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Orders of the Day779
[14TH ALLOTTED DAY.]
Considered in Committee.
[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
CIVIL ESTIMATES, 1932.
Ministey of Transport
Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That a sum, not exceeding £45,964, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1933; for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Transport, under the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919; Expenses of the Railway Rates Tribunal under the Railways Act, 1921; Expenses under the London Traffic Act, 1924; Expenses in respect of Advances under the Light Railways Act, 1896; Expenses of maintaining Holyhead Harbour; Advances to meet Deficit in Rams-gate Harbour Fund; Advances to Caledonian and Crinan Canals; and for Expenditure in connection with the Severn Barrage Investigation."—[Note.—£60,000 has been voted on account.]
Mr. MORGAN JONES : I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
The Lord President of the Council, a few moments ago, indicated that, because the speed limit had been removed off the roads, the discussion on the Ministry of Transport Vote would occupy but a comparatively short time this evening. Apparently he has forgotten that the speed limit has not been removed from the Ministry of Transport because a perusal of the record of the Ministry during the last six months indicates that they must be working under some superimposed restriction as to the velocity with which they are to work, and this has militated substantially against the Minister being able to present a record of achievement while he has been in office. In suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman has nothing very satisfactory to record in respect of his Department I apply to him the same test which the right hon. Gentleman himself applied to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, Miss Susan Lawrence, in the late Labour 780 Government. If the Minister of Transport will substitute the word "transport" for that of "housing" in the following passage and apply it to himself, he will feel that it is remarkably appropriate. Addressing Miss Susan Lawrence in respect of the record of the Ministry of Health which he was then discussing, the present Minister of Transport said:
"I am bound to say one does feel that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Treasury Bench as a whole show a certain amount of complacency regarding the housing problem, as though it were made by the Almighty and entirely incurable. As far as I can gather, it is a form of original sin! These backward boroughs are incurable. The facts are that there are hundreds of thousands of building workers out of employment and hundreds of thousands of people who require houses. Then why is it that work cannot be put in hand? Why are the boroughs so reluctant to proceed? Is it through any lack of advocacy on the part of the Ministry, through, any lack of explanation of the terms on which housing schemes can be carried out? If we find somebody who wants something very much and somebody else who is offering to provide it, but it is not accepted, then one is driven to the conclusion that there is something wrong with the offer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 80th June, 1930; col. 1670, Vol. 240.]
When he has substituted the word "transport" for the word "housing" in that passage, he will find that it applies with remarkable accuracy to his own record at the Ministry of Transport. I am not saying this unkindly to the right hon. Gentleman, because he, like other Ministers, is called upon to improvise a Government policy, and as the Minister in charge I am quite sure that he is prepared to justify and defend the policy of the Government.
I want to ask a number of questions in regard to the Estimates, and I will do so very briefly. I am sure that the Minister of Transport will agree that his address to the House on this Vote some weeks ago was extremely short and somewhat inadequate considering the importance of the problems with which the Department has to deal. It was somewhat cursory in character and did not, therefore, adequately deal with some important points covered in the Estimates. I am interested, as a representative of a Welsh constituency, in the present position of the Severn Barrage investigation, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell me what is the present posi- 781 tion in regard to this matter. It is a highly important inquiry from the point of view of shortening the route, the lines of communication, between the vast industrial area of South Wales and the West of England. I am sure the Minister will understand that in my part of the country a very lively interest is taken in this proposal because of its potential value to the people of that area, as affording a means for the better exchange of commodities and goods.
There is another matter to which I wish to direct the hon. Gentleman's attention and which I do not think was discussed in any detail when this Vote was last before us. Can he give us some idea of the policy of the Government on the very difficult, complex and perplexing problem of the respective merits of road and rail transport? I am sure that is a matter which has been very present to the hon. Gentleman's mind during his occupancy of his present office and it is becoming increasingly important. Scarcely a meeting of railway magnates passes nowadays without a wail of despair arising from those who are in charge of railway policy concerning the incursions of road transport into what they regard as the special preserves of rail transport. I am not attributing blame to either side. Far be it from me to do so, but I am sure that every Member of the Committee will agree that this is a matter on which we ought to be vouchsafed some little information, particularly concerning the mental approach of the Government to the problem.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would also be good enough as to give us some idea of what measure of progress is being made by the Transport Commissioners in the work which they have undertaken. Obviously we know that some progress has been achieved but we should like to know to what degree the Commissioners have been able to get on with their task of investigating appeals and the coordination of transport throughout the country. As an adjunct to that question I should like to ask the Minister also what he has to say regarding the complaints which we have heard to the effect that there is a tendency to drive the smaller transport concerns off the roads in favour of the larger and financially stronger concerns. Such complaints have been made in the House of 782 Commons from time to time, and it is felt that some of those complaints are well-grounded. Doubtless there is something to be said in this case in favour of strengthening those who are already strong, rather than bolstering up the weak. On the other hand the facilities-for earning a livelihood nowadays for many people are limited and if a man has embarked on the undertaking of providing a means of transport in a given area it seems a little unjust—it certainly will seem so to him—if he is pushed off the road to make way for a more powerful competitor. We should be glad to know what is the experience of the Minister in regard to that question.
We are discussing this Vote to-day in the presence of a problem which is still extremely difficult—I would almost say is becoming increasingly difficult— namely, the problem of unemployment. In connection with this matter I am not blaming the hon. Gentleman personally. In what I have to say I am speaking of him as the exponent of the Government's policy and the head of this particular Department. I am quite convinced that the policy which is being followed by his Department as well as by other Departments of the Government, of economy for economy's sake, is not only inimical to the interests of individual workmen but in the long run will prove to be uneconomical from the point of view of the community at large. It is almost a truism to say that there is a form of spending which is saving and a form of saving which is spending. I venture the opinion for what it is worth that the economy upon which the Ministry of Transport has embarked in connection with some of its activities, is economy of the second order. It is saving which is really, in the worst sense, spending the resources of the nation.
In the June number of the Ministry of Labour Gazette, which hon. Members of the Committee doubtless have had during the week-end, there will be found on page 226 a table under the general heading "Poor-relief in May, 1932." Under that heading is the record, which is given month by month, of the condition of affairs in 47 boroughs throughout the country. The singular fact which one is bound to observe in connection with that record is that the number of persons in receipt of Poor Law relief on a given date in May, 1932, shows 783 a substantial increase upon the number of people in a similar category in May, 1931. That is to say, that there has been a substantial increase in the number of insurable people who have been driven from dependence upon another form of public support on to the public assistance committees. I said a moment ago that in my judgment the Ministry's policy of positive economy was of the sort in which there was an apparent saving, but, in fact, a spending. What do these figures disclose? They disclose the fact that, as a direct consequence of this fetish of merely saving money, and of being able to record to the House of Commons from time to time that national expenditure has been reduced by a given sum, we have driven people on to the resources of the localities through the medium of the public assistance committees. That is not economy at all.
Take the question of roads. Almost a generation ago, Parliament, visualising the new development in transport, established financial resources whereby road transport was to be facilitated. Expenditure was to be made from those resources upon the roads, north, south, east and west, in our land. There was not a very heavy burden falling upon the resources for a considerable time, on account of the interruption by the War. Therefore, when the War ended, there was a substantial sum of money available out of this pool provided in 1909 whereby road transport could be facilitated on a national scale. But in 1920 we came face to face with this great problem of unemployment, and from then on Government after Government have been driven, willy nilly, to make some sort of provision to help the unemployed, morally as well as financially, by reason of the fact that the more occupation we can give to idle hands, the less the deterioration in the morale of the individuals that inevitably takes place. For years, therefore, Government after Government have tried to provide means to provide for these various road developments.
That provision has been made on a substantial scale, I will admit. It is no part of my argument to deny that very substantial sums of money have been spent upon this form of provision for the sake of our road transport development, but we are now face to face with a policy 784 which is followed by the Ministry and defended by them, as I understand it, on the ground that the resources to which I have referred have now not only been dried up, but have also been mortgaged, as it were, and on that account, to prevent an increase in this indebtedness, the Government have embarked upon a policy of reversing the engines. I submit that that is a most unjust proceeding. It is unjust to localities themselves, and in the long run it will prove to be uneconomical from the point of view of the State as a whole. I can very well understand individuals living in areas where the roads are what they ought to be and where all possible road development has been completed coming to the conclusion that this kind of effort should be slowed down, but some of us belong to areas where, however great may have been the expenditure in the past, they are still acutely conscious of the fact that there is still great need for development in those areas, and they are areas that are suffering most acutely from this grave industrial depression. Take my own particular area as a case in point. I am not complaining that my area has not had its fair "look-in," if I may use the expression, with other areas in different parts of the country.
Mr. MACPHERSON : My constituency has not.
Mr. JONES : That is the first time Scotland has ever suffered in comparison with England. Here is a condition of affairs where there is only one industry, the coal mining industry, where depression increases daily its tragic hold upon the neighbourhood, where therefore tens of thousands of men, taking the county of Glamorgan as a whole, are unemployed, and unemployed in this condition, that the industry whereby they have normally earned their livelihood is condemned for a considerable time, if not for ever, not to be able to reabsorb all these thousands of men. Do the Government contemplate allowing these thousands of men, all active, virile people, splendid citizens in every sense, to remain out for the rest of their natural lives, without anything at all to do? Has the Minister of Transport come to regard this as an act on the part of the Almighty? He accused Miss Susan Lawrence as having regarded the housing problem as an act on the part of the
Almighty. Has that conviction reached his constituency now? He said then, "Is this housing problem a sort of indication of original sin"? Is this unemployment problem in my part of the country also an indication of original sin in his view nowadays?
What is the view of the Government? What are the Government going to do? Surely they cannot contemplate sitting supinely there, ineptly doing nothing at all, allowing these men to deteriorate in morale and physique, becoming a danger to themselves and to the community in which they live. It seems to me that if there is a case at all for the expenditure of public money upon anything- as a temporary expedient to relieve unemployment, surely the case is above all manifest in connection with road development. I do not say—I have no technical ground upon which to express an opinion upon the matter—that these people who have followed some other line of avocation would be the best type of worker in normal times to apply to this particular kind of job, but I am sure of this, that, whether they be efficient or inefficient, it is far better for the community that they should be doing this job than doing no job at all. Not only so, but it is not entirely a loss. In the days when the hon. Member opposite was sitting here, not 12 months ago, he was associated with a party which was demanding the expenditure of £250,000,000, I believe it was, upon road development, and the figure tripped off their tongues as lightly and easily as saying "knife." But surely it is in the highest degree desirable and defensible that some money should be spent, and that greater expenditure should be embarked upon in connection with roads than is now being adumbrated by this Vote, because in the long run none of it is lost.
If we spent £20,000,000 upon roads this year it may be hard for us to find the money, but we shall not lose it. We shall have something to show for it. What have we to show for the expenditure of money on the unemployed? While we spend tens of thousands of pounds per week in unemployment benefit and transitional payments, what have we to show? Nothing at all, except that we who live in the distressed areas can show the obvious signs of physical and other types of deterioration. That is where this 786 policy is, in the long run, hopelessly uneconomic from the standpoint of society. I think therefore that the policy upon which the Government have embarked is ill-conceived. It is not in the truest sense even economy, nor, in point of fact, is it true to say that there is no actual financial return from the expenditure upon road development. Let me give a simple fact. It is unchallengeable that in 1929, 9,000,000 tons of quarried material for road development was carried upon our railways. That enabled the railway concerns in that year to present a balance sheet that would otherwise have been more unfavourable than it was. Moreover, the production of that material directly and indirectly created employment. I, therefore, beg the hon. Gentleman to call a halt in this fatal policy of merely saving for savings sake.
I can cite the views of an individual who is not associated with us politically, and who is acquainted with the day-to-day problem of road development. Mr. Rees Jefferies, Chairman of the road Improvement Association, said in December last —that is, within three months of the hon. Gentleman taking office—that the records of his association showed that over £20,000,000 worth of road work, which had been sanctioned by the Ministry of Transport, the finance for which had been arranged, had been stopped. In addition, the local authorities, in their zeal for economy, had held up work of repair and maintenance. The hon. Gentleman, no doubt, listened with care to the pronouncement of the Lord President of the Council this afternoon concerning economy. The hon. Member for Maccles-field (Mr. Remer) asked the views of the Government about private economy, that is to say, the habit upon which individuals have embarked of cutting down expenditure here, there and everywhere. The Lord President of the Council administered a well-phrased and well-conceived rebuke to those ill-advised individuals who, in the belief that the mere cutting down of expenditure is economy, have involved large numbers of workmen in loss of employment. If the pronouncement of the Lord President of the Council meant anything at all, it was an appeal to individual employers to avoid wherever they could the shutting down of work or the cutting down of expenditure because of the inevitable adverse consequences upon social conditions.
787 What right had the Lord President of the Council to administer a rebuke of that sort to private employers when the Government themselves are worse offenders than anybody in this matter I Not only have the Government been guilty of it, but they have compelled local authorities to embark upon a similar procedure. What sort of consistency can be attached to the Government who ask individual people to spend wherever possible, while they themselves are embarking upon a policy of restriction far beyond the defensible limits of economy? The cutting down of expenditure upon road development, while of course it enables the Government to show in their balance sheet a saving of £20,000,000 or £30,000,000, means that in the end, in three or four or five years hence, they may find the policy of cutting down to-day will involve them in the re-establishment of a similar degree of expenditure, and even in a greater measure of expenditure than they might otherwise be called upon to face.
Captain HAROLD BALFOUR : The hon. Gentleman has said that nothing is lost in the expenditure upon roads. Suppose a road is built and the commodity prices of materials fall by 50 per cent. two years afterwards and never regain their former level; is not that amount of capital expenditure on the roads irretrievably lost?
Mr. JONES : It may be true in the case that the hon. and gallant Gentleman mentions, but I thought that our trouble now was that the cost of commodities was at an extremely low level.
Captain BALFOUR : It may go lower.
Mr. JONES : Let us hope not. I thought that the policy of the Government was to raise prices. Not only are materials at a very low price level, but there is also this consideration: If you have to borrow for this expenditure today, you do so at a time when money is cheap, and financial conditions are favourable. You can borrow money today at a much cheaper rate than for a very long time past. Therefore, again, it seems to me to be wise economy to spend now when money is cheap rather than later when money will be dearer. Moreover, it is indeed a grave injustice to
local authorities to hamper them at the present time in this development, seeing that money is so cheap. I know what dear money can mean to local authorities. I remember being associated with a local authority before the War and before I came to this House. We had to embark on an expenditure of about £500,000 for waterworks. That scheme was stopped on account of War restrictions. When the War was over we had to spend nearly £2,000,000 for the same waterworks, and we had to borrow at the rate of about 7 per cent. That burden was a very substantial sum falling upon that neighbourhood, and it has to be borne to this very hour. If we were now able to embark on schemes of social development we would be able to embark upon them at a time when borrowing would be much easier than it has been for some years past. I feel that the policy of the Government, justifiable as it may be, in regard to other Departments—I am not arguing that at all—is least justifiable in this Department, because whether we are "railites" or "roadites" we cannot be blind to the fact that for another generation at any rate the development of transport on the roads is going to increase year by year. If our motor manufacturers are to be stimulated to cheapen their products so as to make them available to a greater number of people, and if they succeed in that policy, clearly our roads are going to become more and more crowded than they are even now. It seems to me that we really ought to reconsider the merits of this policy of further road development.
We have been told in the report of the May Committee that the Road Fund has come to be regarded by successive Governments as a convenient means of financing grandiose projects without the inconvenience of obtaining Parliamentary approval. I hope I am a fairly good House of Commons man. I am fully alive to the necessity for safeguarding control by this House over all expenditure. But I take leave to question whether there is still not ample ground for the Ministry of Transport to visualise the future development of road transport, and to prepare for it by way of well-considered programmes in advance, rather than to depend upon a year-to-year provision as it were. I do not accept the dictum of the May Committee that grandiose schemes have been embarked upon. I 789 imagine that the people who use the roads of this country, of whom I am not normally one, must feel that the money that has been spent in the last decade or so on road development has been money well spent on the whole. The roads may offend our aesthetic taste in this respect or that, but what is that compared with the social advantage which this great road development has brought to the community at large?
For my part I take the view that it is false economy to cut down road development expenditure; secondly, that the consequential effect of this false economy is to impose an unjust burden upon local authorities, very hard put to it already to meet the necessities of their more distressed citizens. In areas like my own in particular, when 100 or 500 or 1,000 extra people fall upon Poor Law relief funds of the neighbourhood, it means a very terrible burden indeed upon the local rates, and that burden is not borne by industry, for industry has been relieved of three-quarters of its rates, but is borne mainly by business men and individual ratepayers in the neighbourhood. On these grounds, therefore, on the ground that the Ministry has failed to look after the best interests of the nation as a whole, and has embarked upon a policy of false economy and is acting in a way that is detrimental to the best interests of local authorities, I beg to move the reduction of the Vote by £100.
Lord EUSTACE PERCY : I rise to make a few brief remarks on the speech to which we have just listened. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones) has advanced his contention. He was not foolish enough to advance it on the ground simply that if we built a larger number of roads we should employ more people. He realises that that argument by itself is absurd, that it would justify the blowing up of the existing roads and the laying of them afresh. Therefore he has argued his case on the basis that nothing can be lost at the present moment in a great programme of road development, and that that is above all things a capital asset which our country wants at the moment.
Mr. MORGAN JONES : I was wondering whether the Noble Lord should have used the expression "above all things."
Lord E. PERCY : At any rate the hon. Member thinks it is a capital asset which
is among the most important that this country requires. The hon. Member's speech is proof that the Socialist policy of the future will be no more carefully planned than the private enterprise development of the past. His speech was exactly what any madcap railway developer in the United States or in Canada, in the heyday of railway speculation 50, 60 or V0 years ago, might have said. At that time it was thought impossible to build too many railways in the United States. It was thought impossible to build too many trans-Continental railways in Canada. It was said that Canada could build three trans-Continental railways very well indeed, and that the great future development of Canada would easily carry the capital charges involved in those three railways. That was pure madcap, speculative, private enterprise. Here we have the hon. Member speaking in the name of national planning, going bald-headed for roads in precisely the same way.
What is the truth? It was necessary for the economic development of this country after the War, that we should have a great scheme of arterial through roads. We have spent a great deal of money on making those arterial roads, but probably it has been worth while. But within all that justifiable development we have been squandering money by the carload on Toads which have fulfilled no purpose but to facilitate the joy-riding of the upper and upper-middle classes. The hon. Member referred to his own district. How much, through traffic that is in the economic interest of this nation has passed over that great road between the main Rhondda and Afon Valleys. Has that paid for itself? Is it likely within any foreseeable future to pay for itself? Has it even contributed considerably to the amenities of the miners there, as it was intended to do?
Mr. MORGAN JONES : If the Noble Lord had lived in the area instead of having merely passed through it he would know that the second question is easily answered in the affirmative. As to his first question, surely he would not be so unfair as to expect economic returns from that road in a time of grave industrial depression in South Wales.
Lord E. PERCY : In other words, the road might have been justifiable when there was no longer economic depression, 791 but the capital expenditure has been undertaken at the very moment of economic depression. It has been undertaken and loaded on the country at a moment when the whole nation was on the verge of a precipice of economic depression, and the hon. Member in effect justifies it by saying, "Well, when times are better, when the mining industry in these valleys is as prosperous as it used to be, the expenditure will bring a return." The hon. Member took a part in the setting up of a committee to consider the future needs of South Wales, in view of the inevitably permanent decline in its heavy industries. Does he really think that there is going to be a revival in those areas sufficient to justify that expenditure?
Mr. MORGAN JONES : I hope so.
Lord E. PERCY : The hon. Member hopes. It was "hopes" that made three trans-Continental railways in Canada. What we want is belief and planning, not hope, from the Socialist party. Are we going to spend money on more hopes? I have given an instance which is prima facie far more justifiable than a great part of the road work which has been going on throughout the counties during the last few years. It is charged against the Government that at the present moment they ought to spend very much more on roads. That argument has been advanced by the hon. Member on no ground except that wherever money is spent on roads it must be good expenditure. On the contrary, I ask the Government to recognise that since the War the expenditure from the Road Fund has been wholly beyond both the capacity and the needs of the country. The time has come when we must plan arterial through-development suited to our economic needs, but must ruthlessly abandon, or at any rate postpone, all other read development.
Mr. SIMMONDS : I wish to say a few words on this Vote from the point of view of economy and of safety. The Vote is for only £105,964, but if we look at this matter from the beginning to the end we see that in fact a very much larger sum is involved when we discuss the Ministry of Transport. There is, first of all, the self-balancing expenditure, amounting in the current financial year to no less than £22,910,000, advances to
the Road Fund £2,750,000 and the total expenditure under this Vote of £500,000, making altogether a sum of more than £26,000,000. Although the way in which these accounts are presented to us may be perfect from an accountancy point of view, I think that a certain Parliamentary camouflage ever since the War has led this House to spend a great deal more than it otherwise would have done. Even this £26,000,000 is not all, for the Ministry of Transport, which was born in the immoral period just after the War, when the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was politically cohabiting with all and sundry, has turned out to be one of the worst seducers in our public life, and, together with the Ministry of Health and the Board of Education, has very definitely ravaged the financial chastity of the local authorities. It has done it to a degree which makes the little affair which some bright young Romans had with the Sabine women a comparatively innocent episode.
Under this seductive procedure, whereby the Government pay £60 for every £40 which the local authorities themselves find, it is quite conceivable that the £26,000,000 I have mentioned may drag in with it yet another £17,000,000 from the local authorities, and so, in effect, we are discussing this afternoon an expenditure of anything between £30,000,000 and £40,000,000 of public money, as large as the Army Vote and twice as much as the Vote for the Royal Air Force. Let us see how this 60–40 plan works. A local authority thinks it requires a new bridge or a by-pass road. Plans are got out, and the architect indicates that one particular plan, costing a little more, certainly, would be so much preferable for the general amenities of the neighbourhood. Possibly the chairman of the local authority feels that during his year of office this addition to the local amenities would be a very great thing from his personal point of view. So the expense gradually creeps up, until we have the grandiose schemes to which the Noble Lord has referred in his very able speceh. But what do the apologists say for this system? They say, "Never mind what the local authorities do. The Ministry of Transport scrutinises carefully every scheme submitted to it." Let us see how this scrutiny works. I thought 793 we had a very good example the other night when we were discussing Waterloo Bridge on the London County Council Bill. Did the Minister of Transport say on that occasion, "My experts have looked into this matter from this angle and from that, they have considered it with immense care and in great detail, and as a result of all those investigations I say to the Committee that I endorse this plan"? Not a. bit of it. This is what the Minister said, reading from the OFFICIAL REPORT:
" It must be clearly understood that in the case of a great body like the London County Council, with experts of their own and experts specially briefed for this purpose, we should naturally rely on them that the Estimate given was fair and could be achieved."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st June, 1932; col. 1258, Vol. 266.]
