HC Deb 07 July 1955 vol 543 cc1350-2

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

Mr. Hale

I wish to say a few words on the Clause and I think that they should be said in view of what the right hon. Gentleman said a few minutes ago. In referring to Clause 1, the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government would give an undertaking, and that the Committee ought to accept the undertaking, that they were prepared to do this, that and the other in three years' time. He said that we should accept that with- out demur, without criticism and without doubt.

As I said earlier, I do not for one moment challenge the personal probity of the right hon. Gentleman, and if he were likely to stay in his present office for the next three or four years and was allowed to carry out the undertaking, it might well be that we should not challenge it. But I should like to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that we are discussing today the end of the Road Fund, which was introduced by Sir Eric Geddes in 1920 when that gentleman referred to it in moving terms as the most wonderful example of voluntary taxation in the whole of our history.

Sir Eric Geddes indicated both then and in Committee that motorists had almost welcomed the opportunity of submitting to a very substantial levy because the motoring interests realised that the country would need new roads. He said that they were prepared quite voluntarily to submit to this very heavy taxation in order to pay for them. That was the undertaking given by the Government at the time.

The motorists contributed £8 million in the years that followed by what Sir Eric Geddes called "voluntary taxation." The Road Fund has been since robbed by almost every successive Chancellor of the Exchequer. The first one was the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who despoiled it very heavily, and when the motor industry complained, and, indeed, when it suggested an alternative method of taxation, it found itself taxed both on petrol and on horse-power. And still the money was not spent on the roads. We were given to understand that the money was principally to be spent on new roads and not on maintenance. All these undertakings were given by men whom the country thought to be of the highest respectability and probity and who, from time to time, sat on the Government Front Bench.

Now the Road Fund has come to an end, but the motorists still go on paying their taxation. The money has never been spent on the roads. Successive Governments have introduced wonderful plans for the construction of roads, but scarcely anything has been done to bring this country up to the standard for which the motorists have paid—voluntarily we are told—for thirty-five years. As a specific and classic example of the proposition that every Opposition should be very careful indeed of accepting assurances of pious intentions for the future from any Government, it appears to me to be a point for consideration.

I refrain from voting against the Clause only because successive committees have reported that the position has now got to a stage when it would be almost impossible to revivify the Road Fund and redirect it to the purposes for which it was instituted and in respect of which pledges were made when the money was raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.