HC Deb 11 June 1839 vol 48 cc149-52
Mr. Mackinnon

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to alter and amend the laws regarding turnpike trusts, and to allow of unions of the same, said, he hoped to be able, by the statements he was about to make, to show that such a measure was necessary. He moved for leave to bring in this Bill in his capacity as Chairman of a Committee which had sat to consider the-subject, and, although it was a dry one, the House would be convinced that it was an important one, when he reminded them that these trusts were at the present time in debt to the extent of 9,000,000l. sterling, and that they had no means of discharging the debt. On the contrary, it was increasing every day from various causes. One of the chief causes was, that those who managed the trusts, finding themselves unable to pay the interest of the debt, gave bonds for that interest, thus converting the interest into principal, and, in fact, increasing; their debt at the rate of compound interest. Another cause was the establishment of railroads, of which there were now no fewer than six lines diverging from the Metropolis and extending into different parts of the country. It must also be recollected, that by the Act of George 3rd, cap. 123, any creditor of a trust bad the power of taking possession of the tolls, and dividing the produce as he should think proper among the other creditors of the trust. It was impossible not to foresee the ruinous consequences which were likely to result from such a course. Another point of great moment in this question was the entire abolition of statute labour, by which these trusts had sustained a loss of not less than 200,000l. annually. A bill was brought in last Session to remedy that evil; but, though it passed through that House, it did not unfortunately get through the other House. But he confessed that there would be considerable difficulty in suggesting any remedy far the distressed state of the tolls. His hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State had brought in a bill, in which he made an attempt to consolidate all the turnpike trusts into one, and to have them managed solely by a Board in London. Although the hon. Gentleman was supported by the whole of the interest of the Government, such was the opposition he met with that he was unable to carry his measure. He believed the chief cause of the opposition to that bill was the system of centralization which he adopted. The country gentlemen of England felt averse to any plan of that kind, and they thought the power of superintendence and management should remain in their hands. Another cause was the arrangement which the hon. Gentleman made, that trusts of every description should be consolidated together; and that, he (Mr. Mackinnon) thought, was the great error of his bill. Moreover, he gave the commissioners to be appointed to carry out the measure, sitting in London, power to unite wealthy trusts with poor ones, and thus saddle them with debts which others ought to pay. Another objection to the plan of the hon. Gentleman was, that he left all the machinery of the old trusts without any means of subsistence; the solicitors, secretaries, clerks, and others employed by the old trusts were left wholly unprovided for, and they of course raised such a clatter throughout the country, and made such strong appeals to hon. Members representing places in their respective localities, that his hon. Friend was at last compelled to throw up the bill altogether. Now, the Committee had endeavoured to meet all these objections: they proposed that there should be unions, not a consolidation of turnpike trusts; and that those unions should be under the superintendence, not of a board in London, but of persons selected by the trustees, who were to have the whole management of the same. Still it would be impossible to carry this plan into effect without allowing the Government to have a central board, but not with such powers as were contemplated by the former bill; because without some such central authority the other board could not be made to act in a satisfactory manner. The bill he wished to bring in would also have for its object the catching of the traffic which now ran to the railways by by-roads and cross-roads. The traffic on all the cross and by-roads which led to the termini of railways had very much increased, and his object was to give these trusts a power to transfer the toll-gates to those cross and bye roads; in fact, to use a simile which the hon. Member for Finsbury would understand, to make the veins of traffic arteries, and the arteries veins. He was the last man who would wish to stand forward on a question of this importance, but as Chairman of the Committee which had sat upon this subject, he did not feel himself justified in withdrawing from the task until he had at least elicited from her Majesty's Government whether or not the Commission which had been appointed was likely to lead to legislation in this matter upon their authority. He should, therefore, now move for leave to bring in a bill for making Unions of Turnpike Trusts in England, and for consolidating the bonded debts of those trusts.

Mr. F. Maule

did not rise to throw any difficulty in the way of the introduction of the bill. He felt that the hon. Gentleman opposite, as Chairman of the Committee, to which he had alluded, could not have taken any other course than that which he had pursued; but he feared that the hon. Member's Bill would, in the face of the commission which had been appointed, share the same fate as the bill formerly introduced. The bill he had introduced had a recommendation which the bill proposed by the hon. Member had not—namely, that under his bill the Government proposed to advance a considerable sum of money for the purpose of consolidating the debts due by turnpike trusts. At present it was impossible the Government could propose any such measure, and it was in order to get some more grave authority than the report of a committee, an authority on which the country gentlemen could place reliance, that the Government had been induced to issue a commission, consisting of the Duke of Richmond, the Marquess of Salisbury, Lord Hatherton, and Lord Eliot, to inquire into the best mode of treating this subject. It was a subject which might not, perhaps, interest many persons in that House, but in it the poorer classes were deeply concerned, because many individuals who had lent their "little all" on the security of turnpike trusts, the best security on which to advance money at the time of lending, were now absolutely in despair as to the probability of recovering one farthing of their money. That this state of things ought to be remedied, nobody could deny. He thought the efforts of the hon. Member most praiseworthy, and he was ready to consider and give him every assistance in aid of his measure, but at the same time he must say that at this period of the Session it would be impossible successfully to legislate. Next year the commission which had been appointed would, he thought, present such a report as that the Government might found upon it a measure which would then be fairly and fully considered by Parliament.

Colonel Wood

thought the House was indebted to his hon. Friend, the Member for Lymington for having elicited the statement just made by the hon. Under Secretary. He rejoiced that the Government had issued this commission, because he was of opinion that unless Government took up the matter, the difficulties that surrounded it would never be got rid of. He saw no way out of those difficulties except by the Government taking the whole tolls, paying the debts of the trusts, and establishing one uniform rate of toll throughout the country.

Leave given to bring in the bill.