§ Order for Second Reading read.—Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
MR. CORNEWALL LEWIS
, in moving the second reading of this Bill, observed, that since he had last the honour of addressing the House on this subject, he had received various communications respecting it from different parts of the country, which all tended to show how various were the interests involved, and how very difficult it would be to introduce a measure which would give universal satisfaction. That the difficulties were numerous and serious was a fact which did not admit of dispute; but he was not without hope that by careful deliberation they might be all satisfactorily adjusted. The Bill which he had now the honour to submit to the House, was a purely economical measure of internal improvement, and in no respect a political measure. He believed that the criticisms that had been passed upon it were bonâ fide and sincere, and that they were totally untinctured by any mixture of political feeling. He gratefully acknowledged the fair spirit with which the measure had been generally received; and he felt assured that whatever obstacles it might have to encounter would not be of a political character. The reason why the Bill had originated with the Ministry was, not that the Government, as a Government, had any particular vocation to bring forward a measure on the subject, but simply because, from their superior command of official information, and from their greater facilities for procuring professional advice, it was easier for them to frame a satisfactory and comprehensive measure than it could have been for any private Member to have done so. The Bill had been framed with a view to meet all the exigencies of the case; and its promoters had been exclusively influenced by the desire to manifest a spirit of the strictest impartiality with respect to the different interests concerned. The subject might be divided into two parts—that which related to the machinery of the future administration of the roads, and that which had reference to the debt contracted by the turnpike trusts. The administrative machinery was, of course, the most important branch with respect to the future; but it was not that particular portion which just at the present 1340 moment pressed most urgently for consideration. In preparing this measure as it had originally been framed, the precedent established by the Act introduced by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon (Sir J. Graham) for the management of the six south Welsh counties, namely, that of making the county rate remain as a security for the payment of the principal and interest of the debt contracted under the turnpike trusts, had been adhered to; but it having been forcibly represented that that plan was calculated to impose new and heavy burdens on the county rate at a moment when the agricultural interests had to contend with many difficulties; and that, in a word, the principle, at all times objectionable in itself, was peculiarly so at the present moment—the Government had consented to reconsider the matter, and were prepared to modify that portion of the Bill which related to the extinction of the debt in the manner he spoke of, and to confine the security of the turnpike trust-holders to the security of the turnpike roads. The total income derivable from turnpike trusts for the year 1846, was 1,267,000l., and there were other receipts amounting to 31,000l., making a total of 1,298,000l. The amount of the debt in 1846 was 6,609,000l. The plan which he proposed was, that the present tolls should be collected by the county-roads boards, for the final and eventual purpose of paving off the debt; and that whatever surplus remained after paying an interest of 4 per cent on the trust debts, and allocating a certain portion of the revenue, in the proportion of 2 per cent, for the formation of a sinking fund, should be paid over to some commissioners or other officers in London, who were to be under the control of the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and that those commissioners should compound with the bondholders and settle the amount of each debt, as in the case of the South Wales counties, and that their awards should be final. Each bondholder was to receive a debenture entitling him to receive 4 per cent per annum on his trust debt; and the produce of the sinking fund of 2 per cent was to be devoted to the purpose of paying off, in succession, all who might wish to have their bonds paid off. Any surplus that might remain over was to be applied to the extinction of the other bonds in rotation, the debentures to be chosen by ballot. That would avoid the principle of annuities, so much objected to by the hon. Member for Oxford- 1341 shire (Mr. Henley), as the bond would be paid off in toto. According to his plan, 6 per cent on the sum of 6,609,000l., the amount of the debt, would be 396,540l.; the expense for repairs of roads would be 673,000l., or thereabouts; and, if he added 57,000l. for improvements, the total sum would be 1,126,000l.; or, in round numbers, they might say 1,130,000l. The cost of repairing and improving the present turnpike roads, together with the payments on account of the interest at 4 per cent, and the sinking fund at 2 per cent, would amount in the aggregate to 1,130,000l.; but, according to his calculations, there would be still a balance on account of revenue of 170,000l., so that, assuming his calculations to be correct, it was clear that the turnpike trusts, taken in the aggregate, were quite solvent. In the course of twenty-eight years, the whole of the debt would be extinguished by the process he recommended. [Mr. W. MILES: You have not mentioned the salaries.] The hon. Member for Somersetshire had reminded him that he had omitted salaries from his statement. The account under that head at present stood as follows:—Turnpike salaries, and law charges, 113,000l.; highway salaries, 52,000l,; highway law charges, and incidental expenses, 14,000l.; total expense, 179,000l. But the surplus balance he had already calculated as 170,000l.; so that even taking those items into consideration, it would be seen that the establishment, viewed as a whole, was solvent. He was most decidedly of opinion that the plan he proposed would cause a very considerable reduction in costs of establishment, and the expenses of litigation; but even though no such result should be realised, the balance remaining over after the turnpike trust expenditure, would be more than sufficient to cover the expenses of the machinery. With regard to the subject of the unpaid interest, it amounted at present to 1,400,000l. It was proposed by his plan that all arrears of interest of more than ten years' standing should not be recoverable. He had been informed that in some cases the interest had not been paid for forty years, and in other cases not for sixty; but he was sure that the House would concur with him in thinking that it was not fair that such arrears should be charged upon taxes to be levied on the travellers existing in the present day. Ten years was the period of limitation he was prepared to recommend; but it was very possible that upon such a 1342 point there might be diversity of opinion, and he was therefore quite willing that it should be carefully canvassed on a future occasion. That some limitation ought to be determined on was certain. He was well aware that there was a considerable number of trusts which were insolvent, or nearly so; and he was of opinion, that when the bonds came to be examined and valued, it would be seen that a very considerable reduction in the debts claimed ought to take place. By a reference to the report of the commissioners who were appointed to value the roads in South Wales, and to determine the diminution that should be made in the debt, he found the results thus stated:—The total amount of debt claimed was 290,722l. 19s. 7d.