HC Deb 19 June 1935 vol 303 cc492-501

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

10.42 p.m.


I cannot let this Clause slip through in the same way as the others. It is a Clause of very considerable importance, and although I do not intend to detain the Committee for long I feel it raises a question which should be brought before the Committee at this stage. In this Clause the Chancellor proposes to raid the Road Fund, and I think I may get some sympathetic support from all quarters of the Committee in protesting against his action in this respect. It is within the knowledge of the Committee that when the Road Fund was set up there were pledges given that the money should be devoted to the improvement of the road system of the country and to that purpose alone. It is because during the last few years the money has not been used for its proper purpose, but has accumulated and created a surplus, that the Chancellor is able to take the action to which I object. Frankly, if the roads of the country had been properly maintained, if the road system were to-day an adequate system and no improvements were required, I would be perfectly willing that the money should be taken by the Chancellor and used for other purposes.

I agree that hypothecated revenues are bad in any financial system, and that a pledge given on a particular matter in 1909 cannot be binding on Parliament for ever. But it is because I maintain that the Road Fund money has not been used for the purpose for which it is intended; because new roads are urgently needed and old roads need widening, and because the road service of the country is far from what it should be, and the Government have not encouraged local authorities to use the Road Fund for the purpose for which it was instituted, that the money has accumulated and the Chancellor takes it in order to balance his Budget. When the Vote for the Ministry of Transport was under consideration, Member after Member pointed out how seriously inadequate were the road services in his constituency, and what a handicap those inadequate services were to industry, to transport and to the travelling public. Nowadays, as a result of the development of omnibus services and so forth, the public as a whole are vitally interested in having proper roads.

At the present time, not only in the rural districts but throughout the country generally, there are roads which should, long ago, have been widened and improved, towns which should have been by-passed and danger points which should have been eliminated. I say, and I can speak with some knowledge, that in regard to London and other built-up areas the local authorities have not only not been encouraged but have received actual discouragement in connection with the dispensation of Road Fund money for necessary and urgent improvements which would avoid congestion and do away with dangers to life and limb. Under the regulations brought in by the Government in 1933 the Government only contribute to part of the cost of road widening. In the past the Government used to contribute fully to the cost of necessary road widening but now they only contribute to the actual work and property. They do not contribute to what is, usually, in built-up areas the larger part of the cost, namely, compensation for disturbance and the cost of re-housing people who are displaced.

In London we find in the case of Class I roads which are in urgent need of widening and the improvement of which is agreed by the Ministry of Transport itself to be necessary, when the Government nominally give a 60 per cent contribution, as the compensation factor has been eliminated, the local authority only gets 20 per cent. from the Government and 80 per cent. of the burden falls on the ratepayers. The money which the Chancellor is now taking ought to have been used for those improvements, and it is because of the Government's neglect in that respect that this raid is now taking place. In connection with a most important improvement in London, namely, the widening of Gracechurch Street, the Ministry of Transport wrote in March this year that it could not make a contribution towards the work because all the money in the fund had been allocated. It was indicated that in January the position had been the same. To what was the money allocated? If it had been allocated to road improvements, how was there a surplus of £4,500,000? Had it been allocated to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to enable him to balance his Budget?

However that may be, the situation is extremely unsatisfactory particularly in view of the assertion from the Chancellor and, the Minister of Transport that they intend embarking on a vast five-year plan of road improvement. That sounds bold and revolutionary, but if one takes the day to day administration at present and what has happened last year, one must recognise that local authorities, so far from being encouraged are being discouraged in this matter. The Chancellor said very graciously that if it was found that the Road Fund required more money in future he would consider any application which the Minister of Transport might make. That sort of undertaking was rather humiliating to the Ministry of Transport and the road interests of the country. But in this connection I would like to ask this question: If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to make a, loan to the Road Fund on some future occasion on the application of the Minister of Transport, is interest to be charged on that loan, as in the past? If so, an additional burden will be thrown on the Road Fund, and an additional burden will be put on the development of the roads of the country which should not be put upon them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is acting in a double capacity. He was accused in the Second Reading debate by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) of being a highwayman, coming along and seizing somebody else's property. He is not only a highwayman; he is something worse, because having come along and seized all the money in the bag and rendered the Road Fund penniless, he is then prepared as a moneylender to say "We have robbed you, and you now have nothing at all; but we are prepared to lend you money at a certain rate of interest in order to keep you alive." The Chancellor of the Exchequer in that transaction seems to be combining the worst characteristics of a highwayman and a moneylender.

