HC Deb 03 June 1830 vol 24 cc1335-45

Lord Morpeth moved that the debate on the second reading of the Northern Roads Bill be resumed.

Mr. Robert Gordon

objected to the Motion at that time of night.

Mr. W. Duncombe

said, the Bill was of very inferior importance compared to that which had just been disposed of.

Lord Morpeth

said, that he was sorry it was not in his power to comply with the request for postponement, but to do so at that period of the Session would be equivalent to withdrawing the Bill, and as there was a full attendance of Members interested in it, he should move that the Bill be read a second time. In making this Motion, having had an opportunity of hearing the objections against this Bill, it would be respectful to the House to state very shortly, but distinctly his inducements for bringing it forward; first, with regard to the objection relating to the expenditure of money supposed to be involved by the Bill, he must state that it was his intention, if allowed, to go into a committee, that those parts of it which might induce such expenditure should be omitted, leaving them to be brought forward here- after in a separate bill by the hon. member for Queen's County. His only object was, to appoint a commission to inquire into the state of the Northern Roads, pursuant to the desire expressed in the various petitions and memorials which had been submitted to the Post-office for some years past. These memorials came from individuals of rank and station, both in England and Scotland, from public bodies, corporations, guilds, and others interested in the speedy communication between the different parts of the empire so requisite in a country like this. In consequence of these applications, various surveyors had been ordered, by the competent authorities, to examine into the subject, so that the greatest part of the expense which could possibly be occasioned by the Bill had been already incurred. The result of this examination had been, that at the lowest computation, a saving of thirty miles could be effected between London and Edinburgh, whilst the extent of the improvement in point of distance on the Holy head road, did not exceed six miles. He was aware that he deprived himself of a part of the advantage of his argument by taking the line through Stamford instead of the more direct one chalked out by Mr. Telford; but he trusted that his forbearance would not be turned against him. The Northern aspect of the committee had been commented on; but by the line he had chosen the route in the midland and southern counties was very little deviated from, so that it was of no consequence to have many Members from those parts; whilst the great deviation being in the northern and Scotch counties, it was necessary to have Members on the committee connected with the interests likely to be affected there. There being then so great a call for this great saving of distance between the two capitals, the object of the Bill was to ascertain, by appointing commissioners, in what way so desirable a result could be best obtained. Experience and common sense had taught that no general system of road-making could be carried into effect so uniformly and cheaply as by the appointment of a commission to examine the whole intended line. As this Bill named some of the Holyhead Commissioners, on the new commission, it secured all the advantages of their long experience, whilst it would not affect the powers of any trust on the new line, as the commissioners would only be enabled to inquire and enter into, to consult, to report upon, and to suggest improvements. It must be at the same time observed, that it did not enable them to spend one shilling, without again having recourse to Parliament; in short, a more innocent, inoffensive measure could not be conceived, and those who opposed the second reading must go the whole length of saying, not only that no improvement should be introduced, but that even the suggestion of one should never be received. He trusted, however, that the House would remember that rapid communication was of all things most demanded in a civilized community, and he hoped that it would allow the Bill to go into Committee for the purpose he had mentioned. The improvement he contemplated would be forced upon the Legislature in the long run; and the course he proposed for effecting so great a public object, was the easiest and most inoffensive that could be adopted. He therefore moved that the Bill be read a second time.

