HC Deb 26 April 1926 vol 194 cc1710-1

I come next to the Road Fund. The revenue of the Road Fund is growing rapidly. The Estimate for last year was £1,000,000 over the Estimate of the year before. The yield of last year exceeded this increased Estimate by £500,000. The estimated yield of the existing Motor Licence Duties, which were designed in 1920 to produce about £8,000,000 a year, is for next year no less than £20,100,000—more than £2,000,000 increase on the increased yield of last year. There is also a surplus of nearly £19,000,000 in reserve. This island is better supplied with roads than any other equal area in the world, and those roads are better maintained than in any other country. We have also a magnificent railway system, on which £1,200,000,000 of British capital have been spent. The immense developments of motor transport since the War raise several serious questions. Of these the first is, what is the relationship of the roads to the railways, and of road transport to railway transport? No one can be unappreciative of the great advantage to the country of motor transport. The convenience, the pleasure of millions, is only a part, and the lesser part. In the spreading use of the motor lorry, we have evidently obtained a new and powerful stimulus to that internal trade which exceeds, perhaps, tenfold all the oversea transactions of the country.

5.0 P.M

A retrograde policy, or even a stand-still policy in motor transport, is a folly no one is ever likely to commit or is ever likely to be allowed to commit. Motor transport will steadily increase, and the roads must not only he maintained, but must progressively improve. Nevertheless, it is impossible to watch this development which is taking place both with regard to freight and passengers, without considering its reaction upon the railways. A gentleman who introduced a deputation to me the other day explained that the needs of the roads in the next few years were such that £200,000,000 or £300,000,000 of new expenditure would scarcely suffice to meet them. When we consider our limited capital and credit—public and private—and the heavy burdens that root upon the country, we may perhaps occasionally ask ourselves whether the rapid expenditure in these few years of £200,000,000 or £300,000,000 upon this new means of transport would be a wise undertaking, if at the same time the results were to render obsolete and bankrupt a railway system upon which the livelihood and the savings of a large part of the people depend. There must be some sense of proportion in these large issues, and some effort must be made by those who discuss them to consider, not merely a particular aspect which is presented to them, or which interests them, but must decide upon a long and general consideration of the necessities of the nation as a whole.

It will surely be agreed by motorists of all kinds that they should pay for the extra wear and tear which they cause to the roads. The light and medium motor cars and motor vans, broadly speaking, do this now, but there is one class of motor traffic which does not contribute its fair share, or anything like its fair share, in proportion to the damage it does to the roads. The heavy motor lorries, charabancs, and, above all, the heaviest vehicles which do not have rubber tyres, put a strain upon our roads which very few of them, in their present condition, are capable of bearing for any prolonged period of time. The railways complain that this competition is injurious and unfair. They say that they have to keep up their own permanent way, pay for their own signals, and, in addition, pay high rates for their competitors, the roads. Heavy motor transport will certainly make its way irresistibly, and it will certainly play an immense and growing part in our economic life. But it ought to make its way on its merits, and not by receiving a virtual subsidy at the expense of the whole community, including its own rivals. It is a mere act of justice to increase the taxation heavy vehicles to a closer correspondence with the wear and tear of the roads.