That is true. The fundamental principle on which the railways were established was that the users of the railway service should maintain that service. We are asking that the same system should prevail in regard to the roads. That can be brought about only by nationalising the entire road system. It would not be possible for local bodies to impose any form of levy or tax in their own areas upon the local road-users. Therefore, the revenue required for the maintenance of the roads must be collected by the central authority. Up to this year, one type of road-users—the motorists—were contributing more than sufficient to maintain the entire road system. The contribution of motorists through road tax, petrol and other duties amounted, I think, to over £3,000,000. So far as I can ascertain, the entire cost of road maintenance does not exceed £1,700,000 per year. There is, therefore, a very wide margin between the amount contributed by one section of road-users and the amount required for road maintenance. In these circumstances, the financing of this proposal would not offer any great difficulty.
It may be asked: what are the advantages of centralising control of the roads? The first advantage is that there would be relief of direct taxation upon a heavily taxed section of the community—the ratepayers. This raises the question whether national or local taxation is the more equitable. Anybody who gives a moment's consideration to the question will acknowledge that national taxation is, generally speaking, more equitably divided over all sections of the community than is local taxation, which is based on property-value which may or may not—and generally does not—bear any relation to the income of the ratepayer. In support of national control of the roads, we have the fact that the central authority has at its disposal greater resources than any local authority can mobilise. In a time of national emergency, when great numbers of men in our larger towns and cities may become unemployed, roads, as a source of employment, naturally suggest themselves to the mind of any person who considers the matter. Widespread unemployment resulting from the present emergency and the shortage of supplies to industrial and other undertakings cannot be overlooked by the Government. It will be necessary to plan—and plan very boldly and courageously—to meet that emergency. One idea which should suggest itself to the Government is that of a big national scheme of road improvement. It might be necessary— I think it would be necessary—to borrow very considerable sums to raise the standards of our roads but it is a work which, I think, should be undertaken in order to tide the nation over the present emergency.
I may mention that in the Report of the Banking Commission, particularly in the Third Minority Report, certain recommendations were made to the Government which, I think, require very careful consideration, especially at the present moment. One of the recommendations was that money should be obtained from the Currency Commission to finance works on a big scale, that that money should be raised by the issue of currency on the security of the work to be undertaken. If this State, having taken over the roads, embarks upon a big scheme of road resurfacing and permanent improvement, having regard to the fact that by such work there would be created in this country a permanent national asset, there is no reason why the Currency Commission should not be empowered to issue currency upon the security of that work, work which I consider would be of permanent national importance. It may be suggested that roads, no matter how thoroughly they may be resurfaced or reconditioned, are not permanent but, at least, if a certain amount of improvement is effected, you will have roads which can be guaranteed to last for over 20 years. Therefore, if you are to finance such a scheme by currency issued through the Currency Commission there is no reason why that money should not be repaid over a period of 20 years, and, assuming that the total cost was £10,000,000, it would only amount to £500,000 per year for 20 years.
The present number of unemployed, particularly men who have been employed in fairly good positions and who have been fairly well paid, under no circumstances can be allowed to remain unemployed. In a big national scheme of resurfacing and remaking our roads a considerable amount of employment could be given which would tide this country over the present emergency. I would further suggest that the whole scheme of resurfacing and remaking the roads should be based on a five-year plan, that is, the work would be carried out within five years. In this way, at the end of that five years we would have roads in this country which would be second to none in Europe.
Again, in connection with the suggestion for the nationalisation of roads, I may point out that in some counties there are very highly efficient county surveyors and if there were a central scheme one of these officials or some of these officials could be placed in charge of the entire road improvement throughout the country and thus you would have all the roads throughout the Twenty-Six Counties brought to a uniform and high standard. I cannot see any reason why the Minister would refuse to adopt a suggestion of that kind, particularly as it tends to make the system of financing road administration more equitable than it is at present. The ordinary ratepayer, living in the rural areas, who contributes the greater portion of the money at the present time for the maintenance and improvement of roads, derives very little advantage from that improvement or maintenance. He could get on very well even if roads were far inferior to what they are at the present time. There is no reason why the greater portion of the cost of maintaining this service should be placed on his shoulders.
In regard to hospitals, a considerable amount of money was raised through the Hospitals Sweepstakes and it is my opinion that a very considerable amount of that money which has been spent on the building of new hospital institutions has been wasted owing to the fact that the hospitals throughout the country are under the control of different local bodies. I believe, before any scheme of hospital improvement was embarked upon, there should have been a detailed inquiry into and a detailed study of the hospital needs of this country. The idea of making each county a separate, water-tight compartment for hospitalisation was, in my opinion, altogether wrong. Instead of that in the cities and in some of our larger towns we should have a complete hospital centre. The county boundaries in regard to hospitalisation should have been completely ignored from the outset. There is absolutely no commonsense or reason behind a system under which a hospital may be built in a certain town and a person living within a quarter of a mile of that town cannot avail of that hospital if he is seriously ill but must be taken a distance of 20 or 30 miles to some other institution. If the hospitals were under central control we would have a system under which hospitals would be provided in the large centres of population and in addition we would have district or cottage hospitals in the smaller towns but each hospital would serve a radius of equal distance in every direction from the centre in which it was established. No question of county boundaries would be taken into consideration. If that were done, I think there would be a far more efficient hospital service.
There are certain types of institutions for particular types of patients such as mental defectives or persons suffering from tuberculosis. In regard to such institutions, it would be desirable perhaps in some cases to have four or five or six or seven counties grouped together, if the number of patients suffering from a particular disease were not very large. It would be possible and desirable to have one big institution which would cater for a number of counties. That, of course, would make for efficiency and would greatly improve our present system under which you have to endeavour to establish a number of different types of hospital in each county, no matter how small that county may be. That is altogether a wasteful, uneconomic and inefficient system.
I think, therefore, in the interests of justice to the general taxpayers and ratepayers, in the interests of equitable distribution of the burden of taxation over all citizens of this country and over all sections of the community and in the interests of higher efficiency both in road administration and hospitalisation, the Government should give serious consideration to this motion. I want particularly to stress the importance of embarking upon a big national scheme of road improvement at the present moment. No time must be lost, I suggest, in providing employment for those who have been thrown out of employment by the present emergency. By the improvement of roads you would be turning the unemployed of the present moment into a permanent national asset which will be valuable to this country when peace is restored.