HC Deb 03 February 1846 vol 83 cc450-2

said, that as he then saw the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department in his place, he wished to put to him a question, to which the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government had been unable to give a complete and satisfactory answer. It appeared that the measure adopted in the southern part of Wales with respect to turnpike trusts had completely succeeded; and he wished to know whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to bring forward during the present Session any general measure for the amendment and consolidation of the turnpike trusts of England and Wales; or whether they thought it advisable to have a further Parliamentary investigation of the subject, and to move the appointment of a Committee, who would inquire into the operation of the present laws, and the expediency or inexpediency of altering them in consequence of the recent extension of railway communication?


wished to apologize to the hon. Baronet for not having been in his place at an earlier hour. He understood that during his absence his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government had assured the hon. Baronet of the success of the measure respecting turnpike trusts in South Wales. No doubt he (Sir J. Graham) had reason to hope and believe that that experiment, so far as it had yet gone, had been successful. But in answering the question put by the hon. Baronet, he felt it right to remind the House how different was the question affecting the turnpike trusts of so limited a sphere as South Wales, from the great question of the turnpike trusts of all England and Wales. In the first place, the debt constituted the great difficulty of the question. The debt in South Wales amounted to only 280,000l.; and under the peculiar circumstances of the case the Legislature had thought it expedient to give the aid of the public credit for the liquidation of that limited sum. A composition had been effected in that case by the equitable decisions of a Commission, by which the whole debt in the hands of private creditors had been extinguished for a sum of about 200,000l. Now, let them contrast that case with the condition of the turnpike trusts throughout England generally. The gross amount of the debt for turnpike trusts throughout England was a sum of no less than 9,000,000l. He certainly was not prepared to say that an extension to the whole of England of the experiment which had taken place in South Wales might not possibly be effected; and he believed that upon the whole a satisfactory adjustment might take place, if the public were willing to advance the necessary amount of money. But he was not prepared, on the part of the Government, to announce any proposition in the present Session upon that subject. His right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, in submitting the other evening an extensive scheme for the consideration of Parliament, had stated, on the part of the Government, that it was their intention to bring forward during the present Session an amendment of the Highway Act, and also to propose the advance of a very considerable amount for the improvement of land by thorough draining. Under these circumstances, he could not reconcile it with his sense of duty to call at present upon Parliament to advance, for the purpose of altering our system of turnpike trusts, a sum so considerable as that which he had mentioned. He did not think that any advantage would be derived from the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the state of our turnpike trusts. The House had already most ample information upon that subject, in the most authentic form, in the very able reports of various commissions. The facts of the case were notorious. It was, however, most difficult to deal with them, and the principal difficulty was the one he had mentioned—namely, the enormous amount of the outstanding debt.