HC Deb 02 April 1846 vol 85 cc489-91

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Laws respecting Highways in England. In addressing the Speaker, he was addressing one who was peculiarly conversant with this subject; and the Bill which he sought to bring in was the result of the great attention and labour which the Speaker had bestowed upon it. The House was aware that the sum levied for the maintenance and repair of highways in England annually amounted to 1,600,000l. Not only parishes, but minute subdivisions of parishes, supported and maintained their various highways, and a number of officers were employed. In the Act brought in by the Speaker, a permissive power was given to parishes to unite for the purpose of conjointly maintaining highway and other paid officers. This power being permissive and not compulsory, had not been brought into general use; and the principal object of the measure which he sought to introduce was to substitute a compulsory for a permissive power. To make the new enactment perspicuous and perfect, he had thought it better to repeal all existing laws with respect to highways, and to introduce a Bill re-enacting and consolidating the whole. The first important provision was, that districts should be formed throughout England and Wales, generally speaking, coterminous with the registration districts. He proposed to give to the Enclosure Commissioners, a body constituted by recent Act of Parliament, the power of forming and regulating the districts. That would reduce the number from 1400 or 1500 to 550. The Bill would then provide that, for each district, a surveyor should be appointed, to be a paid officer, with assistant sub-surveyors. The power of appointing surveyors should rest with the local board in each district, the salary being fixed by them, and the choice of the officer subject to the veto of the Commissioners; the power of dismissing officers should be with the Enclosure Commissioners, and concurrently with this power of dismissal should be the power of dismissal on the part of the board. With respect to the election of the board, he proposed that it should be elected for two years by all rate payers in each parish and township maintaining its own roads. Each parish or township was to be represented at the district board by one or more way-wardens, as the Enclosure Commissioners should determine. No hamlet, containing less than four miles of road, had the right of choosing way-wardens. He proposed that there should be two paid officers in each district; one the surveyor, the other the clerk of the board. He proposed that there should be a general annual meeting, in which the accounts of the whole year should be made up, and the estimates of repairs for the ensuing year should be brought under their consideration by the paid surveyor of the district. He proposed that the accounts of the district should be annually audited; and he would suggest, inasmuch as it accorded with the plan of his right hon. Friend, that the Poor Law Auditors should audit annually the highway accounts. These accounts, so audited, should be transmitted annually to the Enclosure Commissioners, and they should report annually to the Secretary of State; and each report, together with the abstract of accounts, should be laid annually before the two Houses of Parliament. He gave also the power, by the unanimous consent of the way-wardens forming the district board, to convert the charge of the highway district into a union charge, instead of a parochial or township charge, with the consent of the parochial commissioners. He proposed that three rates should be made in the district, one district rate for the joint expenses, salary of the surveyor, salary of the clerk, and the general expenses of the board, the proportion for the district to be submitted to the Enclosure Commissioners in London, and receive their sanction. If the district should come to the resolution to make the charge a union charge, then only one rate would be necessary; but if they should not be so disposed, then there must be two rates levied: one district rate for the district charges, and, as at present, a parochial or township rate for the maintenance of the roads. He proposed to retain the present maximum rate of 10d. a rate; and that there should be no more than three rates in the course of a year, thus making the maximum highway rate per year 2s. 6d. in the pound. He proposed also that the rate should be collected by the collector of the poor rate; and with respect to the remedy in case of non-payment, and also in appeals, that it should be identical with that which at present regulated the collection of the poor rate. He proposed further that power should be given to borrow money for effecting improvements of the highways with the consent of the Enclosure Commissioners, providing that the principal and interest should be paid within twenty years. And with the view of enabling the Commissioners to form a judgment before any outlay of such borrowed money was made, he would give them the power to send down an inspector to make a survey, and report upon the condition of the highways, and the expediency of effecting the projected improvements. He preserved all the existing liabilities to repair, and also retained all the principal provisions which were so recently sanctioned by Parliament. With reference to South Wales, he should state that there were particular provisions in the Acts regulating the turnpikes in that part of the Principality, which would appear to interfere with the extension of this Bill to the highways there; therefore he should suggest that South Wales should be exempted from the operation of this amended Highway Act. The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving for leave to bring in his Bill.

Leave given, Bill brought in, and read a first time.

House adjourned at a quarter to One o'clock.