HC Deb 14 February 1862 vol 165 cc307-31

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


, in rising" to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, expressed his surprise that no strong grounds had been given to the House for such an extraordinary interference with the rights of property. Before taking away from the owners and occupiers of property the right of managing their own affairs, it ought to be shown that they had so grievously neglected their duties as to deserve this severe punishment. The Bill was uncalled for and unnecessary. For several years similar Bills had been submitted to Parliament, but scarcely a single petition had been presented in favour of them, while, on the other hand, there had been a large number of petitions, from large and small parishes, presented against them. What the parishes ask was that they may be permitted to manage their own affairs in the most economical way they could. He objected to the Bill, because it was an extension of that principle of centralization and bureaucracy to which the people of this country were so much opposed, and he felt sure that if that system were pushed much further they would not remain so patient as many hon. Gentlemen seemed to anticipate. The exercise of the right of parishes to meet in vestry and manage their own affairs was essential to fostering a spirit of independence in the people, and ought not to be interfered with. The Bill, he believed, would not effect the object which it professed to aim at. He would remind the House that the principle of connecting parishes into districts for the more convenient repair of their roads had been in existence for a great many years. Parishes already had the power, under the 5 & 6 Will. IV., so to accumulate themselves into districts. If this could be done with advantage, he had not so mean an opinion of his countrymen as to think they would not have availed themselves of this power; but the fact that that Act had not been carried out showed that this Bill was entirely uncalled for. He was informed that the power had been used in only one county —the instances, at any rate, were very few. The only argument used for the Bill— that the repair of the roads under the present system was everybody's business, and therefore nobody's business—was a very weak one. If it could be shown that the powers of the present law had not been put into force, or that its provisions had been found inefficient and imperfect, there would have been some reason for an application for a change; but, even then, the change ought to have been made in a different manner from this extreme provision for confiscating the rights of property. He believed that many hon. Members were not aware of the present condition of the law upon this subject. It was this—every parish met in vestry once a year, and elected an officer to perform the duty of seeing to the repairs of the roads—they appointed their own surveyor for their own parish, to look after their own expenditure. If the roads were not kept in proper repair, anybody might go to any justice of the peace and get a summons against the surveyor under whose care they were; the charge, however, must be heard before the justices at special sessions for the highways. The justices might then either inspect the roads themselves, or send a competent person to view them; and if his report were that the roads were not properly kept, they might fine the surveyor for neglect, and make an order for the repair. A preliminary inquiry had to be made whether the parish admitted that the highway, the non-repair of which was complained of, was within their limits. They might deny it altogether, or defend themselves by stating that some private person was liable to repair ratione tenure. In case they disputed their liability, the question would be raised by indictment at the next assizes; and the House, he thought, would hardly be in a hurry to deprive them of the privilege of having the question determined before a judicial tribunal by the verdict of a jury. It was difficult to master the extremely complicated details of the Bill, which had been in the hands of Members little more than twenty-four hours; for, instead of stating precisely what its object was, there were references to innumerable Acts of Parliament. But if it did not take away this privilege from the parishes, at least it threw great difficulties in the way of its exercise. If the liability of the parish were not disputed, the magistrates, having satisfied themselves that the road was really out of repair, had the power of fining the surveyor £5, of ordering him to repair the road immediately, and in default might inflict a further forfeiture of a sum sufficient to put the road in repair. Nothing was easier under the present law than for a person to procure a summons, and have any grievance redressed. The surveyor is to keep a weekly account of his receipts and expenditure, and his account is to be at all reasonable times open to the inspection of any ratepayer without fee or reward. At the end of the year the surveyor must lay his accounts before the vestry, and before the justices of the peace at the special sessions for the highways; and the justices are required to examine him as to the truth of the accounts, and to hear any complaints against them. From personal experience, he could testify to the simplicity and satisfactory nature of the process. If the decision of the justices at petty sessions gave dissatisfaction, an appeal lay to the whole body at quarter sessions. It seemed strange that alteration should be needed in a system so simple as this; and if change was required, it certainly was not in the direction of an extension of taxation without responsibility, But if difficulty was experienced in getting roads repaired under the present law, he wanted to know what would be the case under the new Bill? All the duties, liabilities, and responsibilities of