—the sum awarded was 214,783l. 14s., being a reduction of 27 per cent, or more than one quarter of the whole sum claimed. There were thirty-one trusts in the six counties: in fifteen of these the bondholders received the full amount of their securities, in nine they were paid at a discount of from 10 to 20 per cent; in five, at a discount varying from 20 to 50 per cent; in one case, the sum received was 20l., and in another only 10l., or a mere nominal sum. Therefore, taking into consideration the reductions which could be made on account of arrears of interest due for more than ten years, and making allowance for the deductions which must of necessity take place through the process of composition, he thought he was at liberty to assume, that if he reckoned 6 per cent as the sum annually accruing on account of the whole debt of 6,609,000l., he would be calculating as much as the turnpike trusts would be called upon to meet. He could state, that if over the whole of England the sum total of the tolls were devoted to the extinction of the debts in trust, those debts would be extinguished in four years and a half. He had prepared a statement illustrating the operation, in a few particular districts, of the plan which he desired to see extended to the country at large. He would first instance the case of Stokenchurch turnpike trust: there the interest on the debt was 550l.; repairs, 1,465l.; salaries, law charges, and incidental expenses, 472l.; total income, 2,487l. According to his plan the case stood thus:—interest, 520l.; repairs, 1,465l.; sinking fund, at the rate of 2 per cent, 305l.; surplus, 197l. In the county of Oxford the case was as follows:—interest on the debt, 3,557l.; repairs, 9,818l.; debts paid off, 1343 1,350 l.; salaries, law charges, &c., 3,014l; total, 17,739l. According to his plan the facts stood thus:—interest on the debt, 3,420l.; repairs, 9,818l.; sinking fund of 2 per cent, 1,710l.; surplus, 2,791l. Taking the whole of England (excluding Wales) he found that there was paid at present—for interest, 262,711l.; repairs, 651,746l.; debts paid off, 167,102; salaries, 147,898l.; total, 1,229,457l. By his plan the interest would be 255,501l.; repairs, 651,746l.; sinking fund two per cent, 127,750l.; leaving a surplus of expenditure to the amount of 194,460l. According to the present law, no provision whatever was made for the gradual extinction of the principal of the turnpike debt; and if they continued their practice of renewing local Acts without saying one word about the necessity of creating a sinking fund, the youngest amongst them would be dead before the debt was extinguished. His plan would provide for the gradual extinction of the debt in a period not exceeding at the most twenty-eight years; and within a shorter period still, at the discretion of those counties which, being less burdened than others, might prefer some more expeditious mode than a sinking fund of 2 per cent. According to the Turnpike Acts at present in force, trustees were bound to give preference to the payment of interest to bondholders, before any money whatever was expended on the repair of the roads; so that his plan, which contemplated the formation of a sinking fund, implied no material departure from the spirit of the existing Acts. Those Acts made no provision for the gradual extinction of the debt, and the consequence was, that an addition of 6,500,000l. was made to the national debt of England, without the hope of redemption. Other modern enactments had expressly acknowledged the principle that monies advanced should be gradually repaid out of the local rates and taxes. Thus, for instance, loans advanced for the building of union or parish workhouses, had originally to be repaid in ten years—subsequently the term was enlarged to twenty years—county bridges, fourteen years; county prisons, station houses, and strong rooms under the Police Acts, twenty years; shire halls, fourteen years; lunatic asylums, thirty years, and so on; and he was clearly of opinion that it would be most judicious practically to acknowledge the same principle in any new measure with respect to the turnpike trusts. With respect to the machinery by 1344 which the Bill should be carried out; that was a question which might be more satisfactorily arranged in Committee. He would only observe that the principle of placing all the roads in a county, both turnpikes and highways, under the management of a hoard of the county magistrates, appeared to him to be that part of the project which met with most general approbation. With respect to the distribution of the country into districts, the Bill proposed to take the limits of the poor-law unions; but this was a point that had created more difference of opinion than the county boards. He thought that it would not be advisable to put the counties to the trouble, the inconvenience, and the expense of electing a new set of municipal local bodies. The duty of the local boards, for which purpose it would be necessary that they should meet about six times in the year, would be to superintend the expenditure and management of the roads—which of course would be in the hands of the surveyors—the amount to be expended being fixed by the county boards. His opinion was that the poor-law guardians as already constituted might very properly be entrusted with the powers of the local highway boards, though if any other machinery should be suggested for the purpose, he should be ready to give to the suggestion his best consideration. The proposition that the highway rate should be extinguished, and the whole charge imposed on the county rate, would be in effect an alteration in name rather than in substance. If, however, it should be thought desirable to keep up the name of a highway rate, he knew of no reason for not making the charge as a county highway rate, but distinguishing it from the ordinary county rate. His opinion, generally, was in favour of the consolidation of rates as far as possible, in order to avoid the expense of collection and confusion which must necessarily attend the levying of a variety of rates. He had now stated the changes which it was proposed to make in the Bill, in order to meet the views of the House. The Government had not the least wish to press the matter forward with any undue celerity; on the contrary, they considered it was highly desirable to give time for the fullest consideration. This being the case, he was prepared to adopt any course that the general feeling of the House indicated as most convenient. If the House was willing to entertain the plan which he had 1345 sketched out, and would allow the Bill to be read a second time, it might then be committed pro formâ, reprinted, and circulated for more mature consideration.
