HC Deb 14 February 1859 vol 152 cc342-6

in moving that the Highways Bill be read a second time, said, that having moved the first reading of the Bill without any statement, he felt it to be his duty on the present occasion to very briefly state its main features. The question of the management of the public highways had been brought forward by successive Governments. On one point, all persons who had directed their attention to the subject were of accord, namely, that subdivision of districts and separation in the powers of management existed to so great an extent, as to amount to a great evil, and to render some change absolutely necessary. The money expended on highways in 1856 amounted to £2,149,733; in 1837 it amounted to only £1,113,434; so that in less than twenty years the expenditure on this head had increased by about £1,000,000. It was right, however, to say that during the same period the amount expended on turnpike trust roads had been diminishing in consequence of some of those roads having fallen into the hands of parishes. The amount expended on roads under turnpike trusts in 1837 was £1,742,237; in 1855 it was £1,105,482, showing a diminution of £636,000. When they considered the number of returns sent into the Home Office annually, from surveyors of highways—which amounted to £17,418—it must be clear to every one who had thought on the subject, that there were a larger number of surveyors employed in the supervision of highways than it was probable could consist entirely of persons fit to discharge the duties which these persons ought to perform. In many parishes there were, of course, efficient and active surveyors; but it was impossible, under the present system of road management, to secure that this should be the case generally; and the result was shown in neglect and wasteful management, with roads in a bad state of repair as a consequence. Some change in the system was evidently necessary. In 1835, an attempt was made in the General Highway Act to carry out, on a voluntary principle, that which he proposed by his Bill to make compulsory. He spoke in the presence of many hon. Gentlemen who were conversant with these matters; and he ventured to assert, that in every case where a district had been formed under the Act of 1835, where the parishes had come together, formed a district, and appointed a paid surveyor, the roads had been improved, while the rates had been diminished; that in every way, under this more independent administration, matters connected with the management of the highways advanced to a better condition than they had been in before these steps were taken. He had endeavoured, as far as possible, to adopt the principle with which, in a voluntary form, some parts of the country had, to a certain extent at least, become familiar. The principle of the system of management adopted in the Bill had been shadowed out by Sir Robert Peel in 1850. In the debate upon the Bill introduced by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Radnor (Sir G. C. Lewis), who pro- posed to make use of unions and Boards of Guardians for the management of Highways, Sir R. Peel said, after objecting to the plan proposed:— If the House should think there is any force in these considerations it would not be impossible, I think, to divide the country into districts convenient for the classification and management of the Highways, having due reference to the great changes made by the Railways, permitting the ratepayers to have a voice in the election of a board distinct from the Board of Guardians, whose single province should be to maintain the Highways in the best state at the least expense."—[3 Hansard, cviii. 752.]; Subsequently his (Mr. Hardy's) hon. Friend the Secretary for the Treasury, when in office in 1852, prepared a Bill in which it was proposed that a petty sessional division should be formed. That Bill did not come before the House. He (Mr. Hardy) had, after giving his attention to the objections to the various forms of division that had hitherto been proposed, considered whether it would not be possible to devise a plan by which districts might be formed for the express and only purpose of managing the highways. It appeared to him that this might easily be done. He was only carrying out what was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the member for Radnor (Sir George Lewis), and by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford (Mr. Massey) when he proposed to give power to justices in quarter sessions to create districts for the purposes of this Act, for in their Bills power was given to justices in sessions to alter the districts—namely, unions or sessional divisions if they thought proper. Why not then give to justices in petty sessions the power to fix the limits of districts in the first instance. His object was that certain roads—for instance, roads lying near one another and formed of similar material—might be included in one district and placed under the care of one surveyor, who would be able to manage them better in combination than they could be managed in any other way. Under Acts for local management there at present existed about 697 districts formed for certain local purposes. Regard might, under his Bill, be had to the existing arrangement of these districts, and surveyors might be appointed accordingly. He had also inserted in the Bill a clause giving the power to boroughs, having a separate commission of the peace, under certain circumstances, to take their roads into their own hands, and appoint their own surveyors. He had done this in order that those misunderstandings that might otherwise arise between boroughs and counties might be avoided. The main object of the measure was to get enlarged districts and skilled management, and not to mix up other objects with it; thus he would avoid that confusion which would be certain to result from an endeavour to carry out the innumerable suggestions which had been made for the improvement of the Highway Act itself. Any such attempt would inevitably lead to discussions that would extend over more than one Session. If the House gave him permission to read the Bill a second time, he thought when it came on for discussion in Committee—and he did not propose to take the Committee for three weeks—he would be able to show that if it passed into law, instead of their having 17,000 surveyors in the country, who could not manage the roads satisfactorily, they would have perhaps only 400 or 500 districts, in each of which they would have a surveyor, properly paid for his services, and who would be competent to put the high-ways under his charge into a fitting condition. In addition, they would have proper audits of surveyors' accounts and a correct account of the balances carried over from one year to another, which any Gentleman conversant with the management of highways knew was not the case at present. If this were effected he thought the House would admit that the ammendment of the Highway law would be much facilitated. If they had efficient district boards appointed by parishes, with the roads placed by those boards under district surveyors, he believed they would be able to accomplish all that was wished for by those who had for so long a time endeavoured to improve the present system. The hon and learned Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.


said, that his constituents complained of the manner in which this Bill dealt with the rights of parishes; and, had not the hon. Gentleman agreed to postpone the Committee on the measure for three weeks, he should have felt it his duty to divide the House on the second reading.


thought, the powers at present possessed by highway surveyors were excessive, and suggested that restrictions should be imposed on them by this Bill.


As the hon. Gentleman proposes to allow three weeks for the consideration of this measure before it goes into Committee, I do not think it would be convenient to enter at present into any discussion of its details. I merely rise for the sake of saying that I entirely give my assent to the principle of his Bill. We have had a great many highway Bills introduced in successive Sessions into this House, all involving, in different forms, a union of parishes or townships into one district for the maintenance of the roads. That is the principle on which this measure is founded—a principle which has my hearty concurrence. I would only state my decided opinion that the argument which I believe has prevailed very generally in this House to prevent the success of previous bills of this kind, namely that the formation of a highway district, with a surveyor receiving a small stipend, would add to the expense of maintaining the highways, is based upon an entire delusion. Experience has shown that, wherever that system has been tried, expense has not increased but diminished, and that while the cost of roads as not been greater, they have been more efficiently maintained. The system of districts for the maintenance of high ways was adopted in the Bill brought in and carried by the noble Lord the Member for Pembrokeshire (Viscount Emlyn), and applicable to six counties of South Wales; and after a trial of five years in that part of the country, it has been proved, as I can bear witness, in the most decisive manner, that economy, and not increased expenditure, has resulted from its operation. I trust, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will persist in his Bill, that the subject will receive full consideration in Committee, and that this Session may see some legislation consummated on this long-vexed question. I may add that, involving, as it does, a very large expenditure, the highway rates levied in England and North Wales, exceding £1,000,000 per annum, this question is one which fairly demands the attentive consideration of the House.


approved the measure as excellent in principle, and calculated to promote economy combined with efficiency.

Bill read 2o, and committed for Monday, 7th March.