HC Deb 15 April 1929 vol 227 cc56-8

I have another announcement to make about the expenditure in connection with roads. During the Debates on the Local Government Bill, I declared a further increase in the percentage grants for the maintenance of classified roads and bridges—an increase from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. in the case of Class I, and from 334 per cent. to 50 per cent. in the case of Class II roads. That was at a cost of £2,600,000 a year, with consequent relief to rates, and especially to county rates. I am glad to say that the balance of the Fund at the end of the year has turned out to be larger than was expected; it amounts to about £4,500,000. We propose, therefore, now to make a corresponding increase in the percentage grants for road improvements and new construction. For the year 1929, the normal road grants for these purposes will be 60 per cent. of the approved cost in the case of Class I roads, and 50 per cent. in the case of approved schemes for all roads and bridges other than Class I; and, as an inducement to local authorities to assist in the transference of labour from depressed areas, we have decided to give an additional grant of 15 per cent. in respect of all schemes on which not less than 50 per cent. of men drawn from such areas are employed, provided that they are engaged through the Employment Exchanges. The additional allocation in the Road Fund Budget for these purposes, as well as for those of accelerating the reconstruction of weak bridges in private ownership on important roads—


Sending up the land values!


We all know that the hon. Gentleman has a bee in his bonnet on that point—and the replacement of level crossings by bridges, is estimated to bring the total expenditure out of the Road Fund this year up to £23,000,000, as compared with £15,000,000 a year when the Government took office. This substantial contribution towards the aggregate road expenditure of this country, which now approaches £60,000,000 a year, is, in my view, as much as we can prudently afford to take from the national income at the present time.

Returning to the main argument, in our deliberate view unemployment can only be reduced to the normal by the revival of industry as a whole, and especially by the revival of the basic industries. Such a revival will draw men and women now unemployed through a thousand channels back into their own trades, or into kindred employment for which their previous training has not un-suited them. That is far preferable to setting the unemployed to work in masses on road construction or other forms of public works, even if such a plan could be carried out upon any large scale for any length of time. In some quarters it has been urged that the Government should seek for opportunities of utilising the national credit for stimulating general trade, and, in particular, for assisting in the process of rationalisation. Such transactions are far better dealt; with in the sphere of regular business than by the direct intervention of the Government. What can be done in this sphere is well exemplified by the Lancashire Cotton Corporation, formed, under the auspices of the Bank of England. I have reason to believe that the City of London is willing and anxious to assist when similar cases arise in other basis industries.