HL Deb 12 May 1920 vol 40 cc283-8

LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH rose to ask His Majesty's Government what is to be the policy of the Ministry of Transport in respect to the maintenance and improvement of county highways in Scotland, and when a statement will be made in regard to the resumption of Government grants for the purpose.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have put down this Question because of communications which have been received by my County Council in Scotland from the Ministry of Transport. Under date April 20, a letter was sent in these words— In reply to your letter of the 13th instant, I am directed by the Minister of Transport to inform you that at the present time no moneys arc available which will permit of grants being made in respect of surfacing work to be carried our during the year ending March 31, 1921. It would therefore be advisable for the County Council to hold over any application they propose making until they receive a notification from the Ministry that a further distribution of grants is to be made. I do not know whether I am right, but I understand that the whole subject is being considered with the object of making a classification of roads so that they may receive grants according to the amount of traffic that passes over them. But while that consideration is going on it is impossible either to stop the traffic which is causing the disrepair or to stop the work which is necessary to make it good.

What the local authorities in my district are anxious to know is whether this letter really means that there is to be no grant at all during the year which has just commenced, or what is our chance of a grant. The position in which my district stands is a very difficult one. I belong to the small County Council of Clackmannan. I dare say comparatively few of your Lordships have ever been in that county. There is a very great deal of traffic from east to west because of the river Forth. We are between the Forth and the Ochils, and the traffic from Glasgow and the East of Scotland—heavy traffic—comes across our roads from cast to west. To the east there is the county of Kinross, through which runs the main road from the north and Perth; and to the west the county of Stirling, where the chief roads from Glasgow to the North of Scotland or from the South to the North past Perth are situated. Over these roads there is an enormous amount of motor traffic. It is ever increasing and is doing a great amount of damage to the roads without any corresponding benefit to the unfortunate ratepayers in the district who have to provide for the maintenance and repair of the roads.

I take a fact or two because they will not occupy a moment. Last year—that is the year ended last March—in my county the ordinary maintenance of roads was £5,950, and special work £6,606, of which the Road Board gave us £5,000, leaving a special expenditure from the road rate of the county of £7,556. For the current year, when, if I understand the question rightly, we are to have no grant at all, the ordinary maintenance has gone up by £500 and will be £6,473, while the special work will be £9,945, or a total sum of 1£6,418. Our road rate for roads alone in the year ending May, 1920, is 2s. To carry through the work suggested would mean a road rate of at least 5s., or two and a-half times as much as last year. It may be mentioned that five years ago the whole of our road rate was only 1s. 2d.

I give the facts also for the county of Stirling, the central district of Stirling, which is the one chiefly affected. There, I am informed, in 1914 the ordinary maintenance was £10,000 and the rate 1s. 2d. in the £. In 1919–20 the work had increased to £18,000, and in the year now beginning the probable cost is £22,500. In 1919 a grant of £15,000 was received for that particular district and the rate was increased to 1s. 6d. I am told that the damage in that district by motor transit during the last winter is estimated. to be not less than £7,000 and the minimum expenditure for the present year is estimated at not less than £37,000.

If no grant is received a very large increase in the road assessment is inevitable in that district as well as in Clackmannan, and the special question to which I am anxious to have an answer is this, Is there to be any grant made during this year which ends in March, 1921? If not, is there any other sort of income available? I know that the motor tax does not begin till next January, but is there no Imperial fund, the petrol tax or anything of that kind, from which help can be obtained in meeting the very serious burden on the county roads in Scotland, which I have indicated, for damage caused not by local traffic but entirely by through traffic for which the district gets no benefit?


