HL Deb 12 July 1910 vol 6 cc112-7

LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU rose to ask His Majesty's Government—

  1. 1. What funds are at present available for the use of the Road Board, and whit funds will be available for 1910–1911.
  2. 2. Whether any representation is to be given to local authorities or to bodies representative of their interests.
  3. 113
  4. 3. Whether any official announcement will be made as to the policy of the Road Board during the coming autumn and winter.
  5. 4. What is the estimated charge for salaries and departmental expenses for 1910–1911.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is now so late that I propose to be very brief in putting these Questions to His Majesty's Government. It is particularly unfortunate, as there are several points connected with this subject with regard to which I am sure they would like to give information to the country. Before proceeding further may I say that I am sure noble Lords will sympathise deeply with the noble Lord (Lord Llangattock) whose son (the Hon. C. S. Rolls) has met with such a sad accident to-day. Science is constantly claiming its victims, and the pursuit of it will always be attended with the risk of human life. I trust the life that has been given to-day will not have been given in vain. In connection with the Questions that I have put on the Paper, I would first like to congratulate His Majesty's Government on the appointment at last of the members of the Road Board. Some of us criticise the composition of the Board on the ground that it contains gentlemen who have not so far been particularly notable on the question of roads, and if I were asked what was the predominant feature of the Road Board my reply would be that those concerned in it are mainly notable by reason of their connection with railways. Still, sometimes a converted poacher makes a good gamekeeper, and although the Chairman of the Board and the noble Lord opposite to me in past times have displayed great interest in railways, I trust they will use the knowledge they so gained for the benefit of the roads. This Road Board has huge responsibilities and will have a very considerable revenue.

At the present moment there are nearly 150,000 miles of roads in this country, 28,000 main roads, and 120,000 secondary reads. I trust the Board will shape their policy with a view to improving not only the main roads but the secondary roads as well. They will have to decide what claims the diminution of dust has over the question of dangerous corners and the straightening of roads, and if they have anything like the amount of money foreshadowed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer they will have something like £600,000 a year. I trust that their policy will be one of conciliating local authorities to start with, because they must work with the local authorities, who are by law absolutely independent of them, and the success of the Board's policy will depend to a certain extent on bow they treat them. The county surveyor is also a most important person to be considered, and they should try and get him to work in with their schemes. I trust that they will make their grants in ratio to the efficiency of the work done by various counties, and not give undue grants to counties which have always been backward in making roads and resisting the trend of events by keeping their roads bad in order to avoid traffic coming over them. They are limited in the Act to one-third of their revenue being spent on new roads. I think that is wise, but I trust they will not leave out of consideration altogether the importance of exits from cities. London, in particular, the largest city in the world, has probably the meanest exits of any. That is a subject requiring the greatest attention. I have seen noble Lords struggling in the narrow neck of Brentford, apparently swearing to themselves, and not only noble Lords but a great many other people also. It would be a great improvement if they could make by-roads for avoiding roads in certain places.

Then the question of dust, the greatest plague that has attended this new kind of traction, will require careful consideration and if they can give grants even in the smallest degree to the local authorities who have already dealt with this question themselves they will be doing a very good work. Nearly the whole of the main roads of Kent are now tarred; that example ought to be followed by other counties, and is being followed to a large degree. Great credit must be given to the county surveyors who have dealt with this question already, and I trust the Road Board will keep the dust nuisance in the forefront of their programme. I am sure noble Lords on this side of the House wish the Road Board well, and speaking for the motoring community we wish it every success. We think that representation might be given in two ways—first, that the local authorities, either through the County Councils Association or some other authority, might be given representation; and, secondly, that the interest of heavy traction ought to have some representation. I do not mean heavy traction of sixteen tons, but heavy van traction, which is becoming very extensive on the roads and ought to have sonic representation. I think that would add to the usefulness of the Board. I trust that the Board will form the nucleus of a far bigger Department some day which will take up the question of national roads and work them in a national sense. I wish we had more time to discuss this matter, but as it is so late I simply ask the Questions which I have put upon the Paper, and I hope the noble Lord who will reply will be able to enlighten us with regard to the points I have put forward.


