinary country roads running from one farm to another. Conditions have changed, and year after year now we are seeing—what we like to see—more and more people coming out of the towns and living in our rural districts, with the result that in my own district, close to Darlington, we have cases of roads which till quite recently were used for nothing except carts and perhaps a very small amount of other traffic, which are now used for omnibus routes, bringing people out of Darlington to visit our country districts and to live somewhere up in the very lovely districts which lie rather beyond. What I am trying to point out is that the character of the traffic through these villages and over these country roads has entirely changed, and instead of having old farm carts travelling over our roads, we have now an almost interminable procession of omnibuses and motors generally travelling across these roads, and doing an amount of damage which has to be paid for entirely by the local ratepayers. This grant which is being made to help these roads ought to be reviewed, and I suggest that the Minister should go into the question of the traffic which is going over these roads and see whether, in common fairness, that grant which he is proposing to make cannot be increased.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I sent the right hon. Gentleman some resolutions which I had received from the Croft Rural Council and the Darlington Rural Council, and he gave me a very courteous and kind reply, in which he pointed out that the sum had been allocated, but I would like to press on him that the conditions have so changed that the amount allocated must be increased, and I hope he will bear that matter in mind when he comes to revise his Estimate.

Major G. F. DAVIES

I have not been in this House very long, but I have been here long enough to learn that when hon. Members speak of their own constituencies, they interest themselves very much, but they tend to bore everyone else. Therefore, I do not propose to follow some of my predecessors in this Debate in saying what my constituency is, and although I represent a rural constituency, I do not propose to attack motorists as such for the damage they do to the roads. My interests are principally with the claims of the secondary and third-class roads in the rural parts of the country. What I want to point out to the Committee is that, whether we speak of main arteries or first-class, second-class, or third-class roads, we are up against a fundamental difficulty, which is, in short, that we have to try to reconcile two great conflicting principles. The first is that freedom and development of transportation of any sort are a necessary forerunner to the development of civilisation. That we know from the way in which the old Romans carried on the development of their Empire. The first thing they did was to build roads, and the lack of roads is the main reason for the backwardness of China to-day. Another conflicting principle is this, that facilities breed traffic. Consequently, if it is necessary to develop facilities of transportation, the more you begin to develop them before the traffic is there the more you begin to develop the traffic, and that is the problem of the traffic in our large cities, and it is the same problem that confronts us in the rural districts.

What I mean is this: We have heard this evening from certain hon. Members pleas for the opening up of new areas or the development of existing tracks for the smallholder or the farmer. The moment you begin to improve these roads in the interests of the smallholder and the farmer, you begin to attract additional traffic of some sort. The position is made I still more urgent to-day, because when it comes to a question of finding work for the unemployed, the first thing to which one naturally turns is road development, and, therefore, those in authority look to see whether they can usefully improve and develop roads. In the rural districts, we all know, a great deal of that work is being done, and, on account of the conflicting principles of which I was speaking, the ratepayers find that these improvements serve to attract traffic from all over the country. Hence comes the difficulty of the cost of upkeep, and the heavy burden on the ratepayers in the particular district. All this is tied up with the question of the chars-a-banc. There were roads which were just wide enough for traffic when there was no need to keep to the rule of the left of the road, because there was no left to keep to, and, like an eminent politician, we had to keep to the middle of the road. Once you make room for two vehicles to pass, at once you begin to attract that portion of the travelling public more particularly represented by the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon). Therefore, you have to face the fact that if we widen or improve these roads, we have to deal with this tremendously increased traffic.

Reference has been made to the transportation difficulties of the United States. Particularly in the Middle West and the West, where they have great distances between any kind of spots that anyone in his senses would want to stop at, the problem of their roads is comparatively simple. It is one of great arterial roads, which are being constructed entirely of concrete. The consequence is that, on the principle of facilities breeding traffic, if you want to go on one of those so-called highways on a holiday, Saturday afternoon or Sunday, the pleasure of motoring is entirely nil. There is one solid stream, for miles and miles, of Fords—I believe Ford is out of order—I will say of motor-cars of various construction, which are following one another at a funereal pace, and there is no particular advantage in motoring on roads of that sort. As they do everything on a big scale on that side of the Atlantic, the alternative is no road at all, and that is the sort of road to which allusion was made by the hon. Member opposite who spoke of American buggies. We know the light car will get nearly everywhere, and get over that kind of trackless path. The point I want to bring out is, that if we are going to improve our roads at all, with the conditions we have to face to-day, with the tremendous development taking place, and the tremendous potential development in the near future, we are adding to the problem if we widen and improve the roads in the rural areas without realising that this kind of traffic is bound to come at once. Therefore, only on these general lines did I want to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that this is only one part of the problem of the ultimate agreement of these two conflicting principles of the necessity of providing transportation for the development of civilisation, and the principle of facilities breeding traffic.


