New Clause. — (Roads Advisory Committee.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Ministry of Ways and Communications Bill – in the House of Commons on 1st July 1919.

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I cannot quite understand why hon. Members seem to imagine that national interests end and begin with railways. We naturally imagine that roads, docks, and all other means of communication are also national in their ramifications and interests. We have discovered during this Debate that in the case of railways everybody is willing to give way, particularly those who are thinking they arc going to get something out of it. All the others say, "Do not touch our property, we are local, and have nothing to do with national interests." Liverpool dominates London, and Glasgow controls the lot, and so we have a combination of interests which leads us to imagine that the promises made before the last election were so much camouflage. What is proposed in this Amendment? It is suggested that the roads shall become competitors with the railways without any regard to national interests. May I point out that if it is true what has been suggested that motor traction is going to be the great force of the future, the only conclusion we can arrive at as ignorant Members on the Labour Benches, and particularly those on the Back Bench of all is that the railways—the first means of national traction—are going to be destroyed by the last means—the motor.

We believe in the unification of all forms of traction, whether on the road, the water, or the air, and if that be so, what becomes of this Amendment? They look very nice on the paper, but it is not on the paper that we have to look, but to the spirit behind the paper. With all due deference to some of those who are moving these Amendments, I suggest that vested interests count for a great deal more than the mere figures on the paper. As members of the Labour party, we stand for the unification of all forms of transit as the greatest means of reconstruction. This Bill was put forward in the first days of this Parliament as the greatest Bill in the Government programme of reconstruction, and we have supported it right through, not because we agreed with every detail, and not because we imagined we were going to get a new heaven and a new earth, but when we find Amendment after Amendment curtailing the purposes of the Bill, destroying its objects, and limiting its capacity, then we suggest that all this talk before the election was simply promises made never to be performed.

We are asking that at least some section shall be retained to give us power over our great national highways. I am a member of a road authority, and we have to maintain roads; but some of those speaking in favour of this Amendment use the roads and pay nothing for them. In the London area who are the members of this road authority going to be? Are they those who stand for the maintenance of public roads, or for the maintenance of private rights? We oppose this Amendment, because it means to limit the possibilities of local and public control. It seems to me, when I read the Amendment in regard to the bigger authorities, that the road authorities say to the 'bus companies and the tramway companies, "You scratch my back and I will scratch yours," and when these Amendments come forward we will all back one another up, just to show there is no ill feeling. We want public control of pubic authorities, and roadways are really public, because the public have to pay for them. We claim in the establishment of a Ways and Communications Authority that the Minister ought to have first control and take into consideration those public interests which have to pay the bill.