Lord Lowther

said, notwithstanding the noble Lord had taken some pains to explain his views, that the Bill still appeared to him very unsatisfactory. Had the noble Lord given the House information upon two points, it would have been much better able to go into the discussion. In the first place, he had not told the House how he meant to pay the commissioners; in the second place, he said that the Bill invested them with no new powers; but by the Bill they were to have all the powers of the Holyhead Road Commissioners transferred to them. Now, putting aside the fact that the House was thus thrown into a perplexity of Acts, which it was almost impossible to unravel, there were actually two Bills in the House to amend the Holyhead Road Acts. He never saw such liberties taken in legislation. The noble Lord said, that the line of deviation was not so great in England as in Scotland; and that, therefore, there were more Scotch than English Members on the Committee; but there was no concealing the fact that this was a downright Scotch job, to enable Scotchmen to mend their own roads with English tools, that they might walk up from Edinburgh to London by a shorter way than at present. There might, however, be another reason for this measure, there were some individuals in Northumberland who had obtained an Act for carrying a road from Newcastle to the North; and it seemed to him that the promoters of the present Bill wished to rival them at the public expense. The House, however, would never interfere to forward such views. The noble Lord had referred to numerous memorials, but they were all founded on interested motives. No evidence had been called to prove the assertions, nor was any wished for; if there had been, the most obvious course would have been to ask at the post-office, whether the mail could be got to Edinburgh two hours sooner than at present. The time employed, not long back, for that conveyance was fifty-eight hours, but now it only required forty-three and a half hours; at the same time great improvements were going forward, which would only be stopped by the appointment of this commission. Messrs. Giles and Robson, London engineers, were employed on the Northern Roads, and if they confined themselves to those of England, the funds they had at their disposal would enable them to make considerable improvements. He wished to caution the House against those Parliamentary Commissions, and not to place any faith in the prospects they held out. Let the House consider the estimates of various undertakings that had been brought forward, and compare them with the actual sums they had cost, before it approved of this Bill. The expense of the Caledonian canal was estimated at 474,000l., but the actual cost after the deduction of several sums to be placed to its credit, was 961,000l. The improvements in the Highland Roads were estimated at 96,000l., but the actual cost was 240,000l., besides entailing upon the country an annual charge of 5,000l. for their support. Mr. Telford's estimate for the Menai Bridge, with its approaches, &c. was 60,000l., but when we came to pay the Bills, the actual outlay in 1823 amounted to 247,000l. He did not regret the money, for it was certainly a most magnificent work, but it served to show how little estimates were to be depended upon. The road to Edinburgh was estimated to cost 400,000l., and perhaps, with the improvements to Port Patrick, for which, by-the-bye, there had been no petition, and which seemed a little fancywork put into the Bill by way of ornament, might reach a million and a half. What would be the excuse if we embarked in such an undertaking for the errors of the estimate? Why the old one, that the ar- chitect had found the timbers more rotten than he expected; that here an additional buttress was wanted, and there a new foundation,—in short there would be no want of reasons to account for the evil, when it could not be remedied, and the estimates of the expenses would in fact be doubled and trebled, as in the cases he had mentioned. If the Bill passed surveyors must be paid, and there was no fund from which to pay them. Let the noble Lord visit these places himself, and make a report to Parliament. And then let him come forward with an Act in some distinct and intelligible form, and not with half the clauses hidden as they were in this Bill, in which it was impossible to see what was clearly aimed at. He entreated Parliament to consider, that it was dealing with private rights, and that he had that day presented a Petition justly complaining of this Bill. The 'Edinburgh mail already travelled as fast as that to Holyhead, as far as Northumberland, so that there was no reason for calling upon Parliament to interfere in the manner the noble Lord proposed.

Sir Henry Parnell

was quite certain that the least fault with which the Bill was chargeable, was that of concealment, for it stated all the objects in view in the plainest manner. With regard to the expense attendant upon the appointment of the commission, none of any consequence could arise, for all the surveys had been made, and the clause, giving power to make others, was only precautionary, in case they should be wanted. The business concerning the Northern Roads would be confined to holding meetings. It was his firm conviction, that if this Bill were passed on the principle of consolidation, the sum of money voted for the Holyhead establishment would be quite sufficient to pay the expenses of the new commission. The noble Lord said, that the Bill extended the powers of the Holyhead Commissioners to the Northern Roads; but his noble friend, on moving the second reading, stated, that the whole of the latter part of the Bill was to be omitted, so that no such power as the noble Lord supposed would be given. With respect to what the noble Lord had said relating to the estimates of the Holyhead road, he denied both the accuracy of his statement, and of his conclusions. The subject had been under the consideration of a committee, and its report would be shortly before the House. In the body of that report it would be found, that of 152 contracts made by that commission in fifteen years,—in only one was there an instance of the sum paid exceeding that stipulated for, and that only to the amount of 75l. With regard to the estimate for the Menai Bridge, if the noble Lord was to tell an architect to build a house for him, he could not be surprised, if he afterwards directed him to build two wings and an additional story, that the architect should charge him something more than the original estimate. Now the fact with regard to the Menai Bridge was this; after Mr. Telford had given in his estimate, Mr. Rennie advised an addition to the iron-work, and Dr. Wollaston, and the present president of the Royal Society, recommended higher pyramids, for the sake of additional strength. No objection was made to Mr. Telford's estimate, nor were the contract prices exceeded, so that the additional expense was for additional work. When it was considered that the chains were each one-third of a mile long, it must be admitted that the work was as cheaply executed as any work ever undertaken. The noble Lord said, that the total expense was 247,000l.; but it did not exceed 187,000l.; and he was equally in error in his other statements.

