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Lords Chamber

Volume 40: debated on Wednesday 12 May 1920

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House Of Lords

Wednesday, 12th May, 1920.

The House met at a quarter before four of the clock, The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Lord Wester Wemyss

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Rosslyn Erskine Wemyss, G.C.B., C.M.G., M.V.O., having been created Baron WESTER WEMYSS of Wemyss in the County of Fife—Was (in the usual manner) introduced.

Lord Cullen Of Ashbourne

Sir Brien Ibrican Cokayne, K.B.E., having been created Baron CULLEN of ASHBOURNE, of Roehampton, in the County of Surrey—Was (in the usual manner) introduced.

Tyneside Tramways And Tramroads Company Bill

Read 2a .

Bank Of Scotland Bill Hl

Gelligaer Urban District Council Bill Hl

Pontypridd Stipendiary Magistrates Bill Hl

Read 3a and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Farmers Land Purchase Company Bill

Lands Improvement Company Bill

Read 3a and passed.

Scottish County Highways

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

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have put down this Question because of communications which have been received by my County Council in Scotland from

the Ministry of Transport. Under date April 20, a letter was sent in these words—

"In reply to your letter of the 13th instant, I am directed by the Minister of Transport to inform you that at the present time no moneys arc available which will permit of grants being made in respect of surfacing work to be carried our during the year ending March 31, 1921. It would therefore be advisable for the County Council to hold over any application they propose making until they receive a notification from the Ministry that a further distribution of grants is to be made."

I do not know whether I am right, but I understand that the whole subject is being considered with the object of making a classification of roads so that they may receive grants according to the amount of traffic that passes over them. But while that consideration is going on it is impossible either to stop the traffic which is causing the disrepair or to stop the work which is necessary to make it good.

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

I take a fact or two because they will not occupy a moment. Last year—that is the year ended last March—in my county the ordinary maintenance of roads was £5,950, and special work £6,606, of which the Road Board gave us £5,000, leaving a special expenditure from the road rate of the county of £7,556. For

the current year, when, if I understand the question rightly, we are to have no grant at all, the ordinary maintenance has gone up by £500 and will be £6,473, while the special work will be £9,945, or a total sum of 1£6,418. Our road rate for roads alone in the year ending May, 1920, is 2 s. To carry through the work suggested would mean a road rate of at least 5 s., or two and a-half times as much as last year. It may be mentioned that five years ago the whole of our road rate was only 1 s. 2 d.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cabinet And Miners' Federation

My Lords, I rise to ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he can state what member of His Majesty's Government conducted the recent negotiations with the Miners' Federation; whether the sanction of the Cabinet was obtained before a settlement was reached; what were the terms of the settlement reached; what were the reasons for the settlement; what is the estimated cost of the settlement; and by whom will the cost be borne—the owners, the consumers, or the taxpayers.

My Lords, the general conduct of the recent negotiations with the Miners' Federation was entrusted to the Controller of Coal Mines, but a reference to His Majesty's Ministers proved necessary during their progress, and two interviews took place between the Executive Committee of the Miners' Federation and representatives of His Majesty's Government. Among the latter were the Prime Minister, the Lord Privy Seal, the President of the Board of Trade, the Minister of Labour, and others, as well as the Controller of Coal Mines. The offer which led to the settlement was approved by the Cabinet before it was made.

The terms of the settlement were embodied in the agreement, a copy of which I shall be glad to send to the noble Earl if he so desires. It gave to colliery workers an advance of 20 per cent. on their total earnings (exclusive of "war wage" and "Sankey wage") subject to a guaranteed minimum advance at the rate of 2s. a shift (or day) for persons of 18 years of age and over, 1s. for those of 16 and 17, and 9d. for those under 16.

The claim of the Federation was based on the increase in the cost of living and on a comparison with general wages advances given in other great industries. The offer made and accepted was thought to be justified by, and adequate to meet, these considerations, having regard to the fact that the Federation agreed, in the interests of output, to abandon their claim for a flat rate advance and to accept the percentage principle. The estimated cost is £31,300,000 a year.

As was announced by the President of the Board of Trade on Monday, the Government have decided to raise the average price of inland coal to a sum which will cover the average cost of production (including this advance of wages) and the average profit per ton allowed to coal owners under the Coal Mines (Emergency) Act. It follows that the cost of the advance will be borne by the consumer.

Will the noble Viscount be good enough to explain what is meant by the words "abandon their claim for a flat rate advance and to accept the percentage principle."

