HC Deb 05 August 1925 vol 187 cc1472-90

I beg to move, in page 2, to leave out lines 17 to 22, inclusive.

On behalf of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) and the other Members whose names are attached to the Amendments on the Paper, I move to omit from the Preamble this paragraph: And whereas the Minister of Transport has determined to contribute out of the Road Fund towards the cost of the works by this Act authorised, a sum equal to one-half of such cost, but not exceeding two million five hundred thousand pounds, in accordance with the general conditions set forth in the First Schedule to this Act: The Bill provides for the making of a tunnel under the Mersey to connect Liverpool and Birkenhead. It is promoted by the Liverpool and Birkenhead Corporations and the tunnel is to be managed by a joint committee. The top half of the circular tunnel is to carry four lines of vehicular traffic, either motors or carts or whatever it may be. The Bill originally proposed to have in the underneath half a way for tramways, but both corporations decided that they did not want to have tramways. What we object to is that out of an estimated cost, of £5,000,000 for the construction of this tunnel no less a sum than £2,500,000 is to be contributed as a free grant out of the Road Fund, and there is a further provision under the Bill—which if it becomes law and is carried into execution is pretty certain to arise.—that if the estimated expenditure of £5,000,000— that is an engineer's estimate, and one never knew a contract that did not exceed the estimate—is exceeded, the Minister of Transport will further consider the payment of a further half of such excess. It is provided that the tunnel shall be free from rates and that it shall be able to collect tolls to the extent of £1,250,000, but not a farthing of that is ever to come back to the Road Fund. The reason I oppose the Clause is that here is a grant of £2,500,000 from this fund, which may possibly be £3,000,000 for the construction of only one mile of road while 100,000 miles of rural roads cannot get a shilling for their maintenance out of the fund. I say it is monstrously unfair, and I go further and say it was an illegal act to use this fund for the construction of a tunnel, and that the promoters of the Bill know that is clear from the fact that they have had to insert a. Clause, which one of the Amendments is to leave out, which was to get confirmation by the House of the grant of this money. I shall not detain the House long, because the case is so clear.

The Road Fund is exclusively formed, except for quite a trifling amount derived from income on investments, from taxes on motor vehicles. It is the class of persons who uses motor vehicles who alone provide the money for the Road Fund, and at the time that was initiated, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was distinctly stated—and it was so stated in order to obtain the large taxes that were put on motor vehicles—and pledges were given, that the amount contributed by motor taxpayers should be used for the construction, maintenance and upkeep of roads and bridges. That was the only purpose for which it could be used. [HON. MEMBERS: "This is a road!"] It is a tunnel. [HON. MEMBERS: "A road!"] I am not going to argue that. Parliament is omnipotent. The promoters did not think so, or they would not have put in this provision to confirm the improper use of this money.

A further fact is this, that in the administration by the Ministry of Transport of this Road Fund it has adopted a system of dividing the roads into three classes. We have the main roads, or first-class roads, we have the second-class roads, and the third-class roads, which are called uncertified or unclassified roads. The Minister has adopted the practice of making a grant to the local authorities of half the cost they spent in maintenance on main roads or class one roads, and 25 per cent. on second-class roads, but nothing at all is given to the unclassified rural roads. There are something like, in round figures, 140,000 miles of roads in this country, 40,000 of which are unclassified. It may be that there are a few more. There are 100,000 miles of roads unclassified. On behalf of the rural roads and the rural ratepayers and taxpayers, to whom the maintenance of the roads has became unbearable, we make this appeal. The highway rates, owing to the increased use of motor cars, have risen from something like Is. 6d. in the £ to something like an average of 5s. to 6s. in the £.

