§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. HODGKINSON
said, when the Bill of last Session was before the House he took the opportunity of ascertaining, so far as he could, the opinion of the district in which he resided upon it, and he ventured to say it was scarcely possible a stronger objection could exist on any subject than be found to exist against that Bill, which was very nearly identical in its provisions 1349 with the present measure. Although under the law at present, parishes had power to associate themselves into districts for a similar purpose, that power had been made available only to the most limited extent—he believed only in five or six instances. The fact that it had been actually adopted at all, and had never become more general, showed that it had been a failure. That power had been in existence ever since the present Highways Act was passed, namely for a period of twenty-five years. There could therefore hardly be a stronger evidence of the disinclination of the country to be divided into districts, as proposed by the present Bill. The principal reason urged by the Government in favour of this measure would probably be, that in the present state of the law, many roads were not in a satisfactory state. He admitted the fact, but he denied that a remedy would be found in any legislation such as that proposed by the Bill. The process of road-making was not one which could be carried into effect better by large boards than by the individual exertions of the present surveyors of highways. Every day's experience showed that works of that kind were carried on more economically and better in such a manner than by the operations of public Boards. If some roads were not in the condition which some Gentlemen desired to see them in, might not that fact arise partly from a wise economy? Did not every Gentleman acquainted with agricultural districts know that many roads were used to a very limited extent, and that any large expenditure on them would be out of proportion to the public benefit derived from them? The present Bill contemplated such a state of things, because by the 49th clause power was given to discontinue the repair of certain roads altogether after the Highway Board had decided that they were not necessary for the public use. But he could scarcely conceive a greater injustice than such a clause might perpetrate. In numbers of places throughout the country, which were converted from an open to an enclosed state, the whole of the roads were directed to be repaired at the general expense of the highway rate. A great number of them were not of public utility, and were only used for the occupation of the land adjacent. But the extent of the allotments had in a great measure been arranged according to their contiguity to the roads, and there could therefore scarcely be a greater injustice than to discontinue the repairs of the roads altoge- 1350 ther. He might add that no system of highway management would, in his opinion, be likely to prove less expensive than that which at present prevailed. Under its operation a surveyor was chosen by the ratepayers of a parish, himself very frequently a considerable ratepayer, and, as a consequence, having an interest in spending the money raised from the rates in an economical manner. It also happened that in almost every parish there were to be found aged and weakly men, not suited to the varied work of the agricultural labourer, but competent to undertake the slower labour required in the repair of roads, who were employed in that labour, a great saving to the ratepayers being thus effected. In addition to those advantages the present system enabled the surveyor to consult the convenience of the ratepayers, so as to enable them to provide the necessary materials for the repair of their roads at a time when their horses were not otherwise engaged. The repair was by that means conducted at a comparatively small expense; but if the Bill before the House were to pass into a law, paid surveyors, treasurers, and clerks would be called into existence, it being carefully provided that each of those offices should be held by three separate and distinct individuals. Each highway Board would also, he supposed, require a place to meet, and various other expenses would be incurred which now had no place, and no portion of which could, properly speaking, be regarded as an expenditure on the roads of the county. But that was not all, for if the principle were sanctioned of establishing in various districts highway Boards similar in their constitution to the Boards of guardians, it might be found expedient to establish next year a Government Board in London to control them, it being his opinion that a greater amount of jobbery would prevail under the operation of the present Bill than under the Poor Law. But not only would it necessitate the employment of an expensive Staff of officers; it would give rise to the additional disadvantage of rendering the employment of those aged and infirm persons to whom he had referred a matter in which the surveyors would have no interest, as they would naturally seek to effect not an indirect saving, but one which would figure in their accounts. He might further observe that the Bill was not asked for throughout the country, as was proved by the fact that 360 petitions, signed by 26,000 ratepayers, and representing a 1351 greater number as some of them came from Boards of guardians and were signed merely by the chairman, had been presented against it, while only five or six had been presented in its favour. It was very generally supposed that if a road happened to be out of repair it was necessary that law expenses to a considerable amount should be incurred before the taking of steps to put it in a proper state could be made compulsory; but the fact was that it was open to anybody to lay in such a case a complaint before the magistrates at petty sessions, who might either inspect the road themselves, or send a competent person to do so, and who, if it were found to be out of repair, might make an order that it should he repaired within a certain time, when if the order was not complied with, they might fine the surveyor, take the matter out of his hands, and direct the sum required to put the road in a proper state to be paid over to a third party. No mode of proceeding could be more simple, efficacious, and inexpensive than that, and if roads were allowed to remain unrepaired, it was not, he should maintain, so much the fault of the law as of its administrators. Under those circumstances, he failed to discover any good ground for bringing about that revolution of our parochial system which the Bill proposed to effect, while he thought its operation would be to interfere very much with the independence and impartiality of the magistrates by causing them to sit one day as way-wardens with the power of directing prosecutions to be instituted in cases on which they might be called upon the following day to sit as absolute Judges. