HC Deb 05 May 1824 vol 11 cc497-501
Mr. Hume

said, he had a petition to present from a gentleman who was very generally known—Mr. William Cobbett. It was probably known that this gentleman had for some time turned his attention to the abuses of the toll-gates. He was happy the subject had fallen into such hands, as they required so much to be looked after. The object of the petition was, to call the attention of the House, and to place them on their guard against passing a third bill, which was now in progress—the Kensington Road bill. The petitioner understood that that bill had already been read a second time, and was therefore anxious to put the House in possession of some information regarding it, previously to its being read a third time. By a general turnpike act, passed at an early part of the reign of his late majesty, it was enacted, that the accounts of all turnpike-roads shall be made up by the commissioners in the October of each year; that they should be deposited in the office of the clerk of the peace; and that they should be exposed, upon payment of a small fee, to the examination of any person who wished to inspect them. Mr. Cobbett, knowing that the tolls of this gate amounted to 14,000l. a-year, and. having doubts as to the correctness of their management, and finding that the treasurer of them was a justice of the peace, applied at the office of the clerk of the peace, in October last, for the accounts of the Kensington-road. The answer which he received was, that there were no such accounts there. He applied again in November and December last, but his applications were in vain. Indeed, it was not till the last three days that the account which the act of parliament required was deposited in the clerk of the peace's office. That account was in a most un-business like shape: it was actually unbalanced; but it still appeared, that there was a balance in the hands of the treasurer, sufficient to pay off all the bonded debt of the road. The act required, that this debt should be paid off as soon as the amount of the tolls would permit it: but though such was the case, the commissioners now came forward to demand an extension of that act, after they had acted directly in the teeth of its preamble. What was the fact? At the bottom of the account, which was signed, George Barker, chairman, it appeared, that the whole bonded debt, in January last, was, 2,500l.; and the justice of the peace, who filled the situation of treasurer, actually had more money in his hands at the time, than would have liquidated it. A small part of the debt, about 850l., had been paid off; while, by the account which had been produced, it appeared, that the treasurer lad in hand 4,500l., being more than the amount of all their debt. Under these circumstances, he hoped the House would not allow this bill to pass, without investigating the manner in which these individuals had violated the trust reposed in them. A penalty of 50l. might he levied for not having the account ready at the time prescribed by the act; and he believed an action had been brought to recover that sum from the negligent party. But, what was a penalty of 50l. to an individual who was allowed to keep a balance of 4,000l. or 5,000l. in his hands? The petitioner prayed, as two years were yet to expire under the present act, that the House would reject the bill which was now in progress. He would now bring up the petition; and at a future period he would move for a copy of the account, in order to see how far it agreed with the actual state of the case.

Lord Lowther

said, that the bill alluded to by the hon. member had already pass-ed the House of Commons, and was gone up to the other House for its sanction. He was most happy that an inquiry had been instituted, for nothing could be more enormous than the trusts of turnpikes in the neighbourhood of London. They amounted to 150,000l. annually, besides statute duties, and it was difficult to find out how these funds were disposed of.

Mr. Hume

said, a bill had been passed, the preamble of which contained a gross falsehood. He wished to know from the Speaker, whether there was any precedent to direct them in a case like the present; or whether that House could adopt any measure on discovering that they had passed a bill containing a positive falsehood, while that bill was pending in the House of Lords?

The Speaker

said, that the bill was now entirely beyond the control of that House.

Mr. Hume

said, that some means ought to be taken to guard themselves against such an occurrence in future.

"General Statement of the Income and Expenditure of the Kensington, &c. Turnpike Roads, between the 1st of January and 31st of December, 1823.
"To Surveyor's accounts of day-labour between the 1st day of Jan. and the 31st of Dec. 1823, for maintenance and repair of Roads, and watering the same £.2,187 8 5
Team-labour for the same period, including water-carts, and cleansing the roads 745 1 6
Watching the roads 563 11 6

The petition was ordered to lie on the table. The following is a copy thereof:

"The Petition of William Cobbett, of Kensington, in the County of Middlesex,

"Most humbly sheweth—That there is now a bill before your Honourable House, intituled 'A Bill for more effectually repairing, widening, and improving the Road from Hyde-Park-Corner to Counter's Bridge, and certain other roads in the County of Middlesex, and for lighting, watching, and watering, the said Roads.'

"That, in the preamble to the said bill are the following words: 'And whereas the Trustees appointed by or in pursuance of the said two recited acts (meaning the two local acts) have repaired and. improved the said roads, and have made great progress in carrying into execution the powers and authorities thereby vested in them, and, although they have discharged and paid off part of the monies borrowed on the credit of the tolls authorised to be taken upon the said roads a considerable sum remains undischarged, and cannot be paid off, and the said annual sum of one thousand pounds be paid to the said committee of Paving for St. George Hanover-square; nor can the said roads be effectually amended, widened and im proved, and maintained in repair, unless the term and powers granted by the two first-recited acts be continued, and further provisions be made for that purpose:'

"That these words contain a barefaced falsehood, as will be seen by your honourable House in the following statement of the pecuniary affairs of this Road. That this statement has been obtained by your Petitioner, agreeably to the Act, from the Clerk of the Peace of the County of Middlesex; that your Petitioner is ready to prove at your Bar the authenticity of this statement, which is in the following words, to wit:—

Contractors' and workmens' bills for materials supplied for maintenance and repair of roads and foot-paths 4,774 13 5
Repair of toll-houses, gates, lamp-posts, and new toll-boards 258 1 0
Lighting the roads 684 17 11
Purchase of land for widening the roads, building a brick sewer under the surface of the road instead of an open sewer and a new fence to widen the road 938 11 6
Ten turnpike bonds paid off 1,000 0 0
Salaries and other payments of clerk, surveyor, and other officers 618 5 0
Printing, advertising, and stationery 48 11 0
Interest of bond debts 108 19 7
Annual sum paid to the Commissioners of paving of St. George, Hanover-sq. 1,000 0 0
Commissioners of Hans Town 140 0 0
Incidental charges 96 1 6
£.13,164 2 4
By balance in Treasurer's hands £.3,147 17 4
Amount of one year's rent received from the Lessees of the Tolls 14,000 0 0
Composition in lieu of statue labour for the year 324 0 0
Incidental receipts 195 9 10
17,667 7 2

"That, according to the foregoing account, these roads owe but 1,500l., while the treasurer has now in his hands 4,503l. and that he had, at the settlement before the last, upwards of 3,000l. in his hands, while he was charging the road for interest of borrowed money.

"That, therefore, the above quoted part of the preamble of this bill is wholly false; that the principal pretence for passing the bill is unfounded; that the present local act does not expire for two years yet to come; that a new act is not yet wanted; that if this bill pass, it will contain a flagrant falsehood, and will be greatly injurious to the public, and will encourage and foster a most scandalous job; and that, therefore, your petitioner most humbly prays, that the said bill may not pass. And your petitioner will ever pray.