the surveyors, were to be transferred to the new District Boards; but he looked in vain for any provisions by which these Boards could be compelled to repair. One clause in the Bill expressly repealed the penalty leviable on the surveyor for neglect of duty; and another clause declared that no member of the Board should be responsible in any shape or way. If the object of the Bill were to secure the better repair of the roads, would hon. Gentlemen be good enough to point out the clauses in which compulsory powers were given? The pub- lic ought also to know something of the way in which waywardens were dealt with. They got no gratuity whatever, but were liable to a penalty of not more than £5 or less than £1 for every meeting of the Board they failed to attend, although the meetings might be held at five, six, or ten miles from their own residence. It might be supposed that under the new law, which gave to the minority uncontrolled dominion over the property of the majority, great care would be exercised with regard to financial operations. But the new Bill proposed that, instead of producing their books annually, the Board should audit their own accounts; they were not to produce them anywhere, or to subject them to any examination, beyond publishing a copy in one of the county newspapers, and sending another copy to the Secretary of State, who would lay an abstract of them before Parliament. Supposing that one of his constituents had reason to complain of gross jobbery on the part of the Board—and Boards were liable now and then to gross jobbery, the only remedy would probably be to request him to move in Parliament for a copy of the account in extenso, in order that he might point out some item peculiarly open to objection. This would furnish employment to Members on Fridays, when they were at liberty to bring forward grievances. Unfortunately, they usually did so to empty benches, and it was not difficult to foresee the result of a discussion raised on a local highway grievance. In conclusion, he had to express his hope that the House would reject the Bill; and he begged to move that it be read a second time that day six months.


, in seconding the Motion, said, that when this subject was before the House two Sessions ago he ventured to state his objections to the Bill then brought in by the Government, many of which he perceived to be continued in the present Bill. He should not, therefore, trouble them with a repetition of his opinions in detail, especially as he had not seen any reason to change his mind since that time. He was free to admit that some objectionable features of the former Bill were not to be found in the present; but still he believed there was fault sufficient to be found with the measure now before the House. He could corroborate what had been said by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment as to the feeling which existed against this Bill on the part of the constituencies of the country. Indeed, the matter was placed beyond a doubt by the number of petitions which had been presented during the last and the preceding Session against the Bills now before the House. The question was not whether the roads and highways of this country were in as good a state as they could wish them to be. Neither was it one as to whether the parsimony sometimes displayed on this subject was economy or not. He quite admitted that it would be desirable to have our highways in a better state, even though that object were to be accomplished by an increased expenditure; but he denied that the remedy was to be found in legislation such as that proposed by this Bill. It was contrary to all experience to find a divided responsibility—or, he should rather say, irresponsibility—in public Boards result in an efficient management of the duties intrusted to their charge. He regretted that the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) had not made an explanatory statement in moving the second reading, for, under present circumstances, the House was rather left to guess at the arguments by which they were called on to support it. On all former occasions they had the Boards of South Wales paraded before them. In a Committee on which he served last Session he had an opportunity of hearing something of roads in South Wales; and what was stated showed that they were in anything but a satisfactory state, and that there was anything but a unanimous opinion that these Welsh Boards were successful. Besides this, the case of the Welsh roads had always been treated as an exceptional one. Then they had been told to look at the turnpike roads of England. He had taken the trouble to look into the expense of the turnpike system. He was perfectly astonished at the cost; and he had arrived at the conclusion that the system was utterly inapplicable to the highways of this country. The district plan had also been recommended to them; but the fact that the districts formed in the early stages of the working of the present law had not been adopted as a model, was sufficient to show that the district system had not answered. He hoped the House would pause before they destroyed a system which was theoretically right because it was said to have been badly administered. Had it in reality been badly administered through the fault of those intrusted with its administration? Within a comparatively short time after the present Act came into operation there was a tremendous onslaught made on it by the authorities of the Home Office, and from that time to the present these attacks had been continued. Could it be wondered at, under such a state of things, that the law had not been well carried out? What set of men were likely to incur the odium of putting a large expense on a parish when there was good reason for supposing that the law was about to be altered? It would be as reasonable to expect improvements by an agricultural tenant who was kept under a perpetual notice