My Lords, it is my intention to say but a few words in support of what has fallen from the noble Lord who has just spoken. In the words of a well-known county councillor in the North the condition of the roads in the Highlands is at the present moment deplorable. It is a long time since any money was spent on them owing to the war and the lack of labour and the carting of timber which has been sold to the Government for war purposes. The roads are now, I think, in a worse state than that in which they have ever been. The main road from Inverness to the North—the only main road in the Highlands that goes to the North—is in a terrible state. Before the war I think we had been promised large grants from time to time, and these grants are very much more necessary now than they were at that time. If the Minister of Transport takes a holiday I hope he will motor over that road, and it will be brought home to him how impossible are the conditions as regards road transport to the North of Scotland.

As your Lordships know, there are no railways to the west and north coasts of that part of Scotland. Consequently the population is entirely dependent on the roads for postal service, for their fish and all other commodities. Various promises were made at the last Election of the wonderful things which the Highlands were going to get, but, except for the Land Settlement Bill, it does not seem to me that very much has been granted. The home life of the Highlands is just as vitally affected by the condition of the roads and railways as it is by- the question of land settlement. A primary need of the Highlands is that the transport facilities should be improved. The Highlands Reconstruction Association, of which Lord Lovat was formerly chairman, have reported on all these matters. This is an association formed by persons of all creeds and politics, and very representative of the public life of the Highlands, but not one of the resolutions passed by it has been acted upon.

The Post Office, I understand, will have under the Budget a considerable sum of money; yet no telephone is allowed in the Highlands, although in other parts of the world, in Canada, in Norway, and in Sweden, every little farmhouse has a telephone. In the Highlands of Scotland no telephone north of Tain is allowed. This policy is causing grave dissatisfaction amongst the people of the Highlands who were told during the Election of all the wonderful things they were to get. Unless this matter is attended to before the next General Election there will be a very serious turnover of votes. In fact, the Independent Liberals will probably sweep all the Highland constituencies.


My Lords, I hope that I shall be able to give both my noble friends an assurance which will entirely remove any anxiety they entertain on the points mentioned. The policy of the Ministry of Transport may be stated in a very few words. With regard to the current financial year—that is to say, up to May 15 in Scotland—sums have been made available from which grants have been made or promised for the maintenance and improvement of roads in Scotland amounting to £730,010. The Minister hopes to be able to make further grants in respect of surface tarring works on important county roads during the coming season approximating to one-third of the cost of such work.

With regard to future policy, this is contained in the Budget proposals of the Government; and I think the explanation of the letter to which the noble Lord has referred is that until the Budget is passed no funds beyond those to which I have referred will be available. But it is in no sense the intention of the Ministry to make no grants in respect of the improvement and maintenance of roads until the work of classification is completed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget statement of April 19, estimated that the revenue from existing taxes upon motors up to December next would be £2,750,000. That sum is therefore available at once, and from that sum grants will be made to the local authorities for the maintenance of their roads exactly in the same manner as before 1916.

In January next the yield from the new duties proposed in the Budget, always provided of course that the Budget Bill is passed, will become available, and it is estimated that by March next the sum realised from these new duties will be £4,500,000, or £7,250,000 by the end of the year. I hope my noble friend follows me. There is immediately available £2,750,000 from existing taxes, and from the new duties after January next sums which are estimated to amount to £4,500,000 will be available by March next.

The Roads Department of the Ministry of Transport is now engaged upon the classification of roads in the United Kingdom. All the forms have been sent out to the highway authorities in Scotland, and they have been instructed how to proceed. It is hoped that this work of classification will be completed by the end of the year, and therefore, when the proceeds of the new taxation becomes available after January next, it is the intention of the Minister to make grants for the maintenance of the classified roads in the proportion of 50 per cent. of the cost in the case of Class 1 roads and 25 per cent. in the case of Class 2 roads. I hope that this assurance will satisfy my noble friend. He will see that there will be no hiatus, but that grants will be made from existing taxation until the new taxation becomes available, and when the new taxation becomes available it is intended that grants shall be made in respect of roads classified in Classes 1 and 2.


May I express my acknowledgments and thanks to the noble Earl for the statement he has made. It seems to me to be entirely satisfactory.