So we see, that, effectively, there is no technical scrutiny in the Ministry of Transport, at any rate on some of the proposals submitted for grants. The Ministry might well say, "Well, we will not trouble to look into this matter from the technical standpoint, but we will study it carefully from the point of view of policy." Turning again to the OFFICIAL REPORT I find this is what the Minister actually said:
"The House will agree that the council, with their close and intimate daily knowledge of this bridge and its problems, charged by Parliament with the responsibility for its maintenance, is a great and responsible body, conscientiously endeavouring to discharge a great duty. It is surely not possible for Parliament, having charged the London County Council with that responsibility, to withhold from them by intervention the necessary authority to carry it out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st June, 1932; col. 1268, Vol. 266.]
In other words, although the taxpayer would have to find 60 per cent. of the total cost of this scheme and of many other schemes, it was a matter of common decency that we should not so much as raise our voice in discussion of the London County Council plan. I do not want to suggest a personal criticism of my hon. Friend for the view he took in these two instances, because I think he was there a doughty and an able champion of the traditions of his Department; but the fact remains that during that Debate he really let out of the bag a cat of a supreme stature, which we ought to bear in mind when considering Road Fund schemes. The whole system of percentage grants depends on the most careful and
detailed scrutiny by the Ministry of Transport of each proposal submitted to them by the local authorities, and if the attitude which the Ministry adopted to that one scheme of the London County Council is typical of their attitude to the schemes of other local authorities, I fail to see how we are effectively watching the expenditure of public money. I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to show how, if Waterloo Bridge is a fair sample of the methods adopted by the Ministry in dealing with these applications, the demands for economy are really being met.
Next I wish to say a few words on the subject of safety. The recent figures given to the House by the Home Secretary were ghastly in the extreme, and I think I recollect the Minister of Transport making several speeches in which he tried to indicate how this terrible state of affairs might be improved. Those speeches were to the effect that there was carelessness on the part of pedestrians and recklessness on the part of motorists, but I cannot recollect ever having heard of the responsibility which the Government and the local authorities have as regards safety on the roads. Each of the schemes for which my hon. Friend agrees to pay public money to the local authorities is regarded as an approved scheme, and the question I would like him to answer is this: Is his approval concerned solely with the finance of the scheme, or does his Department take into consideration the safety of the scheme from the point of view of road and pavement users?
I will give one or two examples of what I have in mind. At the present time the Surrey County Council are making a large number of roundabouts or circuses at the junctions of their main roads. In London, as I believe is the case throughout the country, when you approach these roundabouts you see a notice "Turn Left." The Surrey County Council put up a notice, although it is on the near side kerb, "Keep Left." I think my hon. Friend will bear me out that the instruction on the road "Keep Left" means "Keep to the left of this Notice," but if you do that in Surrey you immediately come on to the pavement, particularly when you have a road bearing round to the right as you approach a cross-road. At night it is highly dangerous, particularly so in foggy weather, to have illuminated 795 notices "Keep Left" when a motorist who does keep left of them immediately goes on to the pavement and sometimes down into the ditch. I would like to know whether, in any of these schemes, which I believe were approved schemes, this question was taken into consideration I If so, no doubt the Minister will look into the matter. If not, it would seem that as there is no central authority except his Department for dealing with these matters—because the Home Secretary has no jurisdiction out in the country, and away from London— there is a missing link in the Safety First campaign upon the roads.
Another point to which I would draw attention is the illumination of traffic controls at night. Only the other night on leaving this House "free from all alcoholic content" as the analysts would say, I ran in my car right past a policeman on point duty, and the reason was that the policeman was standing in between the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, and thus was completely obscured from my view. Then, three nights ago, when leaving this House, I saw a similar incident in King's Road, Chelsea. There the policeman had to hop and skip to save his life. I stopped because I thought that probably the motorist who had overrun that policeman would, in due course, be getting into serious trouble. When I spoke to him he said, "Oh, don't worry. We are two plain clothes police officers." There you had two police officers endeavouring to observe the sign of their brother officer, and entirely unable to do so because he was so placed in reference to the general illumination that he was virtually invisible.
I would like to remind the Minister that certain provincial centres, by means of spot lights and coloured lights, are illuminating the points where traffic controllers stand. If he intends to adopt mechanical traffic controls, I imagine that there must be a large number of points where policemen or scouts will have to be retained, and I hope, in those circumstances, he will investigate the position to see whether something better can be done. The Home Secretary, in reply to a question of mine a few weeks ago, informed the House that in the last three years in the Metropolis alone over 796 100 policemen were injured while on point duty after sunset. May I, therefore, close by reaffirming that economy in money and economy in lives are the two main demands upon the Minister at the present moment. I trust that when becomes to reply he will be able to assure the Committee that these two matters are safe in his keeping.
Mr. LOVAT-FRASER : I should like to say a word to the House about a subject upon which I have spoken on every occasion that it has been open to me to do so since I have been a Member of the House, and upon which I shall probably speak as long as I have the privilege of being a Member of this House, and that is the subject of noise. It is a truism that there has been during the last 20 years an immense development of mechanical transport over the land, over the water, and through the air, and that transport has been accompanied by an immense increase in the amount of noise. There is one particular form of nuisance that accompanies transport at the present time, and that is the vibration and noise that attach to very large motor vans and motor cars that are so common in our midst to-day. All over the country we have old cities and old towns with a few roads that were never made for motor transport, and were never intended for the passage of large wagons. These roads are traversed by large motor vans and wagons, and one result is that in many of these old cities much damage has been done to the houses and the buildings on each side of the road by the vibration.
In the City of Lichfield which I have the honour to represent people have asked me into their houses on the main road through which the principal amount of traffic passes, and they have pointed out to me cracks and breakages in the walls which have resulted from the passage of large motor vans along the road. That is very hard on people who own their houses and who have lived in them for many years, and who from no fault of their own, find their houses depreciating in value and rendered less comfortable to live in. The have no remedy as things stand at present. I asked the Minister of Transport recently if he was aware of the amount of damage that was done by large motor vans passing through the streets and roads of old 797 cities and towns, and whether he could suggest any remedy. The remedy that he suggested was the greater use of rubber tyres. He went on to say that the Government were promoting the use of rubber tyres. Rubber tyres can do something to reduce vibration, but they cannot do everything. Something more than rubber tyres is necessary. There must be rubber roads.
I am taking this opportunity of urging upon the Minister the propriety of considering the suggestion of rubber roads. I am told that there is now a new science which devotes itself to investigating the effect of vibration on roads. I ask him to give his attention to this new science. Rubber roads have been tried, and they have been very successful. There is a rubber road in New Bridge Street, in the City of London, and it is proving extremely successful by preventing vibration and noise from motor vehicles. There is, I believe, in Newcastle a rubber road which is a success, and I am told that either in Glasgow or Edinburgh, or in one of the large Scottish cities, there is a rubber road which is also proving successful. I urge, therefore, upon the Minister, if he thinks that rubber tyres prevent vibration, also to make an addendum that rubber roads should be traversed by the rubber tyres. I press upon the Committee that it is a wrong that so many people should, through no fault of their own, be compelled to spend money in repairing damage to their houses by vibration, and that it is a matter which calls for the urgent attention of the Minister of Transport. I suggest to the Minister that he should follow this matter up, and seriously consider whether something cannot be done to promote the use of rubber roads to prevent such damage to property.
Although there are a good many methods affecting transport to which I should like to call attention, I do not wish to be unreasonable, and I will confine my remarks to mentioning one other matter, and that is the great increase in the use of dissonant motor horns. Anybody going about the City must have observed the great increase within the last few years of horrible, shrieking horns. They are most injurious to health. A sudden shriek in the ear has very much the same effect on the physical system as a blow, and if you are going down the street and 798 hear 10 dissonant shrieks, it is like receiving 10 blows. I have been reading in the reports of medical congresses that doctors says that the children who live in big cities are growing up with impaired nervous systems because of the constant noise to which those who live in great cities are subject. I ask the Minister to give some attention to this matter, and see if something can be done. Cannot he fix standards confining the noises made by motor cars within certain ranges? It is quite unnecessary to have shrieking horns. Coming from Piccadilly to-day I heard shriek after shriek, which increased my desire to speak in the House of Commons this afternoon, and to impress the Minister on this subject. I can assure him that there are many other things about which I would like to speak, but I urge upon him those two matters—consideration of the surface of roads, so as to prevent vibration that is doing so much injustice, and the noise caused by motor horns in the streets.
Mr. J. JONES : Some of us are not so much interested in discordant noises as we are in the carrying out of great schemes of public improvements. The noise of a motor horn is sometimes more attractive than the voices of some Members of Parliament. In this particular case I would like to congratulate the leader of the new economy group on his action. We were told in the daily Press a few days ago that a new economy group from the back benches of the Government was going to put the brake on national expenditure in matters of roads, education and the public services generally, and that the time had arrived when this Government must be called to order by their own supporters. Of course in this we do not count; we are only the orphans of the storm.
An ex-President of the Board of Education has made himself the advocate of economy. He wants to know why we want these great improvements in public roads. As a matter of fact, some of us who live in the Eastern Counties and who represent constituencies there, know full well that there is a large amount of useful public work that could be done in the development of the arterial road system in this country. In spite of all that is being done, and of the millions of pounds that have been spent, there are still culs-de-sac and bottle-necks on 799 the roads. These may cost a lot of money to remove, and it is said that the nation cannot afford it, but it can afford other things. Take the case of the well-known main road from Aldgate to Yarmouth and look at the number of culs-de-sac and bottle-necks there.
The hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) does not want to cut down expenditure upon the Air Force or the Army or Navy which may or may not be necessary—I cannot speak as an expert—yet we must cut down the services which are of the greatest possible utility to the mass of the people of the country. The burden of economy seems to fall upon the things that are necessary for the lives of the people. We must not spend money on them, but upon the things that are not essential we must be prepared to spend more money. We must not even practice economy upon the things which do not matter. I come from a district where we have done a little bit, and I am very pleased to congratulate the Minister of Transport in this respect, for he has met us, and so did his predecessor, in connection with developments in the dock areas. I claim that the development of our dock areas and of our water services is not an extravagance, but an investment. It means the development of the Port of London and not really of the Port of London, but of the regions beyond. We claim, therefore, that anybody who wants to arrest the development of our greater national services in the matter of road services is simply trying to prevent the natural developments of the economic forces of this country.
We are going to Ottawa, and there we shall discuss Dominion and Colonial trade and trade development. How are we to develop trade with our Colonies if we are not to have economy properly developed by means of transport, both by water and by road? I represent a constituency which is closely connected with the Colonies, and where we have all the main steamship lines dealing with the Colonial Empire, and they are anxious that development should take place. When we come to discuss economic arrangements between the Colonies and the homeland, one of the great points that we ought to attend to is the development of our transport services by road, by sea and by air. The money that we 800 are now spending is not an extravagance. I can understand its being considered so by those who come from, say, the North-East Coast, or by those who come from Hastings, which is a seaside resort having no means of development except by taking money from the people who earn it in the industrial centres. The rates in Hastings are, of course, a very important matter; but, after all, if the people in the working-class districts of London and the South and East of England do not earn the money, they cannot spend it in Hastings, so that what the people of Hastings gain on the swings they lose on the roundabouts. Therefore, this talk about economy on the things that matter is simply an attempt to throw dust in the eyes of the people. I believe in economy; I have to practise it, because I cannot afford to do anything else. My greatest extravagance is a thing that most people do not like —[Interruption.] It does not matter what you call it; you can call it what you like so long as you know that I like it. Tell us what you really mean by economy. Does it mean stopping expenditure? Real economy is the spending of money properly for the possibilities of the future.
You talk about the local authorities. I do not know of a local authority—and I happen to be a member of one—that asks the Government to subsidise a scheme in regard to which it is not prepared to take its share of responsibility. West Ham is not a very rich place; it is mostly occupied by poor people. The people who make their money out of it take very good care to live out of it too. We have never proposed a scheme to this or any other Government in regard to which we were not prepared to accept our share of responsibility. We have accepted our share, and schemes have been carried out in that district because of the fact that successive Governments have agreed that great schemes of reconstruction should be carried into effect. What would have happened in this country if it had been said that this could not be done, and that could not be done? What would have happened if local authorities had not been prepared to accept their share of responsibility? Their own people would have been up against it. Therefore, I would ask hon. Members who are talking about economy to get down to brass 801 tacks and tell us what they mean by economy. Do they mean stopping every scheme of public importance? That seems to me to be the policy that some of them are advocating. As regards road schemes, who wants to make a road down to nowhere I We want to make roads to everywhere, and we want to make them of such a kind that they will lead to development of the country, so that it may be possible to make life brighter and better for the great mass of the people. I have had an opportunity of going on an omnibus ride through some parts of Essex, twisting round corners that ought never to exist. If we had a real scheme of national development, we should have roads fit for the people to walk along, and fit for the people to ride along. Now we have this new scheme that economy is the order of the day, and economy only at the expense of the convenience of the common people.
If you want economy, start at the top. Let the people who have more than they can afford to spend for the time being pay their bit towards national economy. They have paid nothing up to now, but they have grumbled about taxation. As a matter of fact, they are not being taxed half as much as the ordinary workman. They have never yet been taxed as much as they ought to be; if they were they would grumble. As regards this proposed economy in national road making and schemes of transport, the Minister is "in the cart;" he cannot help himself. We have been appealing to him to allow us to carry through schemes, but, of course, he cannot agree, and, when he has agreed, he has been rapped over the knuckles by some of his friends who belong to the National Government, while at the same time they are going to other countries to ask them to agree to great schemes of reconstruction, national and international. Why do they not agree, in spite of their economy proposals, to a, great scheme of national reconstruction? They tell us that we cannot afford it, that the nation, is too poor; but I discover every morning, when I read my newspaper, that, if people who want money can show some possibility of a profit, they can always get all the money they want. There is plenty of money for the people who want to get more; there is nothing for the people who have not any. Economy is the order of 802 the day, and when it is a question of a public improvement for a national purpose, it has to be turned down. As an. ordinary back-bench Member of the House, the whole thing seems to me to be preposterous. The Minister's Vote does not contain all that I should like to see it contain, but it contains just as much as we expected, and blessed are they who expect little, for they shall not be disappointed.
Lord APSLEY : Except for the speech of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), I think that my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport looks like spending a very unpleasant afternoon and evening. He has been assailed from all sides. From one side he has been charged with ravishing the nation's purse, while others have said that he is not spending anything like enough, and so is causing more unemployment. However, I expect that ray hon. Friend is a sufficiently experienced Parliamentarian to sail safely between Scylla and Charybdis. He may have a rather rough, passage, but I have no doubt that he will be able to explain clearly and persuasively that he could not spend more because he was not allowed to spend quite so much, and that he has spent more than he ought to have spent because it was so necessary that we should spend a bit for the sake of relieving unemployment, and that the Ministry will be able to carry on doing exactly the same as they have always done before.
That would be very well if we could afford it, but I am afraid that a great many Members of this Committee are very genuinely concerned about what is going to happen to the taxpayers and ratepayers of this country. Economy, as has just been said by the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones), must begin at the top, and that is where it is beginning. Men's incomes have been cut down to half what they were before the War, and the rates and taxes are suffering in consequence; and that is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is afraid of as regards all the excellent schemes which every one of us would like to promote if he had the money to do so. This country was given a warning last September, which it would be unwise to forget. It is as though a man in the prime of his strength were suddenly to develop an unmistakable symptom that there was some- 803 thing wrong with his heart, possibly due to strain in his youth. He goes to his doctor, and his doctor tells him that he cannot expect to go on living at 40 in the same way as he used to do at 25. If that man were to neglect the doctor's opinion, he would be a fool, and if this country neglected the warning given in September it would without doubt be a most dreadful disaster, not only for this country, but for the world. We may get another opportunity. The doctor may come again, perhaps in the autumn, perhaps in January of next year, and tell us whether it was indeed a symptom of heart attack or whether it was only heartburn. We have that time before us, and I have no doubt that the Government are hanging on that time and hoping that we shall be able to carry on in the same kind and generous way as we have been doing, with, perhaps, a few minor economies, and that drastic methods will not be required. We shall hear the verdict; it will have to be given; and I would ask my hon. Friend what preparations are being made in his Department, as in others, for the possibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer telling us in September or January that not only Departmental economies are required, but a drastic revision of the whole order of administration and Government. Are preparations being made in my hon. Friend's Department lest that event should take place?
For my own part, I spent a short time in the Ministry of Transport, and T see in his plane my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), who spent a great deal longer time there, and possibly will be able to tell us more. I came away with the very clear idea in my head that the work of the Ministry of Transport was necessary, and was being efficiently carried out, but I was not sure that it was being carried out in the right way. T came to the conclusion that there were two ways of conducting the transport system of this country economically. One was by doing away with the Ministry of Transport altogether, and dividing its various activities—which by no means represent the whole of the transport industries of this country—among other Ministries. For instance, road traffic, in regard to which there is constant duplication with the Home Office, might well be 804 given over entirely to the Home Office. Rail transport and bridges might be given over to the Board of Trade. There is no doubt that, if the Ministry of Transport did not exist, as was the case before the War, its activities could be spread over other Departments without any further duplication of work by the Ministry of Transport itself. The other way would be to increase the Ministry of Transport and make it a Ministry really representing all the transport interests and activities in this country. That is what I believe is done at the present time in Germany, where they have a real Ministry of Communications. I have the words "Communications" and "Transport," however, and would rather have an English word to represent them. Such a Ministry would represent, not rail and road transport only, and electrical power, which for some reason or other is now included, but it would represent all the various branches of transport—sea, air, road and rail—and deal with them under one head, so that no duplication with other Departments would be required. It seems to be somewhat illogical that while goods are going as far as the docks they should fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transport, but that, as soon as they leave the docks and are placed on a ship, they should come under the Board of Trade. A pilot belonging to the United Kingdom Pilots' Association is under the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade; if he were one of the Bristol pilots belonging to the Transport and General Workers' Union he would come under the Ministry of Transport. What logical reason is there for that? Why does not the Ministry of Transport deal with the sea as well as the land? And why should it not deal with air communications as well? There is a great feeling among aviation experts at the present moment that the time has come when aviation should be freed from the jurisdiction of the Air Ministry, excellent though the Air Ministry is, and well though they have supervised it. It would appear, they think, that aviation can now stand on its own legs—or rather, fly on its own wings. After all, the groundwork of aviation is by far the most important part of the whole. What counts is not only the time when you are flying in the air; it is the preparation before the start, and the arrangements which you have 805 made for the time when you will come down, which are by far the most important part of civil aviation. Many hold that civil aviation might well come under the Ministry of Transport, or even under the Home Office in matters of regulations and of licence, and those various small matters which could be infinitely reduced, compared with what they are under the present organisation. I do hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has considered these points, or that if he has not, that he will be able to assure us that they are being considered.
I do not expect that he will get up and tell us that he would rather be done away with altogether—that that is the alternative which he would prefer. If he had an alternative, perhaps he would rather be increased in stature, and take in those Departments of the Board of Trade and of the Home Office which deal with transport, leaving the Home Office to deal with police matters entirely—all the road traffic organisations, police on point duty, scouts, and every other form of road transport organisation, so as to avoid duplication. No doubt he would like that; but I should like to hear what he would like when he replies, and whether he thinks that that would be a more economical way of running the road transport of this country. I should like to know, in the same way, whether he would rather take over the railways and the ships as well as the docks; or whether he would like even to have the Post Office under his Department—a very progressive branch of industry which would leave him with a nice little profit at the end of the year to add to what he gets from the Road Fund? But there is in my mind no possible doubt, and there is a growing feeling in the minds of all the electors of this country, that there is duplication and waste. It is not only a question of the salaries of the staff. Heaven knows they are not so big as all that, and, indeed, we are told that they are underpaid. But there are too many men doing the same work, and the mere fact that they are doing the same work means endless expense and endless trouble. The whole administration of many Departments of the State is using up their energies entirely in internal friction, and there is no doubt whatever that some reorganisation will have to take place. I hope that my hon. Friend 806 the Minister of Transport has considered this matter, or is considering it, and will be able to give us some assurance on the subject this afternoon.
Mr. McENTEE : There are one or two questions which I should like to put to the Minister, and, if possible, I should like to have some answer in regard to the matters which I propose to raise. In the first place, I put a question to the Minister of Transport to-day in regard to the negotiations which are now taking place between the London County Council and his Department, and the reply which I got was to the effect that those negotiations have not yet reached a stage when any statement can be made in regard to the matter. I should like to ask the Minister a definite question in regard to that: whether it is true that the London County Council, at any rate, have definitely made up their minds in regard to Waterloo Bridge, and whether it is true that they have intimated to the Minister that, as far as they are concerned, they do not propose to declare any policy on their own behalf in regard to that bridge, but, in fact, have asked the Government and the Minister of Transport to declare their policy; in other words, whether it is true that the London County Council have definitely said, "When the Waterloo Bridge Bill was going through Parliament, you did not give us that support which we had a right to expect. You did not put on the Government Whips. You allowed us to be defeated, although giving us nominal support, and, as a consequence, you have left us in an impossible position. We therefore,, say to you that the future policy with regard to Waterloo Bridge will have to be determined by you? Will the Minister tell us whether that is actually the position to-day, as I believe it to be; and, if it is so, will he tell us what is the Government policy in regard to Waterloo Bridge? Is the matter to be talked about and hung up for another few years, as it has been talked about in the past, and are we to wait until another Government come in with an active Minister of Transport—an active Government determined to do something with regard to the bridges now going over the River?
Then will the Minister give us some information in regard to a subject which used to be talked about a good deal in 807 this House and in London generally, but which appears to have been dropped almost entirely recently, that is, the position of Charing Cross Bridge? We had discussions in this House on many occasions,, we had discussions in the London County Council, and there were a very considerable number of articles in the Press dealing with Charing Cross Bridge and with Charing Cross Station. Recently the whole matter appears to have been dropped, and, so far as the public are aware, no further action appears to be likely to be taken. The Minister might inform the Committee just what is the present position with regard to Charing Cross Bridge. I suppose he is also aware of the position in regard to the removal of the station itself in conjunction with the Charing Cross Bridge project. I should like to know whether he can give us any information in regard to that matter generally.