The rural ratepayers raised an objection in the House of Commons as long ago as February, 1923. They objected not to the classification but to the allocation of the money subscribed by the taxpayers for roads. On the 27th February, 1923, the House of Commons passed this Resolution. It is this which we have not been able to get put into operation, and which I am asking should be put into operation now. It was passed by 190 votes to 58 and a number of Members of the present Government voted with the majority: That, in the opinion of this House, the revenue raised by the taxation of mechanically-propelled vehicles should be adequate to cover the additional cost of road maintenance attributable to motor traffic, that the grants now paid to road authorities should be increased accordingly, and, since practically all rural roads are now used by motor vehicles, grants should also be allotted in respect of all these roads, whether classified or unclassified." — [OFFICIAL REPORT. 27th February, 1923; col. 1875, Vol. 160.] It will be observed that we did not seek and we do not seek now to be freed from the cost of maintaining the roads, but we do claim to receive out of the motor taxes our proper share of the increased cost that is brought upon us by the development of motor traffic. Experience has shown that, roughly, 90 per cent. of the traffic on the roads to-day is motor propelled. The horse vehicular traffic is only about 10 per cent. If we get what we say we are entitled to, namely, a proper share of the allocation of the funds, every one would pay alike. Our motor-car users would pay their share. The income under the Minister's control is an increasing income. Last year it was £16,000,000, and it will be more this year. I think last year it was £17,000,000. The Resolution that we passed two and a-half years ago provided that the Minister should take steps to meet the declared wishes of Parliament. He did not carry out the terms of the Motion that we should have our share of the fund for the maintenance of these unclassified roads, brought about by motor traffic from London and elsewhere. He did devote a sum of about £1,000,000 to widening and straightening and constructional repairs of these roads, but not one penny did we get for the 100,000 miles of rural roads for maintenance. We say that we ought to have our share.

We cannot agree to £2,500,000, rising to £3,000,000, going for one mile of road, when there are 100,000 miles of roads for which we do not get a shilling. I appeal to every fair-minded man in the House to say whether that is not a position that is absolutely unassailable. It cannot be attacked if anyone comes to a fair and unbiased decision. It is no part of my duty to attack the benefits of the Mersey Tunnel, but it is worthy of observation that the two boroughs at each end of that tunnel, Bootle and Wallasey, do not even think it worth their while to join in the scheme. I mention this in answer to any speeches that may be made saying that it is of national importance that this tunnel should be made. If Liverpool and Birkenhead want this tunnel, they should pay for it. They should pay for it because it is a benefit for their industry and their people. What use is the Mersey Tunnel to a person like myself living in Sussex and paying my own motor taxes there? Why should my money be taken to this extent? Why should we not have our share who live in Sussex? Why should we not have our share for the maintenance of our roads, which are cut up by other people? That is the purpose for which the Road Fund was instituted. It is on that ground that, first of all, this £2,500,000 should never have been granted, that I object. If the sum had been less, probably we should not have made this protest. The grant of this money is probably an illegal act, and it has to be ratified by Parliament. We do not get anything. That is contrary to the intention of Parliament declared two and a-half years ago.

I only wish I know how the Liverpool Members wangled this £2,500,000 out of the Minister of Transport. We who represent every county and rural seat in England have failed to move that adamantine party. I hope that to-night he will see that we have made an unanswerable case. If he will promise that in future he will take care that we have our share of the allocation of the Road Fund for the purpose for which it is contributed, and for the purpose for which it ought to be used, namely, the maintenance of the roads—we do not ask for more than our share—I should probably feel inclined to say, "Let them have their £2,500,000," but if we cannot get our share—


You will play the dog in the manger.


We shall certainly do our best to prevent this unfair allocation


I beg to second the Amendment. I do not go quite so far as my hon. Friend in opposition to this tunnel, because I do feel that the tunnel will be of inestimable benefit to the people of Lancashire and Cheshire, but I speak on behalf of one of the poorest agricultural divisions in England. In my division there is nothing but agriculture and market gardeners. There is not a factory of any kind and not even a brickyard employing 25 men. But we do not grudge these other people having the money to make this tunnel, provided that we get something like a fair share for our roads. I put the matter from the point of view of my own county, Gloucester. I have been on the county council for 22 years and have been a member of the highway committee, the whole of that time. We have in the county about 3,000 miles of roads, of which 1,017 are main roads. The county council main roads are divided into three classes. For the first class we get 50 per cent. of maintenance and for the second class 25 per cent., and for the remainder of the main roads we do not get a penny piece. Of the 3,000 miles, only about 460 miles in the county of Gloucester, whether first or second class, get any grant at all, which means that considerably over 2,000 miles do not get a penny for maintenance purposes. We have something like 2,000 smallholders, market gardeners and allotment holders in my division. Many of them were planted on the land before the War, but the greater number have been planted on the land since the War, and by sheer hard work there are only from 4 to 6 per cent. of those men who have not made good.