§ MR. W. MILES
had come down to offer the Bill his most decided opposition; but after the speech just delivered by the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, he found that the measure had undergone so complete a change that many of its most obnoxious provisions had been totally removed. [Cries of "No, no!"] Well, perhaps he was wrong in saying they were totally removed, but at all events they were very much modified. He was decidedly opposed to any kind of imposition upon the county rate to aid the payment of the permanent debt of turnpike trusts. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill had entered into a variety of statements, the materials for which were of course most accessible to him; and it would be highly desirable that the House should have an opportunity of considering the documents upon which the statements had been made before they gave their assent to the principle of the Bill. He was at first a decided opponent of the Bill, but now that the hon. Gentleman had abandoned the charge to be imposed upon the county rate, and had allowed turnpike trusts to pay their debts by degrees, he thought the measure had been shorn of many of its objectionable parts. He suggested that the second reading should be adjourned, the Bill reprinted with the Amendments, and that the documents referred to by the hon. Member should be laid upon the table, in order that hon. Gentlemen might have an opportunity of seeing whether it was possible that the turnpike trusts would be able to pay their debts in the course of twenty-eight years. He had been of opinion that the bonded debt on turnpike trusts, from 1834 to the present year, had increased; but he was surprised to find this was not the case, for it appeared that since 1834 no less than 100,000l. of the debt had been paid off. This showed that the turnpike trusts possessed within themselves a power to pay off their own debts. The representation made by the hon. Gentleman with reference to the South Wales Act was not quite correct, for he had forgotten to mention that an advance had been made by the Public Works' Commissioners at the commencement, of 225,000l., which formed the original sinking fund by which the debt was to be paid off. The hon. Gentleman had 1346 said, that the debt upon these trusts was 290,000l.; now, he (Mr. Miles) held in his band a return, up to the 5th of July, 1848, in which he found that in 1844 the bonded debt was 461,905l., and the unpaid interest 57,086l. [Mr. LEWIS: That is, for all Wales, both north and south.] He admitted then that he was in error; but still there was an advance of 225,000l. to meet the 290,000l., which reduced the balance of the bonded debt to be paid to about 60,000l. or 70,000l. He hoped the Government would consent to the postponement of the second reading of the Bill, in order that more time might be afforded to consider its provisions; at the same time he was willing, without any party bias, to enter fully into their discussion, though he admitted that he did not wish to preclude himself from even now determining to support the second reading.
reminded the hon. Gentleman opposite, who wished to postpone the second reading in order to afford time for further consideration, that no postponement could take place until they had gone into Committee pro formâ. He had not heard the whole of the hon. Under Secretary's statement, but he understood that no material alterations had been made in the Bill. He objected to the clause which left the expenditure of the county money to the control of the guardians, and he also objected that those boards should have the appointment of the public officers who were to do the work. The experience of the past convinced him that it was objectionable in principle, so he hoped the boards would not have the appointment of officers left in their hands. He begged to know whether the chairman and vice-chairman of the board of guardians were also to be the chairmen of the local boards? Though he entertained the objections to which he alluded, he hoped the Bill would be read a second time.
MR. CORNEWALL LEWIS
observed, in reply to the hon. Gentleman, that the clause provided that the chairman and vice-chairman of the boards of waywardens were not necessarily to fill the corresponding offices in the local road boards, though they were not to be prevented from doing so, if chosen.
§ MR. WILSON PATTEN
said, the Bill when originally introduced had created great alarm, and it had been the intention of several hon. Members to oppose it; but after the attention which the hon. Under Secretary had paid to the various suggestions 1347 thrown out, it was not his (Mr. Patten's) intention to oppose the second reading of the Bill. He thought it very desirable to read the Bill a second time, and commit it pro formâ with the intended alterations, so that the House might see it in its new shape. The Bill involved one difficulty. As he understood it, the security of the mortgagees of solvent trusts would not be in any way improved by its provisions; and many trusts, which were perfectly solvent, would consider it a great hardship if they were called upon to pay interest when they would not be improved, but rather left in a worse position. He considered the return with regard to the county of Lancaster to be of a most alarming character. The debt of that county on turnpike trusts was gradually increasing. Owing to the immense number of railways, perhaps, those trusts had been more affected than any other in the kingdom, and the consequence was, that the expenditure amounted to 133,000l., whilst the total income was only 132,000l. As the Bill stood before, it was clear that a heavy additional burden would have been placed on the county rates; but the improvement had been so great that he did not intend to offer any opposition to the second reading, but trusted the House would allow the Bill to be committed pro formâ.
§ MR. BRIGHT
had intended to suggest the postponement of the second reading, to give a little more time to the country for considering it; but he understood now that it was not proposed to go into Committee at an early period, probably not earlier than three weeks or a month hence. [Mr. G. C. LEWIS: Hear, hear!] If so, he thought it might be desirable to pass the second reading, and have the Bill reprinted with the amendments, and circulated through the country, in order that it might be known exactly what was proposed. He would also suggest to Members, that when measures of this nature were brought forward—measures of extraordinary magnitude, and involving a variety of interests—they should come to their consideration with a disposition not to find fault unnecessarily—or to insist upon the admission of every alteration which each individual might wish to see made—but rather with a desire to make such fair concessions and compromises without which no Government could hope successfully to carry such measures through. His experience as a road trustee—which was not large, as he had never been a member but of one trust—led 1348 him to the conclusion that the saving in the expenditure would, under the new management, be much greater than the hon. Gentleman had calculated upon. There was one point in which he most cordially approved of the proposition of the Government, that was the constitution of the county road board. He was not one of those who considered that, as a body, the county magistrates were not capable of efficiently performing their duties; but he believed they were not singularly calculated to act in such affairs without assistance from some other source. Their meetings were not always regular, and their attendance was much less so; the business generally being left to a few of the most active and energetic members. He thought, therefore, that the arrangement which provided that the magistrates, who were in a certain degree responsible, should appoint some of the most active and efficient members of their body to meet and act with the waywardens, was, probably, the best that could be adopted, and one that must give satisfaction to all parties interested. Speaking of the measure generally, if met in the spirit of fair and reasonable concession he had suggested, he believed it might be made most efficient for its purpose.