I wish to say a word also in regard to roads. I do not suppose that there is a Member of the House to-day who is not aware of some road scheme, or some bridge scheme or some similar scheme in his own area which has not been turned down by the Ministry of Transport since the last General Election. My own constituency has suffered probably to the same extent as many other constituencies, if not all the constituencies, in the United Kingdom by the new policy determined on by the Government of reducing expenditure, and, as a consequence, cutting out those useful work schemes which would have put many thousands of men into work had they been carried out. The plea, of course, is economy, but I want to question the wisdom of a type of economy which throws men—human beings—on to the street which compels many of them to live for long periods of time on a merely starvation basis, and which causes very serious suffering to the people depending upon them—their wives, their children and in some cases their parents—as a consequence of their lack of employment.
I want to ask the Minister what his view is, and perhaps he can declare what the Government view is, in regard to the effect of economy on the lives of those people. Is it nothing to the Government? Do they not care whether the health of those people is suffering in consequence of the lack of employment, and are they 808 of opinion that the mere saving of money is of more importance than the health of the people who are suffering as a consequence of their policy I Apparently the only thing which troubles the present Government is a desire to save money in one way to enable them, according to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Budget Day or in the day or two following Budget Day, to decrease the Income Tax, as he said he contemplates doing at as early a date as it is possible for him to do it. The only thing which appears to be troubling Ministers at the present time is that they shall economise at the expense of the health of the people generally, at the expense of their well-being, and at the expense of their comfort, so that a fund can be created out of the savings of those very poor people to enable the Super-tax payer and the Income Tax payer to get a reduction when the next Budget Day comes round.
I should like to ask the Minister of Transport for his opinion in regard to that. A speech of his was quoted to-day in criticism of the Labour party when they formed the Government and it was pointed out that that speech could very well be used against him to-day. I think he will admit that that is true; and I think it is equally true to say that when he was in opposition his general policy was at any rate a progressive policy generally in regard to the comfort and the well-being of the people of this country. To-day he has unfortunately, I think, allowed himself to be placed in a position of inferiority to the position which was held by his predecessor, who, after all, was an extremely active Minister of Transport, who had the courage to insist that his Department should be treated in the way in which, in my opinion, it ought to be treated even to-day, and who had Cabinet rank. He dealt in a drastic manner, but in an active manner all the time, with all those large problems of transport with which London particularly, and also other parts of the country, are concerned.
I should like to ask the Minister of Transport what is the policy of the Government in regard to the London traffic question. Is it going to hang about for ever? Is he content that it shall hang about for ever? Is he content to allow matters to drift, and to take no action 809 with regard to this problem, which was stated by the whole of the great London Press, and in fact by almost every Member of this House, to be a problem of great magnitude and of imperative importance? That was only a few months ago. Now, a few months later, we hear nothing at all about the London Passenger Transport Bill; we hoar nothing at all about the policy of the Government or the policy of the Department in regard to traffic in London; we hear nothing about all those things which have already been mentioned and which I do not want to repeat, with regard to railway and road traffic; we hear nothing, in fact, of any problem of magnitude inside the Department or within the realm for which the Minister himself is responsible.
The Minister of Transport himself is a very nice gentleman who apparently likes to sit on the Front Bench and to take things nicely and quietly, but personally I would be very much more attracted to him if he would put up a fighting policy against those people who are destroying his Department. They are destroying the efficiency of his Department, they are destroying all those high ideals for which his Department did stand a year or two ago, and a suggestion has even been put forward by the speaker who preceded me, the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Lord Apsley) that his Department might very well be broken up. I hope the Minister is not going to allow himself to be jockeyed into a position like that by the hon." Gentleman, who apparently represents that new group of amateur economists who meet occasionally in this House and tell us how we can chop off everything of which they do not happen, for the moment, to be in favour—how we can cut everything down, particularly at the expense of working-class people who, as a consequence, are suffering.
A few weeks ago I made some reference in this House to the number of men out of work in my constituency and in the area which I represent, and I made a statement which was not accepted by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. The statement which I then made was that as a consequence of men being thrown off transitional benefit, they were going on to the public assistance committees, and receiving relief from them. The right hon. Gentleman contradicted that statement; he said that it was im- 810 possible that it could occur, and he gave reasons why in his opinion such a thing could not occur. I have taken the trouble since then to make definite inquiries in the area where I live, and I find that not only can it occur but that in fact it did occur, and that there are considerably over 600 people in that area at the present time who are now receiving Poor Law relief, who had been receiving unemployment benefit and for a period, transitional benefit, who were denied transitional benefit any longer, and who, as a consequence of being denied transitional benefit, had reached the stage of practical starvation before the public assistance committee were compelled to step in and to give them a measure of outdoor relief rather than allow them to die of sheer starvation. There were in that area a week or two ago over 600 people, and there are possibly even more now, receiving Poor Law relief because they have been thrown off unemployment benefit and are not allowed any transitional benefit.
The CHAIRMAN : I do not know how the hon. Member connects this with the Ministry of Transport.
Mr. McENTEE : I was illustrating that the policy of throwing men out of work by refusing to sanction necessary road, bridge and other schemes, results in a greater number of men seeking unemployment benefit, and, as a consequence of that, the time is bound to be reached, and is being reached day by day, when these men, having drawn all their unemployment benefit, reach the transitional stage and, being refused transitional benefit, they are thrown upon the public assistance committees. Many of them are refused that public assistance payment, but many of them also get it, and I am arguing that the consequence of the Minister's policy is not the saving that he appears to anticipate but, in fact, a mere shifting of the burden from the taxpayer on to the local ratepayer. I am complaining against this policy because in my own area we have been refused sanction for road schemes and, consequently, the lack of employment is increasing the rates. I hope the Minister will stand up against this policy. It is not economy in any real sense of the word. I plead with him to bring the Department up, instead of allowing it to be lowered until it is almost of no im- 811 portance. I should like to see him put some of the fight into it that was put into it by his predecessor, and stand up for the Department and all that it represents. In doing that, he will be doing far more for the nation than in giving way to the false economy cries which come from the back benches and from his colleagues.
Mr. ALBERY : I wish to draw attention to a matter that is causing considerable concern, especially in the rural areas. The Minister is probably aware by now that, not only in my constituency but probably in many others, there is very considerable dissatisfaction with some of the decisions that have recently been given as regards local omnibus services, and it is difficult to trace that the Ministry has any definite policy, or broad lines of principle, in dealing with these cases. I think the Transport Commissioners very often have an extremely difficult task, and it is impossible for them to decide these cases in a satisfactory way unless they have some very definite guidance on lines of broad principle. In a case which I recently brought to his notice a rural area in my constituency had been served by one of the more important omnibus companies, which had given an insufficient service. A local company was started and supplemented that service. This resulted eventually in the usual case before the Transport Commissioners, and a decision was given by which the local service was refused permission to continue. Probably the Transport Commissioners gave their decision fairly on the evidence that they heard as between the two companies. It was eventually confirmed by the Ministry.
The matter that was really of the greatest importance was the usefulness of these services to the public, and in this case three local authorities asked that the local service should be retained. In spite of that, it was put off the road. It is a most remarkable thing that, in coming to a decision of that kind, the views of local authorities, duly elected, representing the people they speak for, should be completely ignored and a decision given against their views. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some idea of the broad lines on which these cases are decided, and to say that definite in- 812 structions will be given as an aid to the Commissioners in deciding them. I think we have already made a great mistake in that direction. It seems to me that it would be far more appropriate if the bigger companies were given a preference in running those services that run along either main roads or important secondary roads, and if the local companies, those that are organised in the villages, were given a preference for the running of purely local services. They understand the needs of the people more, they are far more in touch with them, they are much more elastic in their services and they know the changes that are constantly happening.
There is another point which rather joins this up with the present troubles on the railways. It has always amazed me that the railway companies, when they began to find that road transport was really hitting them severely, allied themselves to the big main road transport companies, which were naturally their biggest competitors, and they appear to have joined with them in using any influence in. their power to exterminate or, at any rate, greatly to limit the activity of the smaller enterprises. I should have thought an exactly opposite policy was the desirable one. What the railroads need more than anything else to-day are feeders, and there is no body of persons who, if they had been tackled in the right way, if they had received some assistance from the railway companies instead of being opposed by them, could have done more to help the railway companies in their present difficulties. They cover all the adjacent areas which are not covered by the railway companies. If some arrangement had been made by which the railway stations and yards were made available to these people on certain conditions, instead of adding to the present difficulties of the railway companies and helping their competitors, they might have been of the very greatest assistance to the railroads themselves.
My noble Friend the Member for Bristol Central (Lord Apsley) seemed to take a rather pessimistic view about the administration of the Ministry generally. In what I am going to say I want my hon. Friend to believe that I am not directing my remarks against him personally. In fact, if the hon. Gentleman opposite had moved a reduction, not as against the present Minister but as against the 813 Ministry since it has been in existence, I should have been inclined to go into the Lobby with him. There is no Ministry, in my view, which has had such a remarkable opportunity presented to it for doing something really useful and big. After all, transport is a problem that has been growing in importance and varying in its nature to a most remarkable extent ever since the War. Anyone who goes on our roads to-day can admire them only in one single respect, and that is their wonderful condition. That, I am inclined to think, is not due to any particular Minister of Transport. It is due to the unemployment from which we have suffered and to various other causes which have, rightly or wrongly, led to our spending a great deal of money on roads.
When you see, as you can any morning on the main roads out of London, the dangerous circus of large coaches which rush out generally about 9 o'clock in all directions, one on top of the other, sometimes two abreast, sometimes three abreast, when you go into our country lanes and meet, as you constantly do, an omnibus coming in the opposite direction of such a size that no other vehicle can possibly pass it without stopping and drawing into the side, when you go down a country lane for a walk with your dog and find some motor car, which has no need to go there except for a similar purpose, either to admire the country or to go two or three miles off the main road to get to a country house, and which is allowed to tear along at 40 miles an hour, you cannot help thinking that there are many things that we might make much better and more comfortable for everybody without doing any harm to any one in particular. I hope the present Minister may occupy his office for a long time, and I believe there is no office that has such scope for achievement, I trust that, before he quits office, he will be able to claim that he has brought real order out of what in many respects is merely a state of chaos which, instead of getting better, is steadily getting worse.
Mr. RHYS DAVIES : Several statements have been made to-day that have interested me very much. With regard to the proposal of the Noble Lord the Member for Central Bristol (Lord Apsley) to amalgamate the Ministry of Transport, the Board of Trade and the Home Office I would venture the opinion that it does
not follow, when you amalgamate two institutions that you of necessity reduce expenditure. I have seen amalgamations in Various spheres of life and I have seen expenditure going up almost at once in consequence. I cannot conceive how the Home Office could possibly undertake part of the work that is now performed by the Ministry of Transport. The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) thought the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) indicated a Socialist policy of the future like the madcap policy of the railway companies of the United States and Canada years ago. I cannot conceive that Socialist policy will ever be like the railway or any other capitalist policy at any time. He said that we have been squandering money for the purpose of joy-riding. I have not got up to deal with proposals for constructing new roads, and I am not very much concerned at the moment with repairs to roads already constructed. I have in my division a road which is very nearly completed, and it has been stopped. I have done my level best with the present Minister to see whether he can do anything at all to complete the job. The Blackrod by-pass road is about two miles long and when completed it will avoid one of the narrowest thoroughfares in Lancashire through a little village called Blackrod. An hon. Gentleman said that he would not mind at all if we spent money upon main thoroughfares. He objected to spending money on side tracks, as it were. The road of which I am speaking is one of the main roads of Lancashire. It runs from Manchester, through Bolton and Chorley, and on to Preston and Blackpool. I wish the hon. Gentleman could do something towards completing this road, because I assure him it would be the means of avoiding a number of very nasty accidents in the village of Blackrod. Moreover, it would open out a new avenue entirely for the great volume of traffic from Manchester through Bolton and on to Blackpool. I can safely appeal for the completion of the road because the cost will not be very great. Here is a road nearly two miles long completed up to 65 per cent., situated at the foot of a hill, and unless something is done to it soon the whole of the expenditure already incurred will very probably be thrown away and
wasted. Whatever other argument may be employed this afternoon about economy, I am sure that there is not a Member of the Committee belonging to the Conservative or the Liberal party or the National Government who will argue that it is not economy to finish a task which has proceeded up to 65 per cent.
When I have dealt with this matter the hon. Gentleman has always turned me on to the Lancashire County Council. I want to know from him, therefore, what is the responsibility of the Lancashire County Council in connection with this road? I can imagine the Lancashire County Council, if I raise the issue with them, turning me on to the Ministry of Transport, and making me into a shuttlecock between the two. I protest against the attitude adopted of transferring the responsibility, when it suits the Government, to the local authority, and the local authority in turn saying that it has no responsibility at all. I am convinced —and I do not wish to offend the hon. Gentleman—that the trouble lies in the fact that the present National Government have reduced the status of the Ministry of Transport. If the hon. Gentleman had been a Conservative he would probably have been in the Cabinet and consequently the Ministry would have had its proper status. I dislike the suggestion made, that because the hon. Gentleman happens to be a Liberal his Department must be abolished and the job handed over to the Home Office. But even if the work were handed over and divided between the Home Office and the Board of Trade it would still be in the hands of the Liberal party, and accordingly the Conservative element in the House of Commons would not get what they want. What they really want is to deprive a Liberal Minister in this Government of his salary. [Interruption.] Oh, yes. An hon. Gentleman just now argued that we ought to amalgamate the work of this Ministry with that of the Board of Trade and the Home Office, but he forgot that the two Ministers of the Departments named are also Liberals, and that therefore the work would not be handed over to any Tory Minister of the Government. I believe that that is at the bottom of all the trouble. I feel sure that I am right.
816 Let me analyse the situation. The President of the Board of Trade has not suffered such a cut in his expenditure as that which we have experienced in regard to this Ministry. It is the one Ministry above all which the Government have centred upon to reduce expenditure. I would not be surprised, speaking offhand, if the reduction in the expenditure of this Department is as great as the reduction in all the other Departments combined. An hon. Gentleman speaking from behind me said a most remarkable thing. "Just imagine," he said in a surprising voice; "we are spending twice as much upon roads as we are spending upon the Air Force." Just imagine an hon. Member saying that with surprise! At any rate, many more people walk the roads than fly. According to the use made of the roads and the use made of aircraft we ought to spend a million times more upon roads than upon aircraft. I know what is wrong. The hon. Gentleman wants a big Air Force, a strong Army and a mighty Navy, and all the rest of it, but we ordinary folk who use the roads are very seldom in a battleship or an airship or in the Army.
I wish to dwell for a moment or two upon the argument so forcibly put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly about unemployment. I do not know whether the Minister of Transport has ever been in Lancashire, but if he looks at the map he will see Black-rod by-pass road is nearly completed, and that just about a mile from the road is a small urban district called Aspull. In that district there is a population of about 5,000, and as far as I am aware— and I know the district fairly well—there is hardly a soul working in the whole of that township. All factories and mines have been closed for years, and still we have this road left derelict so near a spot where there is so much unemployment. I wish that Members of all parties would regard the roads of this country as more in the nature of social services. There is nothing more important than a good road. I have been in a country where there are hardly any roads at all. I have said this before in this House, and I do not think that I shall be doing wrong by repeating it, that I wish that hon. Gentlemen who complain about taxation for road purposes would take their beautiful cars to parts of Poland where very little money has been spent on roads at all. I am 817 sure that if they took a trip of 20 miles in parts of Poland in their cars they would not complain again about expenditure upon roadways in this country.
I have been questioning the Minister for months and I have written him several letters. He is always very gentle and courteous, but courtesy and gentleness will not complete the Blackrod by-pass road. The local people are now asking whether that road can be opened for pedestrians, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to say whether the road can be used for pedestrian purposes. At any rate, that would be better than closing it and allowing it to go derelict. I ask the hon. Gentleman whether there is any hope of completing this road during the lifetime of the present Government. I will give this Government another 18 months or so. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to put me off by saying that the Lancashire County Council are responsible, and make it possible, when I make inquiries of the county council, for them to say that the fault lies with the Minister. I want the hon. Gentleman to be quite frank this afternoon and tell me exactly what is going to happen with regard to the Blackrod by-pass road.
Mr. JAMES REID : My purpose in addressing the Committee is to add my voice to the voices of those who seek to forward the cause of economy. I welcome —and I think we all welcome, apart from the Opposition—the very considerable economies which have hitherto been achieved, and I think that the Minister deserves great credit for those economies. But I do not think that the matter can stop there. It was suggested by the hon. Member for West Wathamstow (Mr. McEntee) that the economies hitherto made by the Minister in some sense endangered the Ministry and threatened to destroy it. I would say, on the other hand, that unless further economies are made the life of the Ministry may be endangered because a distinction must be drawn between economies in this Department and economies in many other Departments. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) that in some sense expenditure upon roads must be regarded as expenditure upon, social services. I disagree with that entirely. There is a great deal to be said for being extremely careful in the
cuts which you may make on truly social service expenditure, because the last thing one wants to do is to cut down anything which directly affects either the health or the welfare of the people. But nobody can say that expenditure on roads has any direct—indeed it has little indirect effect—upon the welfare of the ordinary working man or upon the people as a whole. Roads are things which we can afford and upon which we ought to spend money in good times, but they are the first thing upon which we ought to economise in bad times.
I do not wish to dwell upon this question of general policy, but to seek some information. I find the utmost difficulty —it may be any fault—in discovering exactly how much money is going to be spent upon the roads of this country during the coming year, and, in particular, I find great difficulty in distinguishing whether the expenditure is to be upon maintenance or upon new capital works. One can see great justification for continued expenditure upon maintenance, although we must be careful in that direction, but when it comes to expenditure upon capital works there is no justification for proceeding with new capital works unless there are some very exceptional circumstances involved. I think that the public would be enlightened and gratified if the Minister could tell us just how much of the national money is to be spent during this year, firstly, upon maintenance, and, secondly, upon new construction. If he could add to this, in order that we might have a complete picture, similar details with regard to local expenditure—which I know it is more difficult to get accurately—I think that the public would be in a very much better position than that in which they stand to-day. I do not think that I am alone in saying that I have great difficulty in discovering from the national accounts and from answers to questions how the money which we vote is being spent. I have no doubt that the Minister rightly believes that the money is being spent properly, but it would be in the interests of the Department as well as the Committee to have a somewhat detailed statement upon this question.
I will give two reasons why capital expenditure should be avoided at the present moment. In the first place a good deal of the excuse for capital expenditure in the past has been that we are 819 fitting the roads to a new class of traffic. While at the present moment matters are in the air as between rail and road, I think that that fact cannot possibly be advanced as a justification for further expenditure. I would hope to see all the heavy traffic which is now on the road taken off and put on rail, where it properly belongs. If that were done it would avoid a great deal of the justification for further capital expenditure. Whether that is the ultimate policy of the Government or not, where that work cannot be done during the period of uncertainty it would be foolish to go on spending money which may ultimately turn out to be unnecessary expenditure.
The Government have told us, with, I believe, complete conviction, that they support and will continue to support economy. The one thing which the ordinary man in the street sees when he goes out of his house, when he goes for a walk, or in his car, is expenditure on roads, but no one will believe that this Government really mean economy if they see more and more expenditure on building bigger and bigger roads, and getting rid of perfectly good corners day after day. I think it was the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) who said that his ideal, apparently, for this country, was that we should have perfectly straight roads. I shudder at the prospect. A great deal too much has been done already in removing corners where it was unnecessary. One could refer to places where tens of thousands of pounds have been spent unnecessarily during the last few years in getting rid of corners which did no one any harm. There were many corners which were much safer in their primitive form than they are now, the curve having been altered. I think the Minister of Transport has the best opportunity of any Minister in impressing the Government with the fact that the Government really mean economy, by closinf many schemes which are going on at the present time.
May I add a few words on the subject that was raised by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Albery) with regard to the licensing of omnibuses? We want to know in greater detail what are the principles underlying the licensing system. It would be for the convenience of everybody that that should be made known.
820 I do not put forward my ideas in any dogmatic spirit, but it seems to me that a very clear distinction must be drawn, and I think in most parts of the country is drawn, between the man who has had a service in the past, and a new man. I feel sure that no one wants to deprive the man who has had a service in the past, of that service, and I trust that we shall be assured that that is not being done, without very grave reasons. The invasion of an established route by a new man is a very different thing, and I hope we may take it that a very clear distinction is drawn between these two classes. I am certain that the large omnibus companies do not want to drive off the roads the small man who is already established; if they did, I should be entirely against them; but one can see that those who have built up a traffic do deserve certain protection, so long as they do not abuse that protection. Whether it will be necessary ultimately to have some further measure of control than we have at the present time I do not know. It seems to me that we have a pretty fair measure of control at the present time, and if it is properly used we ought to be able to' see that those in possession get a fair trial before anybody else is allowed to encroach upon their route, without good reason. One sees many cases where one route is only part of another route, and one gets great difficulties for that reason. It would set at rest the minds of many people if the Minister could see his way to make a general statement of the policy which is being followed in the licensing of motor omnibuses.
Mr. CHORLTON :I should like to refer to the Minister's opening speech, where he pictured or tried to describe to us the work of his Department, so that we might readily understand it. I join with other hon. Members in the feeling that he has not been clear enough in his description of the work of the Department. Despite what has been said with regard to economy, this is an exceedingly important subject and his Department ought to be an exceedingly important Department. I join issue with certain hon. Members in the sense that the economies suggested are, apparently, to cut down expenditure. That is merely saving for to-day and losing for the future. Therefore I am anxious that the Minister should describe in more detail
what his policy is for the future. If we are to reduce expenditure, then the work clone must be made more efficient. It is obvious that if we are to have more stringent economy, the efficiency will have to be proportionately increased. I suppose that the capacity of the country in regard to transport in his Department has been expressed in diagrammatic form. I presume that each road is shown by the thickness of the lines and their relative capacity estimated in that way. I presume also that the same principle is followed in regard to the railways and possibly the canals.