Lord Lowther

said, his statements were taken from the returns.

Mr. Heathcote

said, that the little evidence that was taken before the committee on this Bill, and the manner in which it was composed, gave him great doubts as to its propriety; but now that his noble friend himself proposed to strike out half his measure, he was convinced that there must be something very objectionable in it. The better way perhaps would be for his noble friend to withdraw the Bill altogether, and introduce a fresh one, in order that the House might know what it was discussing, for surely he could not think of calling upon the House to affirm a great number of positions which he himself proposed to abandon. His noble friend had stated, that Stamford and Grantham were to be continued in the road; but upon referring to the Bill, he found that the road running through them was only spoken of as one that might be altered. The Bill appointed commissioners, but when the House considered how difficult it was to get rid of commissioners when once named, it would probably pause before it sanctioned the Bill. The plain question was:—Is the House prepared to go into the expense to which this undertaking will inevitably lead? Every one knew estimates were always moderate; but when once a work was begun, it was difficult to stop, and the cost generally at the end was double or treble the estimates. After all what was the object in view? The facility of getting from Edinburgh to London was already extraordinary, and he saw no reason for devoting large sums of money to enable the citizens of Edinburgh to receive their letters a little sooner, and come up to London a little quicker. But if expeditious travelling were the object, why did not Gentlemen follow the short cuts they had at present. Every body knew that the mail to Edinburgh went through York, which was considerably out of the direct road. Why, then, should short cuts be made at a great expense, when those already made were not used? He should think it his duty to oppose the second reading of the Bill; but if it were sent to a committee, which he hoped it would not be, it had better be to a Select Committee up stairs; for, with the great pressure of business before the House, it would unavoidably (as it had hitherto been) be postponed until past three in the morning, an hour at which this measure, although of great importance to individuals, was not likely patiently to be discussed.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, the hon. Member recommended a Select Committee, but he would advise that the Bill be cast out at once, as a measure utterly unworthy to he entertained by the House. He was well acquainted with the line of road in question, and knew that the travelling upon it was easy, and that every where comfortable accommodations were to be met with; and he could not help looking upon the proposed scheme as a fancy measure of Mr. Telford's, whom he took to be one of those visionary gentlemen who expected to feed upon the public. The most advisable course for the noble Lord to pursue would be to withdraw his Bill, print it if he thought proper, and bring it forward in some intelligible shape.

Mr. Liddell

said, that it ought to be considered that this Bill contemplated an improvement of no less benefit than that of bringing the capital of Scotland thirty mites nearer to London. When the House recollected the great intercourse, not only between individuals, but between all the new Boards and Public Offices of the two capitals, it would acknowledge that there were few things more desirable than to facilitate the means of communication. It was true that one particular line would be of great service to the county of Northumberland; but if the Commission of Inquiry, which it was the object of the Bill to appoint, should decide that another route would be more advantageous to the public, those who might fancy themselves interested in a contrary decision would have no reason to complain. He could state, upon the authority of Mr. Telford, whom the hon. Member behind had discovered to be a person not at all known, that the middle line through Northumberland was the best; but the matter ought to be examined into. Another reason for his wishing to have the commission appointed was, that a part of the road went through a very thinly-inhabited country; and before proceeding further, it would be right to have the best line of communication ascertained, and whatever that might be, he had no doubt that it could be made available without the assistance of public money. There were some material points in the Bill which he was anxious to discuss; but at that hour he would say no more than that he should vole for the Motion.