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department had, however, in introducing the measure, stated that one of a similar character had worked well in South Wales, but from that opinion he begged leave to dissent, inasmuch as he learnt from a petition which had been presented from that very district in the course of the Session that complaint was made of the defective working of the Act which had been passed for its particular advantage. The case of turnpike roads had been referred to as a reason why paid surveyors should be appointed, but it should be borne in mind that those roads were a most expensive luxury, and that, notwithstanding' the existence of tolls, a great many parishes had to provide for the maintenance of turnpike roads out of the highway-rate. In some instances, without allowing anything for interest, the mere repairs of turn- 1352 pike roads averaged upwards of £60 per mile, while some of the best highways in Lincolnshire cost little more for repairs than £6 per mile. Having said thus much in favour of the existing system, he was quite prepared to admit that the establishment of a more efficient mode of inspection was expedient, while the auditing of accounts might be conducted by some better process, although such a process would not be secured by the Bill, which simply provided that they should be pitchforked on the table at a Board meeting, and audited by the Board. He might add that it appeared from Returns on the subject that the present highway-rate throughout the country gave an average of only 5d. in the pound, the limit fixed by the Highway Act being 2s. 6d. in the pound, so that the Bill before the House, so far from affording any protection against increased expenditure, admitted of the multiplication of the existing rate of payment by six. For the reasons he had stated, he begged to move the Amendment of which he had given notice, that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
§ MR. KER SEYMER
said, he thought they could not be too thankful to the Government for dealing with this question, in that respect following the example of their predecessors. Such questions, though not of a political character, making or unmaking Ministers, still vitally affected the interest and welfare of the country. So strongly did the late Sir Robert Peel feel the importance of the subject that in his great speech of 1846, when proposing his new system of commercial policy, he said he should propose three measures for the special benefit of the agricultural interest—one of these being an alteration of the law of settlement, which had been only partially carried out; another, to advance money for the draining of land—which had been almost entirely absorbed by Scotch proprietors, who were more wide-awake than their English brethren; and the third was an alteration of the law relating to highways. The measure proposed by Sir Robert Peel was so far similar in principle to this Bill that it contained the principle of highway districts and district surveyors. But the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment said that the present system was highly satisfactory; and the proof he 1353 gave of this was that, while parishes at present had the power to unite for the purpose of appointing district surveyors, very few had done so. That was perfectly true; but those who were acquainted with country matters knew that there was great difficulty to get farmers and ratepayers to unite and act in concert. This fact was therefore no proof of their objection to the system proposed by the Bill. It was also said that the present system was very little burdensome to the ratepayers; but he, on the other hand, contended that nothing was so burdensome to the agricultural body as bad roads, and these did arise from the present state of the law. The object of the way-wardens was to show a good book at the end of the year—that is, to show that what had been done was done cheaply, not that all had been done that should have been done or in the most effective manner. Very often this very cheapness turned out the most expensive way of making roads. No doubt the magistrates might interfere; but their feeling was that the way-wardens were not very competent to make roads; they were, therefore, dealt with leniently. There was a constant struggle going on between the magistrates and the way wardens to get good roads, the result of which was that the way-wardens by a certain vis inertiœ carried the day, and the roads were not repaired as they ought to be. The employment of quasi paupers on the roads had been adduced as a recommendation of the present practice; but he regarded it as quite the reverse. It would be much better to look what pauperism we had fairly in the face than attempt to work it with the highway-rate. Indeed, some parishes got a very unfair advantage by putting their paupers to work on the roads, who generally did no more in six weeks than ablebodied men would do in one week. The repairs on roads were now made by fits and starts, and under such a system it was impossible to get good roads all over the country; what was wanted, according to Sir Robert Peel, being a continuous line of communication. Some years ago he should have been rather afraid of the working of such a Bill as this. Everything depended on having a competent man as surveyor of roads; and formerly if a person was unfortunate in business, with a wife and family, especially if he were a hearty good follow and sang a good song, he had no difficulty in getting the appointment. But that time had gone by. 1354 The ratepayers had found out that they had suffered so much, he would not say from jobbery, but by being led away in these appointments by kind, neighbourly feeling, that they might now be safely trusted to look after their own interests and appoint competent persons. One objection to this Bill was that it was permissive; but if there were districts in the north of England where strong objection was felt to the Bill, probably from their roads being better managed, he did not see why the magistrates should not exercise the discretion that was left them, and not force its provisions on an unwilling county. He should certainly support the principle of the Bill, and also its leading provisions in Committee.