If the expenditure is going to be used wisely it is only fair to expect that it will be concentrated upon the narrow channels where the bottlenecks are. That is why one would like to hear in a little more detail how the Minister proposes to tackle the problem. There is one bottleneck which is known to all, and that is the country bridge, and also bridges nearer towns. What is the bridge policy of the Department? What is the use of having wide roads unless you remove the bottlenecks? If there is a bridge policy it would not only carry work on the roads but it would go back into other industries. That is something in which a good deal more could be done wisely than by merely cutting off in bulk large sums of money. In regard to the administration of the Department I should like to know what course is pursued by the expert staff of the Ministry in their contact with other staffs.
Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON : Can the candles be brought in? It is very dark.
Mr. CHORLTON : What is the plan by which the Minister's staff make contact with the staffs of the boroughs and the counties? The Minister has an expert staff of engineers and others who look after the roads. I see great risk of duplication at a time like the present when economy is in the mouth of everybody, and I should like to know how the contact is made and whether work done in a county or in a municipality is duplicated in any way in his Department? I should like also to mention one further point, and that is in regard to research. No one is keener on research than I am. I believe research to be our insurance for the future, something upon which we can wisely spend to-day, be I do not
know why the Minister still retains a separate department of research. When the Road Board began, the research work was carried out in the National Physical Laboratory, and therefore the original machines for testing road surfaces and generally the engineering work in connection with the roads were developed and tried. That Departments was moved and the Ministry established a research department of its own. In times of economy like the present, the question is whether the Ministry is getting full value for the country's money in keeping on a separate research department. I suggest that some combination with some of the other research organisations would be better. The Minister would get his work carried out just as efficiently and very probably more cheaply.
I should like to join in the appeal made by the hon. Member for West-houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies). He pleaded for a little road in his constituency. I would plead for a road in my constituency. It is a very little road, but it is dangerous in connection with the roads near to it. If the Minister is feeling generous, I hope that he will not forget, when he is considering the road in Westhoughton, a little road in Platting which has existed in a crossway for many years, and nothing has been done to it. Can I have sympathetic consideration for that?
Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON : We have heard this afternoon a great deal about economy. This Vote is different from any other because the money that goes to the Ministry of Transport is motorists' money. It is not Imperial taxation. It is money that comes from the motorists, to be spent on one definite thing, namely, the roads. If the Government come to the conclusion that they are going to spend less money on the roads, they have to make a case to the motorists why they are not going to reduce the taxation upon their cars. If they are going to keep on the same taxation and to spend the money derived from the motorists upon Imperial taxation, let them say so. That would be definitely a change of policy. When the Road Fund was inaugurated, against the wishes of the Treasury, it was understood that the tax was a voluntary one to be paid by motorists for the benefit of the roads. A speech of the local paper type was made by the hon. Member for Silver-
town (Mr. J. Jones), which seemed to me very indelicate. He sought to make a speech about the taxation of the rich and the poor and quite forgot that the money derived from motorists is to the extent of £5,000,000 going to be spent upon a road in the East End of London. I hope the Minister will tell us what is the policy of the Government. The motorists have always paid this tax voluntarily on the understanding that it was for roads, and nothing else. If the Government are going to cut down the expenditure on the roads, then the first thing is to cut down the taxation of the motorists, or explain why.
I came here to-day thinking there would be a universal demand for the sweeping away of the Ministry of Transport and my hon. Friend the Minister. I am very pleased to say that that demand has not been made. Had it been made I was going to rally to my hon. Friend's side. He is attacked from both sides. He gets the sort of attack that was made by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Albery). It is seldom I disagree with the hon. Member for Gravesend. He represented a district next to a constituency which I represented for years, and we have fought together side by side. He complains that he cannot take his dog down a side road because of motor omnibuses and that they should be regulated. If the poor Minister of Transport tries to regulate motor traffic he is immediately criticised for interfering and doing things wrongly. The hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton) made a speech in which he referred to research. When I was at the Ministry of Transport we spent £50,000,000 on roads but were not allowed to spend 5s. on research, and it was only after a Bill was passed, which was introduced by the Department, that we were able to spend money on research.
The roads in England are torn between three great vested interests, first, the great cement interest; second, the great bitumen interest, which is a by-product of oil; and the great tar interest, which is a by-product of the gas industry. We have these warring forces. Year after year we build roads and the next year we' produce a vehicle to knock them out. So it goes on. We started with four inches of concrete, and then we built a vehicle which would pound it to death in 824 eight months. Then we went on to six inches of concrete and now to 12 inches. I build vehicles which are going to knock out our present roads. Every year the vehicles become heavier.
Nothing could be more economic than to spend even more money on research work to-day. We do not know what is the right type of road. I have never seen a road in England banked yet. No one knows what is the right surface from the point of view of skidding, and most of the accidents, which we deplore, are not really the fault of motorists, but are due to a lack of knowledge as to what is the best road surface. We know that our climate makes things greasy and wet, but we do nothing to make a non-skidding road, or very little indeed. You constantly see bitumen sweating on the top of a road. That is a lubricant, and anyone who puts bitumen on the top of a road makes it slippery, and in the case of an accident is equally as culpable as a negligent driver. There is the notable case of the Maidenhead road, where we put down two kinds of road surface in order to test one against the other. During the last eight years the traffic has always been on the one side. Cannot we one day run down the other side and test it? What is the use of it, if we are not going to make use of it? I hope that we shall spend more money on research, because in my opinion our roads, considering the amount of money we spend, are not very good. Let us be told by experts what is best to be done, but to go on spending money as we do year after year without any real policy of research, without any guidance as to what is the best surface, and without any attempt to stop heavy vehicles going over roads which will not stand the traffic, is not economy but very grave extravagance.
Mr. PARKINSON : I want to consider several schemes from the point of view of giving employment and not from the point of view of saving money, because I think we may save money in ways which are not in the best interests of the country. The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), speaking as a superior person, said that the Socialist policy of the future would not be carefully planned. I wonder how he knows that. In referring to the great railway systems of Canada the Noble
Lord said that it was mad capitalism. If he is comparing what will be done by a Socialist Government with what has been done under the capitalist system in the past there is not much hope for the country. The question of roads requires careful consideration from the point of view of what we shall need in the future. I think it would be wise policy to spend money now in order to be prepared for our transport needs in the future, but at the same time every Government of modern times has had to deal with the question and therefore with the question of finance. Various schemes have been proposed. I think that the creation of the Minister of Transport was a step in the right direction, but I cannot understand why the Minister of Transport should so quietly acquiesce with the Cabinet, who are compelling the Department at the moment to keep so closely to the prescribed lines of economy, instead of taking the wider view of what may be our requirements in the future.
We have, of course, been troubled by increasing unemployment. The Government between 1924 and 1929 did not take any notice of it whatever. They allowed matters to drift along, without doing anything, and eventually the Labour Government which took office in 1929 had to tackle the question of unemployment. It was a minority Government, and pressure was brought to bear upon it by Liberal Members of the House, who did all they could to push certain schemes on the Labour Government. They complained bitterly about the speed at which the Labour Government was proceeding, and launched one or two schemes of their own, on paper, which they thought the Labour Government should adopt. The Liberal party is now part of the present Government, and we have only to look at the Chamber to realise the interest which the Liberal party takes in this question today. The Minister of Labour is an isolated Liberal Member listening to this Debate. During the whole discussion there have never been more than one or two Liberal Members in their places. As a matter of fact, the Liberal party has now been absorbed by the National Government. We must suppose that when they launched their scheme and brought pressure to bear on the Labour Government that Liberals were really sincere. At the same time, it is the fact that the 826 Labour Government, until it came to an end last year, did all it could to meet the situation, and did more in the way of providing employment than any other Government. Let me read one or two sentences from the Liberal manifesto in which they set out to solve the question of unemployment.
"The special proposals which we urged on the attention of the public some eighteen months ago for a programme of road work which would be alike desirable in itself and the means of utilising unemployed labour, may be summarised as follows."
Mr. HANNON : This is the Liberal party?
Mr. PARKINSON : Yes, and as they are part of the hon. Member's party now I suppose he accepts their programme. There is no question that the Labour Government did all they could to find work for the unemployed, and, on the question of roads, to meet the requirements of the future. I think it is false economy that this policy should now be dropped. Is this money being wisely saved? The unemployed are now going to the Poor Law authorities in tremendous numbers. They are not working, and they must be supported, and they have to be supported without giving any return in labour. I suggest that it would be much wiser to consider some of the more important Schemes in order to find work for these men, who would thus not be such a great charge on the national exchequer. It would provide employment and useful labour, for which these men would be paid, and it would mean that useful schemes could be carried through. In my opinion there are many schemes which should be carried through at the earliest possible moment, not only in the interest of national economy but in the interests of the country as a whole. The hon. Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Reid) has referred to the straightening of awkward corners. This is not altogether necessary, he says. I do not know where the hon. Member lives, but if he lived in Lancashire he would find a large number of corners which required straightening. We have scores of them in Lancashire.
A large number of schemes have been submitted to the Government; and I want to ask what has been done in connection with some of them. I should like to know whether anything had been done in con- 827 nection with the Everton Tunnel, a very important matter for Liverpool. This is a work which will have to be undertaken in the future. It cannot be delayed indefinitely. Have the Ministry of Transport done anything at all to meet the views of the Liverpool Corporation in order to carry out this work? I know it is an expensive undertaking and would employ a large amount of labour. It would connect the Manchester and Liverpool road with the Mersey Tunnel, and serve a most useful purpose in many ways. Then there is the Great North Road in Durham. I wonder whether this is still proceeding, or whether it has been postponed, like many other schemes. It was also intended to build one or two bridges over the Caledonian Canal. Has anything been done in that matter, or has the work been stopped? There is also the question of the Queen Ferry Bridge and the Elephant and Castle and Vauxhall Cross Roads.
These are works which would employ a large amount of labour, and they are works which cannot be indefinitely postponed. This is also an opportune time for taking them in hand because the price of materials is low and the available supply of labour is greater now than we hope it will be when more prosperous times arrive. In quite a number of places work has been postponed or cancelled and one has only to read the reports in the "Municipal Journal" and local papers, to understand what is taking place. In the "Municipal Journal" of 8th January, I find an article on "Uneconomic Economy" which states:
" While the construction of new roads can be postponed without much inconvenience to traffic, it is unwise economy to cut down maintenance, and it is dangerous to postpone reconstruction of bridges. The Royal Commission on Transport found that there were 7,000 bridges in the country which required reconstruction as they were inadequate to the needs of modern transport. Section 25 of the Road Transport Act lays it down that thousands of bridges, often carrying main road traffic, should be closed to all vehicles in excess of six tons gross weighty This provision seems to put a responsibility on the Government to assist in the reconstruction of these bridges, but according to a report submitted to the York City Council, the Unemployment Grants Committee has declined to give further grants to help schemes of road making and bridges for the relief of unemployment."
That is a definite statement from a source which is neither National Govern-
ment, Liberal nor Labour. That is a statement on behalf of the great municipal authorities. Then we find that in Cheshire, of the sum of £2,949,373 previously approved, works costing £1,605,254 are to be deferred for two years. In deferring these works the Government are holding up money which ought to be in circulation, and I contend that they are not showing that consideration for the manual labourer of this country which he deserves. If work has to be done then it ought to be done in the greatest period of depression, and when the greatest need of the greatest number applies. There has never been a greater need for work of this kind than there is at this moment. In the northern part of the country especially there are great numbers of unemployed who are particularly adaptable to bridge building or road making, but no opportunity is presented to them. I also see that in Middlesex schemes estimated to cost £1,361,878 are to be deferred. That is the kind of policy which is going to make things very awkward indeed, and I find the same course is being followed in Norfolk and indeed in practically every county.
I want the Minister to take up this matter with the Cabinet Committee. We have too many people in the country at present on the verge of starvation, and all the time this work is urgently needed. It may be said that we cannot find the money. The Cabinet is divided, one half being pessimists and the other optimists. One half say that the country is going to collapse and the other half that the bright sun is shining just round the corner. I do not know which side is right, but surely the proper thing at the present time would be to bring money into circulation. Hoarding gold in the cellars of the Bank of England is no good. You might as well hoard bricks. It is only there as a kind of guarantee, and it ought to be used in the interests of the nation in doing necessary work not only on roads and bridges but on harbours and docks and in other ways. There is a tremendous amount of work waiting to be done and a tremendous number of people awaiting the opportunity to do it. It is up to the Government to do what they can to bring these two factors together and to prepare the country for the era of 829 prosperity which some Cabinet Ministers say is lying ahead of us.
The Minister knows better than I do the resentment felt by many local authorities at the postponement, curtailment and cancellation of schemes which have been approved. Authorities who have been put to considerable cost in preparing schemes, naturally wish to have the opportunity of carrying out these schemes and in every case I believe it will be found that they have had in mind the number of unemployed in their areas. I ask the Minister to take up the struggle with the Cabinet on this question, because it has a far greater importance than is generally attributed to it. We cannot bear to have unemployment increasing month by month with no effort by the Government to deal with it. During the last two months the unemployment figures have increased by nearly 200,000. How long are the Government going to sit still while a stream of this kind is flowing with a stronger current month by month? I appeal to the Government to have regard to the conditions under which these people are living, and bringing up their families. I ask them to realise that it can be said without any boasting or egotism, that these are the people who are and have been the backbone of the nation.
We have 2,750,000 registered unemployed; pauperism is increasing and suffering is intensified. I ask the Government to give up the cry of economy. Starvation cannot be in the interests of true economy, and starvation is being imposed on large numbers of people. While the Government talk of economy they are withholding money from circulation and holding up necessary works. I do not want them to look at these matters in the manner suggested by a previous speaker who said that we were spending more on the roads than on the Army. We must remember that in spending money on the roads we are only preparing for the future. When times of prosperity do arrive we may find ourselves not in a position to take advantage of them and to deal with commercial propositions in the proper way. I would emphasise on this occasion the need for taking steps now to secure a proper transport system in the future.
The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Pybus) : I am sure that both the hon. 830 Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) and the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) will agree that in this, the second discussion on these Estimates we have at any rate been able to go very carefully into the question of unemployment which is alleged to have been brought about by a too drastic restriction of road making policy.
Mr. PARKINSON : Not brought about but intensified—certainly not ameliorated.
Mr. PYBUS : I was only trying to point out that hon. Members on the Opposition side had had ample opportunity to deal with this matter from the unemployment point of view. But it is of very little use to repeat over and over again the argument that if we reduce the number of schemes there will be fewer people employed on roads and bridges. We all know that more persons will fail to remain employed in future on roads and bridges if the programme has been cut down. If we reduce as we have done the schemes which were in operation when the Labour Government fell, of course unemployment would be increased to that extent, but it is important to remember the true proportions of the employment given in this way in relation to the total number of employed in the country. The number of men for whom the late Government found work under the special roads programme was approximately one-third of one per cent. of the insured working population of this country.
Mr. PARKINSON : Will the Minister give us those figures again so that we may understand them?
Mr. PYBUS : The number to whom employment was given by the schemes under the Road programmes was 41,000 out of a total of employed people of 12,500,000.
Mr. PARKINSON : In the statement made by the late Lord Privy Seal, Mr. Johnston, on the Conservative Motion of Censure on 16th April, 1931, he said that 226,500 workers had been provided with employment on Government schemes, and the number was steadily growing. That meant, directly and indirectly.
Mr. PYBUS : These are the figures which I have before me, and, with all respect, I submit that they are correct. The number of people for whom direct employment was found at the peak was 41,000, the total number of employed people being 12,600,000 and therefore the amount of employment found was
only one-third of 1 per cent. of the total number employed at that time. While this small percentage of the total working population was being employed in this way, commitments of no less than £60,000,000 were in existence. In August last, when I entered the Ministry, I found this £60,000,000 worth of commitments consisting of schemes either definitely approved, partially approved or in other ways officially sanctioned. The Government changed that policy. They decided that no longer were the roads or the bridges to be regarded as convenient media on which to base an unemployment policy. They decided that this type of expenditure should be drastically reduced, and under the National Economy Act, 1931, power was taken to give release from commitments arising from orders to treat and so forth, and every effort was made to reduce the amount of the commitments to a minimum.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite and some behind me also seem to assume that we were quite reckless in the manner in which we selected the schemes which should proceed and those which should be stopped. Quite the opposite really happened. We called together the county councils and other local authorities, and taking each authority in turn we made a rapid survey with a view to securing a general reduction which we hoped would bring us within the limits which we had imposed upon ourselves. After the preliminary investigation a certain tentative list of works which might proceed was agreed upon. Then we saw how near the mark we were, and we went back again and looked at the schemes from another point of view. We first took the point as to how much money would be spent on land, on compensation, or on the demolition of buildings. Hon. Members, I think, have sometimes little knowledge of the vast sums of money which it had been proposed under the schemes of the late Government to expend either on the purchase of land or the compensation of owners. The hon. Member for Wigan mentioned the Elephant and Castle improvement, a scheme which would cost £2,000,000. Of that no less than 72.3 per cent. was to be spent on property, and only 27.7 per cent. on employment. This was the sort of 832 scheme which certainly, looking at it from the point of view of the Government's policy, I, for one, would not adopt.
Mr. MORGAN JONES : Does not the same condition apply to the Charing Cross Bridge scheme? Was not the proportion of the contribution for the owners there to be very large, which the hon. Gentleman supported?
Mr. PYBUS : I have not got the figures here, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept the fact that it is nothing near the same relative amount. We decided to review this, I admit, somewhat attenuated list of schemes from the point of view of the employment given and also of the traffic value. We adopted that plan, and as a result we are able to tell the Committee that the total amount of commitments which we inherited in August last has been reduced by a sum between £35,000,000 and £40,000,000.
The next point which I should like to raise concerns the maintenance of the roads. We have had from the hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton) and others queries raised regarding the maintenance of the roads and the damage which, it is alleged, is done to them by heavy vehicular traffic. I welcome a discussion on this point, because whether there are too few roads, as hon. Members opposite consider is the case, or whether there are too many roads, I am sure we shall all be agreed that we cannot simply do nothing to preserve the roads of this country and this fine system of highways which we have bought and paid for at so high a cost to the taxpayer and the ratepayer. We cannot allow this wonderful system of roads to fall into decrepitude owing to a lack of proper maintenance.
We must look at the question of maintenance from two points of view. First, we must examine carefully whether, as is alleged, certain types of heavy traffic passing frequently over the roads are not damaging them unduly and unfairly. The damage by heavy traffic, particularly traffic on solid tyres, is a very insidious thing, as it very often cracks and damages the road-bed itself, which is a very costly and a very difficult form of injury to repair. Then, when we deal with heavy traffic, we must remember that it damages, it is alleged, properties on the sides of the road. The hon. Member for 833 Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) had my entire sympathy when he complained of the serious noise and vibration caused by this very heavy traffic, in some of our towns and cities. We have, as the Committee knows, recently appointed the Salter Committee, a committee consisting of representatives of the railways and of the road interests, and they will bring under review the question as to some balance between road traffic and rail traffic, and when they have made their report and we have further called into consultation the highway authorities and others interested in the roads, we shall, I hope, be in a position to make some suggestions to Parliament with a view to dealing with this very urgent and obviously growing problem.
There is another type of injury to the roads, and that is to the road surface itself. Hon. Members, I know, are very anxious that economy should be made in the maintenance of the roads as well as on expenditure on new schemes, and I should like to refer to the researches which have been made. The hon. Member for Platting referred to a research station; I should like to refer to the new technique which is growing up all over the world with regard to the improvement of road surfaces. It is a very technical matter, and it necessitates, in my opinion, a new technical inquiry. The same problem is to be found in America, in Germany, and in France, as well as in Great Britain, and while we have already budgetted for a reduction of £1,000,000 this year in the cost of road maintenance, I believe that it should be possible to tackle this problem of maintenance not so much from the point of view of reducing the amount of maintenance as from the point of view of doing the same amount at a less cost. At any rate, I ask the Committee to rest assured that so far as my Department is concerned every step will be taken with a view to improving the maintenance of the roads of this country while reducing the cost of such maintenance.
We have had a good deal of discussion this afternoon on economy, and I have noticed, both at Question Time in this House and on many other occasions, that there seems to be a difference between economy in the 'abstract and economy when it concerns a constituency of any individual Member. I have noticed that 834 most of the speeches this afternoon which referred to economy referred, rather apologetically and just at the tail end, to some scheme in the speaker's division which should be allowed to proceed. It is obviously impossible for rear economy to be secured if it is regarded from the point of view of its being the proper thing to economise in every other division except that represented by a particular Member. Much the same trouble, I think, appears with regard to the work of the Traffic Commissioners and control of public service vehicles on the roads of this country.
The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Albery) and one or two other hon. Members inquired on what principle the Traffic Commissioners decide the cases brought before them. The principle was very clearly set out in the Act. The Commissioners were expressly required in Section 72 of the Road Traffic Act to consider, in deciding these cases:
"the extent, if any, to which the needs of the proposed routes … are already adequately served; the extent to which the proposed service is necessary or desirable in the public interest; the needs of the area as a whole in relation to traffic (including the provision of adequate, suitable and efficient services, the elimination of unnecessary services and the provision of un-remunerative services), and the co-ordination of all forms of passenger transport."
The Road Traffic Act, 1930, reduced 1,300 separate licensing authorities, all empowered to grant licences to public service vehicles upon the roads, to 13 authorities, and these authorities are granting the licences of the public service vehicles for the whole of this country. But how are we going to get any steady policy if we are to superimpose upon these 13 new authorities which replace the 1,300 local authorities which were doing the work another number of bodies equivalent to the number of constituencies of Members of this House, each bringing Parliamentary pressure to bear on the unfortunate Minister of Transport to settle a case in the Member's own division in a particular way?
I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the serious amount of time which is taken up, not only my own time, but that of my Department, in dealing with individual cases concerning motor vehicles in one part of the country and another. We have other enormous responsibilities. We are responsible to this 835 House for the Electricity Commissioners and for the work of electrical development in which, they are engaged. My Department is closely concerned with the highway authorities in the upkeep of 177,000 miles of highway and of thousands of bridges towards which he grants we have been discussing are made. Under the 1930 Road Traffic Act be have to regulate the vehicles which use these roads and to deal with the problems which arise in connection with the relation between the traffic on the roads and the traffic on the main line railways.