These men feel this. When I go down to a meeting of these smallholders and market gardeners, as I shall have to do during the Recess, supposing I made no protest to-night they would say to me, "Were you in the House of Commons when £2,500,000 was voted for some place of which we have never heard?" [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the schools?"] I wonder how many school children today know where Birkenhead is? We have heard of Birkenhead in the other House, but not much about the town of Birkenhead. They would say, "Did you vote for giving £2,500,000 between Birkenhead and Liverpool? If so, what did you get for us poor devils in this part of the country?" How can you justify that? We cannot. So give every credit to the Ministry which looks after transport, whether under the present Minister or under his predecessor. Whenever I have been to the Minister—and I have worried him, God knows, many times without getting much out of him, and I have had deputations from his Department coming to my division and seeing the roads for themselves—they have always been most polite, and certainly if the present Minister of Transport had his way we should have had this grant long ago, but he has got the Treasury behind him, and this is a very important point.

I consider that the Treasury have no right to take this money and use it for any other purpose except for roads. Constitutionally, when an Act of Parliament is passed imposing a certain tax upon a cer- tain proportion of the people, and only upon that proportion, for one express purpose, making, maintaining and imporoving roads, they have no right to use it for unemployment or anything else. I have one of the poorest divisions in England. It is more than half the County of Gloucester, and when the Minister rises I hope that he will be able to say "because of the poverty of that part of the country, and because of the want of any maintenance for the 100,000 miles of rural roads, he will give some relief. You people here in London send your vans all over our roads, you can see Harrods and Maples vans and the vans of everybody from London. If people move their furniture or transfer from one part of the country to another, the vans come over our roads. Lyons tea and all the other things which come from the big towns come over our roads. This is very hard on our poor people. They are poor people. Many of these smallholders are getting less than an agricultural labourer, and I ask the Minister to consider seriously whether he cannot satisfy our people by realising at last that the Road Board Fund is not for the big towns and main roads only, but that a certain proportion is due to the poorer parts of the country. If he will do that I do not care twopence whether those who are concerned get this Bill or not.

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Colonel Ashley)

Considering the strength of their feeling on this matter, my two hon. Friends have moved and seconded their Motion in very moderate terms. As a county councillor myself, as one who for some time was a rural district councillor, I do appreciate the state of things in the rural districts. I know how difficult it always was in the rural districts to make the two ends meet, and how difficult it was to persuade one's constituents in the rural area that so much money should be spent on road communication. So it is not, believe me, from any want of sympathy that more money has not been given to roads in the rural areas. I may point out also, although it does not strike my hon. Friends at present, that two years ago, when I occupied the position of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, I was the first person to initiate the policy of some money, at any rate, being given to rural roads. It may not have been given exactly in the form which my hon. Friend would have wished, but at any rate the result has been that within the last few years £5,000,000 more has been available for rural road purposes than ever before was given and I think that my hon. Friends ought to bear that in mind when considering this question. When this project of the Mersey Tunnel was brought before me, the question I had to ask myself was, Is this a project which one could justify in one's own mind as a project to which one could devote a large sum of money from the traffic and the communication point of view? I went into the matter very carefully, and it seemed obvious that it was a project which could be justified in one's own mind, and, what is perhaps much easier, could be justified in this House.

What does it do? It will, when completed, afford a very magnificent artery of trade between Lancashire and Liverpool on the one side, and Birkenhead, Cheshire and North Wales on the other. It will help the traffic in the south very considerably by enabling it to avoid the congested areas of Manchester and Salford It will give immediate employment in Liverpool and the surrounding districts, not only to those resident in the district but also to some extent to the steel and allied trades, which will receive a much needed stimulus from the creation of this tunnel. Remember this, too. It will undoubtedly benefit the whole country, because if you benefit Lancashire you must benefit the whole country. It will benefit the whole country by enabling commercial people to move much more quickly and far more cheaply from one side of the Mersey to the other. Therefore. I had no doubt that I was doing the right thing, and I still think that I was doing the right thing in allocating this sum of money from the road point of view. I was not prejudging the issue. All that I said was, "If Parliament agrees to this project going through, I will find the money," obviously subject to the consent of Parliament after the Bill was passed.