§ MR. FREELAND
Sir, the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has said, that the House and the country have waited long enough already for a Highways Act. If this be a specimen of the Bill most likely to pass into a law, I trust sincerely that the country and the House may find themselves condemned to wait still longer. Now what, Sir, are the sum and substance of this Bill? This Bill, Sir, is an attempt, very similar to attempts which have been often made, but which have hitherto always failed of success in this House, to transfer from parish ratepayers in vestry assembled to town councils and justices in quarter sessions, that discretionary power which the former at present enjoy of acting as single parishes, or of combining to form districts for the purposes of highway management. By this Bill town councils or county justices might group parishes into highway districts, without being legally bound to consult the ratepayers with reference to the proposed arrangements. The Bill, it is said, is only permissive. True, it is optional, but with whom? with the wrong parties. It is optional, not with the ratepayers but with town councils and county magistrates. And what, Sir, are the grounds on which the House is asked to pass a measure of this objectionable character? A few vague statements, true, no doubt, in certain districts, that our highways are not in the state in which they ought to be. I have seen also some two or three petitions from county magistrates favourable to the change proposed. But these, Sir, are not grounds which would justify the House of Commons in imposing a measure of this objectionable character, on a resisting and protesting country. There are no returns or figures, 1355 so far, at all events, as I can discover, which in any way justify this change. There are no returns showing the comparative cost and efficiency of the Irish, the South Wales District, the Scotch Statute Labour, the English Turnpike, and the English Parochial Highway system. Yet these, in the case of a change of vast importance,—a change affecting the whole country, would have been, as it appears to me, the natural and the legitimate grounds for Parliamentary action. If better roads have been made at no greater expense, or, equally good roads at a less expense than under our existing system, let this be shown, and Parliament no doubt will sanction, and the country gratefully accept a change. Not only are there no such comparative estimates or returns, but there are no proofs, so far as I can discover, of any general or gross mismanagement or of any wanton waste of public money, even under the present system. If there has been mismanagement, it has not been shown that it is not even at present easily remediable. So far as regards the district with which I am acquainted, there is little, if any, cause of complaint: I have, indeed, heard of a district in another county, in which the roads got into a bad state. But what happened? A very energetic gentleman, a friend of mine, got appointed surveyor, and very soon brought the roads into a good state. Well, but what does that show? Does it not show that, even under the present system, a little local effort and a little local energy may make good any defects that may exist? No doubt, in the case to which I refer there was a little grumbling as to expense. But what was the expense in that case compared with the burdens which this Bill would throw upon the local rates? A paid surveyor, a clerk and deputy-clerk, if required, are not in these days to be had for nothing, nor would they be likely to set about their work in a simple and inexpensive way. I want hon. Gentlemen to consider the expense which the staff of officials to be created by this Bill would throw upon the counties. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark has referred to the petition from Levenshulme. The petitioners state that their annual highway rates have not exceeded 4d. in the pound for the last eight years. Yet their roads have been kept in such a state of repair as to call forth votes of thanks to the surveyors at the annual meetings. But they say that the cost of appointing a paid surveyor, and of otherwise carrying out the provi- 1356 sions of this Bill would exceed their present total expenditure on their highways. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire once told the House that lion. Members had formed too low an estimate of the charge which a measure similar to this would throw upon the county rates. On another occasion he begged the House to consider that Turnpike Roads, in the management of which, as we all know, county magistrates take a leading part, cost the country £42 per mile, while the present highways cost about £16 per mile. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark quoted returns from certain Turnpike Roads giving an average cost of £60 per mile, and he referred, I think, to certain highways, near Lincoln, maintained at a cost of £6 per mile. Again, Sir, as regards expense, we are told that no accounts are so difficult to audit as those of a surveyor of Highways. Will you improve the means of checking or auditing such accounts when you have mixed up, as is proposed by the present Bill, contributions from separate parishes in order to form for certain purposes a district fund, while for other purposes the expenses are to be borne as separate charges by the respective parishes. Then, again, who is to audit these accounts? The Highway Board. But that is the Board which, under this Bill, is to authorize the outlay. The Board is to hold one meeting every year to audit accounts. But we all know how these arrangements work in counties. The expense and difficulty of attending these Board meetings would probably deter the elected way wardens from attending them, and the control of the proceedings of the Board would fall, in the case of counties, into the hands of a few of the nearest resident county magistrates. These, again, not knowing much, perhaps, of road management, and not being constant in their attendance, would probably very soon become mere puppets in the hands of the surveyor. Let us look now for a moment at the constitution of the Boards. In counties county magistrates are to be ex officio members of them. To this arrangement it is objected that county magistrates as ex officio way wardens might outnumber and outvote the way wardens elected by the parishes. It is urged that they might do this in matters in which as proprietors, having an interest in the formation, the improvement, alteration, or shutting up of roads, they might have an interest at variance with interests of the general body 1357 of the ratepayers. Again, where taxing powers are given to ex officio waywardens, you have to that extent, at least, taxation without representation. Then, again, as to repairs of turnpike roads in certain cases out of the highway rates. It is urged that magistrates, who as mortgagees are frequently interested in these roads, would not be a fair tribunal to decide upon such questions. I have spoken of the objections to the Bill on the grounds of expense and of the constitution of the Boards. Now what are the general feelings of the country? We find by the twenty-fifth Report of the Public Petitions Committee, that, against the Bill there have been presented 308 petitions, signed by 23,289 petitioners. These are not petitions emanating in one form from a Central Committee, but the spontaneous effusions of different localities. The petitions in favour of the Bill have been five, signed by 92 petitioners. Then, again, the Highway Act has been passed about five-and-twenty years. That Act enables parishes to unite, and form districts for the purposes of Highway management; but it is admitted that in that respect the Act has been practically almost a dead letter. Well, but that shows, at all events, that the parishes and ratepayers do not want this change. If parishes voluntarily formed districts, no doubt there, and I have heard of such a case, the plan might work well. And why? Because men commonly do well and efficiently that which they do of their own accord. But if they do not want this plan, will it work well when Town Councils or County Justices, by virtue of an order in Quarter Sessions, have imposed it on them? I will not dwell now on other questions of detail. These are matters for discussion in Committee which this Bill, perhaps, may not be destined to undergo. I hope for these reasons that the House will accede to the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, and consent to read this most objectionable, unconstitutional, and uncalled-for Bill a second time on this day three months.