to quit. But assuming that the present system would not work satisfactorily as it stood, would it not be much wiser to add a plan of supervision instead of deparochializing the system? An inspector might be appointed to look after the highways, and to advise the road surveyors in case of neglect. If his advice was not attended to, he might be afforded the means of compelling the fulfilment of his requirements by appeal to a magistrate. The accounts might be audited by such inspector or by the present auditor of Poor Law accounts. By the 37th clause of the Bill now before the House justices of the peace would have power to perform judicial functions with respect to cases in which they had acted as way-wardens. That was a very objectionable principle, and one repugnant to English usage. This was not so much a question of good roads as preferable to bad; the great question was, whether they would annihilate their present parochial system, and take one step more in the policy of centralization that was diametrically opposed to the spirit of the Constitution, and the feelings and inclinations of the country. He seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, that, as a resident in the country and conversant with country matters, he must say that his experience of the condition of the highways brought him to a conclusion the very opposite of those stated by the hon. Members who had spoken on each side of him. The parish roads were mostly in very bad condition; and he had never found an overseer or waywarden, as he was called, who knew more of making a high road than he knew of the way to the moon. He knew the hon. Member for Nottinghamshire represented the opinions of his constituents, but on this subject he doubted if he represented their interests, for he knew that in his hon. Friend's county, as well as in his own, the roads were generally in a very bad state, and he was convinced that the change pro-posed by the Bill would not only greatly improve the roads, but at the same time materially reduce the rates. He would take the liberty of mentioning the case in which he had found himself. Some time ago he occupied 400 acres of land; it was in four different parishes, and there were four overseers of the roads. It was difficult to find out who they were, for the most intelligent farmers would not accept the office, and it was generally taken by the smaller occupiers. In one of these parishes a bridge was destroyed—swept away by a torrent. It was rebuilt; but, in the first place it was constructed diagonally to the stream, instead of straight across it; and the work was so imperfect that it had to be done over again. Such instances were occurring every day. Only last week he had been compelled to threaten an indictment to obtain the repair of a piece of road that could not be passed without danger to the carriage and passengers. It was true that, to escape the indictment, the repairs were made. Yes, but consider the difference between a high road in an indictable condition, and one in good repair. The subject had excited more interest than he had supposed; and of this they might be certain, that without some change in the persons charged with the duty of overseers it would be impossible to keep the roads in good repair, or secure an economical and effective system of management.


thought, that whether the high roads of the country were in a proper state of repair or not, was a very important question. There were many parts of England where the old parochial system had been well carried out, and where the roads were still in a good state of repair: but it would be found that this was where enterprising landlords and tenants had expended capital on the land, and they had taken care that the roads so necessary to their welfare and comfort should be properly attended to. But what was the state of the roads in districts where farming was backward, under small holders and needy landlords? In some of these districts the repair of the high roads had been lamentably neglected. The question for the House to consider was, whether the repair of these high roads was not an important object, and whether the present Bill was a measure that met the case. He thought that, with some alterations and amendments in Committee, the Bill might be so framed as to be made a very useful measure. In the poorer districts, where the repair of the roads had not been carried out, there it would be found that, by a want of management, persons not qualified had been employed in the work, and that material had been carted on to the roads at improper seasons of the year. Where the amount of the high-way-rate was worked out by the farmers, when the team could not be employed on the farm it was sent to work on the roads; and probably the amount of a shilling in damage was done for every eighteenpence spent in carting stone at that time. He did not think he overstated the case in setting down one-third of the roads throughout the country as in good repair, one-third in a moderately good condition, and one third in a decidedly bad state. He gave every credit to those efficient way-wardens who had done their duty well and honestly; but, taking the whole of the country into consideration, he thought something more must be done. The question was, would the Bill effect that object? It had been stated that there was already an Act under which parishes might be amalgamated together, and a paid surveyor of the roads appointed. In the few cases he knew of a paid surveyor having been so employed the system had worked admirably; the highway rates that had risen to 2s. 6d. in the pound had, in more than one instance, been reduced to 1s. He ventured to think that, if a Bill of that kind could be applied to the districts that required it, it would be no detriment either to landlords or tenants, and of vast benefit to the community at large. He would therefore give his cordial assent to the second reading.