Transcending everything, in my mind, however, is this great problem of road and rail, and if the Committee wishes the Minister and the Ministry to take a broad constructive line in regard to these great problems which have been entrusted to us, I appeal at any rate to the followers of the National Government, when it comes to deciding traffic appeals, to trust somebody, and possibly it might be fair to trust the Minister whom the National Government have appointed to do the work. I have no wish to shirk criticism, either of policy or of administration, and hon. Members, I am sure, will, as is only proper, continue to raise points of importance in principle which should be ventilated, but as far as possible I feel convinced that hon. Members can be relied on to give us an opportunity to concentrate on these great tasks with which we are faced, which, in my opinion, are of overwhelming importance to the trade and industry of this country.
Mr. MORGAN JONES : What about the policy of the Government in regard to road and rail transport?
Mr. PYBUS : The policy at the present moment is in the making.
Mr. ATTLEE : I intervene for a short time to deal with one point that has been very prominent in this Debate and other Debates lately, and that is the point of economy, or so-called economy, because I should like to try to find out what is really at the back of the minds of hon. Members who talk about economy in respect of matters such as road building, bridge building, and so forth. I think this economy is really a form of insanity, not so much midsummer madness, as May madness, not called so after the
month, but after the celebrated gentleman who presided over the May Committee. Let us consider what is really happening when you undertake economy of this kind with regard to roads. I suppose we may take it that of all forms of economic activity in this country the roads are essentially a matter of using home-produced materials by home labour. We can build roads and bridges without having to draw on supplies from abroad, and therefore expenditure on that work would not in any way worsen the trade position. We have a number of workers who are willing to work. Even under the administration that we have to-day it is not considered right that people should starve, and the police will stop people going naked; they will also stop them sleeping out. We must agree that the people must have at least a minimum of houses, clothing and food.
Therefore, with regard to basic needs, this country, taken as a unit, must either produce or import food and clothing whether the people are at work or idle. Taking this country as a unit, therefore, we have to sell abroad sufficient of our products or services to provide clothing and food for our people and to get raw materials for industry, but beyond that every piece of work or service which uses our home-produced materials to supply our needs is an increase in the wealth of the country. Consider the 40,000 people who have been taken from the roads. They are presumably spenders: they are being fed somehow, and they are wearing clothes. They are actually idle. The materials on which they were working are in this country, which has the stone, timber and other materials which are necessary for road-making. Both the workers and the materials, however, are standing idle. If we set these people to work, the only actual expenditure, viewed from the point of view of the nation, would be that which was caused if the wages paid to them increased their demand for either foreign goods or for goods which we had to make out of foreign materials. Apart from that, everything else would be clear gain to the country.
There is the question of the heavy compensation to be paid when bridges are made. That, again, is not a question of the external trade of this country, which is the problem which we have really to face. It is merely a matter of a distribu- 837 tion of purchasing power inside the community. If we want to see this economy argument in its most futile form, we can refer to a transport discussion which we had in the House the other day and look at the argument which the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) put forward with regard to Waterloo Bridge. We all agree that the present position of Waterloo Bridge is disgraceful, and anyone concerned with motor vehicles can tell us of the actual loss involved in the slowing down of traffic because of the position. We know that Waterloo Bridge can be produced by materials available in this country and by workers and skilled persons who are in this country, and yet that project was defeated by the economy cry. It was not aesthetics; there are not enough aesthetic people in the 'House to defeat it on that ground. It was an appeal to the simplest and most ignorant economy stunt. I can imagine the Noble Lord showing me a stream in his park and telling me that he cannot take me across because there is no bridge. He says, "I have masses of timber in my park and estate servants whom I have to keep, but if I put them working on the timber to make a bridge across the stream, it would be extravagant." He prefers to keep the Servants idle, to keep the timber lying unused and to continue walking round his park in order to get to the other side of the stream. That is true economy according to the National Government.
The trouble is, of course, that this is not a National Government. They can never think of the nation as an economic unit. They are thinking all the time of private interests. If the Government were national, it would organise the resources of the country So that we brought into the country the food and raw materials that we needed and paid for them with our services or manufactures; and they would see that all surplus labour and surplus material was used for increasing the wealth of the community.
The particular point which we are discussing is roads, and I am sure that the Minister of Transport has enough intelligence to know that the economy recommended by the Government is a false economy. Many of those who put it forward are the victims of their age. They are mid-Victorian, and some of them, 838 although born out of time, have been provided with Victorian minds. The economy stunt put forward by the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), for instance, is all based on the assumption that in this country there is an urgent demand for capital and labour, that every person employed on public works is taken away from private venture, and that any capital invested on public works lessens the amount available for private enterprise. There are at the present time 2,500,000 people unemployed. The rate of interest is low, and capital is lying idle. In the present state to which the world has been brought, even if private enterprise did start producing goods, the exchange is in such a condition that the world could not buy them. Therefore the Victorian doctrine does not apply in the least. It is Victorian Gladstonian economics, and this Ministry, although containing only a slight mixture of Liberals, are faithful Gladstonians in this matter.
The only thing in which they are National is the name. If they could conceive of the nation as a unit, if they could look upon the country as a national estate of which they were in charge, they would not fall into these blunders. A well-known economist has said that the reason this country managed to carry on through the last few difficult years, during which the banks were doing their best to ruin the country by a policy of deflation, was that this expenditure on public works kept money in circulation and made a certain amount of purchasing power available. At the present time we have the extraordinary paradox of, on the one hand, the cutting down of every kind of work and the stopping of public work of every kind; and, on the other hand, the Lord President of the Council imploring the people of the country to carry on wise expenditure as 'private persons. At the same time, we have to cut down all public expenditure, wise or otherwise. Despite that, we have the position that while the Government are still calling out for economy, which is in fact deflation, hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway are calling for what they term reflation. They cannot have it both ways, and I suggest that while the Minister, who has given us an account of his stewardship, has done admirably departmentally, it is obvious that he is hampered when it comes to policy. He 839 had to confess that there was no policy with regard to railways and roads.
There never is a policy. We have never had a policy on any subject from the National Government. We have had a series of scare expedients, one making one way and one another. The call for reflation and the cutting down of the road services is only paralleled by the advantages which the country was supposed to gain by going off the Gold Standard and the imposition of tariffs. We have a Government which simply cannot look at things as a whole because it has never been a National Government. It has in its composition a mixture of three different sets of people with different sets of ideals, so that everything they bring forward bears the mark of compromise. The Minister of Transport, in dealing with the important matter of transport, has been hampered by compromise. As long as we have the material and the workers in this country, as long as we carefully watch the exchange position, we increase the wealth of the country every time we put people into useful work. The Government are urging people to keep their gardens going, but the national gardens are to be allowed to go to rack and ruin. We are opposed to that policy; it is opposed to common sense and to economy. It is false economy, and the Minister who is in charge of this Estimate is one of the victims, if not one of the most unfortunate victims, of it.
Mr. HANNON : The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) spoke slightingly of the madness of the May Committee. It was fortunate for this country that the May Committee presented its report at the moment it did after the extravagance of a Government that had no sense of responsibility to the nation. The hon. Gentleman who vas a Member of the Administration which made all the difficulties in which we are at this moment, has of all people no right to talk of the report of the May Committee as "Midsummer madness." The Minister is to be congratulated on the way in which he has carried out the directions of the National Government in bringing about substantial economies in the administration of his Department. Hon. Members 'will agree that there is still room for substantial economies in the administra- 840 tion of the Transport Department. We have been foolishly spending much more money on roads than the financial position of the country justifies, and I hope that with the growing sense of a feeling for real economy there will be introduced further economies in road and bridges expenditure. Hon. Members opposite think that they are doing something for the benefit of the nation if they encourage extravagant expenditure. In conjunction with their right hon. Friend who supported them so loyally in producing gigantic schemes of public expenditure in the last Parliament—
Mr. ATTLEE : The hon. Member is referring to the present Home Secretary, is he not?
Mr. HANNON : I will make the hon. Gentleman a present of the Home Secretary. The fact remains that their notion of relieving unemployment was to spend money indiscriminately upon public works. They never gave one thought to promoting productive employment, to protecting the industries of the people and giving them an opportunity of producing in their own country articles which compete unfairly against them. In all the time I have been in this House, we have not had one constructive suggestion from the Labour party to safeguard the interests of the people. All the time they have been urging us to spend more public money, regardless of the result. They know perfectly well that the indiscriminate pouring out of money on public works with no corresponding result is only loading the country with still further burdens and making future difficulties for the administration of public expenditure.
I would like to ask the Minister two questions. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) asked what was being done in the way of research by the Ministry. I do not think the Minister answered that question. In view of the immense amount of money spent on reconstruction in this country, there is no Department which requires a really carefully conceived department of research more than the Ministry of Transport, and if the hon. and gallant Member's suggestion is true—and the Minister made no response to it—it is really time that a department of research 841 was instituted. How long is that curious phenomenon of road construction between London and Slough to remain? I motor up and down three times a week and I still see a notice which has been there for years, marked on one side "Slough" and on the opposite side "London." The road is carefully railed off. What is the reason for the road and for this particular experiment, how long is it going to be closed to traffic, and what useful purpose has it served? I hope the Minister will continue carefully to watch over economy of administration in his Department, and see that no money will be expended on any structural works, roads, bridges and so forth, which is not really necessary, and that the expenditure of the country will not be increased unless adequate results will follow.
Mr. HALES : My object in intervening in this Debate is to offer some constructive suggestions which, I think, will appreciably reduce the terrible toll of disaster on our roads to-day. We have heard of practically nothing but economy this afternoon. I propose to leave that severely alone. What I am concerned about is the list of killed and injured on the streets every day. I notice, from the figures given the other day, that between 1926 and 1931 the injuries on the road increased by over 50 per cent., from 133,000 to 202,000. There should be some means of reducing this frightful total. The troubles are due to a series of difficulties—and there is no one suggestion which will meet them—but there is one which I want to emphasise, and that is danger from fire. I do not think the Minister has any special wish to protect the lives of drivers of commercial vehicles and public omnibuses more than the lives of private drivers, but, as the law stands to-day, it is compulsory to carry a fire extinguisher on a commercial vehicle and on a public omnibus, but not on a private car.
There is little need to labour the point except to say that, while the objection may be made that the private owner can be left to look after his own safety, in many thousands of cases it is a. fact that the private owner employs a paid chauffeur, and if he does not protect the driver the man is left at the mercy of any collision or accident on the road. Therefore, my first suggestion is that the 842 Minister should see to it that the same law that applies to the commercial vehicles and the public conveyance should apply to the private car. The other day we read of a terrible accident in which three motor cyclists were burnt to death. Car after car came along, and not one of them had the means of assistance. How different would have been the case if every car coming along had a fire extinguisher with which it could immediately have put out the flames. There is no need for me to say more, for it is self-evident.
We are certainly to be congratulated upon having a Minister of Transport who is get-at-able. He is a man of a receptive nature. We do not receive from him that stony glare which is so common to Members of the Treasury Bench when they do not recognise hon. Members as they pass them in the Lobby. He is a man who is willing to learn, like myself, and I have to thank him for having adopted on a number of occasions suggestions which I made to him, and which are now the law of the land for the benefit of the community. It did not need much consideration for the Minister and the Parliamentary Private Secretary—whom I include in this, bouquet—to realise the fact that it was in the interest of all to give owner drivers the right to lock the doors of their cars, which in London today is a safeguard against the smash-and-grab raids which are becoming a menace to society. Then it was said we must not let our wives go to market and carry parcels in private cars in any circumstances. That was a terrible crime, but a suggestion was made and acted upon, and now we are able to carry parcels without molestation by the police. We have another problem to deal with, and that is the fact that immediately an insurance company goes into insolvency, every insured motorist under that company breaks the; law the day he takes his car out. While I agree that it is impossible for the Minister of Transport to say that such-and-such an insurance company must be utilised for insurance, surely the insurer could be safeguarded by saying that companies must give certain evidence of solvency so as to avoid the question of a man being left out of cover after paying premiums and finding he is not covered and is at the mercy of the police directly he goes out.
843 Now a very few words as to safety on the roads. As a pioneer of the motor industry for the last 35 years, I have made road transport my particular hobby, and it is most instructive to see that with the improvement of the roads, widening and better surfaces, as a paradox injuries and accidents have increased. This is, of course, to be accounted for by two facts, one being the enormous increase of motors on the road, and the other the fact that the motorist takes advantage of the good surfaces and wide thoroughfares to go at a speed which at times may be characterised as a little reckless. You find that the cross-roads provide one of the greatest dangers to-day. It is being counteracted where there is room, by the adoption of the round-about system, but there are some roads too narrow for that, and I suggest where there is a danger spot, a speed limit of not above 10 miles per hour should remain. It might slow down traffic, but far better that and save life than save a few minutes and risk a collision.
I have very great sympathy with the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), who dislikes noise. The Committee may be surprised to know that ever since the days of the Red Flag, I have found it unnecessary, in driving thousands of miles—about 500 a week in the days when I was connected with the motor industry—to sound the horn on His Majesty's roads. Thirty-five years without a sound! I am not recommending that hon. Members should all copy my example. It needs a little adroitness at the wheel, and a cool, calculating mind in certain emergencies to restrain the instinct to blow the horn. Nearly every magistrate in a prosecution asks the inevitable question, "Did you blow your horn?" and if he did not, the poor man's number is up. I have had to choose between the alternatives of having an accident and sounding the horn, or acting on my own responsibility, breaking the law and not having an accident after taking the risk. I have done that, and I have not yet scratched a mud-guard. I am not suggesting that is due to any special cleverness; I am simply pointing out the danger of blowing the horn indiscriminately, which becomes a habit and is often quite unnecessary. Far better slow down and let the pedestrian walk across the road.
844 I can recall in my long motoring career some distressing accidents on the roads. I have been with drivers who have carried out the law and blown the horn, and yet killed a child. I suggest, therefore, that the Minister of Transport might give my suggestions careful consideration, and particularly that dealing with crossroads, and make a limit of 10 miles per hour, accompanied with a sign of "Caution." One point which the visitor from abroad promptly notices in this country is that here we allow a car to draw up on the offside of the road. When that car resumes its journey it must cross the whole stream of traffic to get to the left-hand side of the road. In India and in other countries it is against the law for any car to pull up save in the line of traffic in which it is, so that when it resumes its journey it continues in the same stream of traffic. If a driver wants to pull up to the right side kerb he must turn round and follow in the proper line of traffic. That may seem a small matter, but at night a car in the wrong position with a couple of dazzling headlights cutting right across the vision of the drivers of approaching traffic is a cause of considerable trouble and danger. I have thrown out a few suggestions which I hope will meet with the approval of my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, and I would particularly ask him to give attention to the question of fire extinguishers, because that involves no expense. The law says that a motorist must provide a fire extinguisher in his garage, and it is only a question of putting the fire extinguisher on the floor board of the car in order both to fulfil the law and to make certain that it will be available in case of a fire or explosion occurring while the car is on the highway.
Sir COOPER RAWSON : A remark was made by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid), and it was inferred by the Minister of Transport, that road making gives employment only to the men who are engaged in making the road. If that opinion does exist it is a misapprehension, because road-making calls for supplies from a great many industries, including the iron and steel industry and the quarrying industry. We have quarries working short time and closing down every week and throwing men out of employment. Those industries are being affected by what I suggest is a little bit of over-economy on the part 845 of the Ministry of Transport. Moreover, industries in this country are affected by the importation of foreign slag, which is tarred and then sold in this country as English slag, and put on the roads instead of British material. I hope the Minister will consult his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut. - Colonel Heneage), who has recently been visiting some of the quarries in this country, and can inform him of the serious condition of affairs there and the amount of unemployment that exists. At present we have in this country no less than 180,000 feet of kerbing which is not being used owing to the importation of materials from abroad, chiefly from Norway and
|Division No. 247.]||AYES.||[7.20 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Maclean. Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Maxton, James|
|Buchanan, George||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Thorne, William James|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Hicks, Ernest George||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Daggar, George||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Davies. Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Duncan, Charles (Derby, Claycross)||Lawson, John James|
|Edwards, Charles||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. John and Mr. Groves..|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Entwistle, Cyril Fullard|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Carver, Major William H.||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Cassels, James Dale||Erskine-Boist, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)|
|Albery, Irving James||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Essenhigh, Reginald Clare|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (L'pool, W.)||Chalmers, John Rutherford||Falls, Sir Bertram G.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'K'nh'd.)||Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Chotzner, Alfred James||Foot, Dingle (Dundee)|
|Anstruther-Gray. W. J.||Clarke, Frank||Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Clarry, Reginald George||Ford, Sir Patrick J.|
|Apsley, Lord||Clayton, Dr. George C.||Fox, Sir Gifford|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Fraser, Captain Ian|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Colville, John||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Conant, R. J. E.||Glossop, C. W. H.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Cook, Thomas A.||Gluckstein, Louis Halle|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Cooke, Douglas||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Copeland, Ida||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)|
|Bateman, A. L.||Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Cowan, D. M.||Greene, William P. C.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Craven- Ellis, William||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John|
|Beit, Sir Alfred L.||Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro'. W.)|
|Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel||Crossley, A. C.||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Guy, J. C. Morrison|
|Sevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Hales, Harold K.|
|Boothby, Robert John Graham||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Dawson, Sir Philip||Hanley, Dennis A.|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Denville, Alfred||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Bracken, Brendan||Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Harris, Sir Percy|
|Briant, Frank||Dickie, John P.||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Donner, P. W.||Hartland, George A.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Drewe, Cedric||Harvey, Majors. E. (Devon, Totnes)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Duckworth, George A. V.||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks., Newb'y)||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)|
|Buchan- Hepburn, P. G. T.||Duggan, Hubert John||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.|
|Burghley, Lord||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Hors-Belisha, Leslie|
|Burnett, John George||Dunglass, Lord||Hornby, Frank|
|Butler, Richard Austen||Eastwood, John Francis||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Hume, Sir George Hopwood|
|Caine, G. R. Hall.||Elmley, Viscount||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)|
|Campbell, Rear-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)|
Sweden, where the industry is subsidised by the State. We are suffering because the Tariff Advisory Committee, when asked to give a protection of 50 per cent., gave only 15 per cent., which is perfectly useless be the industry. I hope the Minister will seriously consider whether be is. not indulging in a little too much economy, and whether he cannot be a little more lavish in dealing with the local authorities in respect of grants for the purpose of maintaining the roads in a better condition.
Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £45,864, be granted for the said Service."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 28; Noes, 258.847
|James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Jamieson, Douglas||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A.(C'thness)|
|Janner, Barnett||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Jesson. Major Thomas E.||Palmer, Francis Noel||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-In-F.)|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Patrick, Colin M.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Pearson, William G.||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stake Newgton)||Peat, Charles U.||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Penny, Sir George||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||Percy, Lord Eustace||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Kirkpatrick, William M.||Petherick, M.||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilst'n)||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Pickering, Ernest H.||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Potter, John||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Stones, James|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Pybus, Percy John||Storey, Samuel|
|Levy, Thomas||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Liddall, Walter S.||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Lindsay, Noel Ker||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Lleweilln, Major John J.||Ramsbotham, Herwald||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Rankin, Robert||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G.(Partick)||Rathbone, Eleanor||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Ray, Sir William||Todd. A. L. s. (Kingswinford)|
|McKie, John Hamilton||Rea, Walter Russell||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Train, John|
|McLean, Major Alan||Reid, David D. (County Down)||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Magnay, Thomas||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Wallace, John (Duntermline)|
|Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Maynew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Rosbotham, S. T.||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Milne, Sir John S. Wardlaw.||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tfd & Chlsw'k)||Runge, Norah Cecil||White, Henry Graham|
|Mitcheson, G. G.||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Morrison, William Shepherd||Salmon, Major Isidore||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Muirhead, Major A. J.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Withers, Sir John James|
|Munro, Patrick||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Womersley, Walter James|
|Nall, Sir Joseph||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Scone, Lord||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Selley, Harry R.|
|Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|North, Captain Edward T.||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)||Captain Austin Hudson and Commander Southby.|
Original Question again proposed.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Captain Margesson) : I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That a sum, not exceeding £2.7.50,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1933, for Advances to the Road Fund."
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to. —[Captain Margesson.]
Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.
Hire Purchase and Small Debt (Scotland) Bill848
Hire Purchase (Scotland) Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee) considered.
CLAUSE 3.—(Power to hirer or purchaser to terminate contract.)
Captain STRICKLAND : I beg to move, in page 2, line 24, to leave out from the word "owner" to the second word "the," in line 27.
Before I speak upon this Amendment, I should like your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to whether we might also speak on the Amendment standing in my name for the insertion of a new Sub-section at the end of line 37 which replaces the words proposed to be left out in this Amendment, and which reads as follows: 849
"(2) For the purposes of this section delivery—
Mr. SPEAKER : I think we had better take discussion on the two Amendments.
Captain STRICKLAND : Thank you, Sir. Under the Bill as it stands, it is laid down that where a person has entered into a hire purchase contract and wishes to break that contract voluntarily, he can do so in certain conditions. The first of those conditions is that he should redeliver the goods to the owner, and secondly that he should make a payment of money. In the Clause which deals with the return of goods to the owner it is also laid down that the hirer may return the goods to any person who acts as agent on behalf of the owner in the formation or conclusion of the contract. It must be obvious that, from the owner's point of view, and from the hirer's point of view, this Clause inflicts some little hardship. Supposing the original agent has died or gone out of business in the interval between the formation and the carrying out of the contract, and the hirer wishes to conclude his bargain. The hirer has only one person to whom he can return the goods, and that is the owner himself, who may be many hundreds of miles away. That would entail a heavy carriage on the return of the goods to the owner in the absence of the original agent who acted in connection with the formation of the contract. It also has an unfairness from the point of view of the owner of the goods that had been let on hire, purchase. It is quite conceivable that the original agent, who acted for the owner in the formation and conclusion of the contract, has since that time behaved in such a way, for instance, that he has ceased to be the agent for the owner; but this Clause states that the hirer of the goods may return the goods to an agent who is no longer agent for the owner. There is nothing in this Bill to compel that agent either to take those goods when
they are offered to him, or to be under any responsibility to the owner to return them.
The Amendment which I have put forward is a perfectly simple one, in that it merely empowers the owner to notify the hirer at any time prior to the breaking of the contract that the original agent is no longer acting as his agent, and that a new agent has been appointed in the same district as that in which the hirer originally contracted the hire purchase, that is, within two miles of the place. The proposed Amendment does give the hirer the chance of returning the goods somewhere locally, somewhere quite convenient to him and near the place where he originally bought the goods. It gives to the owner the opportunity of securing that the goods, being returned, get into the right hands, namely, the hands of the person who is responsible to him for seeing that those goods, which belonged to him during the whole time of the contract, are duly returned to the owner.
