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23rd February 1926
Page 14
Page 14, 23rd February 1926 — THE ROAD FUND AND THE CABINET.
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

The Case of the Heavy Vehicle Interests as It was Laid Before the Chancellor of the Exchequer and His Reply.

(IN Thursday last, Mr. Winston Churchill, Chancellor V of the Exchequer, received a deputation from the motor organizations to hear their views in the matter of the diversion of a portion of the Road Fund to purposes other than roads.

There is no need here for us to give the case presented on behalf of the private motor users, the motor manufacturers and motor agents. Instead we would rather give, in extenso, the arguments put forward On behalf of the heavy vehicle interests. These were contained in a speech by Mr. E. S. Shrapnel-Smith, C.B.E., chairman of the Standing Joint Committee of Mechanical Road Transport Associations.

Mr. Churchill's reply, somewhat condensed, was as follows. Addressing the meeting, he said :—

" It is not possible for Me to deal with the problem fully without disclosing to you matters which, as I. impressed upon the House of Commons last night, properly belong to • the Budget statement of the year.

"But on the question which three out of the four speakers who have been good enough to address me this morning have dealt with, this question of the pledge, I should like to say a few words. Of the three speakers who referred to this subject all take different views. Mr. McWhirter takes the extreme view. Re takes the view that for all time, irrespective of any circumstances that may arise in the country, no matter how great may be the yield of the Road Fund, no matter how serious may be the financial situation, no matter how poor we may become in every other direction—never mind, for all time the whole yield of the motet duties must be spent upon roads. That seems to me to go much beyond what the good sense of the coun• try would support.

"Certainly, I could not in ally way accept the constitutional theory that Parliament has not the right to deal broadly with the interests of the country as a whole in any given year, nor do I accept for a moment that the motor tax is a tax paid voluntarily by the motorists, that they have a right, if they pay this tax, to prescribe how it shall be spent.Such a claim is not made by any other class of taxpayers in the country. The HOuse of Commons must be the centre where all these matters are brought to a focus, and there it is that they nave to be fought out. I leans, think we might get away once and for all from these extreme claims of the interpretation of the undertaking eV= by successive Ministers in circumstances quite different from the present. On the other -hand, let ml ) say quite frankly that I shouid regard it as a most lamentable and preposterous act of folly if we were to cripple and wound

the whole development of this wonderful new means of transport, which is one of the greatest feature e of our lifetime, and which unquestionably by its smooth and speedy inter-communication has added vastly to the unseen and internal trade of the country.

"I said to the deputation which visited me the other day that there would certainly be no diminution in the amount of money provided for the upkeep of existing roads; that, on the contrary, larger sums would have to be made available, and also that they would be not fixed sums, but sums which would grow with the increasing traffic and the burden which the increasing traffic threw on the local authorities, and that in some respects we were favourable to a larger discretionary power being accorded to the local authorities in the spending of some of the funds allotted to them.

"Then you have asked me whether that meant that all development on new roads would be brought to an end. I cannot conceive how anyone could deduce such an impossible conclusion. Obviously, we have got to go on improving the roads of the country as well as merely keep them up.

"We have in front of us enormous commitments which you have mentioned. Those commitments are being steadily worked off. There is no question whatever of going 'beck on any enterprises which have actually been begun ; they must be carried through, and for my part I hope to see progress continuous in this field. There are those large commitments, and when they have been worked off others will come forward and take their places. There is another sense in which the word ' more' could he used in this connection, and that is that, at the present time, the amount we are spending on these roads is probably as large a proportion of our national wealth as, and possibly a larger proportion of our national wealth than, in the present circumstanees and reviewing the whole field justly, we are able to afford."

As regards the proposal to revert to a petrol tax, Mr. Churchill said, "As you know, the difficulties which were found in the past in a petrol tax led to its abandonment. The difficulties were those connected with the definition of motor spirit, the differentiation for the pulpose of taxation between spirit used for propelling motorcars and spirit used for all other purposes have been numerous: "I ean only promise on that question that I will studY the views which have been expressed by the deputation, and it is remarkable that there should be such a wide measure of agreement. Whilst promising to study the matter, I must frankly say that I am not at the moment sanguine that it will be possible to achieve what is wished, and it would be a -great blow to the roads if we turned over to a new basis and found it produced an altogether insufficient revenue for the upkeep of the roads."

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