HC Deb 15 April 1828 vol 18 cc1445-50
Mr. Littleton

said, he rose to submit to the House the Resolutions, of which he had given notice, on this subject. He had brought forward Resolutions last year with a similar object; namely, that of relieving the parties from the heavy fees and charges now imposed on the renewal of Turnpike Trust acts. He would briefly state the grounds on which he felt himself entitled to call on the House to agree to the abolition of these fees and charges. He did not share the opinion of those gentlemen who held that fees on private bills should be altogether abolished. He believed that fees were generally advantageous to the public; as he was certain that in many cases they were necessary to protect property, and prevent the undue consumption of the time of that House. But he would not agree to continue the fees on the renewal of Turnpike Trust-bills. It had already been the subject of discussion in two select committees. The latter of these had been appointed at his own instance, the session before the last; and he could not express himself so concisely as in the terms of the first paragraph of their Report [The hon. gentleman then read the passage]. The committee appointed in 1821, on the motion of his hon. friend (sir Davies Gilbert), to inquire generally into the fees taken on private bills, agreed to recommend the abolition of fees on the renewal of Turnpike-bills, though in every other case they considered the retention of the fees a matter of public importance. The recommendation of this committee had, however, not been carried into effect, and the heavy fees to which Turnpike-bills were subject were still exacted. Those fees were double what were required in other instances, such, for example, as a Naturalization-bill, and were, in many cases, raised to treble the amount of the private bills; indeed they were sometimes increased to an indefinite extent. The charges had been so excessive, that they had been matter of complaint throughout the country. The present system of fees could not go on without some change. The whole mortgage debt of the Turnpike trusts in England, within the last two or three years, was 4,474,530l., and the interest overdue amounted to 500,581l. In Wales, the debt was 238,168l., and the interest 34,078l. In Scotland, the debt was 1,327,946l., and the interest 263,975l., making altogether a total of 6,839,278l. This was independent of the great annual charge for making and repairing roads throughout the United Kingdom. The question before the House was, whether, under these circumstances, they ought not to make less frequent and less onerous, the necessity of applying to parliament for the renewal of these trusts. He had received a variety of communications, as to the grievance of fees on the renewal of Turnpike trusts. He found that, in many instances, the trusts were breaking down under the weight of their debts. In England, Wales, and Scotland, the whole receipts of the trusts for two years would be insufficient to meet the expense of their renewal, if it recurred, as now, once in every seventeen years. This charge could only be adequately met by increasing the tolls. The ordinary amount of fees on a Turnpike-bill was about 148l., of which 83l. were exacted in that House, and 65l. in the House of Lords. The average amount of the items in fifteen bills of costs, for soliciting Turnpike-bills by Mr. Dorington, in 1826, was in the House of Commons 94l. and in the House of Lords 64l. The average cost of printing was 26l. 5s.; and the whole charge in both Houses amounted, on the average, to 184l. 12s. But these bills were all of the most favourable description in point of cost. In a letter he had received from Devonshire, a gentleman stated that he had solicited three bills on which he had paid fees to the amount respectively of 278l. 10s., 280l. 10s., and 273l. 8s. It was unnecessary to detain the House longer with statements of this kind, which, he was aware, were open to the answer, that the expense was caused by the including of a great many districts, and by the separate application of the funds. But he would refer to one case among the poorer counties—that of Glamorganshire, where the whole expenses had been more than 1,000l. He knew there was a great variety of trusts in this case, but he knew also that this county was very poor, and the charge he considered as excessive. The receipt of a small trust, in the neighbourhood of London, was frequently greater than the whole receipts of such a county as Glamorgan. The remedy he proposed was stated in the resolutions he intended to move. The first resolution was, "That after the present session of parliament, all bills, which, among other matters, should be for the renewal, or repeal and renewal of Turnpike trusts, should be exempted from the payment of all fees now chargeable according to the table of fees of that House." This measure would be advantageous to the trustees of the Turnpike roads, not only to the extent of the fees saved, but in another material respects The very existence of those fees rendered it necessary for the parties to attend twice before the House. Otherwise, as in the case of Inclosure bills, the opposing party might turn round upon them and say, they had not complied with the Standing Orders of the House, by not attending in the first instance. But if the House relieved them from the payment of fees, there would be no reason why the attendance of the Solicitor and witnesses should not be dispensed with altogether on the petition. This alone would be a great saving, where the parties, came from distant places. The second resolution accordingly stated, that committees on the petition should be dispensed with, and the parties bound to give their attendance only on the committee on the bill. By this arrangement these bills would be reduced to the same conduct as public acts. By the next resolution, for the future, the expense of engrossing and printing these bills would be borne by the public; but if, in any instance, the Standing Orders were not complied with, the expense should be charged to the parties. He was aware that, under colour of these resolutions, parties might be induced sometimes to make extensive alterations of the line of the road. He proposed to meet this objection by a provision, by which these bills would be confined to a limited extent, while ample scope would be allowed for improvement. The last resolution went to extend the usual term of twenty-one years to the term of thirty-one years; the result of which would be, the saving of one half of the expense of these bills. If the House could be induced to adopt this resolution, the total saving would, on an average, including the abolition of fees amount to 234l.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that with respect to the question of fees generally, he would only remark, that the propositions of his hon. friend applied to the principle on which fees were taken on all private matters brought before that House, and he thought it would be well for the House, before it acquiesced in these resolutions, to consider what effect they would have on the other branches of private business that came before it. Those fees were appropriated to public objects, by acts of parliament, and if these resolutions had the effect of reducing the amount of the fund so raised, it would be incumbent on the House to provide other means to defray the expenses heretofore paid out of this fund. He was inclined to say, that where the bill was merely to renew a trust about to expire, that would be a fair case for consideration; and, if he did not mistake, by a resolution of the House, bills to renew expiring trusts were already subject only to the lowest class of fees.

Sir C. Burrell

approved of the principle of the resolutions, and quoted an instance where a very important road in the western part of Sussex was obliged to be neglected, in consequence of the great expense that would be incurred in procuring a bill to alter the provisions of the act now in being.

Sir T. Lethbridge

expressed his approbation of the resolutions. It appeared to him that Turnpike-bills, though treated as private bills, were, in fact, bills of a public nature.

Mr. R. Gordon

said, it was exceedingly unfair, that any portion of the expense attendant on the furtherance of public business should be defrayed out of fees paid by private individuals. The House was not perhaps aware, that there was no charge for engrossing public bills; the whole expense was charged on private bills. Why such a system should be adopted he knew not. Certainly it was very unjust.

Mr. H. Drummond

complained that the existing system pressed very heavily on Scotland. In some instances the whole income of a Turnpike trust was swallowed up in procuring the renewal of a bill.

Mr. Baring

could not see how any resolutions of that House could effect the object contemplated by the hon. member for Staffordshire; since the fees complained of might, and most probably would, still be exacted in the other House. The best way to remedy the evil would be by the introduction of a bill.

Mr. Littleton

could not conceive, even if the Lords did not choose to give up those fees, why the Commons should abstain from taking a step that would be satisfactory to the country. It was very probable, if the Commons agreed to the resolutions that the Lords would follow their example.

The further consideration of the resolutions was postponed till Monday.