HC Deb 13 May 1825 vol 13 cc593-9

The House having resolved itself into a committee of supply,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer rose to propose a grant by way of compensation to Mr. M'Adam, for that improvement in making the roads of the country, from which so much public benefit had been derived. As this subject was not new to honourable members, he would not occupy their time with any eulogium on the nature of Mr. M'Adam's services. The nature of his works was well known. Every gentleman who travelled in the country, whether for business or for pleasure, must at once perceive the advantage which had been derived from the application of Mr. M'Adam's talents in the formation of roads. In consequence of the time, labour, and expense which he had bestowed on this subject, the government, in 1820, felt itself bound to grant him a sum of money, and 2,000l. were given to him in 1820. In 1822, on the very strong recommendation of the Post-office, by which department he had been employed to make surveys, and superintend the formation of several lines of road, a further sum of 2,000l. was granted by the government. In 1823, application was made by Mr. M'Adam, who stated, that he had not been sufficiently remunerated for the discovery he had made in the art of road-making, and that the occasional employment he might derive in the application of his discovery would not be an adequate reward for the time, labour, and expense he had bestowed, in bringing it to perfection for the benefit of the public; he therefore besought the attention of the government to his claim, and prayed for an additional sum to compensate his services. He candidly confessed, that when this application was made, he was not disposed to receive it in that way which the friends of Mr. M'Adam could wish. He was not disposed, on a general principle, to give the sanction of government to applications of this kind. He was therefore inclined to be rather stingy of the public money on the occasion, and he refused the application; but he did consent to give the sanction of the government to a petition from Mr. M'Adam to the House. That petition was presented in 1823, and a committee was appointed to examine its claims. In 1823, that committee was appointed. They investigated the whole subject; and certainly no words could more strongly express, than those used in the report, their sense of the benefit which the public had derived from the scientific improvements that Mr. M'Adam had introduced into the construction of roads, not alone by his own exertions, but in consequence of his example. On the grounds so strongly stated in their report, the committee recommended, and certainly, in his opinion, not unreasonably, a further grant to Mr. M'Adam. That committee was a very large one, and was composed of honourable members, of different principles and sentiments; but all well qualified to give a sound opinion upon such a subject. After they had made their report, he had had several communications with the hon. gentlemen who had taken the most active part in the investigation; and it was in consequence of those communications, as well as of the report itself, that he consented to propose to parliament a further grant to Mr. M'Adam. The recommendation of the committee was, that 2,000l. or 2,500l. be granted to Mr. M'Adam. It was the former sum that he now intended to propose. It might be said, that when any man made an ingenious discovery, he would be rewarded by the employment that must necessarily follow. But that was not always the case. It frequently happened, that the individual to whom society was indebted for some important invention, was the last person to derive benefit from it. In the present instance, although, as he had already observed, he was not forward in picking out cases for the interference of the legislature, he really thought Mr. M'Adam was entitled to further remuneration; because, although certainly not in a state of poverty or destitution, the advantage which he had derived from his exertions was by no means adequate to their importance. On these grounds, he would take the liberty to move that a sum not exceeding 2,000l. be granted, to enable his majesty to make further remuneration to Mr. M'Adam for the services which he had rendered to the public by the valuable improvements that he had made in the roads of the country.