§ MR. KNIGHT
said, he really had not expected that this Bill would have been proposed for a second reading after the long time it had been allowed to he over, having been introduced on the 27th of January, and no stage moved in it since till the 4th of July. He did not believe that the public highways of England were in a bad state at all. Though not all equally good, they were very good. They 1358 were the best in Europe—the best in the world. He had travelled a great deal, and the only other country in which the public roads were really excellent was Germany; but when you got out of the public road—almost any grand chemin—you were constantly interrupted, and were even obliged to get out of your carriage to have it dragged through. English roads were not only the best in the world, but they were rapidly and very greatly improving. In the north of Worcesterehire a country gentleman in the days of his father could not go to the country town without four horses, not for the pomp or pride of the thing, but because four horses were absolutely necessary, the roads being either ankle deep in sand or clay; but now, a one-horse fly was equal to the task, proceeding in any direction, either by turnpike or cross roads. He could also speak to the great improvement which had taken place in North Devon. Within the memory of persons with whom he had conversed there were four parishes, where the only roads were a kind of watercourse formed by the rain, and everything was carried on pack-horses; but these old roads had been so much improved and new ones made that a one-horse fly could take you into any corner of those parishes. He did not wish to see a system under which such improvements had been made superseded by an unconstitutional, centralizing authority, which would enable the Government to place their hand on the 16,000 parishes of England, and, with two or three paid clerks, to dictate to the whole of them. The constabulary had been referred to as a means of inspecting the highways; but he thought the police should be left to the detection of crime. That was their proper function, and to that they should be restricted. No doubt they would be ready to undertake the duty; indeed, they would undertake the whole government of England, and think they could do it better than it was now conducted. But in this way we should soon lose all the liberty we had, and he greatly preferred our present constitutional system. He hoped the right hon. Baronet would not persevere with this Bill, which would revolutionize the entire local government of this country.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, he should support the Bill, as its effect would be to procure the appointment of competent surveyors in place of the present inefficient officers selected.
§ MR. DEEDES
said, he should cordially 1359 support the second reading of the Bill. An objection had been urged that it was permissive instead of compulsory; and certainly he was of opinion that when they were legislating on large and broad principles, it was better that the measure should be compulsory; because, primâ facie, the mere fact that a Bill was permissive, showed that it could not, in all cases, be considered a good one. He very much regretted that the Bill had not been brought forward at an earlier period of the Session; because, had it been brought forward in February, there were at least three weeks in that month in which their time might have been profitably occupied in discussing it. He was surprised that any hon. Gentlemen could get up in that House and advocate the continuance of the existing system of repairing the roads. For his part, he considered that it was a most expensive one. In nine cases out of ten, the men at present employed on the roads only did half a day's work. They were employed simply on their application for such work; and he believed that the manner in which they performed it was as bad as it possibly could be. He was perfectly satisfied that, taking the whole country through, a great deal more money was spent in maintaining the roads in their present inefficient state, than would be spent if they were properly attended to. No doubt, it would require rather a large sum of money to put the roads into good repair in those parishes where they had been neglected; but when they were once made good, they could be maintained, under the proposed system, at a much cheaper rate than they were at present; while the country would at the same time have the advantage of a continuous line of good roads, which it did not possess now. He thought that the present system of employing men on the roads was most demoralising. Men who were unfit to do anything else, were considered perfectly competent to make roads, when they were, in point of fact, totally incompetent to perform that work. Independent of that, they came an hour later in the morning, or left an hour earlier in the evening, and as it was impossible in all cases to pay them by the piece, though they might do so in the case of stonebreakers, they were paid by the day; and from the absence of the surveyors, who had their own business to attend to, the work was executed in the most slovenly way. It had been said that there was a difficulty in making magistrates ex officio members of the highway 1360 boards, because they might afterwards have to adjudicate on cases arising out of the Act. He thought, however, that as long as a magistrate acted conscientiously, he would be supported by public opinion in this country; and, therefore, that magistrates would not feel that this Act would cast any burden whatever upon them. Generally speaking, he believed that the Bill would, if carried, produce the greatest possible benefits; and considering that it would give satisfaction, which the present system did not, he should support the Bill.