§ MR. CHRISTOPHER
would not oppose the second reading of the Bill; but he had some doubts with respect to the proposed alteration of the security afforded for these turnpike trust debts. He understood the hon. Under Secretary to say, that he considered the tolls sufficient to supply that security, and that he proposed to establish an uniform county rate. Now, upon a great many parishes in England, where the roads were kept in good repair, and where the poor-rate and the highway rate were not jumbled together, the highway rate fell very lightly; but upon other parishes the rate fell heavily. The Bill proposed a uniform rate on the county; but this course would inflict great injustice upon those parishes where the highway rates were now exceedingly low. There was an immense difference between the amount of the highway rates in different parishes of the same county; and the highway rates in some parishes were actually higher than the assessment for poor-rates in other parishes. When the poor-law enactment came into operation, he understood the practice to have been this—that the rate was levied in proportion to what the amount of rate for the poor in the district had been for a certain number of 1349 years. Now, if some such principle as this were introduced into this Bill, a great portion of the objection to a uniform rate would be removed. He was opposed to making the county responsible for the debt upon the roads; but as the Government proposed to modify this part of the Bill, and give the country time for the consideration of the alterations, he did not think it right, under the circumstances, to oppose the second reading.
§ SIR G. STRICKLAND
said, that the main feature and principle of the Bill, in his opinion, was to take the management of the roads out of the local management, and make it county management. He must say he objected to that principle. He thought it was a departure from the old English custom of allowing local boards to manage their own affairs. He quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Christopher), that there was a very great variety in the management of the roads in different parts of the country. In some districts the management was good, and the roads were kept in excellent repair; but in other districts the management was bad, and the rates were consequently high. This, he considered, was an argument for improving the management as it existed at present in small localities, but not of transforming the management to a general principle, which, in his opinion, would utterly fail. He did not think the magistrates' board or the board of guardians would work well. Some hon. Gentlemen had said, that the boards of guardians conducted their affairs with great intelligence, and he admitted that, as far as the poor-rate was concerned, no bodies could be more efficient; but, of all persons in the country, the little farmers were the people most jealous of expenditure on account of roads, and least anxious to amend them. They had a decided hostility to be under the surveillance of distant authorities, and their local feelings were so strong that he was sure the boards of guardians would not work well with the magistrates. If, however, it was determined to take the roads out of the present management, it would, he thought, be more desirable to let the magistrates have the appointment of the surveyors, who should be responsible for the due and efficient performance of the work.
§ MR. HENLEY
wished to call attention to the fact, that the Government was now about to introduce a practice which the resolutions of the Committee last year 1350 had condemned, in asking them to take the second reading of a Bill pro formâ, and to discuss the principle of it afterwards. Nothing could be more inconvenient than that practice, and he begged to ask the Government if they thought they were treating the House fairly in reviving it. They had cast all sorts of reflections on hon. Gentlemen for debating questions out of turn; and yet they now called on the House to allow this Bill to pass a second reading, and then go into Committee on a perfectly new Bill. They could not blame hon. Members, therefore, if they availed themselves of the only opportunity they had left of stating their objections to the measure. It was unfair to attempt to shut the House out from discussing it. The better course would be for them to adopt the recommendation of the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. W. Miles), to withdraw the Bill and reprint it. They would not lose a week by doing so, and hon. Members could then come forward and debate the measure with a full knowledge of its nature. The only difference between this measure and that of last year was, that it threw a smaller burden on the counties for a greater time, and that, instead of the debts being paid off' in twenty-one years, they were to be paid oft' in twenty-eight years. As far as the county rates went, it made no difference. Under the old proposal they had the security of the whole county rate; now they were only offered the security of their own tolls, after undergoing such sublimation in the crucible of the hon. Gentleman opposite as he might think fit to give them. There were some very suspicious words used about the Bill. They had been told "the circumstances of the trusts would be considered." Did that mean the length of time they had to run? Did they intend to lay down no principle on which the arbitrations on turnpike trust debts were to be conducted? Surely something of the kind must be done. The Government would not propose to deal in such a way with the national debt, which was secured by Act of Parliament, just as turnpike trusts were, nor would they venture to apply such a measure towards railways. He hoped they would not press on the second reading, but would withdraw it and bring in another Bill with the proposed alterations, so that the House and the country, as well as the bondholders, among whom considerable anxiety prevailed, might have an opportunity of coming to some mature conclusion. The Government deserved the thanks of 1351 the House for grappling with so important a subject, and required no apology if they were not altogether successful; but he begged of them not to force the House into a practice which had already led to evils that it was the honest desire of every Member to avoid during the present Session.