I move the Amendment for the purpose I have indicated, and not in any sense to attempt to destroy the structure of the Bill, with which most hon. Members will generally agree. The Amendment is moved with the idea of making the operation of the Clause a little smoother and easier for this trade to be conducted. It is a legitimate trade and a helpful one to the manufacturers of goods both in this country and in Scotland, and to those who desire to take advantage of the terms of hire purchase.
Mr. ALLAN REID : I beg to second the Amendment.
The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND (Mr. Normand) : This is an Amendment which the House would do well to accept, in that it advocates cutting out entirely words which might inconvenience both the hirer and the trader. Without the Amendment the position is that the hirer who seeks to return an article, having terminated his contract, has an option of returning it to the owner who may be at some very distant place, or to the agent. If that agent dies, this Amendment gives the owner the opportunity of nominating someone else who resides near the place where the original agent resided, and to whom the hirer may conveniently return the articles. At the same time, it would be a convenience 851 to the owner of the goods, that is to say, the trader, in the case either of the death of his agent or where for some reason the agency has been terminated. It was the intention of the Standing Committee that this matter should be further considered, and that a satisfactory solution on the lines now suggested should be brought forward if possible. For that reason, I commend this Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. ALLAN REID : I beg to move, in page 2, line 33, to leave out from the word "which" to the end of the Clause, and to insert instead thereof the words:
"the respective proportions hereinafter referred to, of the total payments stipulated for in the contract by way of instalment, exceeds the cumulo amount of the instalments due at or prior to the aforesaid date.
The proportions of value of the article required to be paid on redelivery, in pursuance of the provisions hereof, shall be as follows:
In respect of articles purchased or hired for sums of fifteen pounds up to twenty pounds four-twelfths, for sums of ten pounds or more and under fifteen pounds five-twelfths, and for sums below ten pounds six-twelfths."
Before addressing myself to the Amendment, I would wish, as a new Member making his maiden speech, to receive on my own behalf the same kindly consideration and sympathy, which have been extended to all my predecessors, old and young alike. Indeed, I think the old, like myself, need it more than the young, since youth has time to retrieve its errors, and age has not. I would seek to justify the intervention, in this essentially Scottish Debate, of one who was born south of the Tweed, and to placate the feelings of any Scottish Member who might otherwise somewhat resent that intervention, by telling the House that both my parents and likewise all my forebears were Scottish and, that, as I sometimes teasingly tell my English friends, the place of my birth was not my fault; it was my misfortune. But for that, I should be at ease in approaching this subject.
As a lawyer, I have taken more than a slight interest in this Measure, because when it was first brought up in the House, it became quickly obvious to me that it was necessary, in relation to hire purchase, that something should be done for Scotland in that respect, not only to re- 852 dress a very legitimate grievance, but also to afford such facilities in Scotland as have long been existent in hire purchase in England, and so approximating one practice to the other. In England, so far as concerns the right of a hire purchaser to return, in certain circumstances, an article to the owner, the practice has been made the subject of a contract at common law. With regard to imprisonment for debt as such, that is, of course, an anachronism to-day. This Bill seeks to impose a condition in relation to the return of an article to the owner, and give it statutory force, but it seems to me to be very rigid and unyielding, and therein lies the danger. The Committee will agree that the system of hire purchase has come to stay, and has justified its existence, since it is only through the medium of hire purchase that humble folk of very limited means can acquire things, not only desirable to possess, but which in many cases are essentials, for example, a bicycle, which is eminently the poor man's vehicle for easy, and fairly rapid transport.
In regard to Sub-section (2) it will be observed that, apart from the fact that the hirer must return an article in the same condition as he had it, subject to fair wear and tear, he must also pay something, and in the Bill this figure is a flat rate of a third of the original value of the article. It is in that sense that I can fairly describe it as rigid and unyielding. My Amendment proposes a graduation of the amount which shall be payable by the hirer, having some relation to the value of the article. Taking this flat rate of a third in the case of a bicycle, to borrow an illustration which has been used by my lion, and gallant Friend the Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland) a place so intimately associated with this trade, a bicycle is hired for six pounds, and the instalments arc payable at the rate of half-a-crown a week. In 16 weeks the hirer has paid £2, that is to say, one-third of the total value of the article. In the contract made between the owner and the purchaser, save in regard to reasonable wear and tear, there is no limitation of the use of that bicycle, and it might well be that during that period of 16 weeks the bicycle has travelled anything between 1,500 and 2,000 miles. It must be obvious to the House that that 853 bicycle, if returned after the payment of only £2 upon it, is of very little use to the owner, and there is also this ironical feature, that the hirer may repeat the process; he may get a new bicycle and likewise use it for 16 weeks on payment of only £2. So far as the English traders are concerned, I have good reason to know that they strongly object, particularly in relation to the lower-priced articles, to that flat rate of one-third, and, indeed, if this Amendment be not accepted, the only way in which they can protect themselves is by imposing, either a more or less substantial payment on deposit., or an increase of the instalments payable over a portion of the period of hire. Perhaps it would be convenient if I read out the Clause as it would stand if amended as I suggest:
"(ii) paying (a) any instalment due at, or prior to, the date of such redelivery, and unpaid at that date, and (b) the amount, if any, by which the respective proportions hereinafter referred to, of the total payments stipulated for in the contract by way of instalment, exceeds the cumulo amount of the instalments due at or prior to the aforesaid date.
The proportions of value of the article required to be paid on redelivery, in pursuance of the provisions hereof, shall be as follows:
In respect of articles purchased or hired for sums of fifteen pounds up to twenty pounds four-twelfths, for sums of ten pounds or more and under fifteen pounds five-twelfths, and for sums below ten pounds six-twelfths."
It will be noticed that I have kept the denominator of the fractions the same in all cases, so that the provision may be more easily understood by anyone not familiar with the Statute. The result would be that, in a case such as I have suggested, the bicycle would not be returnable until the hirer had paid £3. Even that would not compensate the owner, but it might have the effect of deterring the purchaser from doing what I have described. On the other hand, in the case of more expensive articles, the purchase prices of which might range from £15 to £20, a proportion of one-third, as provided in the Bill, is reasonable, and the increase is very little more in the price of articles midway between the cheapest and the dearest; it means the addition of another twelfth. I submit that the suggestion contained in the Amendment is not unreasonable, but is fair and equitable. If this Bill becomes a Statute, and if it is to be worked in the
interests, not only of the different trades which supply these articles, but of the hire purchasers themselves, it is far better that every provision of it should be fair and equitable as between the parties, and, if this Amendment should meet with the approval of the House, I would respectfully but strongly urge the Secretary of State for Scotland that he should accept it. As I have said, I think it to be in the best interests of all the parties. If I have been, perhaps, rather insistent or vehement in pressing the Amendment, my excuse must be that I am really anxious that this new departure in relation to hire purchase in Scotland should not only be the success that it ought to be in adjusting difficulties and removing hardships, but that every Clause of it should be fair and equitable. In conclusion, I should like to thank the House for the sympathy, patience and courtesy with which they have listened to me.
Mr. LEVY : I beg to second the Amendment.
Captain STRICKLAND : I wish to sun port this Amendment, because I think that it is, perhaps, one of the Amendments most needed in the whole Bill. If the original intention, of the promoters of the Bill were carried into effect, and if, in the case of the smaller type of articles, the only possible return that the manufacturer could hope to get in the event of voluntary cancellation of the contract were to be the goods plus one-third of their original value, there would be, according to the; evidence that I have been able to collect from those most interested in the trade, an entire revision so far as Scotland is concerned in regard to the goods which are supplied in such large quantities from this country. I do not know whether the House is aware of the extent of the hire purchase trade and the manner in which it has grown in recent years. I believe that something like 80 per cent. of the pianos sold in this country are sold on hire purchase terms, while over 50 per cent. of such articles as wireless sets, gramophones and other amenities of life are supplied on those terms, and the trade is one which has grown very much of recent years. In this Bill we are not either condemning or supporting the principle of hire purchase; that does not come within the purview of the Bill; but we have to decide whether we are going to take a step to- 855 night which must strike a very heavy blow at the trade. I was twitted, in the Committee that examined the Bill, with being an Englishman interfering with Scottish matters. I have not noticed any reluctance on the part of Scottish Members to interfere in English matters, but in this particular instance—
Mr. MAXTON : British matters.
Captain STRICKLAND : In this particular instance, the effect of the Bill on the purely English trade is most alarming. My hon. Friend has just quoted a case which, perhaps, affects my own constituency the most—the case of a bicycle. To any business man in this House, indeed, to anyone who cares to give the matter a thought at all, it must be obvious that it would be impossible to carry on that trade with Scotland, whatever may happen in this country, under the conditions of the Bill. To suppose that the manufacturer of a bicycle could let it out on hire purchase with the knowledge that it could be retained for use for four months and then returned on his hands, and that he could have any expectation that he would be able to place it on the market again as a second-hand bicycle and make £4 out of it, is absurd. I am speaking of a bicycle of the value of £6.
What is going to happen? You will have in Scotland a number of young people just going out to work, who have some distance to travel to their work, and have not sufficient capital to buy a bicycle outright. To them the hire purchase trade comes as a godsend. It enables them, for a small payment of half-a-crown a week, to overcome their transport difficulties and within 12 months to become the possessors of bicycles. But this provision of the Bill must of necessity mean that the manufacturer, in order to protect himself, will have to add to the cost of his bicycles at least 50 per cent., so as to recover for himself at any rate half the original value. That means that, for the sake of the comparatively few people who meet with misfortune and have to break their contracts, the vast number of people to whom hire purchase is of the greatest advantage, and particularly those of whom we hear so often in this House, the poorest of the poor, who are 856 only represented, apparently, on the opposite benches—[Interruption.] I said "apparently."
Mr. BUCHANAN : The hon. and gallant Gentleman will surely remember that in the Scottish Grand Committee the keenest speakers against the Bill were opponents of his own. He must give them proper credit.
Captain STRICKLAND : I was trying to pay a compliment to hon. Members opposite, as appearing to be the only people who represent the poorest of the poor, because of the number of times that we hear that sacred phrase from them. I claim to represent the poor quite as much as hon. Members opposite. If this Clause is passed in its present form, the people who are going to be hit are just the working-class people of Scotland who mostly want this type of hire purchase, because it will mean that, if they want such a bicycle, they will have to pay £9 instead of £6 for it, whereas the graduated Amendment which has been so excellently proposed by my hon. Friend would avoid that, and would give the trade a chance. The same thing applies with regard to other commodities, of which I would like to mention one, as showing the necessity for a change in the wording of this Clause. I refer to such things as wireless sets. Everybody knows that the wireless industry is an industry which is perpetually changing. Improvements are made, and old wireless sets are obsolete in a very short time. What is going to happen under this provision is that a man will be told that he can have a wireless set for £6 or £8, he can keep it for a short time until it becomes obsolete, and he can then return it on to the manufacturer's hands, paying him one-third of the original value, without the manufacturer having the slightest ghost of a chance of placing the set on the market again. To anyone who considers that position for a moment, it must be obvious that it is unfair. One thing which I want to emphasise above everything else is that the hire purchase trade is indeed what it pretends to be; it is a hire purchase; that is to say, a person hires goods for a certain period of time, and whatever payments he makes from time to time, by the month or by the week, are paying for the hire and the use
of those goods until he has completed a certain period of hire; and at the end of that time usually he purchases the goods by the payment of a small sum; but the advantage is indeed with the hirer in the great majority of cases, because he enjoys the use of those goods, for which he has not had to put down his capital in the first place. He pays the hire, month by month or week by week, for the use of them. When you come to a case of a man who wants to break that contract which he has made, it does seem to mo a little unfair to say that he may break the contract into which he has entered, and which he intended to carry out but possibly has not been able to carry out, by merely returning the goods and paying one-third of their value. I do suggest that unless you want to cut this trade out from Scotland, the House should accept this Amendment.
I am not speaking without my book; I have here some 20 letters from leading London houses, all of whom proclaim exactly the same thing; that if this Bill is passed in its present form they will either have to cut out the Scottish hire purchase trade up to the value of £20, or they will have to increase their charges over and above those made on the English side of the border. They will have to charge Scotland more than England for the smaller goods, and that charge will hit just the very people whom the hire purchase trade was originally intended to help, such people as the young artisan who has served his apprenticeship, who has earned very little wages during the time while he has been apprenticed, and now wants a set of tools to start in life. He cannot get that set of tools unless he has a chance of getting them through such a system as hire purchase, by which he can pay a small sum per week and start on his work. If you exclude that trade you are going to do an injury not only to those people who find in the hire purchase system a chance of obtaining goods which are of use to them and which add to the enjoyment of life, but you are also going to strike a blow at industry and trade itself, which is very largely dependent upon the hire purchase system.
Mr. MAXTON : I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General for Scotland is not going to accept this Amendment. We discussed this matter at
very great length in Committee. On my side of the Committee we had the strongest objection to the Sub-section being there at all. When a hire purchase trader enters into a contract with a customer he weighs up all his difficulties. A man may have failed to make good his contract at some point and failed to pay all the instalments, but he may have paid regularly up to that point. The trader has received those instalments. There comes a point when the customer cannot' continue; and provisions are laid down in the Bill for the way in which the contract can be terminated: The customer has to hand the article back in good condition; and a very large proportion of the articles which we are considering are capable of reconditioning and capable of sale as new. In addition the customer has to pay any instalments outstanding at the date of return; and in addition to that, after very close and prolonged discussion in Committee, we allowed it to go that he should in addition pay one-third of the difference; we agreed to item (b) in the Sub-section.
I had almost forgotten to congratulate the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Allan Reid) on his first intervention in Debate in this House. I am glad to hear his voice, and I hope that on the next occasion he will get a greater opportunity than the somewhat limited one which was afforded to him here. I hope that on the next occasion he will be on the right side; but I congratulate him on his trial run, and I have no doubt that on the next occasion he will interest the House as much as he has done to-day.
We agreed in Committee on that one-third, our side of the House agreeing with great reluctance. I think that my hon. Friends on the Labour benches, and some of the Conservative Members also, felt that in granting this item (b) in the Sub-section we were going a very long way in the interests of the trader. The hon. Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland) was unfair to the Scottish Members, I think, when he talked about our objection to Englishmen intervening in Scottish affairs. Surely his opportunities in the Scottish Standing Committee, where he was surrounded by Scotsmen, were as great as any Member of this House ever had at any time or at any place, and he certainly had a full opportunity to argue this Amendment to an unlimited extent.
Captain STRICKLAND : I hope the hon. Member will also repeat to the House the protest which was raised at the very beginning, that while he did not object to Englishmen being on the Scottish Committee, he did very much object to their trying to tell Scotland what it ought to do.
Mr. MAXTON : I do not remember that protest. I remember several protests from my group, not because of the hon. and gallant Member for Coventry was an Englishman, but because he seemed to be voicing the claims of the trader solely, without regard to the customer. That was the protest which came from our side when he was too voca1 in defence of the bicycle makers. We understood, and excused, but we protested. Here he comes forward again, after we have debated and, as I understood it, reached agreement, and says that one-third is not enough, that it must be more. He is not demanding the whole pound of flesh, but he is not content with four-twelfths; he wants five-twelfths and six-twelfths, respectively. Speaking for my friends, I do not feel that we can agree to that, and I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Solicitor-General for Scotland do not propose to agree, otherwise we will be forced to put up an opposition to the Bill which we had not contemplated at this stage.
The SOLICITOR - GENERAL for SCOTLAND : I feel unable to recommend the House to accept this Amendment. The present plan of the Bill is to enable a hirer to terminate his contract upon the return of the article in good condition, and upon paying all the instalments due or one-third of the total sum of the instalments, whichever is the larger. That conforms to the recommendation of Lord Fleming's Committee, which gave this question very great consideration, and all aspects of which they very carefully weighed. The matter came before the Scottish Standing Committee, and while there were Amendments which would have raised, the proportion payable by the hirer, there were also Amendments which would have materially reduced them. The Government in this matter kept what, I think, is a moderate course between the two extremes, and we are here on the findings of Lord Fleming's Committee. It is undoubtedly true that if you deal with a hire purchase con-
tract which contemplates an even level of instalments throughout the whole course of its currency, any figure, whether it be one-third or one-half, may have unfortunate results for either party. I agree that if you have the case of a bicycle, which rapidly deteriorates in use, so that there is a high rate of depreciation, and if your contract provides that it shall be paid for at the rate of half-a-crown per week for, say, 48 weeks, then if the Contract remains unaltered the trader suffers some prejudice on a breach of the contract.
But then, what about the hirer in the case of articles which slowly depreciate?. He has to take his risks also. I think it is the duty of hon. Members to consider first of all the interests of both sides to the bargain, and secondly to bear in mind that nothing in this Bill prescribes an even level of instalments during the currency of the contract, and accordingly, as the hon. and learned Member for Derby (Mr. W. Reid) pointed out in his lucid speech recommending this Amendment, what the trader may do, and what he would have to do in the case of bicycle contracts, is slightly to increase the initial instalments. There is no reason either in principle or economics why he should not do so. The hirer of a new bicycle ought naturally to be con tent to pay a rate of hire greater in the ordinary way than the hirer of a bicycle a year old, and if it is truly a hire contract, then it is quite natural and reasonable that the early instalments should be on a higher scale than the instalments towards the end of the currency of the contract. Therefore, there is not only an easy way but a way entirely consistent with the true principles of fair dealing, in which the trader may protect himself. Wherever you draw the line difficulties may arise, but at all events the trader can in every case protect himself against any unfortunate economic effects of such a line.
I cannot help thinking that there is great exaggeration in saying that this is going to work any great disaster to the bicycle or any other industry. What is the position to-day? You are assuming in these discussions that somebody has entered into a contract which he finds himself unable to fulfil. What happens in such an event to-day? One knows that what happens to-day is that he ceases to pay the instalments and the 861 trader gets nothing more except a damaged bicycle. This provides that when a man seeks to determine his contract he shall pay all the instalments due, or one-third of the total instalments, whichever is the larger. I agree that the probability is that there may be cases with which it will be difficult to deal; there may be cases where the hirer declines to pay any more instalments, and the operation of subsequent Clauses which we shall have to consider will have to come into operation. But the essence of the thing is that wherever you draw the line there will be people on each side of it who may have reason to complain if they have a hard-and-fast contract; but if traders desire to enter into this trade they can meet all the difficulties, and therefore I suggest that the Amendment should not be accepted.
Mr. HANNON : I intervene only for a single moment to ask the hon. and learned Member the Solicitor-General for Scotland whether he has brought his mind to bear upon this point: Under existing contracts for the hire purchase of bicycles—in which I have an interest as representing a division of Birmingham, and also as being a director of a company which is a very large producer of bicycles—is it not a fact that at the present moment, if the hirer ceases to pay his instalments, the vendor of the bicycle, whether it is a company or an agent, can proceed against him in law for the recovery of the balance? Under this Bill, as I understand it, the amount which the hirer, notwithstanding the condition of the article, is called upon to pay, is the amount of one-third set forth in this particular Clause which we are now discussing. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman also say who is to determine the condition of the article when it is returned? If the vendor says it is not in good condition and the man who has used it for four months and got all the excellent qualities out of it says it is, who is to determine between the two?
The Bill, with this limited provision, will inflict a very severe blow upon English trade in relation to Scotland. We have supplied Scotsmen from time immemorial with English products at the lowest possible price. There is not a Scotsman of this or any other generation who will not admit that this country has 862 been conferring perennial benefits upon Scotland, and yet they bring in a Bill to deprive the English vendor of articles supplied to Scotsmen of a fair return for a period of hire of that article if at the discretion of the Scottish hirer, he determines to pay no further instalments. Any Member of this House projecting his mind into the mentality of Scotland can see multitudes of occasions on which Scotsmen will find a good, solid, substantial Scottish reason for seeking to pay instalments. That being so, surely something must be done to safeguard the interests of the vendor. I am certain that, by the limitation imposed in this Clause, you are doing serious injury to British manufacturers of certain articles customarily sold on hire purchase in Scotland. With reference to the interchange of amenities between the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland), I always hold that a Member for an English constituency is perfectly entitled to take part in any Debate affecting |Scotland. Scotsmen have profited so much by association with this country—
Mr. MAXTON : Will the hon. Member explain what he means by saying that I have profited from my association with this country?
Mr. HANNON : I was not making any personal allusion to the hon. Member, and I apologise if my remark could be interpreted in that way. I think the House ought to accept the Amendment. It is only a matter of fair play to English manufacturers who provide articles to make the daily life of the Scottish people more comfortable, happy and genial. To place this limitation upon manufacturers in this country for the benefit of persons who refuse to pay hire purchase instalments is an abuse of legislation.
Mr. J. REID : I rise as a Scottish Member to support the Government and to oppose the Amendment, which seems to me to be entirely ill-conceived, and conceived in the interests of one trade alone. Let me give one example to show how it would work out in practice. We have been told that a £6 bicycle is let out at 2s. 6d. per week. At the end of the first week the person who hires it may find that it does not suit him, or that he does not need it, or that he can- 863 not afford the £6. It is true, as has been said, that in the old days that man was in a difficulty, because he either had to go on with the bargain or sacrifice the £6 and the bicycle, unless he could come to an agreement. The object of the Bill is to avoid difficulties and to enable a man in that position to get out of the bargain, I think to the mutual advantage of both parties. As the Bill stands, that man will have to pay, in addition to his first week's hire of 2s. 6d., £l 17s. 6d., which, it seems to me, is quite sufficient to pay by way of a penalty for having rued your bargain. On the other hand, under the Amendment he would have to pay £2 17s. 6d. in addition to the 2s. 6d. It seems to me that that is a most monstrous sum to require him to pay. I cannot believe that my hon. Friend's bicycles axe so bad or so over-priced that after a week's use they have depreciated to half their value. It seems to me that any goods for which hire purchase can reasonably be applied ought to be of a reasonably durable character and, if they are of a reasonably durable character and are not over-priced, one-third fully represents the initial depreciation and, if that is so, the justice of the case is met.
Mr. HANNON : Will my hon. Friend substitute two or four months for one week? Can he conceive of a Scotsman being tired of a bicycle in a week?
Mr. REID : My answer is that he ought to be charged a reasonable sum for hire. If an article depreciates rapidly, as bicycles apparently do, to charge only 2s. 6d. a week for a machine that costs £6 is an entirely vicious method of doing business. It means that you are charging too little for even the hire of a bicycle, let alone the purchase.