§ MR. THOMPSON
said, he wished, as one of those parish surveyors who were now upon their trial, to say a few words on this question. The hon. Member for Newark, who had moved the rejection of this Bill, argued that the existing laws for the maintenance of highways were amply sufficient for their purpose, and that if roads were not properly maintained, it was to be attributed, not to the want of good laws, but to the inefficiency of those who administered them. His (Mr. Thompson's) experience was entirely opposed to this statement As a magistrate and a landowner he had used his influence to carry out the present law in his own district, but he had never been able, even in his own parish, to get the roads put into a proper state until he procured his own appointment as surveyor, when he was enabled not only to place them in good condition, but considerably to reduce the expense. Thus the cost of good roads was less than that of bad ones. The area in which a parish surveyor acted was far too limited. He knew of one case where it extended over only half a mile of road, and another where it did not exceed a mile. These were extreme cases, but in the largest parishes the extent of road to be maintained was seldom sufficient to warrant the employment of a paid surveyor; the duty was therefore generally performed by a tenant farmer who knew nothing about road-making. It could not be expected that farmers should leave their own business, on which their living depended, to look after the roads for which they received nothing, especially when they were well aware that every shilling laid out would be made the subject of attack, and that the man who spent least money would be regarded as the best surveyor. It was a perfect farce, for a half-mile or mile of road, to go through all the ceremony of keeping separate highway-books, holding separate highway-meetings, and making separate highway-rates. 1361 At present the best roads were either turnpike roads, which are managed by paid surveyors, or those near some town, which were under the management of select vestries or local boards. The farmers who undertook the superintendence of a mile or two of road for a year had no opportunity of acquiring the experience required to enable them to understand the business. In his own particular district there were both good and bad roads, the difference between them being solely due to the fact that the bad roads were under the ordinary parish surveyors, while the good ones were in the hands of paid men competent to look after a considerable mileage, and who therefore gave satisfaction to all parties. Objection had been taken to magistrates having seats at the boards to be constituted under this Bill. Now, under the new Poor Law system magistrates were ex officio guardians; and though many complaints had been made against that system, none had been urged against magistrates acting in that capacity. On the contrary, so far as his experience went, the elected guardians of the poor were glad to have the assistance of those gentlemen. To illustrate the kind of management under which the highways were now placed, he might mention that he had compared the cost of maintenance per mile in a large number of townships in his own district, and found that it varied as much as 7 to 1. The present Bill would remedy many of the defects of the existing system, and should have his most hearty support.
§ MR. BARROW
said, he was decidedly opposed to the principle of this measure, as being very centralizing and bureaucratic, and as intended to take away from parishes the last remnant of local self-government. It was surprising that anybody in a free country should argue against its being made optional with those whom the Bill professed to benefit either to adopt its provisions or not, as they thought best for their own interests. The first petition which had been presented from a country district against this measure declared that at present the highways were kept in repair by substantial householders chosen by the ratepayers, and who had a due regard to economy and efficiency; that their management was infinitely to be preferred to that of nominees of the Crown, often appointed from political and other considerations, and dependent for the tenure of their office more upon their obsequiousness than 1362 upon the honest and faithful discharge of their duties; and that this Bill, which was neither sought nor desired by the great body of the people, not only struck a heavy blow at the connection between taxation and representation, but altogether ignored the growing intelligence of the community. He could speak from a personal experience of seventy years as to the improvement that had taken place in the roads of his own district. On roads along which he could hardly get a horse to travel when he was a young man he could now drive a light four-wheel spring carriage, without the least possible inconvenience. The system that had produced such results—results which might be easily worked out in other parts of the country—would be ill-changed for one that would take from the ratepayers the control over the expenditure of their own money, and transfer it to men who were admirable conservators of the peace, but not necessarily good administrators of finance. It was said that at present orders for the repair of roads must be made by magistrates in open court, and subject to public opinion. That was a strange objection to hear raised in a free country. True, the Bill would allow the ratepayers to send an odd way-warden or two to the Board; but the representative Members were pretty sure to be out-voted by the Government nominees; and farmers would not be inclined to travel a considerable distance from their own parishes to attend the monthly meetings. As the Chairman of a large Board of Guardians, he could state that in his neighbourhood the labourers were not demoralized by working upon the roads, but were often saved from pauperism by having that employment. When the proposed Boards were constituted they would spend at their own pleasure the money of parishes for which no member was present, without the check of a public hearing, and without any public complaint having been previously made of the state of the roads. If the prudence of their acts was questioned, there would he no remedy, because they would audit their own accounts. If the legality of their proceedings was appealed against, the magistrates who had sat ex officio at the Board would be authorized, not only to earwig their brethren upon the Bench, but to give their individual votes at sessions in defence of the orders they had made. He trusted the House would decidedly reject the second reading of such a measure.