The opposition to this Bill on the ground that a grant has been promised from the Road Fund to the detriment of other claimants for assistance from that fund is not justified, I think. Contributions are made from the Road Fund towards the maintenance of roads on a generous scale, and there are traffic improvements which are overdue if we are to meet the growing demands of road traffic, to which a contribution from the Road Fund is proper and reasonable. Of such major improvements, the Mersey Tunnel is, in my opinion, one of the most important.

At the same time, I have for some time realised the feelings of my hon. Friends representing rural districts, with whom I have been in conference, in view of the increasing wear on their roads caused by motor traffic, and I have been considering for some months past how far I could go in meeting their legitimate demands. I am now in a position, with the consent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to announce further provision for their assistance. It must be realised, however, that claims on the Road Fund are very heavy and are growing. The financial position is that, while we have a considerable cash balance in hand, the whole of that money has been promised to works which are already approved and in practically all cases already commenced.

Looking forward, the position is that, after making allowance for the necessary provision for Class 1 and Class 2 roads, and other calls on the Road Fund, including the existing rate of provision for the improvement of roads in rural areas, the balance of the annual receipts of the Fund, including estimated increases, is required for existing commitments up to 1930-31. In view, however, of the real needs of the rural districts, it is proposed to increase the already large provision I have made by another £750,000 next year. It is anticipated that this money will be available, partly owing to the slower rate of progress of the important new works than was originally estimated. This new provision for rural roads will be available for unclassified roads, and I propose that every authority essentially rural in character, including certain counties and urban districts, shall have an opportunity of benefiting from this special allocation. This assistance will, however, be given only to specified work of definite value; for example, strengthening, surfacing or tar spraying, as distinct from ordinary patching and maintenance.

The grant will not exceed 50 per cent. of the estimated expenditure, and will depend upon the extent of the improvement. For works of a temporary character, such as re-surfacing and tar spraying, it will be at the 25 per cent, rate usual for second-class roads. No condition will be attached that on completion of the works the road shall be taken over by the county council as a main road. That last sentence is of considerable importance from the rural district council point of view. Many hon. Members rather thought that the grants had been by way of a bait or bribe to induce the rural district councils to give up their roads and hand them over to county councils. I do not know whether my statement has gone as far as my hon. Friends would wish. What emerges is this, that next year £750,000 extra will be available in rural areas for unclassified roads. I think my hon. Friends will agree that that is a very considerable advance on what we have done in the past, and I hope they will now withdraw their opposition and allow the Bill to pass.


Do I understand that all purely rural areas will be entitled to some of that money?

Colonel ASHLEY

Let me read the statement again. The money will be available "for unclassified roads and I have proposed that every authority essentially rural in character, including certain counties and urban districts, shall have an opportunity of benefiting from this special allocation."


In addition to the special grant for improvement?

Colonel ASHLEY



Perhaps the opponents of the Bill, having heard the speech of the Minister, may see their way to withdraw their opposition? Perhaps the House will allow me to put that question to them, and then, if its answer is, as I hope it may not be, in the negative, allow me to go on with my speech.


I rise at once to thank the Minister for what he has said. As I stated, what I wanted was that the roads in the country districts should get a fair share of the Road Fund. In view of the Minister's statement, I do not propose to fight the Bill any further. What the Minister has done meets my views, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.



Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)

If the hon. Member makes a speech, the Amendment cannot be withdrawn.


I really wish to point out that this new grant of £750,000 seems to me to be hampered by practically the same restrictions as the allocation of the £5,500,000 of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke earlier in his speech.


On a point of Order. Has the speech of the hon. Gentleman any relevance whatever to the Bill before the House?


I have not yet had an opportunity of listening to the arguments of the hon. Member.


On a point of Order. Is the House right in understanding that the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. B. Peto) is asking a question and not making a speech?


If the hon. Member intervenes the Amendment cannot be withdrawn.


May I make a suggestion? If the hon. Member for Barnstaple wishes to discuss this matter, at greater length, an opportunity will be afforded on the Third Beading of the Bill.


That is so. The hon. Member will have another opportunity of discussing the merits of the Bill on the Motion for the Third Reading.


I thank you, Sir, for your suggestion, and I shall be pleased to take that opportunity.

Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE

Are we to understand that tar-spraying is included in the terms of the Minister's offer?

Colonel ASHLEY

I would ask the hon. and gallant Member to read my statement. I cannot go into small details.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, "That Standing Orders 223 and 243 be suspended, and that the Bill be now read the Third time."