§ SIR G. GREY
wished to correct an erroneous impression entertained by the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken as to the course which the Government proposed to adopt with regard to the second reading of this Bill. His hon. Friend (Mr. C. Lewis), in moving the second reading, had no intention to shut out discussion upon the principle of the Bill. He only asked the House to consent to the second reading, after discussing the principle, and said that, having made some alterations with reference to the mode of extinguishing the trust debt, in consequence of suggestions he had received from various quarters, if the House agreed to the principle of the Bill by allowing it to pass a second reading, they might go into Committee only pro formâ, and afterwards have the Bill reprinted with the alterations. There was nothing in the rules to prevent that course from being pursued, for the rules had been so framed as to reserve to the House the power of adopting the most convenient practice for facilitating the progress of public business, namely, that a Bill might, if necessary, be committed pro formâ, to allow it to be printed with the alterations in its details; and if they went into Committee pro formâ, there was nothing to hinder hon. Gentlemen who did not approve of the alterations from stating their objections on the Motion that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair for the House to go again into Committee after the Bill had been reprinted. The question was, what was the principle of the Bill? If it was simply to make the county rates a collateral security for the payment of the debt of the turnpike trusts, then he must admit that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) could not, entertaining the views he had expressed, concur in the course recommended by his hon. Friend (Mr. C. Lewis), but, on the contrary, must oppose the Bill altogether. But he (Sir G. Grey) thought his hon. Friend had stated the principle of the Bill. It certainly was stated in the preamble, which recited—Whereas it is expedient that the laws relating to turnpike roads, and to highways, and public bridges in England, and certain parts of Wales, should be altered and amended, and that turn- 1352 pike roads, highways, and bridges should hence-forth he placed under the same management and control, and that the administration thereof, under one joint and uniform system, should be vested in competent authority, &c.However, in this Bill the objections formerly urged against the original plan for a central administration, proposed some years ago, had been obviated, by still leaving a portion of the old local management to continue in existence, but not that portion which bad caused the evils which were now attempted to be remedied. He therefore hoped the House would consent to the second reading of this Bill now, on the understanding that it would be committed only pro formâ, with the view of being reprinted; and he could assure the House it would not be asked to go into Committee again until sufficient time had been allowed for the consideration of the details.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
observed, that the right hon. Baronet who had just spoken had asked the House not only to agree to the commitment of the Bill pro formâ, but had proposed that it should absolutely consent to the principle of it. The principle to which he (Mr. Newdegate) objected, was the casting on the county rate the liability of turnpike trusts. The only alteration now proposed was that a sinking fund should be provided out of the funds derivable from the tolls; but if that fund proved inadequate, the liability was to fall upon the county rates. The Bill before the House was in a great measure a blank, and he objected to it on the ground that it was impossible to say what was its real character. They had had an opportunity of consulting their constituents with respect to the measure as it was originally introduced; but as it appeared that the measure was to be completely changed, it was impossible to say whether the objections made to the Bill in its original form would apply to it in its altered state. It appeared to him, therefore, very injudicious to proceed to the second reading now, inasmuch as neither the Members of the House nor their constituents had had any opportunity of coming to a clear understanding upon it. The hon. Under Secretary who introduced the Bill quoted returns from England and South Wales; but as those returns had not been placed in the hands of hon. Members, it was impossible for him to understand their nature or application, and therefore he should oppose the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. ROBERT PALMER
said, that he 1353 had come down expressly to oppose the second reading of the Bill, because he considered it unjust to throw upon the county rates the debts owing by turnpike trusts. He wanted to know upon what principle it was proposed to make one party liable for the incumbrances of another? He believed that in all oases of turnpike trusts, the party who thought proper to lay out his money on bonds from these trusts, expected to receive a very good interest for it. The bonds were of marketable value, and were always purchased with the risk of whether a good or a bad bargain had been made. How, then, was the country to be chargeable with the payment of debts so contracted? He confessed that he was very much in the position of the hon. Member for Somersetshire; and that, as the Bill was to be completely altered, he would not now op-oppose its second reading, provided he was not considered as committed to it in any way at a future stage. But as the proposed alteration was intended to be so extensive, he thought it would be very desirable if the Bill, as now laid upon the table, were withdrawn; and if a new measure, embodying the projected propositions, was brought in, and the discussion upon that measure postponed to a future day. He understood from the opening speech of the hon. Under Secretary, the proposer of the measure, that that portion of the Bill which threw the burden of the payment of the debts upon the county rate had been withdrawn; but from the course the discussion had since taken, he was not now quite so clear that the county rate was to be altogether discharged from liability, assuming that all the turnpike trusts and tolls were placed in the hands in which it was intended to deposit them. The question seemed to arise, upon what fund were the repairs of the roads to be charged? As the law now stood, if a turnpike trust were insolvent, the burden must fall upon the parish through which the road passed; and, therefore, in point of fact, if there were not hereafter sufficient tolls upon the roads, then it seemed to him that, whether they called it by one name or by another, these repairs would very likely fall upon the county rate. He wished to ask the hon. Under Secretary one question, in order to understand the principle upon which he proposed to proceed. He understood the intention to be, that all the turnpike trusts and tolls in one county were to be placed under one county board, and that 1354 with respect to the highway rates, the money was to be thrown into a general fund, from which all the roads in the county were to be repaired. Now, was that so, and, if so, was it a fair proposition? It was well known that some turnpike trusts were solvent, and others insolvent; and was the House going to benefit the insolvent at the expense of the solvent? The same question might be asked with reference to the future distribution of the highway rates; for he thought it very material to consider whether it would be fair to extend the area in which the money was to be expended over the whole county, seeing that the circumstances in one part of that country might be very different from those in another part.
