HC Deb 12 March 1858 vol 149 cc156-9

LORD ELCHO, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to enable counties in Scotland to abolish Tolls and Statute Labour, and to maintain their public Roads and Bridges by Assessment, said, that the subject had been so repeatedly discussed at public meetings, and in the public prints, that it was unnecessary he should occupy the time of the House by entering into any arguments in favour of the change proposed by the Bill which he asked leave to introduce. He assumed that all were equally anxious to get rid of what was admitted to be a great inconvenience and check upon the communication between counties and parishes and at that hour of the evening therefore he would not do more than briefly enumerate the heads of the measure which he proposed. There were three main features in the Bill. In the first place, it left as much as possible a discretionary power to the local districts; in the second place, it was not compulsory, but was permissive in its character, and might be adopted or not by counties as they pleased; and, thirdly, it endeavoured as far as practicable to avail itself of existing machinery. The mode of making it optional was by leaving the adoption or non-adoption of it to the Commissioners of Supply. It had been urged that it should be left to some more extended body than the Commissioners of Supply; but if he went beyond them, he could not stop short of the Parliamentary constituencies; as we had now a Radical Conservative Government, with probably a Revolutionary Whig Radical Opposition, it was difficult to foresee what the franchise might be next year, and therefore he preferred to adhere for the present to those persons who by themselves or their tenants would pay the greater part of the assessment. A county, after the adoption of the Bill, would form a general county road board, which would consist of all the existing trustees of turnpikes, and a certain number of representatives, chosen one from each parish, and elected by the parochial board. This would, he believed, give a fair and liberal body; but it would be too numerous to act executively. he proposed, therefore, that the general body should elect not less than nine nor more than fifteen to work as a sort of Cabinet. They would not be liable, indeed, to sudden displacements like Cabinets in that House, for he proposed that they should be elected for three years, and that one-third should go out in each year, and should be eligible for re-election, like Cabinet Ministers in Parliament. That body would have under its control the entire management of the county roads. Before the last Session he drew up a Bill hurriedly, which was circulated very generally throughout Scotland, and was the means of eliciting very valuable information. The decided opinion of the people of Scotland was that a distinction should be made between boroughs and counties; that counties should he left to manage the roads within their districts, and boroughs be kept apart. That opinion was adopted in the present Bill. He had already moved for returns on that subject, and expected that they would be laid before the House shortly after Easter. These returns would enable the House to judges whether the proposal in this Bill to leave the towns to manage the roads in their boundaries and to give to the counties the management of those without those boundaries was equitable. He proposed that the roads both in towns and counties should be maintained by district assessments. His object was to leave each locality as much as possible to deal with its own matters, and with that view he proposed to enable the localities to levy the assessments in one of three modes. In doing so he had been guided very much by a very able Report drawn up on the subject by the county of Lanark—one of the most populous and influential counties in Scotland. That Report recommended that all tolls, without any exception, should be abolished, that the whole of the roads and bridges within boroughs should be placed under the management of the magistrates and town councils, and the remaining roads be placed under that of county boards. The Report also suggested that in making an annual provision for the annual expenditure, on account of the roads and bridges in counties, it should be left to the option of the several county boards to adopt one of three modes of assessment; first, a rate on horses with or without qualification; secondly, a rate on the occupants of land and heritages according to the rent; thirdly, a rate on horses classified or unclassified, and on the occupants of land and heritages. In another county the prevalent opinion was that the rates should be assessed upon property alone. The county that he had the honour to represent was of opinion that the rates should be assessed upon horses and property. He believed that the only way of coming to a conclusion was to give the local authorities the option of adopting whichever of the three modes they preferred. It would be in their power to exercise a discretion in levying the rate upon particular species of property, and there would be a right of appeal from them to the Sheriff. the next question he had to deal with was that of the road debts. He proposed to adopt the plan inserted in the Bill introduced last Session with regard to the Irish roads. A valuator duly appointed would be directed to estimate a road encumbered with debt at the market value, and an assessment would be made in proportion to that valuation. The total of the road debts in Scotland was £2,000,000, of which about £1,000,000 paid no interest at all. There were several minor details in the Bill with which he would not at present trouble the House, but would content himself with moving for leave to bring in a Bill to enable counties in Scotland to abolish Tolls and Statute Labour, and to maintain their public roads and bridges by assessment.


seconded the Motion.


said, he did not rise to offer any opposition to the introduction of the Bill, but to express his obligation to the noble Lord for the great pains which he had bestowed upon the subject. He, however, could not pledge his support to all the details of the Bill. He was not opposed to road reform, but thought that much improvement might be effected by the consolidation of trusts and other measures tending to obviate unnecessary expense. He feared, moreover, that however objectionable might be the system of levying tolls, very great difficulty would be experienced when they came to the question of assessments.


expressed his satisfaction that the noble Lord (Elcho) had given so much attention to this important subject. The system of tolls levied on roads was a very great evil, and he thought that in this matter England was far behind Ireland.


said the Government would not oppose the introduction of the Bill, but he must refuse to pledge himself to support it at a future stage.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lord ELCHO, Mr. MONCREIFF, and Sir EDWARD COLEBROOKE.