HC Deb 23 July 1833 vol 19 cc1104-7
Mr. Shaw Lefevre

brought up the High. ways' Bill, as recommended by the Select Committee. On his Motion to that effect., it was read a first and second time.

The Earl House went into Committee on the Highways' Bill.

On the last paragraph of the first Clause, relating to the abolition of the Acts for Compounding of Statute Labour, being put,

Mr. Henry Handley

said, that it was with some regret he felt himself called upon to object to the passing of the first clause of the Bill, at least of that part of it which repealed the Statutes now in existence. He thought there was much difficulty in framing the Bill so as to meet the general necessities of the country; and that there ought to have been two Bills, one to apply to places of large population, and the other to the agricultural districts. As the law now stood, the farmer had the privilege of performing in kind his proportion of expense in the repair of roads; and one of the Acts proposed to be repealed authorised the surveyors to give four days' notice to the farmer, who would then have to provide a cart, three horses, and two men, to work for eight hours on the road. But the present Bill provided, that the farmer should contribute his proportion in hard money; by which he would not only lose the privilege of performing statute labour, but would be obliged, perhaps, to pay money towards the hire of his neighbour's horses, whilst his own were idle in the stable. Indeed, it would enable the surveyor to exercise a prejudicial system of favouritism. The law was well enough as it stood, and all he asked of the Committee was, not to take from the farmer the little boon he now possessed. He would move, as an Amendment, the adding of the following words to the clause: "excepting such enactments as relate to statute labour."

Major Handley

fully concurred in the observations of the hon. member for Lincolnshire. If carried in its present shape, the Bill would be an oppressive and meddling piece of legislation. He would not have objected to the first clause, if its operation had been confined to parishes having 1,000 inhabitants and upwards.

Mr. Shaw Lefevre

agreed with the hon. Member who had moved the Amendment, that the Bill was more applicable to parishes of large population than to others but the measure had now been for three or four successive years before the House, and it should be disposed of. He himself re- presented a district purely agricultural: and, although he admitted, that populous places would be most benefited by the Bill, he felt assured that it would also be of much advantage to others. When statute labour was first instituted, the roads were made and repaired in a very different manner from the present. By the improved mode a greater number of labourers, and fewer carts were employed, and the present Bill would tend still further to the employment of labourers. He hoped the Committee of the whole House would take the same view of the ease as the Committee up-stairs, and negative the Amendment.

Sir Oswald Mosley,

as a Magistrate, said, that great inconvenience had been felt throughout the country for a long period, owing to the present system, which had been a great source of jobbing. He had, in his magisterial capacity, seen great iniquity arise from it, from the connivance between particular farmers and surveyors, by which not only was injustice done to other parties, but while one part of the road was kept in repair, other parts were retained in a state of dilapidation. He was convinced, that if, instead of statute labour, a highway rate were raised, and the surveyor to have the power of agreeing with the farmer for the hire of teams, and to contract for manual labour, justice would be better administered to the public, and the roads would be kept in better repair. In many large towns, he believed—indeed he knew it was so in Manchester—so great an evil was felt from statute labour, that it had been compounded for, and a highway rate levied instead of it. As to the hon. and gallant officer's (Major Handley's) assertion, that the Bill was a mischievous piece of legislation, he begged to dissent from it, and to assert, that it was a most complete and beneficial piece of legislation. He should oppose the Amendment, and give the Bill his cordial support.

Lord Granville Somerset

thought the Bill well calculated to destroy the system of favouritism which at present prevailed on the part of surveyors. He had assiduously attended the Committee, and to this clause given most particular attention. The law?, as it at present stood, was subject to great objections; but the extent of power vested in the Magistrates did away with the objections complained of, as they had the power to levy a rate when applied to. The present Bill went to relieve the small farmers, who were certainly most aggrieved. He (Lord Granville Somerset) did not mean to call the Bill now under discussion perfect but it went a great way to lessen the grievances complained of under the old system. Many instances had come under his own knowledge, where the small farmer was benefited by the employment of his teams, and he did not object to lend them out for the purpose of repairing the roads when required by the surveyor so to do; and in fact there were many days in the year when it would benefit him to have them employed for that purpose, as the farmer had no immediate occasion to use them. But it was not to be expected that the farmer should like to pay a cess levied on him for the use of teams, when his own remained unemployed, the Bill, he conceived, was a very great improvement on the old system.

Mr. Sandford

said, if the small farmers could appoint a day themselves on which they would work out their statute labour, it would be very well; but that was not the case; they were bound to go out when called upon, and that might be at the most inconvenient time. He therefore preferred an equalized rate

Sir Matthew white Ridley

said, no Bill had received more consideration in Committee than the present one under discussion. If the House made the composition compulsory, it would be acting in opposition to the true interests of the farmer, for jobbing occurred where composition took place. One instance he would relate. The surveyor purchased two carts, which he worked himself, and the expense of them was levied on the parish by composition; this was unjust to those farmers who had teams of their own unemployed; and there was great difficulty to discover frauds. In another case, the best road he ever knew in his life was made by the surveyor employing his own teams, and advancing the money out of his own pocket—a composition to defray his expenses was levied on the parish, and that parish remained in his debt for upwards of seven years.

Mr. Henry Handley

said, that the effect of the clause, as it stood, would be to place a tax of 5l. or 20l. on the small farmers, and they were already too much borne down with their burthens to bear any additional imposts.

Amendment withdrawn; clauses to the thirteenth agreed to; the House resumed; Committee to sit again.

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