Mr. Robert Gordon

could not allow that opportunity to pass without thanking the noble Lord opposite (Lord Lowther) for the very excellent sentiments he had uttered. He congratulated the Treasury benches upon having such a Member, and he hoped that the noble Lord would allow him to remind him of what he had just said when the noble Lord brought forward estimates himself. He had stated, that estimates were always exceeded, and that the House ought to be cautious how it commenced any public work, and he trusted that his hon. friend (Mr. Hume) would take an early opportunity of trying whether these sentiments extended to all estimates. But what was the object of the Bill? The noble Lord said, that it was to appoint Commissioners of Inquiry; but he had also said, that the plans and estimates were already prepared; what then could be the use of appointing a commission? Could not the Postmaster-general send down a surveyor to report which was the best line of road? That would be the cheapest and the best way, and certainly preferable to the appointment of a commission, which if once appointed would only be used as the instrument of getting more public money. The hon. Baronet must be aware that the great improvements in the road from London to the Land's End had been made at the expense of the different trusts and counties through which the road passed, and not at that of the public. Upon what principle were the people of the West of England, who had paid for their own roads out of their own funds, to be called upon to pay for those of the North Country? Did the noble Lord fancy that the people of the North were not quite so active, industrious, and enterprising as those of the South and West; and that, therefore, they ought to be assisted by public money? The hon. member for Northumberland, because his county would be benefitted, seemed to think that it ought not to be called a Scotch job; and he therefore would give it the more general denomination of a Northern job. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Lowther) seemed to think, that if the Bill had come from his side of the House, all the Opposition Members would have opposed it: and he must in conclusion say, that he was sorry that it came from the Opposition side of the House, and still more was he sorry that the hon. member for Queen's County, whose work was justly considered as a text-book of economy, should have supported it by his name.

Mr. Kennedy

said, it was objected to the Bill, that public money was called for by it, but he saw none whatever called for, nor did he believe that it was intended to call for any. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Lowther) said on a former occasion, that this was a bill to obtain English money for Scotch roads. That was not the case, for he could state on his own knowledge, that there were roads in progress in Scotland, along which the intended line was to run, to defray the expense of making which no public money would be called for, although it might be considered desirable to place them under the control of an impartial commission. With respect to the opposition from the neighbourhood of Grantham, he was surprised at that, for there was no system of road-making so bad as that which prevailed in that neighbourhood; and never was money more scandalously taken from the pockets of the people, than that expended upon the roads there. There was a hill in the neighbourhood of Grantham quite as bad to ascend as it was in the days of George 1st. In spite of all that had been said, he should not be deterred from supporting this Bill, and he did not apprehend that the character of his noble friend, or of the hon. Baronet who supported the measure, would want defending on that account. He gave the hon. member for Cricklade credit for his vigilance over the public purse, but he could assure him that it was not required in this instance. It had been insinuated that this measure was introduced to benefit Mr. Telford; but it would appear from the report of the committee that that gentleman had not received any undue remuneration, and that the smallness of his percentage was quite remarkable.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, that had it not been for the explanation of his noble friend, he should have been inclined, with the noble Lord opposite, to have opposed the second reading of this Bill; but after the explanation which had been given, he thought that the House ought to allow it to pass that stage, that it might be put into the desired shape. He objected to the Bill, but as it was to be separated into two parts, one of which was to empower a commission to inquire into the state of the roads, and the other to carry into further execution the powers vested in the Commissioners of the Holy-head-road, he would not oppose the second reading. The mail, he might remark, arrived in Edinburgh at three o'clock in the day, and did not leave till eight the next morning.

Mr. George Lamb

said, that it was clear that the hon. Baronet agreed to the second reading of he knew not what, since he wished it to be put in such a shape in a committee as would enable him to understand it. If the hon. Baronet comprehended the Bill, he (Mr. Lamb) did not, for he did not know what was to be kept in, and what struck out. From reading it, he could not say whether the Liverpool road was or was not to be included in the Bill, whether the commissioners were to raise money or not, or what roads from Litchfield to South Mims, and from London to Edinburgh were to come under consideration. It skipt about in the most extraordinary manner; and, in short, was such an omnium gatherum measure as he never before met with. It had been called a Northern job, and with truth; for it was to bring Edinburgh nearer, according to the petitions, to London by thirty miles; but from whence did the petitions come? From Edinburgh, to be sure. But he wished to ask whether there were any petitions from London to be brought thirty miles nearer to Edinburgh? Certainly not. And the Bill, therefore, bore upon the face of it the character given of it. The noble Lord said, that his proposed line took in Stamford and Grantham; but the Bill only mentioned the road through those places, to say that it was to be altered. He did not wish to make any vexatious opposition to this Bill; and he thought that he made a very fair proposition when he asked his noble friend to consent to refer it to a committee up-stairs; for there was not a single turnpike-road bill which was not laid before a committee of Members of those counties through which it had to pass. If that proposition were objected to, he should divide the House on the Motion.

Lord Morpeth

said, as there was only one specific point in the Bill, he could not see any occasion to refer it to a Select Committee.

The House divided. Ayes 35; Noes 27—Majority 8.