I do not know that I can give any other explanation than that which I have already given. The percentage advance is, of course, a 20 per cent. advance on the total earnings subject to a minimum. A flat rate advance, is the opposite to a percentage advance.

I thought there was some relation between a percentage, advance and output, but it was not quite clearly stated. In abandoning their claim for a flat rate advance and accepting the percentage principle, how does than affect the output?

Railwaymen's Wages

My Lords, I rise to ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1) whether it is the fact that a further demand for an increase of wages has been made by certain representatives of the railway men; whether that demand is consistent with the agreement come to last January; what is the estimated cost of the demand; and on whom, if granted, the cost would fall, the shareholders, the public, or the taxpayer; (2) whether he can state if any negotiations are likely to take place to which His Majesty's Government will be parties, and, if so, by what Minister will they be conducted, and whether the sanction of the Cabinet will be obtained before any settlement is reached; (3) whether the negotiations, if any, will be with both the railway unions or with only one; and whether it is the case that the separate action of two railway unions makes any permanent settlement with the railway men very difficult.

With regard to the first paragraph of my noble friend's Question, it is the case that further demands for the increase of the remuneration of railway workers have been put forward by the representatives of the railwaymen. These demands are for increases in the rates of pay which, in the case of enginemen, were agreed upon in August last, and in the case of other employees engaged in working the traffic, were agreed upon in principle in January and were finally settled as to their details in March. The demands put forward by the National Union of Railwaymen are for a uniform increase of 20s. a week, which, if granted, would probably involve the payment of between £25,000,000 and £30,000,000 a year apart have the increases which would have to be given to other classes of men employed by railway companies but not engaged in working the traffic. Under the present arrangements between the Government and the railway companies, the increased cost of meeting any such demands would fall upon the Exchequer, but probably it would ultimately become necessary to increase railway charges further in order to meet them.

I pass to the second paragraph of the Question. These demands are being dealt with, in accordance with the pm edurc agreed upon in November last, between the railway employees and the Government with the consent of representatives of the companies by the Wages Boards which have been set up, and are not being dealt with by any Government Department or the Cabinet.

As to the third paragraph, demands for increased remuneration have been put forward by both the principal railway unions and are now being dealt with. It is certainly the case that, as suggested by my noble friend, the participation in negotiations such as these of more than one union that claims to represent the same class of employee adds to the difficulty of the negotiations.

The noble Earl did not answer one part of my noble friend's Question—namely, whether the sanction of the Cabinet will be obtained before any settlement is reached. He said that the negotiations are not being carried out by the Cabinet, but perhaps he did not notice the phrase in which the Question is couched.

I confess I did not, and the Ministry of Transport did not observe it either. The Cabinet will either transfer its sanction to the Wages Board and authorise them within certain limits to make an agreement, or else, having come to a provisional agreement, the sanction of the Cabinet will have to be obtained. In any case the Cabinet must retain the responsibility.

It is not quite clear whether the demand now made is consistent with the agreement come to last January, or whether it is a breach of it.

I cannot say whether it is a breach of agreement on the part of the railwaymen. These are increases upon the rates of pay which were agreed to in August of last year.

That part of my Question is directed to eliciting this fact—whether the agreement of January was for a definite period, or whether it was not; whether, in fact, the agreement left it free to the men to raise such questions at any time they chose, however soon, or whether this early revival of the question is a breach of the agreement then arrived at.

I do no know whether my noble friend is going to be in the House to-morrow afternoon. If so, I shall be glad to make a further statement upon that point.

Fertilisers (Temporary Control Of Export) Bill Hl

Read 3a (according to Order) and passed, and sent to the Commons.

House adjourned at half-past four o'clock.

From Minutes Of May 12

Fife-Young's Divorce Bill Hl

acquainted the House, That the Clerk of the Parliaments had received by post from the Lord Justice of the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, a report of the proceedings upon the inquiry before him in the case of Fife-Young v. Sibley.

The same was ordered to lie on the Table.

acquainted the House, That the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table the Certificate from the Examiners that the further Standing Orders applicable to the following Bill had been complied with:

  • Uxbridge and Wycombe District Gas [H.L.]

The same was ordered to lie on the Table.

Dover Harbour Bill Hl

Report from the Select Committee, That the Committee had not proceeded with the consideration of the Bill, the opposition thereto having been withdrawn; read, and ordered to lie on the Table: The Orders made on the 19th of February and 23rd of March last discharged, and Bill committed.

Manchester Corporation Bill Hl

Reported from the Select Committee, with Amendments.

Tyneside Tramways And Tramroads Company Bill

Committed: The Committee to be proposed by the Committee of Selection.