HC Deb 15 May 1860 vol 158 cc1299-304

said, he rose to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that She will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire and report how far it may be desirable and practicable to substitute an equitable system of assessment in lieu of the present mode of maintaining the Turnpike Roads and Bridges in England and Wales by tolls. He did not know whether he was open to the charge of too much pertinacity in bringing forward this Motion this Session, or the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the charge of too little consideration he had for the comfort and convenience of the people in England and Wales. His object in bringing the subject before the House was to induce the House to follow the example which had been set in Ireland. Four years ago a Commission was granted for Ireland, and a Report was presented which recommended that the country should he released from turnpike tolls, and that result had followed in two years afterwards. Another Commission had been issued for Scotland, but it would in his opinion have been fairer and more equitable if the Government had in the first instance granted a Commission for England, because there was but little prospect that the Government would do for Scotland what they had done for Ireland. The debt upon the tolls in Scotland was in a much higher proportion to the value of the real property of Scotland than the debt on the tolls in England was in proportion to the real property of England. The debt in Scotland was £2,400,000, and the annual value of the real property there was £12,000,000, being about 20 per cent of debt upon that annual value; while the debt in England was £5,236,000, and the annual value of real property in this country £117,000,000, the debt being about 5 per cent on that annual value. He understood that the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, had ventured to defend the turnpike system, although he knew that it cost £500,000 to raise £1,000,000 in tolls. Now, he contended that any turnpike trust free from debt had no right to continue to raise tolls. There was a trust, called the first and second district, in Essex, of 180 miles in length, which had continued to levy £3,000 a year in tolls since 1837. That was at variance with the common law of England. There were 135 trusts in England, owing no debt, which collected £170,000 a year. His plan would be to fall back on the common law of the country, as had been done in Ireland. A rate of 2d. in the pound on the annual value of all the real property of the country would give enough to keep up the roads, pay the interest on the debt, provide gradually for its extinction, and buy up all the bridges of the country. He estimated that the whole cost would be £824,000, or £40,000 short of the amount which a rate of 2d. in the pound would give. The right hon. Gentleman last Session recommended him to follow one of two courses, either to bring in a Bill, or, if the Motion were refused, to induce Rebecca to appear again and destroy the toll gates throughout the country. With regard to drawing a Bill the right hon. Gentleman had his own draughtsman, whose public duty it was to do that, and he should therefore desire the right hon. Gentleman to do that work, or get it done for himself. But with respect to "Rebecca," if there were a Rebecca rising in England similar to that which took place in Wales, he could only say that he should, with all his heart, desire a successful result to the movement. If the Government now opposed his Motion he should consider it nothing more or less than a capricious exercise of power. It was said these Commissions were expensive, but he would remind the House that the cost of the Commission for Scotland was £185, and the one for Ireland only £350, and it had resulted in freeing the whole of that country from tolls; and he would further remind the House that the Fine Arts Commission cost the country £11,000, without any good result apparently. It was perfectly reasonable and fail that what he now asked for should be granted, and that it should not be refused through the capricious conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary.


seconded the Motion.