I am extremely glad that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) withdrew his Amendment on the Report stage. Had he not done so, it would have been my duty, on such an occasion as this—a very rare occasion—to offer some advice to the House. I am in no way concerned with the merits of the Bill, but I am concerned with the procedure of the House. The Amendment of the hon. and learned Member was one which, if persisted in, would have been fatal to the Bill. It was made on the Report stage of the Bill, while, if it ware made consistently, it should have been made on the Second Reading of the Bill. It was hardly fair to the promoters of the Bill that, after they had obtained the Second Reading and after this Bill had gone through Committees of both. Houses, a Second Reading point should have been raised on the Report stage. Of course, if it was only raised for the purpose of eliciting a statement of policy from the Government, there is no objection to that course. But I think it necessary on this occasion to put in a word of warning—in case a similar point should arise on a further Bill—that it is really not carrying out the spirit of Private Bill procedure to raise on the Report stage a matter which should have been taken on Second Reading. However, as the hon. and learned Member has not pressed his Amendment to a Division; and as it has only been the means of eliciting a statement, I make no complaint. It is only in view of what may happen on another occasion that I think it necesary to put in this warning.


On behalf of the agricultural Members of the House I beg respectfully to enter a protest against what the Chairman of Ways and Means has said. My Amendment, I submit, was absolutely in Order and could not have been ruled out of Order. So far as the question of raising the matter on the Second Reading of the Bill is concerned, I and those Members who act with me have not the slightest notion that such a provision was in the Bill, and it was only when it came to our notice that we took this action. I adopted a similar course some years ago in regard to a Bolton Corporation Bill on the Third Reading, without any such protest being made, and we knocked out the Clause.

9.0 P.M.


In view of the fact that the Amendment proposed on the Report stage by the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) has elicited an important statement from the Minister of Transport, I desire to intervene on the Third Reading of the Bill. I would point out that the main protest of my hon. and learned Friend against the administration of the Road Fund was that the rural roads which were damaged by motor traffic circulating throughout the whole country, received no grant whatever from the Road Fund for maintenance. I under- stood the right hon. Gentleman to indicate that there would be an allocation of £750,000 as a set-off to the £2,500,000 which is to be granted to the great and wealthy Corporation of Liverpool in aid of their Mersey Tunnel, but this grant is to be hampered by the condition that it must be spent on the improvement of roads and on working them up to the standard of second class or first class roads. In that respect the concession is unsatisfactory. We say, broadly speaking, that the rural roads are adequately maintained for the traffic which they were constructed to bear, and it is only when heavy traffic, which comes from outside the rural districts, cuts them up that this heavy burden is involved.


May I ask your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Has a discussion of rural roads anything to do with the Bill before the House?


I think indirectly it has.


I will satisfy the hon. Member that what I am saying has a very direct bearing on the question because if the Road Fund is to be raised for one specific purpose to the extent of £2,500,000, then we must expect to get more than the concession we have received from the Minister of Transport, hampered as it is by the restricting words which the Minister read to the House. As the Minister said in his own argument, the Road Fund was pledged up to 1931. They had no money for rural roads, but they had £2,500,000 for Liverpool to construct a tunnel. This Measure contains the most amazing provision I have ever seen in a Bill. It is not like an English Act of Parliament at all, but seems to belong to a totally different order of legislation. We are often told by hon. Members that if this country were to adopt another fiscal policy we should have log-rolling and all that kind of thing. Here we find a Bill passed through the House of Commons which enables the Liverpool Corporation for 20 years to levy tolls on the use of this road tunnel under the Mersey. Even a hearse has to pay 3s. 6d. every time it goes through. To whom is this paid? It is to be paid to the Liverpool Corporation until £1,250,000 have been accumulated. How is the tunnel to be constructed? Out of the fees paid by motor car users all over the country. I do not think that is legislation on the lines to which we are accustomed in this country, and I think it is an evil precedent that one great corporation should be able to raid, not the Exchequer but, worse, a fund accumulated by heavy taxation on the motor users of the country. This money was intended for the purpose of maintaining and improving the roads of the country, and this portion of it is now to be allotted for one specific purpose and in one specific spot. I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead raised a protest, and I am glad that protest has been effective to a certain extent, though not to the extent I should have liked. At any rate, something, even though it is subject to conditions, is to be given to the rural roads, but we shall not be satisfied until we have a fair share of the Road Fund to which we all contributed—not for the improvement of the rural roads, so that they may be rendered fit for traffic for which they were never originally intended, but in order that they may be maintained against the constant and increasing depreciation caused entirely by outside traffic. That is the principle we shall maintain until we have got justice for the rural districts in this matter.