§ MR. WALTER
said, he did not altoge- 1363 ther share the objections taken to the Bill by his hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Ker Seymer) and the hon. Member for East Kent (Mr. Deedes) on the ground that it was permissive. In a question of this kind, where the change proposed was rather one of degree than of principle, and the measure itself was one of a somewhat tentative character, he thought there might be an advantage in introducing it by a permissive instead of by a compulsory process. He apprehended that the same result would occur in this instance as had been already witnessed in regard to the Rural Police Act, and that in a very short time there would be few counties in England which would not adopt this measure—so great, he believed were the benefits it would confer on the country. The main objection, as he understood it, which had been advanced against this Bill was comprised in the expression that had been applied to it by the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Amendment—namely, that it would have the effect of "disparochializing" the management of our highways. Now, there were certainly some subjects with which local authorities were more competent to deal than Central Boards; but, on the other hand, there were others in respect to which Central Boards appeared to him to have the advantage. For example, in regard to the relief of the poor, which had already been alluded to, he had always 'been of opinion that the poor, being generally located in particular districts, and not travelling much about from one place to another, the management might be safely confided to the local authorities. But if there was any one matter more than another which he conceived ought not to be intrusted to the local authorities, it was the management of the highways. If a road running through a parish began and ended in that parish, undoubtedly he would be the last person to advocate the transfer of its supervision from a local to a central body; but a parish road was only a portion of a great system, the whole of which was affected by the mis-managment of any single part; and, remembering that the highways of England were but the veins and arteries through which the commerce and traffic of the country circulated, it would be just as reasonable to complain that each member of the human body had not a separate overseer as for each parish to complain that it had not a separate surveyor for its highways, which were merely portions of a great system ramify- 1364 ing throughout the entire kingdom. As far, then, as an extended area of management was concerned, he for one would have had no objection if the Bill had carried its principle further than it pretended to carry it, or even if, in fact, it had intrusted to the county authorities the supervisiou of all the highways within their respective counties. But when it was alleged that under the present law every facility was given for the good management of highways, he could only say that his experience led him to quite the contrary conclusion; for he could slate from his own knowledge that the highways and parish roads in his own neighbourhood, so far from improving, had visibly deteriorated within the last twenty years, as the result of the gross negligence and abuse in the manner in which they were conducted. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment had described highways as answering a purpose that might never have occurred to any one. The hon. Member thought they were made to give employment to persons who were fit for nothing else, or to accommodate the horse and cart of the farmer. That was, no doubt, only a casual remark made by the hon. Gentleman; but it indicated the slovenly mode in which these matters were habitually dealt with. It could not be expected that road-making—an art of considerable difficulty and great importance—should be properly executed unless the persons engaged in it were paid for their services, and attended to that business and nothing else. Unfortunately he had great personal experience of the construction of highways, having had many of them to look after upon his own estate, and he knew of nothing in the world that was so dear as bad roads. There was nothing to which the maxim "Penny wise and pound foolish" was more strictly applicable. At the same time there were few improvements of the value of which farmers seemed so little sensible as good roads. He would be very sorry to back his own opinion against that of any farmer in his own county upon a purely agricultural question, but in regard to roads he thought himself as good a judge as any of them. He was convinced that the class of surveyors on whom the duty of making roads now devolved were ignorant of the first principles of their art, and were no more fit for the business than for the conduct of any department in the State. He would not trouble the House with any re- 1365 marks upon the details of the Bill, because it contained many points which would probably require discussion in Committee. He would only add that he believed the measure, as far as it went, would effect a considerable improvement in the present system, and he sincerely trusted that it would pass into law.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, he could not altogether agree with his hon. Friend who had just sat down, or with the hon. Member for Dorsetshire. Doubtless, the present system—under which the highways were not regarded by the inhabitants of different parishes and townships as parts of a great system, but only as an accommodation to themselves in their agricultural pursuits—was one requiring amendment. But he thought the necessary change could be accomplished in a better and less expensive manner than by this Bill. In his own county there was a strong feeling on this question, it being thought that if the principle of this measure were once admitted, it would eventually lead to the same results as had occurred in the case of the Poor Law Act. The representation given to the ratepayers by the Bill was too indirect, and he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State that the object which he had in view might be attained by a far simpler process. If the surveyor of highways were appointed by the county magistracy, with power to carry the existing law into effect, the ratepayers would still retain the control of their own affairs, and the roads might be kept in efficient repair. That plan was approved by the local bodies with whom he had been in communication, and he trusted that his right hon. Friend would consent to substitute it for the costly machinery to be created by this measure.
§ SIR WILLIAM JOLLIFFE
said, he hoped that the principle of this Bill would meet with the approval of the House, he concurred, however, in the regret expressed by the hon. Member for East Kent, that some attempts had not been made to audit the accounts of the surveyors. He thought it was a question whether the Home Secretary might not yet introduce a clause with that effect into the present Bill. On the other hand the objections which had been raised to the Bill had caused him considerable surprise. It was said that magistrates would not enjoy the confidence of their neighbours in this respect as they did in others. This change, however, was analogous to that which was introduced by 1366 the Poor Law Amendment Act, and he believed that wherever magistrates had exerted themselves to carry out that law their services had been accepted with gratitude by the ratepayers. Nor did he think that this measure would increase the power of the magistracy. The magistrates were chosen chiefly from the squirearchy, and in many parishes the squires were perfectly absolute in the management of the roads. Unfortunately, that system did not produce good roads. The objections that this measure would perpetuate turnpikes and would destroy the parochial system were, in his opinion, equally unfounded. Such a Bill as this had been recommended by every inquiry which had been held upon the subject—many of them presided over by the late Speaker—and he therefore hoped that the House would assent to its principle.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, that the general features of this measure were similar to those of the system which was some years ago applied to South Wales. Although there were some defects in that system, which were corrected in the present Bill, it had worked exceedingly well, and had saved a great deal of money to the ratepayers. He should, therefore, vote for the second reading of this measure.