The two opinions which my hon. Friend has attributed to mo are inconsistent with each other, and I cannot admit that either of the two imputations are well founded. My hon. Friend says that last Session I recommended the people of England to resort to Rebecca in order to get rid of turnpike-gates, and he also represents mo as an ardent zealot for the turnpike system. I have no recollection of having made that recommendation, and I beg to disclaim being in any degree a fervent admirer of maintaining roads by a system of turnpike tolls. I am quite aware that there is hardly any method of taxation the cost of collecting which amounts to so large a percentage. That, I admit, is a considerable objection to the system of turnpike tolls; but the incidence of the tax is to this extent fair, that it falls on those who use the roads, and does not fall on those who do not use them. Although persons who live a short distance from a turnpike gate do not pay so frequently as persons who live close to it, still the general incidence of the tax must be considered fair. When it is proposed to abolish the system of turnpike tolls in England, because such is the effect of the proposal of my hon. Friend, and to substitute an assessment upon the land, it is right to consider what is the present financial state of the existing turnpike trusts. That financial state must undoubtedly be described as favourable. The total revenue has not materially diminished since 1849. In 1849 the total revenue throughout England was£l,097,000. In 1857, which is the last year for which the accounts have been presented, the total revenue was £1,030,000. Therefore, notwithstanding the great increase of railways, and the diminution of travelling on the main lines of turnpike-road, the total revenue must be considered stationary. The repairs, in like manner, have been stationary since the same year. In 1849 the repairs of turnpike roads in England cost £609,000; and in 1857 £611,000; therefore both the revenue and the principal item of expenditure have been stationary since the year 1849. There is also another very material consideration, to which the hon. Member adverted with respect to turnpike trusts, and also with respect to the policy and practicability of making the change which he proposes. That consideration is the amount of the debt and of the interest of the debt. The amount of both is considerable. Nevertheless, it is in gradual process of diminution. Both the debt and interest, considerable as they both are, are in progress of diminution, and therefore it cannot be said that that circumstance affords any reason for such a fundamental alteration in the mode of maintaining the roads as that proposed by the hon. Gentleman. In 1843 the bonded debt of turnpike trusts of England was£6,932,000. In 1857 it was diminished to £5,117,000, showing a diminution of £1,815,000 in that period of fourteen years. That exhibits, I think, a favourable aspect with regard to the state of turnpike finance. In 1843 the interest of the debt was £281,000. In 1857 it was £175,000, showing an annual diminution of £106,000. Therefore, in whatever point of view the finances of turnpike trusts are regarded, whether as regards the total revenue, the cost of repairs, the amount of principal, or the amount of the interest of the debt, we cannot find any circumstance which leads to the supposition that the present state of things is disastrous. As I have already stated, it is undoubtedly true that the tax is objectionable on the ground of the large cost of its collection. It is also a vexatious impost which persons feel who are stopped on the road and called on to pay a small sum. But when that has been said I do not see that any strong case can be established against the present system, nor did I discover that my hon. Friend was able to allege any great defect. If there was a general desire to abolish turnpike tolls and resort to the mode of repairing all the roads of the kingdom by an assessment, there would not be the smallest difficulty in arranging such a system. There is no necessity to issue a Commission in order to frame such a plan. I would undertake, without putting my hon. Friend to the expense of employing a draughtsman, to lay a Bill upon the table by this day week which would most effectually carry that object into operation. But the difficulty is to obtain general consent to substitute for a system of turnpike tolls a system of highway rates. A very simple plan has been sent to me by a gentleman in the country which the House will see would most effectually accomplish the views of my hon. Friend. The plan is to keep up the present turnpike gates until the whole turnpike debt is discharged; that is to say, to make the debt the exclusive charge on the toll revenue, to keep up the gates only to pay the interest of the debt, and to create an annual sinking fund, and to throw the whole expense of the repairs on the rates, as in the case of ordinary parish highways. I think it will be seen that that is a very simple plan, and that after a certain number of years the present turnpike debt would be extinguished. If the House were likely to agree to such a plan, it would not be at all necessary to go through the process and delay of a Commission; but I entertain very considerable doubts whether, if I or my hon. Friend brought in such a Bill, it would be likely to meet with general assent. I feel sure that the difficulty consists not in devising the means for the accomplishment of the end, but in obtaining the general concurrence of the House. For that reason I regret that it is not in my power to consent to the Motion of my hon. Friend.


said, he agreed that the issue of a Commission on this subject was not necessary. It was a mistake, however, to suppose that tolls were abolished in South Wales. On the contrary, the roads there were mainly supported by tolls. No more was levied upon the county rates than was required to pay the interest of the original debt. In his county, out of the sum of £24,000, £16,000, or two-thirds of the whole, went to the repairs of the roads, the remaining £8,000 going towards the payment of the interest of the sum advanced by Government, and for the extinguishment of the debt. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that he miscalculated greatly if he thought an impost of 2d. in the pound would not be strongly objected to. At present the rate was not more than ½d. in the pound, and it was strongly objected to, and only tolerated because it was so small. He (Mr. Philipps), for one, was not anxious to see any feeling against turnpike tolls encouraged in populous places, as he thought that police regulations made it expedient that tolls should be levied.

Motion made, and Question put, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire and Report how far it may be desirable and practicable to substitute an equitable system of assessment in lieu of the present mode of maintaining the Turnpike Roads and Bridges in England and Wales by tolls.

The House divided:—Ayes 12; Noes 78: Majority 66.