I recognise that the House is prepared to give a Third Reading to this Bill, and that the promoters are anxious to have their fears allayed and the Bill safely through, but I wish to put one consideration which arises, I think, not inappropriately on this Debate, which intervened in the discussion on unemployment. I would like, if I can, without incurring the censure of the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton), to make two brief observations on what has already fallen from the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley). I agree with him that any attempt to divert these funds to other purposes would be a breach of faith with those from whom they have been raised. The hon. and learned Member referred to the perfectly clear statement of the position which was made in 1909 by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). During the War these funds were diverted, but the statement made in 1909 was strengthened by the fact that in 1920, when these funds were again put to the use for which they were originally intended, the bargain that was made with those who contributed to it was in a sense reaffirmed, and I think it would be a breach of faith if anything else were done with the money. Secondly, I am sure that everybody will recognise that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have always shown themselves sympathetic to the interests represented by the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead, and we are perfectly sure that the relief which has been announced and any further relief will be due to their efforts solely.

I want to draw attention to the way in which this £2,500,000 has been allocated for this purpose. In the Memorandum which was circulated by the promoters of the Bill there is a paragraph which points out that the work will provide employment for the unemployed. Anybody who knows the divisions of Liverpool and Birkenhead will realise at once the immense value of an undertaking of this kind. Anybody who has suffered the lack of amenities on the existing Mersey Tunnel or who has endeavoured to cross on the existing ferry boats or to get a vehicle across on the existing ferry boats for that purpose, will realise that an undertaking of this kind will not only be a convenience and give employment, but will be a wealth-producing agency practically for ever. Therefore, of course, it is in no sense in opposition to the undertaking that I am speaking, but I want to draw attention to the statement that this undertaking will provide employment for a large number at present on the dole, and, which is equally important, will involve large orders for the steel and other industries.

The Mersey Tunnel is not the only undertaking of this kind which would provide employment in the iron and steel industries. The hon. Members above the Gangway on this side of the House earlier to-day have been urging that the Government should do more in this direction. Let us consider what has happened. A sum of £2,500,000 is going to be raised by the districts concerned, and a similar sum will be contributed as a grant by the Ministry of Transport, but because this work is of such capital importance, an exception has been made to the Standing Orders of this House to enable these localities to borrow for a period of 80 years; that is to say, it is recognised that, more than most undertakings of this kind, this is work of a capital nature which will continue to produce revenue. Nobody would have contended for a moment that that £2,500,000 raised by the localities should have been paid out of the annual revenue derived from the undertaking, and I am going to suggest that the claims of the hon. and learned Member for Fast Grinstead and his colleagues could he easily met in a more generous spirit than they have been if the right hon. Gentleman would have a little courage and a little more vision and try to impress upon his colleagues in the Cabinet that through the Ministry of Transport there could be made a very great contribution to the grave unemployment problem with which we are faced.

Some months ago. during the course of discussion on the Ministry of Transport Vote, I made the suggestion that a portion of the Road Fund should be capitalised, and I want now to remind the House that in 1909, when the Road Board was originally set up, there was a provision in the Finance Act of that year to the effect that £200,000 of the Road Fund could be used for the purpose of obtaining a loan. The Road Fund itself amounted in the first year to £600,000; in other words, one third of it was to be devoted for the purpose of raising a loan out of the total revenue, and my contention is that in a work of this magnitude the contribution which is made from the Road Fund should be made by way of loan and not by way of contribution out of the annual revenue. Further than that, if that principle were followed, there would be more available for rural roads—and everybody on all sides agrees with the case so persistently and patiently made out by hon. Members, chiefly on the other side—and if, Bay, a third of the total fund were so utilised, not only capital works like the Mersey Tunnel, but other large undertakings could be put in hand, and we could at this period make a very considerable contribution to the unemployment problem, and also hasten forward works all over the country which are very badly wanted.