§ MR. CAYLEY
said, he would admit that the highways were not managed as well or as economically as they might be, but he believed that the evils complained of might all be remedied under the existing law. Hon. Members of that House represented the carriage interest, which, of course, desired that the roads should be as good as turnpikes; but the question was what did the ratepayers wish. He believed that nine-tenths of his constituents were opposed to this Bill. By an Act which was now in force parishes might unite and appoint a joint surveyor, and he understood that in some counties—War-wickshire, for instance, among the number—that course had been adopted with great advantage. Farmers did not like to be subjected to the compulsion under which the Bill would sooner or later place them, and he should therefore feel it his duty to oppose the second reading. The 49th clause of the Bill referred to the abandonment of roads. He doubted the expediency of such a provision, but he was quite convinced of the necessity of providing means for obtaining access to arterial lines of communication which had been entirely altered by the introduction of railways. In some parishes there was a high- 1367 way within two or three fields of a railway station; but there was no power to open a communication between them. The starting point of this measure was the improvement which had been worked by the new Poor Law. It was, therefore, not surprising that hon. Members from the south of England regarded the question from a point of view different from that from which it was looked at by those who represented constituencies in the north. In the northern counties the Poor Law Amendment Act added a charge of 9d. in the pound for machinery to a rate of only 1s. 6d., while in the southern counties the rates were 5s., 10s., 15s., and in some cases 20s. in the pound. In the south the charge for machinery was a mere fleabite as compared with the relief obtained; and therefore it was not surprising that in that part of the country less jealousy existed as to the expense which would be caused by the machinery of this Bill than was felt in the north. He thought that the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Wilson Patten) was a good one, and that the House might adopt some intermediate measure between the maintenance of the existing system and the acceptance of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that the House had during a considerable portion of the Session been engaged in the discussion of political and constitutional changes, and he hoped that they would not think that the season was now too far advanced for the consideration of a useful social improvement, such as that which was the object of the Bill now before them. The introduction of railways had of late years greatly increased the importance of parish highways as compared with turnpikes; and, having for some years devoted considerable attention to the subject, he could recommend this question to the House as one of great importance to our local internal interests. The Bill which was before the House merely authorized the magistrates at Quarter Sessions to introduce its provisions into a county if they thought fit. In a former year he proposed a measure according to which, the existing divisions of the Poor Law unions being taken as the basis of the scheme, the guardians were to be the way-wardens, and the introduction of the system was made compulsory. It was objected to that measure that it was not expedient to confound the administration of the Poor Law with that of the 1368 highways, and that the plan then proposed would lead to placing the high roads under the control of the Poor Law Commissioners. He would not say whether or not that objection was well-founded, but it led to the adoption of a different plan which was embodied in the Bill of last Session, with which the measure before them was substantially identical. He admitted that the circumstances of the country with regard to the repair of the highways differed so greatly in different districts that it might not be expedient to apply an inflexible system of legislation to all; but if this Bill was passed no such inflexible rule would be applied. If the general feeling of the tenant-farmers and the ratepayers of any county was opposed to the system which was embodied in this Bill, the magistrates would, of course, be influenced a good deal by it, and the system would not be introduced into that county. According to his experience, magistrates in Quarter Sessions were not at all disposed to undue extravagance. On the contrary, he believed that they were quite as careful guardians of the county purse as that House was of the national one, and he therefore confidently expected that when in any county there was a general feeling that the introduction of this system would lead to a profuse expenditure of the highway rate the magistrates would be disinclined to introduce it. Being firmly convinced that the Bill would lead to the more economical expenditure of money, and would produce better roads, he should, were he a dictator, and could make laws by an ukase, be disposed to apply it compulsorily to the whole kingdom; but as that was not the condition under which they made laws in that House, he trusted that he should not be accused of taking a weak or unworthy course in departing in that respect from the Bill of last Session. It had been objected to the Bill that it would annihilate the representative system which was embodied in the present law, and would introduce centralization. No such system of representation, however, existed. A surveyor of highways was chosen by the vestry, and after he was chosen he was their officer, but not in any sense their representative. It was quite an error to suppose that there was now any representative administration of highways. The theory was that the vestry elected a surveyor, but practically that body exercised very little selection in the matter. In some cases the retiring surveyor elected his successor, and in others, it being found 1369 difficult to get any one to accept an unpaid and troublesome office, it was by arrangement passed from one farmer to another, the magistrate confirming the appointment as a matter of course. To call the present system one of representation was almost as great a departure from the fact, and as large a draft upon the imagination, as could well be conceived. This Bill would introduce a real representative system, because it provided for the appointment of Boards of way-wardens, who were to be elected by the ratepayers. Some hon. Gentlemen thought that it was wrong that magistrates should ex officio have seats at those Boards. In that respect he had followed the Poor Law. That system worked well, and he was quite contented to accept it as a model; but the question must be considered in Committee. It was also objected to the Bill that it created a number of paid officers—surveyor, treasurer, and clerk—whose salaries would be a burden to the ratepayers. The Bill did not provide that the treasurer should be a paid officer, and he would probably in most cases be the neighbouring banker, who would be ready to keep the account of the highway district without receiving any salary. He believed that it was desirable that some person should be appointed at a small salary to act as clerk to the waywardens at their periodical meetings; but if it was thought better that the surveyor should act as clerk he should not be disposed to object to such a change. The real essence of the system embodied in the Bill was that the districts for regulating the repair of the roads should be of considerable magnitude, and