Captain STRICKLAND : Do we correctly understand my hon. Friend to be arguing in favour of the workers of Scotland being charged more for what they have enjoyed at a lower price?
Mr. REID : Certainly not as to total price, but, if a bicycle depreciates at the rate of more than 2s. 6d. a week, obviously the instalment ought to be more than 2s. 6d. a week, but it should not go on for so long. If my hon. and gallant Friend's constituents are getting 864 business by spreading the instalments 'over too long a time, that is a vicious system. Hire purchase ought never to be in such a state that the instalments are less than the amount of the weekly depreciation, otherwise the thing is not a proper commercial contract at all. If people choose, in order to get business, to enter into contracts under which they are willing to take smaller instalments than the weekly amount of depreciation, it is their own fault if they do not get paid at the end of it. I do not think that those sellers who trade on proper commercial principles ought to be penalised in order to advantage cycle makers who apparently, in order to get business, are willing to accept too small instalments.
Mr. JAMIESON : I, too, should like to say a word in opposition to the Amendment. If it is accepted, it seems to me that it will go a long way to defeat two of the main objects for which the Bill was introduced. One was to make sure that, where a hire purchaser had been persuaded to take an article which he could ill-afford to pay for, he should be entitled to return it on fair and equitable terms. The other reason was that people have entered into these contracts and soon afterwards become unemployed and find themselves totally unable to pay. It was in the interests of them as well as in the interests of the trader that Clause 3 was introduced; so that the hirer might be relieved of his contract and the trader might be entitled to get back his article if it was in good condition.
If the Amendment is accepted it will mean that to a very large extent these two main objects of the Bill will go by the board. In their report, Lord Fleming's Committee said that they were very much impressed by the number of cases which had come before them where at the time the contract was entered into the hirer was actually unemployed or soon afterwards became unemployed. It is to meet those cases that the provision was made for re-delivery if the article was in good repair. The hon. Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon) asked who was to decide if the article was in good repair? It is very simple. If the hirer tenders an article back and the trader says, "I am not going to accept it; it is not in good order," the latter will sue for his instalments. The defence to such 865 an action would be that the article had been tendered back, and it would be for the court to decide whether or not it was in good repair or whether the tender was a good one. The committee recommended that one-third was a fair amount, but it is suggested in the Amendment that in some cases as much as two-thirds should be paid.
Captain STRICKLAND : No, one-half.
Mr. JAMIESON ; I do not think that my arithmetic is at fault. I am afraid I am not up-to-date. As the Amendment was originally tabled I understood that it was a larger sum. But take the case of a person who has a gramophone or a wireless set which he does not want, or for which he cannot afford to pay. If the article is in good condition when the return of it is tendered, surely a third of the whole is a fair amount to pay. if as much as half were exacted it would render the redelivery Clause useless. I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member need be afraid that the English traders will lose their business if the Clause is passed in. its present form. He suggested that the English traders might add 50 per cent. to their present prices. If they do so I think that they will probably find enterprising Scottish traders ready to supply the needs of the country at present prices. It seems to me that the whole of the difficulty can be met by a very slight adjustment of the contract by putting more upon the initial instalments and less upon the later. I would welcome that being done, because I believe that it would be in the interests not only of the people who take the articles but of the traders themselves. It would lead to what I call legitimate trading. Articles would be hired when they were wanted and not because a canvasser had been round and pressed them upon people who did not want them. The result would be that only contracts would be entered into where there was a reasonable chance of their being fulfilled. That would not only be in the interests of the hirers but in the interests of those who wanted to place their goods upon the market. I am glad that the learned Solicitor-General for Scotland has said that the Government are not prepared to accept the Amendment.
Captain STRICKLAND : I beg to move, in page 2, line 37, at the end, to insert the words:
"(2) For the purposes of this Section delivery—
The Amendment is consequential on the first Amendment which I moved, in which we deleted certain words, and therefore I do not propose to take up the time of the House any further.
Mr. HANNON : I beg to second the Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
CLAUSE 5.—(Redelivery of article to hirer or purchaser on payment of balance due under contract.)
The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND : I beg to move, in page 3, line 23, to leave out the word "sum," and to insert instead thereof the word" amount."
This is purely a drafting
Amendment, Amendment agreed to.
CLAUSE 6.—(Decree for delivery in small debt court may include warrant to take possession., )
The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND : I beg to move, in page 4, line 1,, after the word "person," to insert the words "as owner or tenant."
The Amendment is to give effect to an undertaking given in the Scottish Standing Committee. It relates to the right of search which the owner of an article may have when obtaining a decree for its redelivery. The right was in somewhat wide terms in the Bill as it originally stood, so that it might be possible to search premises of a person who had a very remote relation with the contract, and accordingly an undertaking was given to consider the precise terms by which it should be restricted. The Amendment gives effect to the undertaking by restricting the right of search to premises occupied by the hirer as owner or tenant of the premises. Unless 867 the premises are actually occupied by the person as owner or tenant no decree can be issued for search.
Amendment agreed to.
CLAUSE 7.—(Amendment of law as to im prisonment on small debt decree for delivery.)
Mr. NEIL MACLEAN : I beg to move, in page 4, line 15, to leave out from the words "moveables," to the end of the Sub-section.
The Amendment means that the individual hirer would not be in any fear of being put into prison for failure to deliver up the article. The Secretary of State and the Solicitor-General are well aware that this question of putting an individual into prison and keeping them there for a number of days is one of serious importance. Cases were cited during the Second Reading Debate and during the Committee stage where individuals were placed in prison, in one case for 50 days, for an amount outstanding of only a few shillings. The main purpose of the Bill when it was introduced was to do away, if possible, with imprisonment. The question was keenly debated in the Scottish Standing Committee and also the question of recurring sentences, but we think that it is necessary that we should draw the 'attention of the House on the Report stage to this matter just as we did in Committee. It is evident that those who have been in touch with the traders who have been supplying the goods have come re-fortified with information on various points of advantage to the trading section of the community, and it is only right that we should again place before the House the point of view that is held, in the West of Scotland particularly, with regard to the imprisonment that has been imposed upon certain people.
In Scotland we do not object to any representations coming from other Members of the House who represent other parts of the country, but we do insist that so far as the people of Scotland are concerned they should not labour under disadvantages and that they should be placed on an equal footing with citizens in other parts of the United Kingdom, whether the trading company comes from Coventry or from Birmingham or any other part of England. Whether it be a 868 cycle firm, a wireless manufacturing firm, or a furnishing firm, we are unconcerned, but we are concerned that the people of Scotland who, through unemployment or other unfortunate circumstances, are unable to maintain their instalments, should not be put into prison at the behest either of a Coventry firm or a Birmingham firm. Hon. Members from the Birmingham district have been speaking and have endeavoured to make out that the trader is suffering many disadvantages. One disadvantage which the trader does not suffer is that of going to prison. The hon. and gallant Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland) produced letters from trading firms to the effect that they may have to stop their trade with Scotland if this Bill goes through. During the Second Reading Debate and in the Committee stage a number of hire-purchase agreements were produced, documents of a most iniquitous character, issued by the hire purchase firms, laying down many onerous conditions and many unscrupulous conditions upon individuals who hired articles from them. It was felt the time had come to bring forward legislation to put a stop to some of the things that have been done by the hire purchase trade.
If the Solicitor-General cannot accept the Amendment, I hope that he will at least do something to abolish imprisonment by recurring sentences. If he is prepared to do something in that line I may be able to withdraw this Amendment, with the consent of my colleagues, but we do stand definitely against the method of putting individuals into prison for failure to maintain their hire purchase agreements, and we also protest against their becoming liable to recurring sentences of six weeks at the end of every three months.
Mr. LEONARD : I beg to second the Amendment.
The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOT-LAND : I earnestly appeal to my hon. Friend to withdraw the Amendment. If it were adopted, the result would be to make the whole procedure for enforcing the return of an article inept and nugatory. In regard to grants of decree for the delivery of any article, no matter whether a hire purchase article or not, the only sanction and power to enforce resides in the ultimate power of imprisonment. Take that away and the decrees 869 for redelivery of articles, whether under a hire purchase system or not, ceases to be of any effect. That is an entirely impossible situation. It may help the hon. Member to withdraw the Amendment if I say that I am glad to see a subsequent Amendment standing in the names of hon. Members from all quarters of the House, which would have the effect of abolishing recurring sentences. I respectfully suggest that on the lines of rejecting the present Amendment and accepting the other one, a reasonable compromise might be effected.
Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM : I am sorry that the Solicitor-General has refused to accept the Amendment. I am informed that the custom in operation in Scotland with regard to imprisonment is comparatively new. [Interruption.] That is my information. My information is that until a decision of the Sheriff Court in Glasgow, a few years ago, a man could not be put into prison for failure to comply with a contract of this character. I do not argue that that version is correct, but if it is true it means that imprisonment for this particular offence, which is not a crime, or which ought not to be a crime, has been created by the result of judge-made law and not by legislation.
The necessity for legislation on the lines suggested by the Amendment has been obvious for some considerable time to everybody connected with the administration of the law in Scotland. The committee was long overdue, and there is no doubt that the conditions to-day are very much worse than they were when the committee was appointed. At least 95 per cent. of the members of the working class who enter into contracts of this kind will keep their contract; at the same time, there is a percentage of the population who are not in a position to do so owing to circumstances over which they have no control. In this matter England benefits to the disadvantage of Scotland. We are much more unfortunate in the matter of unemployment, and what we are attempting to do now is to prevent the hirer having the right to bring a man from Aberdeen to Glasgow. He may be unable to come all that distance, and although he may have a very good defence the Sheriff has no choice but to order him to go to prison. I am pleased to note that the Solicitor-General is in favour of putting an end to recurring 870 sentences, but I should have preferred no sentence of imprisonment at all. If the man is in prison he cannot pay.
Captain STRICKLAND : The hon. Member, I think, is under a misapprehension. Does he wish to convey to the House that a man can be put into prison for not paying; or does he understand that under the Bill the only way is when he willfully defies an order of the court to return goods which are not his? A man can only be sent to prison for refusing to return goods which are not his. This has nothing to do with payment.
Mr. GRAHAM : But there are a number of men who are quite willing to pay but are unable to pay.
Captain STRICKLAND : In that case he can return the goods.
Mr. GRAHAM : If he returns the goods, then it may be a question for the court as to whether they are in a satisfactory condition.
Captain STRICKLAND : This is not a case where the goods must be returned in a fair condition as to wear and tear. This is a case where the court orders the goods to be returned in whatever condition they are, and the only case in which a man can be sent to prison is if he wilfully defies an order of the court to return what is left of the goods.
Mr. GRAHAM : If he returns the goods, then the Bill, in another Clause, provides that they must be in a good condition.
Captain STRICKLAND : No.
Mr. GRAHAM : We will leave it at that. The man will always be at a disadvantage, inasmuch as the hiring company can employ the best legal service which the man is not able to afford. I enter into a contract and I get a bicycle, which is quite satisfactory. Then there comes a time when I am unable to pay the instalments. I am asked to return the bicycle, but I do not want to do that because I want to keep it; I want to pay the instalments. It is not a question of trying to get out of the obligation. It seems to me that in certain conditions a man who is honestly anxious to keep his contract may find himself in prison. I prefer that the hirer should be put in the same position as any other person or company to whom payments are due, 871 and that he should go by civil process and get a return of the money. If that fails, then he can pin the man's goods or his wages. There are any number of ways in which it can be done without the necessity of sending the man to prison.
Mr. N. MACLEAN : In view of the statement made by the Solicitor-General that he is going to do away with one of the obnoxious Clauses of the Bill, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Mr. BUCHANAN : Before the Amendment is withdrawn—
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert) : If the hon. Member wants to speak on it, the Amendment cannot be withdrawn.
Mr. BUCHANAN : I want to put one point to the Solicitor-General. Suppose a man who has obtained a gramophone or a bicycle on the hire purchase system finds himself in arrears of rent and the landlord puts in a claim. These goods may be taken and the man may find himself in a very awkward position. Can he be sent to prison in those circumstances?
Mr. NORMAND : My answer to that question is, no. The only way under the Bill by which a man can find himself liable to imprisonment is that by his own wilful action he fails to return the goods on an order of the court.
Mr. GUY : I beg to move, in page 4, line 30, to leave out the words "be proved," and to insert instead thereof the words "appear to the court."
This Amendment raises the point of the onus upon the owner to prove wilful refusal by the hirer to redeliver the goods. I would like to remind the House that the object of Clause 7 is to make it more difficult for an innocent or an ignorant hirer to be put into prison. Members of the Scottish Standing Committee are aware that one of the main objects of the Bill was to do away with what was admittedly an abuse of the hire purchase system whereby a trader could get a decree for delivery in Glasgow against a hirer in Aberdeen. The hirer, not having carried out that decree, could be put into prison, although he might have had a perfectly good defence, or a 872 perfectly good explanation as to why he had not returned the article, if he had been able to attend in Glasgow when the decree was granted. The possibility of that abuse has been swept away by Clause 4 of the Bill and now it is only possible for a hirer to be put into prison, after a decree of delivery has been pronounced in favour of the trader if, after there has been a search of the hirer's house, the hirer wilfully refuses to return the article.
I think it has been made clear that the hirer is not to be put into prison in circumstances such as those indicated by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham). I think the hon. Member was labouring under a serious misapprehension in that respect. But let us assume that the case has reached the point at which a decree of delivery has been pronounced and let us also assume that the hirer has paid a substantial proportion of the instalments. That raises a difficult question which I think is not fully covered by Clause 3 and I think that is the kind of case which the hon. Member for Hamilton had in mind—a case where a hirer had paid a substantial amount of the instalments and just held on to the article. He is holding on to this article to which he has no right. Under Clause 7, the owner has to apply to the court for a warrant for imprisonment 10 days after the decree for delivery. If within those 10 days, the hirer returns the article there can be no imprisonment, but if he does not return the article then the trader appears in the Small Debts Court and asks for a decree of imprisonment. But before he can get that decree, as Clause 7 reads now, he has to prove to the court that the hirer is wilfully refusing to return the article and, in the event of the hirer not appearing in court, if there is not correspondence available showing that the hirer is wilfully refusing to return the article it will be difficult if not impossible for the owner to discharge that onus of proof. That might open the way to something very like fraud. I do not like to use the word "fraud," but it might open the way to an abuse of the machinery provided in the Bill. In the event of the owner not being able to discharge the onus of proof the hirer would then be in a position to snap his fingers at the owner, and keep the article and nothing further could be done against 873 him. That would be only an exceptional case, but I think that this Amendment would be a reasonable solution of the difficulty. Its effect would be to leave the onus of proof still on the owner, but to make it a lighter onus, because the Clause as amended would read:
" The court may, if it shall appear to the court; that the defender is wilfully refusing to comply with the decree, etc."
May I say that the wording of the Clause as it stands is not justified by the report of the Fleming Committee because that report suggested the words "if the court is satisfied," which are much nearer to the words of my Amendment than to the words now in the Bill. The words in the Bill originally were the same as the words in the report but Amendments were put up, on one side rather extreme and of the other side, somewhat more lenient, as regards the onus of proof, and at the end of the day an Amendment containing the words in the Bill was carried. If these words remain in the Bill they will put a very difficult and heavy onus on the owner. I suggest to the Solicitor-General for Scotland that he will not be going against the recommendations of the Fleming Committee if he accepts my Amendment; that he will make the machinery of the Bill work more easily, and at the same time that he will leave a substantial safeguard against the possibility of an innocent or ignorant hirer being put into prison through failure to return an article.
The Amendment would still leave it open for the hirer to avoid any sentence of imprisonment by coming forward and providing an explanation to the court as to why he had not been able to return the article. He has only to say that the article has been stolen or has been accidentally destroyed by fire, or whatever the explanation may be. That is a simple thing for him to do and is not putting a heavy burden on him or involving him in any hardship. If he can give satisfactory explanation the court would not pronounce a decree of imprisonment.
Captain STRICKLAND : I beg to second the Amendment.
I hope the Government will see their way to accept this Amendment which as my hon. Friend has said only carries out the suggestion of the Committee which considered this question of hire purchase in Scotland. The words of the report on this point are: 874
"If delivery of the article is not obtained under the decree of the court, the trader should then be entitled to apply to the court for a warrant of imprisonment against the hirer. If he satisfies the court that the hirer is able to implement the order of the court but is wilfully refusing to do so, it will be in the discretion of the court to order the hirer imprisonment for a fixed period."
It is a most difficult thing to insist on a man's coming into court under the conditions laid down in the Bill and being able to prove that the hirer is wilfully refusing to surrender certain articles, and it has been made all the more difficult by the wording of other Clauses, because in the case of a sheriff officer being empowered to search, the area of search has been considerably curtailed. It came out during the sittings of the Committee that supposing you had a lodger in a house, who entered into a hire purchase contract, and there came a decree of the court to return certain goods, which he did not return, a sheriff's order might be made for an officer to search, but that search must be rigidly restricted to just the one room or rooms actually in the occupation of the lodger. When you come to the case of a son living at home, who is not in occupation of any particular room, it is impossible under this Bill for the sheriff officer to search any part of that house which is in the occupation of the parents of the son living at home, so it is with the utmost difficulty that any trace can be kept of the articles which it is desired by the order of the court to be returned. There is only one person who can know where they are, and whether he is still in possession of them, or whether he has merely shifted them to some convenient place which cannot be searched, and that person is the hirer.
I do not think anyone would defend the particular hardship under another Clause mentioned by my hon. Friend, which was unquestionably a hardship, namely, that of having to attend a court in Glasgow, say, when the hirer himself might live in the North of Scotland, but now that we have a court held in the district in which the man lives, I submit that it is no hardship to insist on the onus of proof being thrown on to that man to attend his own district court and explain why he has not obeyed the order of the court to return the goods. It may be said that the words "be proved" have much the same meaning as the words "appear to the court." It is easy to 875 put words into an Act and to have an intention in putting them in, but I am afraid that lawyers would grow very thin indeed if the intention of the Act of Parliament was so clear every time that there was no need to call upon their services to explain what the words meant, and if there is no difference between these two forms of words, I urge the Government to accept the Amendment. I have certain support, which I should perhaps produce at this point, which was given by the learned Solicitor-General for Scotland on 19th April, when he said:
"The onus must be quite definitely upon one party or the other. On whom is it to be placed? At present, according to the common law, it would undoubtedly be upon the hirer or purchaser … At the same time, it is useless to disguise that there may be occasional cases of hardship where the hirer or purchaser is a wilful man who knows where the article is but will not tell anyone and the trader has no means of discovering what he has done with it."— [OFPICIL REPORT (Standing Committee on Scottish Bills), 19th April, 1932; cols. 80–1.]
In view of the fact that the ultimate decision as to whether or not a man is wilfully disobeying is placed in the hands of the court to decide, I submit that if the Amendment were accepted, it would be possible for an owner genuinely seeking to get back his goods to have the hirer himself attending the court to explain why he had not complied with the order. If he is wilfully withholding the goods, I think he should be compelled to attend his own district court and give his reasons for refusing to comply with the order.
The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND : I must resist this Amendment. It is moved by the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Guy), who recognises that the form of words which he proposes would leave the onus exactly where it is left by the words in the Bill which he seeks to delete. The advantage of the words in the Bill is this, that they are clear and unambiguous and can leave no doubt in the mind of anyone who may be called upon to construe them. The disadvantage of the words of the Amendment is that they are ambiguous. The words "appear to the court" are not appropriate words for this case. If it was dealing with something within the cognisance of the court itself, it would be appropriate to insert such words. In a 876 Bill recently before this House dealing with children there were Clauses to the effect that where it appeared to the court that the person before it was a child the court should decide so and so, but this is a matter of proof upon evidence, and the only way in which anything can either appear to the court, or by which the court can be satisfied, or by which the matter can be proved to the court is by competent legal evidence. What we have done is to use that phrase which is the most clear and the most free from ambiguity. The Amendment was seconded in a speech which, if it meant anything, meant that the onus should be on the hirer, not on the trader, but perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland) will be satisfied by the fact that the law in Scotland in this respect will now conform to the law in England.
Mr. JAMES DUNCAN : I beg to move, in page 4, line 40, to leave out paragraph (v).
I move this Amendment with some measure of confidence, having the support of hon. Members from Clydeside and having listened to the words of the learned Solicitor-General on an earlier Clause. As the Bill now stands, a man who has been wilfully defying the decree of a court can be sent to prison for six weeks, then have three months out, then another six weeks in prison, and so on indefinitely, and this recurring imprisonment seems to me, as a Scotsman who now represents an English constituency, but who tried to represent a Scottish constituency, to be a relic of barbarism, however modern it may be according to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham). Therefore, the suggestion that I make is that, by leaving this paragraph out, there will be one definite term of imprisonment, a maximum term of six weeks. Even with that maximum term which the sheriff may give, there will still be an option on the man who is imprisoned to get out at the earliest opportunity by delivering up the goods.
Lord SCONE : I beg to second the Amendment.
I confess that in doing so I have a certain amount of hesitation, because while I fully agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Kensington (Mr. 877 J. Duncan) that this system of recommittal is rather a relic of barbarism, I am not sure whether the mere sentence of six weeks' imprisonment will be enough to deter that comparatively small proportion of the community which desires to take an unfair advantage of those who supply goods under the hire purchase system. I am of opinion that this is rather in the nature of an experiment, but it is an experiment that is worth making, and I am prepared to see this recommittal to prison brought back upon the Statute Book at a later stage if undue advantage is taken of the concession. I hope, however, that that will not come to pass. The vast majority of those who in the past have been committed to prison for the non-payment of what they owe under an agreement of hire purchase, have been honest people who have fallen into difficulties, and we are not legislating against them. It is better that we should run the risk of a few rascals escaping a large penalty than that a great many honest people who have not been guilty of any dishonest intent should have to go to gaol.
The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Major Sir Archibald Sinclair) : It is the intention of the Government to ask the House to accept the Amendment, but I want to make clear the circumstances in which this proposal was brought forward. In the first place, a man who might have received terms of recurrent imprisonment would have been a man who ex hypothesi was in deliberate and wilful possession of an article which did not belong to him; it had been proved to the satisfaction of the court that he possessed it and was deliberately refusing to give it up. In the second place, he would not have received recurrent terms of imprisonment merely because he was keeping the article in his possession; he would be receiving them for successive refusals to obey the order of the court, so that morally he would not have been entitled to very much sympathy. In the third place, the real object of this paragraph was to give the sheriff the feeling that he could impose a relatively short sentence. If a man came before him and it was proved that he was deliberately and wilfully keeping an article which did not belong to him, the sheriff might well say, "We will give him three days to show him that we have the power and
can use it"; and if he were still obstinate at the end of that time, he could give a sentence more appropriate to the offence and give him a longer time to think it over.