I suggest that this is not the time when the Road Fund should be raided, because the Committee must remember that the development of roads in this country depends absolutely on the amount of money in the Road Fund and the willingness of the Government to use that money. Road traffic is growing daily. Congestion on the roads is growing very much worse. The local authorities are carrying heavier burdens than ever. They are unable, out of their own resources, to build or widen the roads necessary, and at the same time there are very large numbers of unemployed people who could be employed in building roads. This is the very worst time to raid the Road Fund, and doing so is a very serious disservice to the best interests of the country. The efficient transport of the country is vital to the proper running of industries, many of which depend very largely on being able to transport their goods quickly and easily from one place to another. Not only industries, but the travelling public are being severely handicapped and penalised by this Clause. I suggest to the Committee that in order to balance this Budget and make it a popular electioneering Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken a short view of this fund that is urgently wanted for other purposes, and is thereby seriously damaging the interests of the country.

10.54 p.m.


I regret that we have reached this late hour before coming to this Clause, because in my judgment it is the most distasteful Clause in the whole of the Budget. I do not want to trace the history of the Road Fund, but I know the Chancellor of the Exchequer has disputed the idea on previous occasions that it was ever laid down that the whole of the Petrol Tax, or any of the Petrol Tax for that matter, should be allocated to the development of roads. I do not think it can be challenged so far as the institution of the Road Fund is concerned. I think that when the Road Fund was instituted in the Budget of 1909 or 1910, everybody was agreed that it should be a fund allocated specifically for the development of roads in this country. This is not the first time that a raid has been made upon the Road Fund. As a matter of fact, I think it is the third raid. It is a fact that not one-third of the money that has been raised by taxation on the transport of this country has been paid by the Exchequer for the development of the roads. The responsibility for the development of the roads in this country is laid upon the Ministry of Transport, but the real power to do it rests with the Treasury. I think it is right that the Treasury should have some power over all expenditure, but I suggest that it ought to be possible, at the beginning of any year, for the Treasury to state definitely what amount is to be expended on roads, and then a policy could be formulated by the Minister of Transport, who would know in advance what money could be spent on road development. There is another point. We are all concerned about the loss of life on the roads, and while one much appreciates the efforts made by the Minister of Transport to reduce road accidents, there can be no challenging the statement that there is room for a tremendous improvement of the roads themselves. It is a great mistake that we should at this time take £4,000,000 from the Road Fund. It is often said to me by members of local authorities that motorists should pay for the use of the roads, and it is because those members of local authorities do not realise the tremendous amount that is taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for ordinary Exchequer purposes that they make that statement. If what was paid by the road users was actually used in providing roads for motor transport, no statement of that description would be made.

It is too late to go fully into this question, but I want to raise a protest against the further raiding of the Road Fund at the very moment when we ought to be using our endeavours to make the roads safer for those using them and to provide some employment for those who are suffering from unemployment. I hope we shall take this Clause to a Division, and I should like to see some of those hon. Members who are concerned about the proper road development of this country showing their disapproval of the Clause by going into the Lobby against the Government on it.

10.58 p.m.


The subject of this Clause was fully discussed on the Report stage of the Budget Resolution, and I think it would be unfair to the Committee to repeat at this late hour the arguments and statements of which I then made use. I therefore propose very briefly to deal with the points which have been raised by the two hon. Members who have spoken. First of all, on the question of pledges, it is not the case that everyone will agree that the amount in the Road Fund should be used exclusively for road purposes. As has been pointed out already, this is not the first or the second but the third time that the fund has been used for other purposes. Secondly, on the question of finance, it is obvious that the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) does not appreciate what is the procedure. I have noticed that there is always confusion in the minds of some hon. Members as to the way in which the Road Fund is administered. You cannot simply take money and spend it tomorrow on schemes just because some hon. Member comes along and says, "I think this or that corner should be taken off, or this or that road should be widened." You have to make plans considerably in advance of your work, and it is only by degrees, as those plans come to maturity, that the money is required. When the hon. Member says that while he does not dispute that the Treasury should have a say as to the amount of money that is spent, yet the Minister of Transport ought to know at the beginning of the year what amount of money he will have available, he is evidently not aware that that is exactly what the Minister of Transport does know, that is to say, he knows what commitments he will have to meet. We have a surplus now in the fund that has accumulated owing to the fact that the economies of 1931 slowed down the commitments; and as the commitments were slowed down, so, of course, the amount of money spent in subsequent years has slowed down, too, and we have for the time being a small balance available in the fund. The £4,500,000 would not do all those things which the hon. Member who spoke first would like done to the roads.

May I make this observation on a remark of the hon. Member for South Bradford, who associated the question of safety on the roads with the expenditure of money on the improvement of the roads. I do not deny that by the expenditure of money you may perhaps increase safety on the roads, but I think that it is going altogether too far to assume that because you widen a road, or cut off a corner, or make it possible, in other words, for motorists to go faster than they have been going, you are adding to the safety of the roads. In the district which I happen to know very well, an investigation has shown that the greatest number of fatal accidents has taken place on the best, widest and most improved roads in the whole of the district. Although nobody would deny that we should do everything we can to reduce the terrible toll of life and damage to limb on the roads, it does not follow we are going to achieve that purpose by splashing money about in all directions. This money is at present idle money lying in the Road Fund. I am proposing to use it for the purpose of decreasing taxation. That does not mean that the commitments of the Road Fund are being prejudiced. We are embarking on a five-year programme which we are negotiating with the local authorities. That programme will be considerably in advance of anything that has been done hitherto in any similar period of time, but it is not going to be diminished by the fact that this money, which is not now required for any commitments hitherto incurred, is used for the purpose for which I now propose to use it.

Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 206; Noes, 53.

Division No. 243.] AYES. [11.5 p.m.
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Petherick, M.
Albery, Irving James Grigg, Sir Edward Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Apsley, Lord Grimston, R. V. Procter, Major Henry Adam
Aske, Sir Robert William Guinness, Thomas L. E. B. Pybus, Sir John
Assheton, Ralph Gunston, Captain D. W. Raikes, Henry V. A. M.
Balley, Eric Alfred George Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Beaumont, Hn. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.) Harbord, Arthur Ramsbotham, Herwald
Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n) Ramsden, Sir Eugene
Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)
Bernays, Robert Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) Reid, David D. (County Down)
Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn) Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Sir Cuthbert Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Blindell, James Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Remer, John R.
Bossom, A. C. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.
Boulton, W. W. Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division) Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Hornby, Frank Robinson, John Roland
Boyce, H. Leslie Horobin, Ian M. Ropner, Colonel L.
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Horsbrugh, Florence Rosbotham, Sir Thomas
Broadbent, Colonel John Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Ross, Ronald D.
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H. Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y) Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir Edward
Browne, Captain A. C. James, Wing-Com. A. W. H. Runge, Norah Cecil
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Jamieson, Rt. Hon. Douglas Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)
Burghley, Lord Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West) Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Burnett, John George Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton Rutherford, John (Edmonton)
Butt, Sir Alfred Law Sir Alfred Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Law, Richard K. (Hull, S. W.) Salmon, Sir Isidore
Carver, Major William H. Leech, Dr. J. W. Salt, Edward W.
Castlereagh, Viscount Leighton, Major B. E. P. Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney)
Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.) Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Sandys, Duncan
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston) Levy, Thomas Selley, Harry R.
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Lewis, Oswald Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.
Colman, N. C. D. Lindsay, Noel Ker Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J. Llewellin, Major John J. Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Unv., Belfast)
Conant, R. J. E. Lloyd, Geoffrey Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Cooper, A. Duff Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.) Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Cooper, T. M. (Edinburgh, W.) Loder, Captain J. de Vere Smith, Sir J. Walker-(Barrow-in-F.)
Courthope, Colonel Sir George L. Loftus, Pierce C. Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dlne, C.)
Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle) Lumley, Captain Lawrence R. Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro) Mabane, William Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
Cross, R. H. McCorquodale, M. S. Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Crossley, A. C. MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Bassetlaw) Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard McKie, John Hamilton Stones, James
Culverwell, Cyril Tom Macmillan, Maurice Harold Stourton, Hon. John J.
Dalkeith, Earl of Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery) Martin, Thomas B. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.) Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Thomson, Sir James D. W.
Dickie, John P. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. Thorp, Linton Theodore
Dower, Captain A. V. G. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k) Touche, Gordon Cosmo
Eastwood, John Francis Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale Turton, Robert Hugh
Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr) Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Elliston, Captain George Sampson Moreing, Adrian C. Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Elmley, Viscount Morgan, Robert H. Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.) Watt, Major George Steven H.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Wells, Sydney Richard
Everard, W. Lindsay Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties) Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Fermoy, Lord Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J. Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst Nall, Sir Joseph Wills, Wilfrid D.
Ford, Sir Patrick J. Nunn, William Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Fraser, Captain Sir Ian O'Donovan, Dr. William James Wise, Alfred R.
Fremantle, Sir Francis Patrick, Colin M. Womersley, Sir Walter
Fuller, Captain A. G. Peake, Osbert Worthington, Sir John
Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton Pearson, William G.
Glossop, C. W. H. Penny, Sir George TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Gluckstein, Louis Halle Percy, Lord Eustace Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward
Graves, Marjorie Perkins, Walter R. D. and Captain Hope.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Cripps, Sir Stafford
Attlee, Rt. Hon. Clement R. Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Daggar, George
Banfield, John William Cleary, J. J. Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)
Dobbie, William Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Edwards, Sir Charles Kirkwood, David Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Smith, Tom (Normanton)
Gardner, Benjamin Walter Leonard, William Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Logan, David Gilbert Strickland, Captain W. F.
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Lunn, William Tinker, John Joseph
Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.) Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) West, F. R.
Griffiths, George A. (Yorks, W. Riding) McEntee, Valentine L. White, Henry Graham
Groves, Thomas E. Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Grundy, Thomas W. Mainwaring, William Henry Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot Wilmot, John
Harris, Sir Percy Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.) Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)
Holdsworth, Herbert Milner, Major James
Howard, Tom Forrest Owen, Major Goronwy TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Janner, Barnett Pickering, Ernest H. Mr. D. Graham and Mr. Paling.
John, William Rea, Sir Walter