should not be accidentally determined or limited by the boundaries of parishes; that there should be a permanent officer to manage the roads of each district, and that he should be a paid officer. If hon. Members were not prepared to agree to that principle, let them reject the Bill upon the second reading. His hon. Friends the Members for Dorsetshire and Whitby had so fully stated the reasons which existed for the proposed change that he was quite satisfied that the case for the Bill should rest upon their speeches; but there was one point to which he desired to call the particular attention of the House. Since Sir Robert Peel made the sound observation that nothing tended more to the benefit of agriculture than the improvement of the minor means of communication, it had happened in many parts of the country that roads which were formerly 1370 the great arterial communications, and over which was conveyed the great traffic of the country, had, in consequence of the introduction of railways, sunk into minor importance, and that many of the parish highways, which were not included in the Turnpike Acts, had, in consequence of their communication with railway stations, become roads which were traversed by much traffic. How difficult was it for a parish to repair such a road under the existing system! There was the greatest necessity for providing more skilful means of repairing roads, and the plan now proposed was the only one by which they could be provided. It was said that the existing system was a cheap one; but no system could be a really economical one under which the greater part of whatever sum was raised was wasted and thrown away. Another objection to this Bill was that magistrates would act in a double capacity—that they would act as way-wardens, and would also adjudicate upon disputes concerning the roads. The same thing occurred under the Poor Law; and he had not heard that it had produced any inconvenience. It had also been stated that petitions had been presented from South Wales against a system similar to this, which had six years ago been introduced into that part of the country. As had been already intimated by the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) however, those complaints were not against the system, but against some defects, which had been remedied in this Bill; and he had reason to believe that if this measure was extended to South Wales the petitioners would be quite satisfied. Therefore, so far as any argument could be drawn from that circumstance it was favourable, and not adverse, to the Bill. The 49th clause, to which there had been some opposition, was only an adaptation of a provision in the existing law; and, if it was found to be open to objection, it could be amended in Committee. It had been said that the audit proposed would be unsatisfactory. Let the House contrast it with that which now existed, and according to which the accounts of the surveyor were laid before a magistrate, who might have no special knowledge of the administration of roads. No doubt, some magistrates performed their duties most conscientiously, and carefully examined all the different items; but he did not feel sure that that was the invariable, or even the general practice. He inclined to think that the audit under the 1371 present system was very inefficient and unsatisfactory, and that the audit established by the Bill would be more efficient than that conducted by the magistrates under the present system. If it should not he thought efficient, the only alternative would be to appoint a separate paid officer for the purpose, and then, of course, objection would be taken to that plan. The arrangement in the Bill was the best under the circumstances. The system proposed by the present Bill was founded on a principle which must be a necessary condition for the improvement of the minor means of communication—the parish roads; and it was impossible, without adopting the principle of an area of considerable extent, so that it might be superintended by a permanent paid officer, that any skilful and systematic mode of repairing the roads could be adopted.
thought there could be no difference of opinion as to the importance of having good roads throughout the country; but the question for their consideration was, whether the present Bill was calculated to effect that improvement which was so much desired. But could not the roads be improved by the means now existing, or was it necessary to have large areas with skilful and paid officers? With regard to the Welsh roads, the utmost the right hon. Home Secretary could screw himself up to say was that the expenditure was not very profuse. That, then, was not a very consoling expression. [Sir GEORGE LEWIS: The expenditure is very moderate.] The right hon. Gentleman said that the circumstances of the north were different from the circumstances of the south, and those of the east from those of the west, and yet he said that though the case of different localities varied, people should have no measure to improve their roads but the present. Yet he added, that it would establish no inflexible rule throughout the kingdom, but would leave its introduction or non-introduction to the discretion of the magistrates. He (Mr. Henley) confessed he could not concur in that line of reasoning. Then how far were the Highway Boards, constituted under the Bill, likely to appoint skilful officers? Was it not the case in reference to the appointment of medical officers by Boards of Guardians that constant applications had been made to the central authority to increase the pay in order to obtain efficient officers? If that was so, why should it be expected that these Highway 1372 Boards would appoint efficient men to look after the roads, and how long would it be possible for such Boards to go on without the control of some central authority? He believed not three years, and that circumstance itself constituted a great objection. He ventured to say that the machinery established by the Bill would be very expensive. But they were told that a representative system was about to be introduced, and that at present nothing like a representative system existed. He was astonished to hear such a statement, for in some instances the inhabitants elected the vestry, in others all the ratepayers attended the vestry, and the vestry nominated the surveyors. He asked who called for the present measure? From year to year the country had been vexed by Bills of the sort, and yet none of them ever became law. In that respect they resembled the recent Reform Bill. The present Bill had been before them since February, and he could not avoid expressing his surprise, if it were calculated to effect such immense advantage as the right hon. Gentleman believed, that the Government had not en-deavoured to press it forward before the present advanced period of the Session. He believed that the ratepayers generally were opposed to it, and that it would not establish a better system than they had at present. On the contrary, he was of opinion it would lead to much jobbery and corruption, and therefore he should offer it his opposition. The public much disliked the system of centralization which it would lead to. The petitioners in favour of the Bill amounted only, he believed, to ninety-three persons, whilst several thousands, including a great many boards of guardians, petitioned against it. Under those circumstances, he was decidedly opposed to the measure.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now,' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 203; Noes 120; Majority 83.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed for Monday next.