I think the Road Fund ought to be used rather more carefully than it is at present. The Minister, I think, should take into consideration other areas of the county. We ought not to take the amount of traffic carried over the roads only, but the rate-able value of the areas over which the traffic goes. It has been said that the county councils can well look after themselves. I wish that were true. But that is not true; because the county boroughs have seen to it that whatever rateable value there was worth getting hold of they have got hold of it as quickly as possible. They have left the county councils the least valuable moorlands and so on.

Speaking for my own county of Durham, I know that the Road Fund has been mortgaged for many years. Many social services that we should like to see helped can not be helped, and unless something is done those social services which are equally necessary with the roads for the benefit of the people of the county are going to be down and out. I would speak on education and similar services. Money that ought to have gone to these services has gone to the roads, and has been mortgaged for a long time. There is another class of road of which I would speak, and that is the road, probably a second- or third-class road, that links up two main roads. Very often the traffic of these roads is heavier than on the main roads. Yet 25 per cent. is about all that is given. These roads require attention. I would ask the Minister to endeavour to see that these roads should have something more allowed to them from the Road Fund than they have now. These roads are daily becoming of more use. Some of the most important main traffic passes down them, and it is these smaller roads by which the traffic passes from one moorland areas to another. These things require very serious attention. I hope the Minister will take what has been said into serious consideration, and give the money from the point of view, not of giving to those who have, but of giving with justice to those of whom some of us have been speaking.


I am not going in any way to cover ground which has been so admirably covered, and which the right hon. Gentleman has promised to give attention to; but may I say that I did not quite follow one or two of his observations. It is not clear to me what roads come under the designation of classes 1, 2 and 3. I do not know whether class 1 covers the main roads, and if that is so, exactly what is covered by the other two classes. But the real point that I wanted to raise is in regard to the new main roads and the deplorable condition of some of them, including the road from London to Rochester. It runs right through Foot's Cray right down to Swanley. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"] I hope I shall not break the drum of anybody's ears, but I will try to speak up a little louder. I think I may say almost without exception that the condition of the road is deplorable from Farningham to Wrotham and to Sevenoaks. To my knowledge people go 10 miles round on the cinders to avoid these roads, coming out at Tunbridge Wells.

I would ask the attention of the Minister of Transport to this road, which is greatly used in summer. There is a constant stream of traffic there. I noticed not long ago in the "Times" that there was a kind of an apologia was made in regard to this road. Practically no real work is being done upon it at the present time, and I ask the attention of the Minister particularly to this matter, and I would like him to communicate with Sir Henry Maybury to see if something can be done to put that road in order. Take as an example the new Watling Street, through Dartford to Rochester. What I cannot understand about that is that so much money is being spent in excavating on a large scale the sides of the road. I would like the Minister with his advisers to consider whether or not it is a wise thing at the present time, having regard to the point which has been raised, that these roads should be constructed on such a wide scale far in excess of what is needed. Surely this work could be limited, and the money spent on smaller roads in the various counties. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will go into these matters and consider them very carefully.


This Vote covers the main roads in the urban districts, and various claims have been put forward by hon. Members on behalf of their own constituencies. I think the time has come when the Ministry should consider whether it is not possible to increase the general percentage of grants for this service. The claims of even the unclassified roads should be regarded as a national service, as well as the main arterial roads, and particularly those between urban districts, which are being constructed in conjunction with the original Town Planning Department and the Ministry of Health, who are urging that large roads should be constructed, which are not needed for present purposes, but which will serve as useful outlets in years to come. It is hardly reasonable to expect these areas, which are heavily rated at the present time—their rates are 15s. or 20s. in the £—to go in for these considerable public improvements at a large expense to themselves; and merely to give 50 per cent. towards the cost of these main roads, which will be of no immediate benefit to the districts that are having to pay for them, is not sufficient encouragement.

If the 50 per cent. grant was a sound plan when the Road Board was first instituted, when there was no question of unemployment, and when rates generally were at a low level, surely the time has come, in the interests of the unemployed, in the interests of the overburdened ratepayers throughout the country, to see whether it is not possible to increase the percentage grant generally, in order, not only to assist the ratepayers, but also to give employment which is so badly needed in so many districts. I hope that, as an outcome of this discussion, the Minister will see whether, in the year to come, he cannot advise his Government considerably to increase the contribution made in this way, realising that these services are mainly national services, due to the change in the method of transport, and not to leave the burden on the local ratepayer.