Mr. Hume,

although he by no means denied the public services of Mr. M'Adam, was of opinion that the proposed grant was not warranted by the circumstances of the case. He perfectly agreed with the chancellor of the Exchequer, that no claim of this nature ought to be allowed unless on the most satisfactory grounds; and he would appeal to the right hon. gentleman and to the House, whether what had been done by Mr. M' Adam justified a departure from that general rule. He by no means thought that the evidence taken before the committee appointed to investigate Mr. M'Adam's claims, warranted the report of that committee. Mr. M'Adam had made a statement of expenses which he had incurred for a long period of years, during which, he was prosecuting his experiments; but he understood that for a large portion of that time, Mr. M' Adam was employed in other affairs, and by no means devoted his sole attention to the subject of roads. Among other items, Mr. M' Adam stated that he had expended 5,019l. in 1,920days. The particulars of this expenditure ought to have been detailed, in order to enable the House to form a judgment upon the subject. While he fully admitted the merits of Mr. M' Adam and was persuaded that the opinion of the committee was conscientiously given, he could not but be astonished at the absurdity of characterising that gentleman as the inventor of the system adopted under his name. It was true, that Mr. M' Adam had devoted a considerable portion of his life to carrying that system into successful execution, but that did not constitute him its inventor. Four years ago he (Mr. Hume) had presented a petition from a person of the name of Lester, in which it was satisfactorily proved, that the petitioner had framed a plan similar to Mr. M' Adam's, prior to the operations of that gentleman. He had also presented a petition from a Mr. Paterson, an eminent surveyor of the roads, in the county of Forfar, showing satisfactorily, that long before Mr. M' Adam was heard of, Mr. Paterson had constructed a number of roads, precisely on the same principle. Mr. M' Adam had been employed by 79 turnpike trusts in twenty-eight different counties, and from these counties he had a right to be repaid for his labour; but he objected against his being paid by the community at large. It appeared to him extraordinary that the public in Norfolk, in Scotland, and in Ireland, should be saddled with the cost of a grand new street from Carlton Palace to the Regent's Park. Such a practice would be in direct violation of all the principles on which the expenses of roads were provided for. It was said, in support of this grant, that Mr. M'Adam had received nothing from the trustees of squares, bridges, and parishes, to which he had repeatedly given his advice. If that were so, whose fault was it? Certainly not that of the public; and it was therefore particularly unfair to call upon it, to furnish, out of its generosity, those funds which ought to have been furnished by the justice of those to whom Mr. M'Adam had given his exertions. It was not so much to the amount of this grant as to the principle on which it was founded that he objected. He likewise objected to giving this remuneration to Mr. M'Adam, because the proposal of it came from the chancellor of the Exchequer, and not from the committee which had been appointed to examine into Mr. M'Adam's services. By coming from the chancellor of the Exchequer, it was made a government question, and was thus deprived of that fair and impartial consideration which it would have undergone had it come from any other quarter. Under these circumstances, he felt himself bound to oppose the grant, and should certainly take the sense of the committee upon it.

Mr. N. Calvert

supported the grant, on account of the great improvements which had been made on the line of roads submitted to the management of Mr. M'Adam.

Sir M. Cholmeley

said, that if it were true that Mr. M'Adam had already received 4,000l. of the public money, he did not appear to him to be entitled to any further remuneration.

Sir T. Baring

spoke in support of the grant, and contended, that the House, in passing it, would not be establishing any new precedent, inasmuch as there had been upwards of twenty similar grants for similar public benefits in the last twenty years.

Mr. H. Sumner

acknowledged the great merit of Mr. M'Adam's system, but could not look upon it as a new invention, as the roads in his neighbourhood had been made upon it for the last fifty years. He thought that the greatest national benefits might be compensated at a rate cheaper than the current expenses which the services of this family had cost to the country. He would admit that Mr. M'Adam, in bringing the system into general operation, was entitled to reward; and he had received it in the liberal remuneration which himself and family had had from the several public trusts. He must say, that the present demand was one of the most dangerous attacks on the public purse that he had ever remembered. Mr. M'Adam's sense of private advantage had led him and three of his sons to embark in an object, and the success that had attended their speculation had yielded to them all the most liberal remuneration. Out of different public trusts, for the last five years, they had drawn no less a sum than 41,000l. Their claim for expenses, on the average of 400l. per annum for each of the family, was made, not on the economical rate of a surveyor of the road, who would have been satisfied to ride his horse and dine on a beef steak and mutton chop. It would seem that the firm of M'Adam travelled in their post-chaise and four, and enjoyed all the delicacies of the season. Upon the whole, as he denied the originality of the invention to Mr. M'Adam, so he thought that the emoluments of the family were a sufficient compensation for any services the public had derived.