We feared that if there were no power in the sheriff to award this short sentence on the first occasion, a man might get a longer sentence than was actually necessary. On the other hand, it remains true that the man, so long as he is in prison, has his fate in his own hands; he can get out whenever he likes merely by authorising the delivery of the article. A subsequent Amendment which the Government also proposed to accept will make it obligatory upon the trading firm to notify the court as soon as the article has been restored. In these circumstances, we think that there are ample safeguards for a man, even if a sheriff, as the result of our acceptance of the Amendment, does in fact impose heavier sentences than he would have done if the paragraph, had remained in the Bill.
Mr. JAMIESON : While I recognise that there seems to be a general feeling in the House in favour of the Amendment, I feel that it is making such an innovation into the law of Scotland, an innovation which will have such far-reaching results, much beyond what has been contemplated, that I must enter my protest against it. Two points, have been very much overlooked. The first is that imprisonment following upon a decree of the court for the delivery of an article is not a criminal punishment. It is differently regarded in England, where attachment, as it is called, follows for contempt of court. It is not so regarded in Scotland. It has none of the stigma of criminal imprisonment, but it is the only possible method of enforcing a decree under which the court orders the defender to do something other than the payment of a sum of money. The second point that has been overlooked is that the Clause with which we are dealing is not confined to cases of hire purchase. It deals with decrees for delivery of any moveable article, however it may have come into the possession of the person in whose possession it is. The true owner of it may have lent it; he may have hired it under a contract altogether other than a contract of hire purchase; or, indeed, it may have been stolen from the true owner. By the law of Scotland the
owner of stolen property is entitled to follow it up and obtain possession of it. no matter in whose hands it may be— differing in that respect from the law of England.
If the Clause had dealt only with hire purchase, I would not have protested against the Amendment, because a person entering into a hire purchase contract does so with his eyes open knowing what the consequences may be. It is said that if the paragraph stands there will be hardship. I challenge anyone who is in favour of the Amendment to figure any possible case of hardship on any man who is acting honestly. Under the Bill as it stands the ignorant and unintelligent are carefully safeguarded. First of all, the summons for delivery of the article is served. If that is not understood or if it is disregarded, an application has to be made to the sheriff for a warrant to imprison, and that is served on the individual. If he still does not understand the meaning of that, then he may be put into prison for such period, not exceeding six weeks, as the sheriff may decide. That is not a sentence, but he is ordered to be kept in prison for any period the sheriff may decide, up to six weeks. Once he finds himself in prison it would be idle to say he does not know what he is there for, and, if the articles are in his possession he is able to deliver them and if he wants to do so, he them become his own gaoler and can unlock his own prison door. Not only that, but under Sub-section (6), if, after he is put into prison, he is able to show to the court that he is no longer wilfully refusing to deliver the goods, because they may have perished or because for some other reason he cannot deliver them, then he can be liberated.
It is difficult to see what more wet-nursing the defender could have than that, and it seems to me that it is absurd to say that after all these stages, even if he does not appreciate the position until he finds himself in prison, after he gets there, if he still refuses to deliver, he is acting in any way but dishonestly. Accordingly, the removal of this Subsection is simply going to put a premium on dishonesty. The Government have intimated through the right hon. Gentleman that they are prepared to accept the Amendment. They resisted it when it was 880 in Committee. May I read what was said by the Solicitor-General for Scotland, who put it more neatly than I can I He said:
"They serve the sentence in wilful recalcitrancy for retaining the article in their control and refusing to part with it. If they have been to prison, and they then wilfully refuse to give up the article which does not belong to them, can anyone say that they are entitled to any further consideration, either at the hands of the trader or at the hands of the Legislature? They have again to be brought before the court and it has to be proved against them, after due notice, that they are still wilfully and obstinately refusing to give up the article."
Then he goes on:
"It has simply to do with those who are dishonest enough to retain the article. It is fair at this stage, after all the warning and proof which they have had, to say that they are not only wilfully but dishonestly withholding property which belongs to somebody else."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee on Scottish Bills), 19th April, 1932, col. 94.]
So that against the honest offender the Sub-section in question would never be put into operation, and that was fully recognised by the Solicitor-General in the passage which I have read. What then, is going to be the position? Under the Bill the sheriff has a discretion but does not know when the man comes before him that he going to be dishonest. He sends him to prison, perhaps, for a period of three or, let us say, six days. At the end of that period the man is liberated and he is entitled to retain the article and the true owner can never get it back. Under Sub-section (4), before a warrant of imprisonment is granted the sheriff has a discretion, instead of ordering imprisonment, to order a money payment, but once the owner has taken the course of putting the man in prison—it may be for only three days—he can neither get back his property nor can he recover its value.
It does not matter how it came into the possessor's hands. He may have borrowed it or it may actually have been stolen from the true owner, but, as the Bill stands, if the sheriff only gives three or six days or other short period of imprisonment, at the end of that period the possessor of the article can go and flaunt it in the face of the true owner, who has no possible remedy unless he takes the remedy of force.
881 This Amendment stands in the name of Members on both sides of the House. It is just as likely that the owner who is being deprived of his property may not be a Noble Lord but one of the poorer class of the community whose cause hon. Members opposite champion with such frequency and vehemence and, as we think, with such mistaken notions. It may be that the owner is a member of that class who can much less well afford the loss of his article and of its value, and who will not bless the day when those hon. Gentlemen put their names to this Amendment. We have to look a little ahead. No doubt we are here dealing with articles under the value of £20, and the reason why this Clause is of general application is because it was thought to be an anomoly that there should be one rule as regards hire purchase contracts and another rule as regards other moveables. It seems to me that this Bill will necessarily only be the precursor of legislation dealing with hire purchase of greater amounts. If that is so, then the same question is going to arise again. If it is right as regards hire purchase that, for an article of small value, the period of imprisonment should be limited, it would be equally right as regards articles of greater value. If it is right that there should not be any difference between the enforcement of a decree in hire purchase for small articles and for other articles of small value, the same thing will apply as regards articles of greater value. The result of this Amendment is simply to put a premium on dishonesty, and I should be very sorry that this House, in a desire to remedy the difficulties which have arisen in hire purchase, should lend itself to something which is going to encourage dishonesty and make it impossible for the true owner of an article to get it back from the dishonest possessor.
Amendment agreed to.
Commander COCHRANE : I beg to move, in page 5, line 9,, at the end, to insert the words:
"and it shall be the duty of any person to whom delivery is made in accordance with the decree or with the provisions of Subsection (2) of this Section to intimate such delivery forthwith to the court."
Sub-section (6), which I seek to amend, provides for the release of a man who has had the misfortune to get into prison
when the court is satisfied that delivery of the goods has been made. It does not, however, place any definite responsibility on either of the parties to give proof to the court that the goods have been delivered. I think it is clear that the only person who can provide that proof is the owner, and therefore I am moving this Amendment in order to put upon the owner the definite responsibility of at once notifying the court when the goods have been returned to him.
Mr. J. DUNCAN : I beg to second the Amendment.
The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND : I think this is an Amendment which ought to be accepted, for the reasons which have been so lucidly explained by the hon. and gallant Member for Dumbartonshire (Commander Cochrane). The point was discussed before the Scottish Standing Committee, and an undertaking was given then that further consideration would be given to it and, after reflection,, I am satisfied that the Amendment is one which will greatly improve the Bill.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. N. MACLEAN : I beg to move, in page 5, line 16, to leave out the words "not be liable to aliment or," and to insert instead thereof the words "be liable."
The Clause which this Amendment seeks to alter makes an alteration in the general practice, if not the law, in Scotland. When an individual is put in prison because he has refused to deliver up an article which the courts have ruled he must give up, the hire purchase firm which has put him into prison is bound,, either by custom or by law, to pay the cost of his maintenance in prison. This Bill alters that practice, and the maintenance of the prisoner is to fall upon the State. The Amendment proposes that the present law or custom shall continue. We believe that if the present practice is maintained firms will hesitate seriously before proceeding to what one may call a piece of persecution in putting an individual in gaol for a period of six weeks for some small sum which has been left outstanding or for an article of minor value. If they are not liable to maintain the individual while he is in prison, very likely they will have him sent to prison no matter how small the value of the article may be.
Mr. D. GRAHAM : I beg to second the Amendment.
I feel that we ought to put the greatest possible difficulties in the way of any hire purchase firm, who are more or less rich members of the community, putting the poorest members of the community into prison, and, after all, it is the poorest people who are affected. With some knowledge of how this hire purchase system is carried on, I think the greatest criminals in many ways are those who go about urging men and women, and particularly women, to enter into hire purchase agreements. Very often the man does not know anything about it at all until after the transaction has been entered into and he is summoned to the court, and then various reasons which have already been stated may be the cause of his refusal to pay. Because a man is so poor that he can pay only 2s. or 3s. a week towards the cost of an article of less value than £20 it does not necessarily follow that he is dishonest, and it would be a considerable hardship on him, and not something of which we should be proud, to put him in prison merely because of his poverty. The power to send him to prison is still there, and it is no use talking about three days or six days, because he will be sent to prison for the full term, and while he is in prison the company from whom he has hired the article should be compelled to pay for his maintenance, as they are called upon to do to-day under Scottish law. I hope the learned Solicitor-General will not agree to what appears to have been an old-established custom in Scottish law being done away with.
Sir A. SINCLAIR : I am afraid it is impossible for me to advise the House to accept this Amendment, and I hope that my hon. Friend will not press it. It is really not the case that under this Bill a man can be put in prison merely for poverty. There are a series of obstacles which absolutely prevent such a thing. We have ensured that the man cannot be summoned to a court a long way from his home, but that the case shall be heard in a court close to his place of residence; we have prevented a number of oppressive stipulations which have appeared in these contracts being inserted in them in the future, and have said that if they are included the con- 884 tract shall be null and void. In fact, we have made it abundantly clear that the only circumstances in which a man can possibly be imprisoned under this Measure are where it has been proved to the satisfaction of the court that he is in possession of an article which does not belong to him and which he is wilfully refusing to deliver up on the order of the court, that is, acting in wilful defiance of the court. In those circumstances, is it right or fair that the man who sold or hired the article should be made liable for the holder of that article? This changes the whole character of the existing law, At present, the character of the imprisonment for which a man is subject now is at the definite instance of a private party to enforce his civil claim. The only form of imprisonment to which a man would be subject under this Bill would be imprisonment for wilful contempt of the court and defiance of the order of the court, and, in those circumstances, it is unfair to charge the trader with the maintenance of the prisoner.
Mr. N. MACLEAN : Is not that what happens to-day? Is it not the case that when a man is supposed to be guilty of defiance of a court's order he is sent to prison, and even in spite of that heinous offence, as the Secretary of State for Scotland endeavours to make it out to be, the individual or firm responsible for taking the matter to court in the first instance is compelled to pay for the maintenance of tine prisoner while he is in prison?
Sir A. SINCLAIR : Under the existing law, a person against whom a decree for delivery is pronounced, can be imprisoned by the pursuer on his own hand and without further order of the court. It is an old usage and custom, and I think it is fair that the pursuer should pay the "upkeep of the prisoner. In this Bill the hirer will have to appear before the court, and the whole of the circumstances will be thrashed out, and the court will deliver a definite decree, ordering the man to restore the article in dispute. In that case, I think it would not be fair to make the trader pay for the imprisonment.
Lord SCONE : I am very glad that the Secretary of State for Scotland has not seen fit to accept this Amendment, put forward by the Opposition, to whom 885 so many concessions have been made in the course of this Ball. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) has once again given us the old story that we have heard ad nauseam from Socialist benches about the rich hire purchase firms. Apparently, while it is Very wrong to defraud a poor man, it is a much less grave offence to defraud a rich man. Furthermore the hon. Member went on to talk about a housewife who secretly concludes an agreement without the knowledge of her husband; whose fault is that? When this Bill was in Committee, I brought forward an Amendment to ensure that such contracts should be valid only if signed in the presence of the witness. I got a little support from my own side of the House, but not much. My Amendment was negatived, but for that Amendment I received not one iota of support from the official Labour party or from the Independent Labour party. I had considerable doubts about putting my name to the Amendment doing away with repeated imprisonment. If we make those responsible for bringing the action also responsible for the maintenance of the wrongdoer, it is going to be a great inducement to fraud. It has been pointed out by the Government spokesman several times that no man or woman can be committed to prison under this Bill except for wilful defiance of orders of the court. In those circumstances, I do not see how the Opposition can with any justification press their Amendment.
Mr. N. MACLEAN : When the Noble Lord has been a little longer in the House he will appreciate that it is only by a great deal of pressure that concessions can be got from any Government. I thank the Government for the recent concessions that we have obtained, but I have not the least hesitation in saying that I will try to get more concessions from them.
Mr. BUCHANAN : My party has been assailed. I do not want to be blamed for holding up the passage of this Bill, but I want to say that the Noble Lord Is slightly mistaken. The Solicitor-General for Scotland will bear me out when I say that I pressed very strongly about this Amendment. I do not believe: in making spectacular speeches, but I believe in doing things quietly behind the scenes. I inquired privately, and I found that the Government was adamant, upon 886 which I decided that I would not unduly harass the Committee and take up its time. It is because I wanted to make that slight correction that I have risen. With regard to the other remarks about the payments to the court, I always thought that it was about 9d. per day, because, after a great row with the predecessor to the Solicitor-General for Scotland, I managed to get it increased from 7d. to 9d. The best way to deal with this would be by administration and by not making the charge 9d., but about 15s. 9d. per day.
Captain STRICKLAND : I beg to move, in page 5, line 22, to leave out from the word "made," to the end of the Clause, and to insert instead thereof the words:
"(a) to any person specified by the owner in a notice given to the hirer or purchaser and residing or carrying on business within a radius of two miles from the place where any person who acted on behalf of the owner in connection with the formation or conclusion of any contract under which the moveables came into the possession of the defender, resided or carried on business at the time he so acted; or
(b) in the case where no such notice has been given, to any person who so acted as agent on behalf of the pursuer."
I do not think I need say anything about this Amendment. It is an Amendment similar in its nature to that which has already been accepted by the House.
Mr. ALLAN REID : I beg to second the Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
Mr. J. JOHNSTON : May I offer one or two very brief observations from a standpoint slightly different from most of the speeches that we have heard in Committee and on Report? The Amendments which have been moved to this Bill since it was introduced, including those proposed and not accepted, appear to have been prompted by rather different motives. On the one hand, those by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) and other Members of the Opposition have been trying to amend the Bill to make it more favourable to the hirer, and especially to the hirer who defaults in payment. On the other hand, the hon. and gallant Member for Coventry
(Captain Strickland) has been not less zealous but more verbose in trying to protect the interests of the trader. I am glad to know that if this Bill becomes law it will not be possible to insert such definitely oppressive conditions in hire purchase contracts; on the other hand, I see no particular harm in it to the trader. I am far more concerned to consider whether the Bill as amended would tend to encourage and increase, or to discourage and restrict, this hire purchase system of trading which has been developed to such an alarming and dangerous extent in this country.
In times of normal financial stability hire purchase trading in certain types of articles may perform a legitimate and useful function, but there is a very great difference between the hiring out by a local authority of, let us say, a gas stove —which depreciates slowly, becomes more or less a fixture in the house to which it goes, and the hiring of which is an advantage to them independently of any profit they may make out of it, in as much as it enables the hirer to consume their gas —and a system of trading which enables irresponsible youths to get possession and use of bicycles on payment of half-a-crown. It is generally agreed that the excessive development of this system, if not actually a contributing cause, has been a great aggravation, of the economic distress in the United States, and yet we appear to contemplate with comparative equanimity its spread in our midst.
The system inevitably encourages and entices people to purchase articles which their economic position scarcely justifies them in affording. It is an extravagant form of purchase, because, apart from interest on the deferred payments, the trader inevitably has to charge more than he would for cash, owing to the additional risks that he runs; and it is a system of trading which is peculiarly unsuitable to a time of fluctuation in the money value of commodities, or, conversely, in the commodity value of money. A friend of mine who has had much, experience of cases arising out of these contracts in the Sheriff Courts in Glasgow told me that his experience convinced him that, as regards people living more or less from hand to mouth, this system of trading, with the temptations that it offers, is nothing more or less than an unmitigated evil.
888 10.0 p.m.
We have heard a great deal about bicycles in the course of these discussions, but I am sure that, if any hon. Member could tell us about the affairs of a company interested in the manufacture of moneyboxes, his evidence would be that hire purchase trading has destroyed their market altogether. The idea of saving up to buy things seems to be becoming demode in every section of society, and the caution which prevents indulgence in what one cannot pay for, and which at one time might correctly have been described as a typical Scottish virtue, is now, apparently, merely old-fashioned. I do not know whether these changes in outlook have brought the hire purchase system into being, or whether the hire purchase system has brought about these changes, but they are, I think, none the less to be deplored. I believe that there are some people, perfectly honest in all ordinary transactions, who quite genuinely regard anyone who sells them something on the hire purchase system as fair game to be "diddled" if possible, and that, I think, is a circumstance which should be kept in mind in considering the position of the hirer under this Bill as it has now been amended. I do not criticise that attitude, or blame people for adoping it. I should feel the same myself. It is an inevitable consequence of the whole system. I can imagine nothing more irksome than to have to go on making periodical payments for something of which, perhaps, one has had all the use one wants, something, at all events, of which the novelty has worn off, and which, once it has been in one's possession and the use of it has been obtained, proves to be less desirable and enjoyable than when it was coveted in a stop window—as is the case with almost everything in this world except, perhaps, beer and tobacco, which cannot be purchased under this system.
While I express no surprise at failure on the part of hirers to implement their contracts, I waste no sympathy and shed no tears over the lot of the trader, for he is very well able to look after himself. How will he do so if this Bill becomes law? Finding that he can no longer insert in his contracts certain conditions advantageous to himself, finding that his customers are enabled to cancel their contracts and return the goods on certain terms, and finding that his remedies 889 against the hirer who defaults in his payments are restricted, he will inevitably have to make his terms more onerous and severe in other ways. In other words, he will have, as we have been told over and over again by the hon. and gallant Member for Coventry, to increase his prices, or to make his initial instalments larger, or something of that sort, and hire purchase will become a more extravagant way of acquiring goods even than it is already. I think that the hon. Member for Govan and others, in their enthusiasm for those who for any reason cannot or do not continue their payments and complete their contracts, have rather forgotten the interests of those people, sometimes in equally poor circumstances, who take advantage of this method of trading and who do complete their contracts, for, assuredly, every modification of the law in favour of the defaulting hirer or purchaser will in the long run be paid for, not by the trader, but by the hirers who do pay and complete, their contracts, and to whom the trader will pass on the cost of any additional risk that he runs.
If these changes have the effect of increasing prices, they will tend to restrict the trade, and that in turn will tend to increase prices still further. I hope that those people in humble circumstances who are in the habit of acquiring goods on the hire purchase system will realise, if after this Bill is passed they find that the terms are more severe than they were before, that they have only to thank for that the people who enter into these contracts and fail to complete them, and the people who have so strongly urged modifications of the law in favour of such defaulters. For my part, I believe that the changes which this Bill will make by adding to the risks of the trader, and, therefore, forcing him to increase his prices, will tend to exercise a restraining influence upon this form of trading, and, holding the views that I do about it, I am able to overcome a natural objection to interference with the freedom of contract and to support the Third Reading of the Bill.
Mr. BUCHANAN : I think that this Measure represents a big improvement on the present position. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. Johnston) represents a view that used to be common in Scotland against what might
be termed in ordinary Scottish language "tick" of any kind. I was brought up in that atmosphere, but, whether one likes it or not, we are now facing new conditions and methods, and this form of trading has become part and parcel of the lives of many people in some of our big cities. To my mind, the Measure represents a big improvement on the present position, although it does not go all the way that we could wish. Since the time when I first raised this question in the House of Commons—and my first attempt was very unfortunate, for I was counted out—this form of trading has certainly become very much more prevalent. Speaking on behalf of those with whom we are concerned, we accept the Measure, knowing its limitations, but feeling that it makes an improvement.
I ought to add, in common fairness, that the Solicitor-General for Scotland has conducted it throughout in a very skilful, honest and straightforward fashion, and, this being the first Measure that he has piloted through the House, I think our thanks are due to him for his courtesy and his painstaking attitude in the private negotiations which have taken place. While as I have said, the Bill does not go as far as we could wish, and we still think there is the possibility of grave injustice to poor people, we accept it as an instalment, and thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for it.
Mr. N. MACLEAN : I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I would also remind the House, that this Bill is the result of a committee set up by the first Labour Government, which reported to the last Labour Government, after many attempts had been made by certain sections of Members to bring the matter before previous Governments.
Mr. BUCHANAN : The Labour Government counted us out.
Mr. MACLEAN : That may be. The hon. Member was a member of the Labour party at that time. I want to thank the Government for bringing this Bill forward. It does not give us all that we want, but there are many things in it that we shall like to have. I should like to tell the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Johnston) what our attitude on this Bill is. We are not legislating for those
who default on their contracts. I hope he understands that perfectly well. We are not putting forward any claims whatever for them. What we do know is this, that many cases have taken place in the past in which individuals have been innocently brought in, without their knowledge, mark you, as guarantors for relatives, and rather than disclose the fact that those who had acquired the goods on the hire purchase system had forged their names, they had stood the whole brunt of whatever was coming to them when the individuals who had got possession of the article defaulted.
It is because some of us know of cases of that kind which have arisen that we saw the necessity for endeavouring to get Governments in the past to bring forward such restrictions upon hire purchase agreements as would make it next to impossible for such things to happen in Scotland, or even in England. I want therefore to thank the Government for putting at least such a thing as that almost outside the realms of possibility, and we can now go on to see how this Bill, when it becomes an Act, works and operates in Scotland. We hope that it 892 will operate to the satisfaction of all of us who have taken part in getting it enacted. If there are any other items which need amending in the future, then we hope we shall receive just the same consideration and the same readiness of approach on the part of the present officials of the Scottish Office or, if they have been promoted to other spheres, from their successors, as we have had from those who at present are conducting the passage of this Bill; and we thank them for the courtesy which they have shown us.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
Adjourned accordingly at Ten Minutes after Ten o'Clock.
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