I rise to support the Amendment, but, as has been mentioned, I think, from every part of the Committee, not in any critical sense as regards the Minister of Transport. I only support the Amendment because it gives us the opportunity of asking more from him that we should have asked had it not been for this opportunity. It has occurred, probably, to everyone in this Committee that road transport generally is part of an evolutionary process, and what was good for the roads a year or two ago is not enough for them to-day. More and more motor vehicles are put upon our roads and motor transport to-day is a great rival of the railways. The railway companies have to keep up their permanent way, and I put it to the Committee that it is only equitable that the motor vehicles should keep up their permanent way, which is the roads. It has been stated here that the owners of motor vehicles do not complain of the tax that is put upon the vehicles, the reason being that they recognise that it is only equitable that they should pay something towards the upkeep of the roads which they use. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister of Transport that we are not asking more than is justified when we ask him if he will apply a still greater amount of the taxes paid by the motor users towards the roads for which they willingly pay those taxes.

The roads must be kept up, and if they are not kept up by receipts out of the motor taxes, they have to be kept up by the ratepayers of the country district through which those roads go. The ratepayers of those country districts are the farmers, smallholders, and agriculturists generally, and they have to keep up the roads for the use of the motor traffic that goes into their districts—heavy commercial motor vehicles as well as private cars. This traffic goes from one large town to another, using the country roads, which have to be kept up by the farming community, and the motor traffic pays nothing towards them. I suggest that we in the rural areas are fully justified in impressing upon the Minister of Transport that he should give a more adequate relief to the upkeep of the rural roads than he has done hitherto. It is for this reason only that I am supporting this Amendment, which has given us in this Committee an opportunity, which we otherwise should not have had, of asking that concession from the Minister of Transport.


I merely want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question on a practical point. Could he see his way to allocating to main roads, as the percentage cost of reconstruction of bridges, 75 per cent. as against the 50 per cent. for general roads.


I would like to call the attention of the Minister of Transport to an answer which he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for the Ashford Division (Major Steel) on the 28th of last month, because, if I may say so, it seems to be a little ambiguous. I should like to get the matter quite clear as regards the grants that are given from the Road Board Fund to help rural areas. The question asked of my hon. Friend was this, whether he would set aside a certain sum of money from the Road Board Fund for the roads maintained by the rural district councils. The answer was that money had been set aside to the extent of two and three quarter millions from the Road Board Fund during the years 1923–1924 and 1924–1925, that is the coming year, for the improvement of important roads in rural areas. There are a great many first-class roads in rural areas, but what I want to get clearly from the hon. Gentleman is whether a certain amount of his money is going to those second-class roads and district roads which may be running through rural areas. It is a very important point because we were lead to understand that last year under the late Government 1½ millions were to be given, and it was promised that not less than 1½ millions would be given this year; but if the answer of my hon. Friend is correct, in the estimates for the two years combined, only two and three-quarter millions of money is being given; in other words a quarter of a million of money is missing in the second year from the amount which the rural areas expected to be able to get.

This is not a party question, but one which vitally affects the rural districts. The farmers find that these main roads cannot be used by their horses with anything like safety at all. Very often there are grass tracks by the side of these roads, on to which the ordinary roadman pitches dirt, or who cuts them up, which makes them impossible for horses to travel along. It would be most valuable if the Minister could give instruction that those grass tracks should be treated with the greatest care and preserved, so that horses could travel along them, and so that farmers could ride to market on them, or the huntsman could use on his way to a meet. It would all encourage horse breeding. If he did that, he would be doing something to removing a grievance which the road users have who are using these roads, and who find it so extraordinarily difficult for their horse traffic at the present time. That is only a small point but one on which I think if the right hon. Gentleman remembered it he could show a good deal of sympathy to that type of man who has a horse and wants to get a ride on the roadside and finds that a little bit of grass which is safe travelling in bad weather is cut to pieces.

Then I want to call attention to the terrible state of these main roads as far as Kent is concerned. I believe in one of the answers he gave something was said about a temporary surface on these roads. Are we to have in each case a period during which, owing to the temporary surface being not ready, it is not safe for our motor vehicles to go along? It is a very serious thing, and it really points to this, that the people who are undertaking the construction of these roads do not understand road making. Take the Maidstone road. The old main road runs alongside the newly made road, and the newly made road is thrown open to the public in this terrible state, being practically unsafe, and at the same time the old road is closed. At a time when we should like to use it we find it blocked. If that is the case on many of these newly made roads it would appear that the men who are in charge of them do not really understand making roads of that kind. Then there is the question of the surface. They are being constructed at extraordinary expense and an enormous number of men are being employed.

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order, No. 15, to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the Vote.

Question put, "That Item, Class II, Vote 16 (Ministry of Transport) be reduced by £100."


On a point of Order—


There can be no point of Order. It is Eleven o'Clock.


I want to raise a point of Order.

Question put, and negatived.

Resolution to be Reported upon Monday next.

Committee to sit again upon Monday next.