Mr. Maberly

denied that Mr. M'Adam had intruded himself on the Post-office. On the contrary, that department had sought him. Lord Chichester in an interview with that gentleman, had asked for the fullest information. Mr. M'Adam furnished him with the whole of his plan, keeping nothing back; and though no specific compact took place, the noble lord at the head or the Post-office had declared that he would be entitled to a public reward. The hon. member for Surrey denied the merit of invention; and said that he had been acquainted with the system for nearly fifty years. It was strange that he had not got that system into operation, for there were not worse roads in the kingdom than those in the county of Surrey. Nothing but the greatest perseverance on the part of Mr. M'Adam could have conquered the prejudices with which his improvement was opposed; and for that perseverance he was entitled to a public reward.

Mr. F. Palmer

considered the services of Mr. M'Adam as much over-rated, and that the chancellor of the Exchequer had been too easily prevailed upon to accede to a proposal for remuneration.

Mr. Hart Davis

declared his willingness to support the present vote. Many of the roads repaired by Mr. M'Adam had fallen under his own observation; and he could assure the House, that several which had been the worst roads in the West of England, had, by Mr. M'Adam's exertions, been converted into the best possible state.

Sir E. Knatchbull

said, that if he could feel assured that the present sum was to be the liquidation of Mr. M'Adam's claims upon the public, he should feel little difficulty in supporting the grant: but Mr. M'Adam had already received the sum of 4,000l.; the House was now called upon to vote a further sum of 2,000l., and he believed that they would, ere long, be applied to for further remuneration to Mr. M'Adam.

Sir Robert Wilson

thought, that what had been said respecting Mr. M'Adam's not fulfilling his contract was irrelevant to the present question, as he was amenable upon that ground to an action at law. He was able to bear the most unequivocal testimony to the services which Mr. M'Adam had rendered to the public. He did not, however, estimate those services by any quantity of road that Mr. M'Adam had laid down, or even by any quantity that had been laid down by others upon his principles, but he appreciated his merits in introducing a system of improvement, and in originating a series of observations and experiments which had almost brought our roads to an equality with the old Roman roads. As to the objections made against Mr. M'Adam, upon the ground that he was not the inventor of the present system of road-making, he had as clear a right to the merit of invention, as could, from the nature of the case, he established. It was exceedingly difficult, generally speaking, to fix the origin of inventions, and to decide the pretensions of rival claimants for priority of invention or discovery, and the opposition to Mr. M'Adam's claims to originality seemed to be founded upon the old principle, that there was nothing new under the sun. He conceived that parsimony in the proposed grant, would not only be illiberal, and even unjust to the individual, but would eventually prove injurious to the interests of the public. individuals had come from all parts of the empire to receive instructions from Mr M'Adam and to witness the effects of his system. These persons had diffused the benefits of the improvements in every direction, and there were very few interests in the country that did not derive very sensible advantages from the ameliorated state of the roads, arising from Mr. M'Adam's ingenuity. He should, therefore feel it his duty, upon every principle of public utility and private justice, to give the present grant his most cordial support.

Sir T. Acland

bore testimony to the great services derived to all the active classes of society, by the improvements which Mr. M'Adam had introduced into the system of making roads, and keeping them in repair. These improvements were a source of economy to all who had to bear the expenses of making or repairing roads; and the increased facility of communication which they afforded, was obviously a source of profit to the manufacturing and commercial interests. Mr. M'Adam had received nothing from the trustees of roads; and was, therefore, the more entitled to remuneration from the public at large. That gentleman had not received 4,000l. for advice, as had been stated. That sum had been granted to him in payment of labour performed, and expenses incurred.

Mr. Estcourt

declared, that Mr. M'Adam's exertions had proved any thing rather than beneficial to the roads in the neighbourhood of Devizes. He had left the roads in a much worse state than that in which he had found them. He had also thought proper to asperse the conduct of the trustees of those roads in a manner highly unjust, and in every respect unwarranted by facts or circumstances.

The committee divided. For the grant 83: Against it 27; Majority 56.