Perhaps the House will allow me, in a few sentences, on behalf of the Rural District Councils Association—of which I have the honour this year to be President, representing rural district councils in all parts of the country, some 500 or 600 in number—to say to the Minister that we appreciate his action as explained in his speech. After all, the Minister is only carrying out what was the expressed mandate of the House in 1923, but, more than that, he is carrying out the declaration made by his own colleague away back five years ago, when the Home Secretary of to-day told the House that this Road Fund was to be used, not merely for the improvement, but for the maintenance of existing roads. Up to this point, 171 of our rural district councils have had nothing whatever from this Road Fund; 50,000 miles of unclassified roads have had nothing at all. That is being remedied.

I should like very much to make sure that this money is really going to be available for the reduction of rural district council road budgets in respect of maintenance where that maintenance is of an improving character. The Minister does not respond to that, but upstairs, when we had the good fortune to have him in the Committee, we understood that that was what was moving in his own mind. We feel that the burden thrown on our rates is an impossible burden, and it does become the duty of the Minister, in carrying out the mandate of the House, to see that some fair share of this fund should come to us in the reduction of the road budget, in so far as the maintenance is of an improving character. I would also remind the right hon. Gentleman how strong is the feeing throughout rural districts, as well as amongst agricultural Members in this House, that we will resist to the utmost any diversion of this Road Fund to electrical or other purposes which have nothing to do with the maintenance of the roads, and we earnestly hope in that matter we shall have his support.


I do not intervene in this Debate for the purpose of prolonging this discussion, although I have very strong views on the subejct. But I rise to ask a question. I want to know whether, in the event of this tunnel being converted, in part, into a railway, which can obviously be done, if we refer to paragraph 4 of the First Schedule, that there will be sufficient road left for the use of motorists. Provision is made in the First Schedule that In the event of tramways or railways being at any time laid through the tunnel a sum of £500,000 shall be repaid to the Road Fund at the date of the commencement of the construction of such tramways or railways. When we appreciate the fact that an less than £2,500,000 is to be paid out. of the Road Fund for the construction of this tunnel, a sum which may be increased in certain circumstances, as set out in the First Schedule, it is important to know whether or not there will be sufficient room for motorists.

Colonel ASHLEY

The answer is in the affirmative.


There is one observation I want to make. I must say, speaking as a Member who is not unduly interested in the Mersey Tunnel, I am rather perturbed at the course of the Debate to-night. I cannot think it can be wise that the House should allow its judgment as to the wisdom or unwisdom of using the money of the Road Fund for the Mersey Tunnel to be too much deflected by whether other money is used for quite different purposes. I think that the cross-examination to which some hon. Members have tried to put the Minister in regard to a matter entirely alien to the Mersey Tunnel is an extraordinary method of using the procedure of a Private Bill. We are really here considering, aye or no, Shall the money of the Road Fund be used for the Mersey Tunnel? If it be right to use it for the Mersey Tunnel, the Bill should have the Third Reading. Everybody from all sides of the House has admitted it should be so used, and yet hon. Members, one after another, say, "We are willing that this good work should go on, on condition that you will give us a concession for something else." That is the way it has struck me, taking a perfectly independent line.

If the House is right in paying this money for the purpose of the Mersey Tunnel, while the Minister is perfectly entitled to satisfy hon. Members' fears on other matters, I say that to cross-examine the Minister on a matter which ought to be raised on some separate occasion, seems to me a wrong method of dealing with the matter of a Private Bill of this sort. There is one other observation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"] If hon. Members are agreed, so much the better, but five or six hon. Members have spoken from the other side, and I intend to say what I wish to say. I have been impressed by what has been said by the Chairman of Committees, that this point has been raised on the very last stage of the Bill. The merits have been considered in Committee and the Bill has been approved. It is in the interest of Liverpool and of the nation. Yet we are asked to spend a long time in discussing irrelevant matters about rural roads, and when we speak on the question of the Mersey Tunnel, those who have spent so much time on irrelevant matters call out "Agreed!"


May I appeal to the House to give the Bill the Third Reading now? [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"] It is a matter of real national importance, because of the assistance it will give both to the export trade and to the import trade.


I would like to add, from this side of the House, our tribute to the help we have had from the promoters and the interested parties. We are convinced that when the Bill is put on the Statute Book, it will be a real asset, not only to the people of Lancashire and Cheshire, but to the nation as a whole.

King's Consent, on behalf of the Crown and on behalf of the Duchy of Lancaster, signified.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.