My Lords, I am ashamed at this late hour to interpose even for one moment, but if the noble Lord opposite will excuse me I want to say one word on Question 2, as to whether any representation will be given to local authorities. The Road Board, in my view also, has a great future before it. It is limited a little unfortunately, as I said at the time, by the Act which constitutes it, hut no doubt in time those limitations will disappear. For my part I differ from my noble friend opposite in one thing. I am anxious that the Road Board should represent nothing but the interests of the roads. I think it is unfortunate that the members should be regarded as representing this or that particular interest in the constitution of the Board. The Board has been formed to some extent on that basis, but with members so excellent I do not think we need have anything to fear. I should not like to see a Road Board formed with the idea that particular interests should be represented all pulling this way and that when the various schemes are discussed. The Road Board should consist of strong men having regard merely to the question of the roads themselves, of course working harmoniously with the various interests concerned. I do not know whether the Board is to he drawn as to any official announcement, and I hesitate to tender advice to members of the Board so astute as the noble Lord behind me; but if I were to tender any advice it would be that they should hesitate before announcing anything in the nature of a policy at all, and that they should spend a good deal of time in informing themselves as to the very considerable difficulties winch exist in dealing with this question before they commit themselves to any public statement.


With regard to Question 2, I wish to say one word on behalf of the County Councils Association, who have always strongly urged that the local authorities who are to be partners in the work of the Road Board should be represented on that Board, and although I can say nothing. about the nature of the communications which led us to suppose that some attention was going to be given to this matter, I think the noble Lord who answers the Questions, if he inquires, will find that something in the way of an expectancy that this might be done was held out to us. I hope, therefore, that whenever an opportunity arrives in the future he may be able to assure us that something will be done to give the local authorities some means, by way of representation, of making their views known in the councils of the Board.


MY Lords, I desire to associate myself with what has fallen from the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, with regard to the late Mr. Rolls, whose terribly sudden death was announced this afternoon. Re was one of the pioneers of motoring and aviation, and certainly one of the most skilful and pluckiest of them, a man whom this country can ill afford to lose, and I am sure your Lordships will deeply sympathise with Lord and lady Llangattock in the cruel bereavement which has fallen upon them.

The answers to the Questions which the noble Lord has put on the Paper are as follow. With regard to the funds, there is already available a sum of approximately £300,000 in respect of the proceeds of the Motor Spirit Duty, less the cost of collection, for 1909–10; and there will be available in respect of the current financial year the net proceeds of that duty for 1910–11 and the proceeds of motor-car licences for 1909–10 and 1910–11. The estimated receipts from the Spirit Duty for 1910–11 will be £400,000, and from motor-car licences for the two years £520,000, making a total of £920,000. From that total must be deducted the cost of collection, which cannot be precisely ascertained at present.

As to the constitution of the Road Board, I am glad to find that there is no criticism of the personnel of this body. There is no special representative of local authorities, as the House is aware, on the Board at present. It was overlooked when the appointments were being made, but since then the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised to consider whether or not it will be possible to grant some such representation. I cannot give the noble Lord any more definite information on that point at present.

As to Question 3, the Road Board intend to issue shortly a circular to county councils and highway authorities which will contain such indications of policy as the Board are in a position to give. As to Question 4. The salaries of the staff already sanctioned by the Treasury amount to £5,028 per annum in all. It is not possible to estimate with any degree of accuracy the departmental expenses for the year, but probably the cost of any additional staff that may be required and the departmental expenses, including office rent and furnishing, will not exceed £2,000. With regard to the other points raised by the noble Lord, I fortunately induced a member of the Road Board to be present to-night, and I am quite sure he will give every attention to those points.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his answer, which throws a good deal of light on the question. The fact that the Road Board have nearly a million to spend is very cheering, and I hope they will make a very good show for it. I am glad that His Majesty's Government have appointed a secretary with whom we are very satisfied and in whom we have great confidence, and an engineer who has had so many years experience and study of the subject.