HC Deb 09 June 1857 vol 145 cc1468-72

MR. MASSEY moved for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Laws relating to the management of Highways in England and Wales. He said, that under the existing law that portion of the highway which was not regulated by special Acts of Parliament, was governed by the Highway Act of 1835, which was based on a system of parochial management, but which had resulted in the whole management of the highways being practically vested in the parish surveyor. This was an officer elected on a low pecuniary qualification, and at hap-hazard, and when he said that he was an unpaid officer, he need hardly add that he was an incompetent officer. This parish surveyor had not only to manage the highways, he had other duties to perform; besides calling vestries together, removing nuisances, and assessing the parish to the rate, he had to levy the rate, and to discharge other duties connected with the highways, which would occupy the time of competent and skilful men. The result of the system was to cause almost universal dissatisfaction, and create a desire to get rid of a system of management which was no management at all. The object of the Bill he was about to propose was directed only to the management part of the Act of 1835, with a view of doing away with the system, and substituting another for it. He should have said that the audit of the parish surveyor's accounts was a mere nothing. He had only to verify his accounts on oath, and there was no means of checking them—no power to make him produce his vouchers or to disallow or reduce any of his charges—in short, there was no power anywhere to see that he did his duty. He had the sole management of everything relating to highways, and was responsible to no one. The result was, that under the present system the roads had fallen out of repair—there had been a great deal of jobbery—and a large fund, amounting to nearly a million—which ought to have been employed in those repairs—had been misappropriated. It would be perfectly idle to propose any amendment of the present law, which was not based on a solid foundation, and accordingly he proposed to introduce a different system. In the first place, he proposed to relieve the parish surveyor entirely of the duties now imposed on him, and to substitute, with some alterations, a system which had been for some time in operation in South Wales. That system was rather complicated, but might easily be simplified. The highways were under the direction of County Boards and District Boards, the latter of which did all the work. He did not propose to retain the County Boards, but to constitute District Boards, and to apportion the county into districts for the purpose of highways. He meant to go on the principle of dealing with the system of highways generally, without making any distinction with regard to turnpike roads. Then came a question as to the area over which those Boards should have the superintendence. On the one hand, they ought to avoid the narrow area that now existed, and which did not give sufficient scope for management; and, on the other, it was desirable not to spread the area over so wide a surface that the benefits of good management would be lost. He had, therefore, endeavoured to attain as favourable a medium as possible. The hon. Member for Petersfield (Sir W. Jolliffe), who held the same office under Lord Derby's Government that he (Mr. Massey) now did, left in his office a Bill on this subject, and, aware of the great knowledge which that hon. Gentleman possessed regarding it, he had endeavoured, as much as possible, to make the present Bill correspond with that of the hon. Gentleman. The opinion of the hon. Member for Petersfield was that the best mode of laying out the districts was not to follow the divisions of the Boards of Guardians but those of the petty sessions. This view he had adopted in the Bill. With regard to the constitution of the District Boards, he was desirous of having them composed of men acquainted with the local wants of the districts, and, therefore, he proposed that the resident magistrates of petty sessional divisions, and the incumbents of parishes should be ex officio members of the Boards. In order that the ratepayers should be represented, he proposed that every parish should elect a way-warden, whose qualification would be superior to the present parish surveyor, namely, that of a poor-law guardian. This, he believed, would give a Board composed of persons who took an interest in the district, and who would give their attention to the administration of the law. He next proposed that a surveyor with competent practical knowledge should be appointed by the Court of Quarter Sessions, and that he, under the control, direction, and superintendence of the District Board, should have practically the maintenance of the highways. Then, in order that the ratepayers should be satisfied that the funds were properly managed, provision was made for an annual audit of the accounts of the district, which would be examined and passed by the Boards. On the next point there might perhaps be some difference of opinion, because he proposed to make a material innovation in the present law. At present each parish assessed its own expenditure for roads, but he thought it would be more reasonable if the fund were a district than a local one, and, therefore, it was proposed that there should be a district rating. This part of the Bill applied to the rural districts only, but as a practice had lately grown up—a very salutary practice—of recognizing the efficiency and competency of corporate bodies to deal with matters of local interest, and, therefore, as regarded highways within municipal boundaries he proposed that the duty of superintending and managing them should devolve upon the town councils. He had carefully considered all the objections which had been urged to former schemes, had endeavoured to avoid them, and in this Bill had aimed at following what appeared to be the sense of Parliament and the exigencies of the case.


asked whether it was the intention of the hon. Gentleman to interfere with the management of those roads at present under the control of metropolitan trusts. [Mr. MASSEY: They will be excepted.] He would remind the hon. Gentleman that there were no less than 117 tollbars within six miles of the Post Office, and that £58,000 was thus collected in 10,000,000 separate sums. This was naturally felt to be a great grievance. The Legislature had been applied to to remedy a similar state of things in Dublin; and it was felt in London that the subject was one requiring the attention of the Government. He would press upon the hon. Gentleman the propriety of adding another service to those he was about to render, and to include the abolition of the tollbar nuisance in London in the Bill which he was now introducing.


concurred in thinking that almost any change made in the management of the highways must be for the better. There was no doubt that the present law required amendment, for the highway rate was now made subject to all sorts of irregular charges. The hon. Gentleman, however, would, he hoped, avoid one great error which had induced the failure of other propositions; he ought to make the Board really an elective one and not swamp it by the addition of too many nominated and ex officio members. The area of petty sessions adopted would in many instances be far too wide a one, and he would suggest that the hon. Gentleman should extend his inquiries into the management of highways under the Board of Health, when he would probably find quite as great a necessity for making alterations there as in the parochial districts. With regard to the great majority of corporate towns, the management of the highways was neither in the hands of the parochial nor of the corporate officers, but was vested in local commissioners appointed under the authority of local Acts of Parliament. The hon. Gentleman would probably find here also that there was as much misconduct among these commissioners as among parochial officers, and it would be worth considering whether it would not be necessary to interfere with such local Acts, and to take the management away from these commissioners.


wished to thank the hon. Gentleman for having introduced the measure, and to express his sense of the defects of the present system, which he said was utterly powerless to secure the good management of the high roads. He hoped provision would be made for enforcing the construction of foothpaths by the side of the high roads, so that the poorer as well as the richer classes might be accommodated, and that it might be possible to remove the tollbars in London still further from the town.

Leave given. Bill "to amend the Laws relating to the management of Highways in England and Wales," ordered to be brought in by Mr. MASSEY and Sir GEORGE GREY.

Bill presented, and read 1°.