§ SIR W. JOLLIFFE
concurred in many of the observations of the last speaker, but not in the opinion which he expressed when he said the second reading should be postponed on account of the great changes that had been made in the principle of the Bill since it was laid on the table. He admitted the alteration with respect to the turnpikes was a very extensive one; and he (Sir W. Jolliffe) did not quite understand whether the county or the local boards were to have anything more to do with turnpike trusts. So far as he understood, the whole of the turnpike trusts were to be formed into unions of counties, and to be managed exclusively by a board of commissioners in London. At the same time he should say, that the evils of the present law were so great, both as regarded turnpikes and highways, that he was surprised to find so many country gentlemen not entertaining a wish that some large measure should be at once introduced to remedy existing grievances. They could not stand in a worse position than that in which they were at present. There were collected on the turnpike trusts 1,267,000l., and on the highways 1,500,000l. Since the adoption of railways the whole of this burden, to the amount of nearly 3,000,000l., fell almost exclusively on the landed interest. There was no interest that suffered more from this taxation than the farmers—it interfered with all their operations—and, so far as they were concerned, the Bill would effect a great improvement. With regard to the interest of bondholders in turnpike trusts, be might say that he held some of those bonds himself, and received upon them various rates of interest, but they were all unsaleable in the market. The 1355 whole 6,000,000l. in those bonds were locked up, and there was not any real security for a single shilling of it. No hon. Gentleman would think he had provided for his son, his daughter, or his wife by leaving them such bonds at the period of his dissolution. Surely, then, the circumstances of these bondholders ought to be taken into the consideration of the House. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the measure had not explained the principle of assessing the value of the property in South Wales, but he (Sir W. Jolliffe) supposed the assessment would be on the interest received on an average of years. That was the principle on which the House had acted with reference to the Church property and a variety of other properties with which they had to deal, and he could not conceive why the bondholders should not he dealt with on a similar principle. They should get the full value of what they were entitled to.
§ MR. SPOONER
said, his hon. Friend who had just resumed his seat, had expressed his surprise that country Gentlemen should oppose the present Bill; but the hon. Baronet ought to be aware that the agricultural interest was now severely taxed, and that the pressure and unfair principle of taxation to which it was subjected would both he increased if this Bill passed. It had been said in the course of that debate, that the objection to the principle of the Bill had been totally removed by the speech of the hon. Proposer. But it was very little removed; for what was the plan proposed by the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State? It was this—to take the tolls now answerable for the repairs of roads, and to apply them in making up deficient tolls, and then to come upon the county for the repairs of roads. He believed that a great number of turnpike trusts were not only solvent, but that they had a surplus; and if that surplus were properly managed, there would be very few roads which would come upon the highway rates. At present, this surplus was sufficient to keep a largo proportion of the roads in repair; but by the Bill now proposed, it would be taken and applied to the insolvent roads, and then by a sort of roundabout way, the repairs of the solvent roads would be charged upon the county. It was without exception the grossest deception that had ever been attempted upon the House, to say that the alteration now intended to be made would lessen the county rates. His opinion was, 1356 that it would greatly aggravate the county rates. He had attended a meeting of the farmers of Warwickshire a few days since, when, however they might have differed on other subjects, they were unanimously of opinion on this, that the present Bill was a gross job—an unjustifiable attempt to lay upon the county rates an additional burden, which they were unable to bear, which they ought not to hear, and which the landed interest would resist to the utmost of their power. Then, what was the way in which it was proposed to deal with the bondholders? Why, the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State was about to go to a solvent road, where the bondholder received 5 per cent, and to say to him that he should in future receive only 4 per cent; and then having, by a forced reduction of the interest, lowered the value of the bonds, compel the holder of such bonds to sell them at a price to be fixed by arbitrators. Was that common justice or common honesty? When the Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced the 3 per cent consols to 2½, he was compelled to offer to pay the money; and that ought to be the case with the bondholder. He was, however, to be dealt with on a new principle, and one totally separated from honesty. It was a principle which he was sure hon. Members of that House would not sanction. It was not only a new principle to introduce, but it was a plan totally separated from everything like honesty. He was sure that the House would not sanction it—that they would never make a man take a lower interest than he had been receiving, without allowing him to sell out to the best advantage; and that they would not compel him to sell at such prices as the arbitrators might choose to allow for his property. He knew many bondholders in Warwickshire, and he could assure the House that a great bulk of the money advanced to the trusts was owing to persons of limited income—to men who had lent their 100l. or 200l.—and that sums of 400l and 500l. were due to widows, and that the interest upon that money was the entire means of support which those women possessed. Was it fair to compel persons of this class to take 4 per cent? He could not conceive that the House would lend itself to such a monstrous principle as was involved in the Bill. He agreed with the suggestion previously thrown out, that it ought to be withdrawn and remodelled; and he believed it would be for the interest of the Government 1357 themselves to adopt that course. He was by no means opposed to a general measure which would remedy the general evil; but he could not consent to any Bill at the sacrifice of common honesty, neither could he throw upon the counties an additional burden which they were unable to bear. He was perfectly convinced that if the plan now proposed were not withdrawn, the opposition to it which was at present springing up in the country would come upon the Government in the shape of an overwhelming torrent, because to whatever part of England he had gone, he there found one general feeling of disapprobation against the principle of the proposition. Before the House was called upon to give an opinion on this measure, let them have it in the form Her Majesty's Ministers intended to propose it. He had a petition against the Bill; but so many alterations were to be made, that he should not present it, for this simple reason, that he knew not under the circumstances what he might be petitioning against. If any hon. Gentleman would second him, he would move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ MR. MANGLES
called the attention of the hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading to the absence of any provision in the Bill giving compensation to parties who were clerks of the present trusts. It was a principle that nothing should be taken away from any man in which he had a vested interest, or anything like a vested interest, without giving him compensation; and therefore he thought that that observation did not deserve the censure which hon. Gentlemen had been pleased to pass upon it. The office was looked upon in the country as one tenable during good behaviour.
§ SIR J. TYRELL
thought the hon. Gentleman must have forgotten that the Speaker was in the chair, when he made a suggestion which ought to have been reserved until the House was in Committee on the Bill. In the present instance they were very much out of place. He had not the advantage of hearing the hon. Under Secretary of State propose his alterations; but as he believed they were numerous, it would not be in their power to consult their constituents with regard to them before the second reading, if the hon. Gentleman should persist in his intention. He thought the hon. Gentleman would act wisely if he conceded to the general feeling of the 1358 House, and withdrew the Bill, for the purpose of introducing it in an amended form. They on that side were all anxious that a comprehensive measure should be passed on this subject. It was very flattering, no doubt, to the existing hoards of poor-law guardians to be nominated under this Bill for the management of the highway rate; but he apprehended that they had a much greater amount of business to attend to than hon. Gentlemen supposed. He thought the hon. Gentleman would best consult the feelings of the House and the interests of the country if he consented to have the Bill withdrawn and reprinted.
