HC Deb 09 February 1926 vol 191 cc838-42
62. Mr. T. KENNEDY

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in view of his recent statement to a deputation of local authorities concerning his proposal to divert the Road Fund from the purposes to which it is pledged, whether he can give an assurance that his action will not arrest the progress of any of the important schemes already drawn up for improving the alignment of roads at dangerous places, the making of new bridges where urgently required, and the carrying out of any other plans for the speeding up of industrial and general traffic and the removal of road perils to life and limb?

61. Mr. J. HUDSON

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of his statement to the deputation of local authorities on the 27th ultimo, he will state if the Road Fund in future is to come under the control of the Treasury, or whether the Ministry of Transport will have the final word in the making of grants as at present; and, if not, what alternative he offers between the arrest of the work of making the roads adequate to the increased traffic and the placing of a heavy new burden on the ratepayers and on industry?

63. Mr. LAWSON

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, under his proposal to divert the Road Fund from road purposes, the Ministry of Transport will have unfettered powers or whether the local authorities will be compelled to go to the Treasury each time a road grant is needed?


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the fact that any proposal to divert the Road Fund or part thereof to non-road purposes would involve a reduction in the grants to local authorities for maintenance purposes from the present 50 per cent. to 25 per cent. in respect to first-class roads, and from the present 25 per cent. to nothing in respect of the second-class roads, consideration will he given to the added burden which would be imposed upon local authorities before any such proposal is decided upon?


I will answer these question's together. There is no intention of reducing the amount of money available for the maintenance of existing roads. On the contrary I contemplate that the funds available for this purpose should be increased, particu- larly in the case of rural roads. I have, however, been considering for many months past the whole question of the finances of the Road Fund and its relations to the Exchequer. Should the Government eventually decide to propose extensive changes in these matters, the plan and policy as a whole will be laid before Parliament in the Budget statement and will thereafter be examined under all the elaborate safeguards of our financial procedure. In the meanwhile, it is obviously impossible for rile to deal partially with the various detailed aspects of proposals which can only be judged as a whole, and I must claim from the House the latitude which has been invariably accorded to Chancellors of the Exchequer in the preparation and' explanation of the financial policy of the year.


In view of the repeated pledges given by different Governments and pledges by various Ministers, can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, before the Government reach any decision on this question, Parliament will have the opportunity of debating it?


I have always understood that it was the duty of the Government to submit the proposals which they thought right and wise to Parliament but I have never yet heard it contended that before the Government even made up their minds to submit proposals to the judgment of the House they should first obtain the judgment of the House as to whether they are entitled to frame them.


I am well aware of the customary procedure, but I would point out that in this instance repeated pledges have been already given by successive Governments, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, on view of that fact, whether he does not think that before a decision is reached the House of Commons should have a chance of debating it?


I think such an idea would conflict altogether with the principle of responsible government. It is the duty of the Government of the day to make up their minds as to what they advise as the best course for the country, and then to submit those proposals to Parliament and leave Parliament every opportunity for discussion.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that grants from the Road Fund are being held up in consequence of their not knowing what the Government are going to do in regard to this Road Fund?


No, Sir; a great deal of work is being done, but large commitments are not being embarked on.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

In view of the fact that the Treasury are prohibiting large commitments—is that in accordance with the spirit of consulting Parliament just adumbrated by the right hon. Gentleman?


Parliament is invariably consulted in matters which require legislative sanction, or which involve any financial expense. In regard to matters of administration, the Government take the course which they think fit, and all Parliamentary opportunities which are available enable the House to criticise the exercise of their administrative power.


Will the right hon. Gentleman at least see that the House has the same regular and full information that is given regularly to the Press on this matter?


I have given no information to the Press, and I think that none should be given at any time until the proposals of the Government are put forward as a whole but when we see statements made in the Press it does not follow that they are the result of information, they may be the result of surmise.


May we take it that the Press statement with regard to the Road Fund is merely intelligent anticipation?


I have seen about 20 different statements, many of which are contradictory. If I were to attempt to say which were right and which were wrong, I should certainly depart from the principle I have just asked the House to observe of reserving a full disclosure until the Budget speech is made.


Is it not the case that the Government policy in this matter is already in operation so far as the existing schemes for the improvement of roads are concerned?


No, Sir; no decision has been taken on the main question of principle up to the present time.