MR. VERNON SMITH
said, that the hon. Gentleman who had introduced the Bill had proposed to take the course which was usually taken on such occasions—namely, to go into Committee pro formâ, for the purpose of altering the Bill and reprinting it, and afterwards discussing it in Committee. He thought it would be very objectionable to withdraw the Bill now, because a great deal of time would be lost by bringing in a new Bill. For five successive Sessions a measure on that subject had been brought under the consideration of Parliament; and he hoped the House would not allow the present Session to pass away without applying a remedy to evils which were generally admitted. The point which had been most discussed was, whether the turnpike trusts should be charged on the county rates; but one of the most important principles of the Bill was, whether turnpike trusts should be under one combined management with highways. If he thought that reading the Bill a second time was reading it pro formâ only, he should object to it; but he agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State that the second reading of the Bill did commit the House to the principle of combined management. Another principle was the extension of the area of which surveys were to be taken, and also a better audit of highway accounts. His hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Commission, would agree with him in the difficulty found to exist in checking poor-law expenditure, because a great deal of it was smuggled into the Highway Rate Acts. He feared that, unless the House now agreed to the second reading, no Bill on the subject would pass during the present Session.
§ MR. BANKES
agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that they were not called on to read the Bill a second time pro formâ, 1359 but to sanction its principle and the whole of the important principles contained in the preamble. They were called on to sanction the principle that a county board should take the management of all the roads and turnpike trusts of a county. They were also called on to sanction the principle of amalgamating all the turnpike trusts, solvent and insolvent, and of making the solvent answerable for those trusts which were not solvent. He was not pro-pared to sanction those principles by his vote without a much larger degree of consideration being given to them. The apprehension that the whole expense would fall on the county rate, was well worthy the gravest attention. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, seemed to think that he had in this Bill obviated the objections to the former Bill, with regard to the principle of centralisation. That was not quite true, for it was proposed that the final decision in all disputes should rest with an arbitrator to be appointed by the Government. He did not think they were in a condition to sanction those principles, and would therefore urge on the Government the necessity for some delay prior to the second reading. For this purpose he should have no objection to move the adjournment of the debate for six weeks. ["No, no!"] It seemed to be more agreeable to his Friends that he should negative the second reading. ["No, no!"] He could not vote in favour of the principle of the Bill as it now stood, and should therefore move that the Bill be withdrawn.
§ MR. HUME
believed that a Bill for consolidating the county trusts would be one of the most important which could be adopted by the House. He was of opinion, that if hon. Members who objected to this Bill would take the trouble to ascertain the expense which the public roads entailed upon counties, they would withdraw their opposition to the measure. Twelve years had now elapsed since he introduced a Bill to consolidate county trusts, to place their financial affairs under the control of a distinct department, and also to consolidate the surveys of roads. That Bill was read a first time; but the country Gentlemen did not choose to accept the reform which he proposed, and the measure was rejected. It was hardly necessary to say, that he approved of the consolidation clauses of the present Bill; but he thought that the parties who were to exercise power under 1360 the measure ought to be appointed, wholly or in part, by the ratepayers of counties, as was proposed in his (Mr. Hume's) Bill. He hoped that the hon. Member (Mr. Bankes) would not press his proposal for adjourning the debate for six weeks, because one week now was worth three at the end of the Session.
§ MR. MACKINNON
, as Chairman of the Committee which sat twelve years ago upon this subject, to which he paid considerable attention, begged to tender his thanks to the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for having introduced this measure. He believed that one-half of the hon. Gentlemen who had spoken that afternoon had entirely mistaken the object of the Bill; for they had asserted that its object was to establish a system of centralisation for the management of the highways of this country, whereas it was only intended to consolidate the turnpike and highway trusts in each county. Unless some such measure as the present were immediately passed, the results would be most injurious to the country at large. He believed that the hon. Gentleman had proceeded in this matter with the greatest care. He bad propounded just such a plan as he (Mr. Mackinnon) himself would have presented to the House. Hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House had said that this Bill would commit a great injustice, inasmuch as it proposed to pay the debts of insolvent trusts out of the funds of those that were solvent. He contended that it would commit no injustice whatever, and that it was in fact a direct boon to the insolvent on the one hand, whilst, on the other, it did not injure the property of those interested in the solvent trusts, as it would only be the superabundance of the tolls collected that would be diverted from the wealthy trust. If some measure of this character were not speedily adopted, it was clear that the widows and orphans to whom hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches had alluded, would soon lose every shilling of the money standing in their names in the trusts to be affected by this Bill. As to the objection about this being a measure for centralisation of the trusts, he contended that it was no such thing: it did not propose to erect a central board in London; it merely proposed to congregate the trusts in each county, which would have the effect of materially diminishing the expenditure and jobbery in the separate management of each, which was 1361 notorious. He would not say that the Bill of the hon. Gentleman was the best that could have been devised; but of this he felt convinced, that it was a disgrace to the Government of the country that some such measure had not been adopted fifteen years ago. The hon. Under Secretary of State deserved the greatest credit for having grappled with the difficulties of this most important, but very little understood, question. This measure would let loose upon the country an immense sum of money, which was now tied up in turnpike trusts. As to the objection which had been raised to the mode of paying the debts of the trusts, he wished to remind hon. Members that the proposed mode of payment involved no new principle; it was the same as adopted in the poor-law unions. As to the principle of the Bill itself, it appeared that nobody objected to it; every one admitted that some such measure ought to be passed. The petty objections which had been raised to the Bill, could be considered in Committee; and he, therefore, saw no reason why the hon. Gentleman should not be allowed at once to press for the second reading of the Bill. To give hon. Gentlemen who opposed the Bill a full opportunity of examining it In detail, the Committee might be postponed for a month if desired.
§ MR. DEEDES
thought that, from what had been said that afternoon by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, it must be concluded that the House was anxious to legislate on this most important question, but at the same time he thought that the House had manifested as great an anxiety to understand thoroughly the measure propounded by the Government. He was most favourable to an alteration of the present system. He had practically seen the bad effects of that system, and he was anxious to see it effectually abolished; but he was not prepared to legislate in the dark. At present he would not enter into the details of this Bill. It had been observed by the hon. Member for Lymington (Mr. Mackinnon) that no objection had been made to the principle of the Bill by any hon. Gentleman who had addressed the House; but he (Mr. Deedes) held a very different opinion. He thought that a great many objections—whether sound or not he was not then prepared to say—had been made to the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman himself did not object to the Bill, the only reason that he (Mr. Deedes) could assume for his doing so was that the Bill was in 1362 such a state that he could not ascertain what the principle was. He hoped that the Government would consent to afford all parties interested in the measure full time for discussing the question, He thought that the hon. Under Secretary of State would expedite the object which he had in view, by withdrawing this Bill, and substituting another which should embody the material alterations now proposed. No time could eventually be lost by taking that course; and he hoped that the hon. Gentleman would adopt this suggestion, as it appeared to be in accordance with the strongly expressed feeling of a great portion of the House.
§ SIR J. DUCKWORTH
said, that the Bill involved not merely one but several principles; and he would ask under what circumstances hon. Gentlemen were placed who were called upon to decide in favour of or against a Bill, in one of whose principles they agreed, whilst they were totally opposed to the rest? He believed that if the area of management were extended, much of the present maladministration of highways would be remedied. As to the principle of paying off the debts of the trusts, he felt great difficulty in coming to a decision. He objected entirely to the payment of those debts by a county rate. He joined in the request that the hon. Under Secretary of State would for the present withdraw this Bill.
MR. CORNEWALL LEWIS
said, if the objection offered to the second reading of the Bill was simply that which had been made by the hon. Member for Warwickshire, and extended to the whole principle of the Bill, he should feel it his duty to press the House to come to a division at once upon the Bill, for no advantage could be gained, under such circumstances, in postponing the second reading. But after the remarks which he had heard from the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Duckworth), as well as from other hon. Gentlemen who had spoken in the course of this debate, it appeared to him (Mr. Lewis) that he might probably place the decision of this question upon an unfavourable ground if he asked some hon. Gentlemen who were favourable upon the whole to the principle of the Bill, but who did not quite understand the nature of the arrangement which was proposed with respect to the extinction of the debt, to proceed at once to vote on the question. He was, therefore, prepared to adopt the suggestion which had been made by 1363 several hon. Gentlemen, to withdraw the Bill, for the present, upon the understanding that it should be reintroduced immediately. The alterations to be made in the Bill would be, he thought, much less considerable than some hon. Members who talked about "the entire alteration of the Bill" appeared to imagine. The only alteration which it would be necessary to make in the Bill, would be to vary the wording of a few clauses out of 160. The reintroduction of the Bill could take place in a few days; and if he were allowed to withdraw the Bill for the present, he proposed to fix an early day for again proceeding with the new Bill. With regard to the remarks which were often made as to the accumulation of Government Bills at the end of the Session, he could only say, that this measure had been introduced at the earliest period of the present Session; and he thought that all must admit that it was desirable to dispose of the question as speedily as possible. If the House would permit him, he would now move that the Bill he withdrawn.
§ MR. HUME
very much regretted that the hon. Gentleman had consented to withdraw the Bill—because it would go forth to the public that the Government had renounced or given up their Bill. If, as the hon. Gentleman asserted, the Bill required alteration in only four or five of its clauses, surely that alteration could take place in Committee. If, however, the hon. Gentleman should give way to the opponents of the Bill so far as to consent to its withdrawal for the present, he hoped that he would fix the day on which he proposed to reintroduce it. He trusted that the interim would be short.
§ SIR G. GREY
thought that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lewis) had sufficiently guarded himself against the inference attempted to be drawn by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume). He had distinctly stated that with regard to the objections of the hon. Member for Warwickshire, which went to the whole principle of the Bill, and also with respect to that of the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, which went to the county rating, he should not consent to any postponement of the Bill, because, if he did, it would be manifest that the Government had yielded to those objections. But when several hon. Gentlemen stated that they were unwilling to proceed to a vote on the principle of the Bill till they had seen and had had an opportunity of considering the proposed al- 1364 terations of the Bill with respect to the turnpike trusts, he then felt that it was but fair to listen to their suggestion in favour of a withdrawal of the Bill for a brief period, feeling convinced of the truth of their statement that the passing of the Bill would not in reality be delayed by such withdrawal. In order to avoid all suspicion as to his having abandoned the measure, he had stated that immediately on the withdrawal of the Bill he intended to move for leave for its reintroduction.
§ MR. W. MILES
thought that the Government had exercised a most wise discretion in consenting to withdraw this Bill. It must be apparent, from what had already been said, that the principal ground on which the Bill was objected to was the mode in which it was proposed to deal with the existing debts of the turnpike trusts. If the Government consented to withdraw this Bill, he should not offer any obstruction to the first reading of the new Bill. A pause of ten days, or at least a week, should be allowed in the discussion of this question, so that the country might fairly understand on what principle this Bill proceeded.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.