said, he had voted against two previous Bills on this subject, but in the present measure what he most had objected to was removed. The present Bill allowed a part of a county to be formed into a district. He did not think the Bill involved such a confiscation or such centralization as the hon. Member for Nottingham then apprehended. The adoption of the Bill would rest with the local magistracy, and the working of it with the rate-payers. In fact, it applied to the management of the highways the same principle that had been applied to the administration of the Poor Law. The area of management was to be extended from the parish to the district, as under the Poor Law the area was extended from the parish to the Union. But the landowners and the rate-payers would still have the management of their own affairs. The evil of the present system of road management was its inequality. In a distance of six miles five might be tolerably good, and the sixth very bad indeed. The larger area could make larger contracts, give better work, and pay a good surveyor—a person not to be found in every parish. At present the management of the roads was generally handed over by one farmer to the other, who knew very little of roadmaking; and there was a tendency to give the work on the roads to the worst men— the incapable, the idle, and the vagabond. The hon. Member for Nottinghamshire said parishes had the power to unite into districts under an existing Act; yes, but under it one parish could defeat the good intentions of several adjoining it. He said, "You have power enough already, if you will put in force the present law." But how was the difficulty of the poor parishes and the small area to be dealt with? Owing to the existence of this small area, the necessary expenditure could not be afforded, and it was here that you wanted some such arrangement as was provided by the Bill. Then it was said that the bad roads were the result of the terror which had been excited throughout the country from the introduction of these Highway Bills. But, if there was any truth in this statement, not one-third of the roads only would be bad, for this cause would operate universally. In his county the roads were in general exceedingly well managed; but there were other parts of the county in which this was not the case, and it was in these bad districts such a bill was required. A short time ago he had occasion to drive from a country town to a railway station, a distance of five miles and a half; and the roads ran through seven different jurisdictions for repair. The first half mile was a turnpike road No. 1; then came two miles of a parish road No. 1; next a bridge and 200 yards kept by hundred rate No. 1; then half a mile of parish road No. 1; next a bridge and 400 yards kept by twelve tenants ratione tenurœ; then a mile of parish road No. 2; then half a mile of turnpike road No. 2; then a bridge and 200 yards kept by hundred rate No. 2; and the rest of the way was turnpike road No. 2. The turnpike road No. 1 was not had, No. 2 being better. Parish road No. 1 was very good, but No. 2 was execrable. The hundred rates cost £6 or £8 to make, and therefore were seldom raised. The ratione tenurœ tenants did nothing for twenty years and then appealed to the public for help, because there was so much to be done. Surely it would be highly beneficial to have in force a system which would get rid of some of these small and different jurisdictions, and place the roads under one good management. It would also be desirable in some cases to afford facilities by which an obnoxious toll-bar might be got rid of. But those were matters for consideration in Committee rather than in a discussion of principle. No doubt, the Bill was a complicated one, and perhaps the best course under the circumstances would be to read it a second time and to refer it to a Select Committee.


said, that two Sessions ago he joined his hon. Friend (Mr. Barrow) in opposing the second reading of the Highway Bill then introduced; but the opinion of the House was so strongly expressed in favour of some such measure that he should not himself have thought it necessary to trouble the House by asking them to go to a division at this stage, more especially as the changes introduced into this measure were all an approach to the principle which he had ventured to advocate. The Bill was, however, still objectionable in this respect—that it really introduced compulsory government by Boards. True, it was at the option of the magistrates to constitute a Board of Highways or not. But his constituents did not like that such a system should be forced upon them at the option of any persons. They had no faith in the economy of Boards, however efficient; and they feared not only that a Board of Management would be attended with great expense, but that it would lead to some ulterior measure—some central Board in London on the pretence of maintaining uniform legislation throughout the country. He believed there was a good deal of reason in these objections; and, at any rate, he thought that so great a legislative change ought not to be made if the same result could be secured by some more simple measure. Believing that this might be done, he should at a future stage try to accomplish the end in view in a more direct and less expensive way. The defects of the present highway system were very simple. He differed from his hon. Friend in thinking that there were no defects. The great blot in the present system was that the public had no sufficient voice in looking after their own interest, and that the managers generally misapprehended their duties. The general impression among the surveyors seemed to be that if the roads of the district were sufficient for the requirements of the district, this was all that could be looked for. But the public were just as much interested in these roads as the district itself was, and were equally entitled to expect that they should be in good condition. The public, however, might be protected by simpler means than were proposed. It had been suggested that a district surveyor should be appointed, with power to inspect and report to some higher authority. Now, the ratepayers would not, he believed, object to some greater power being exercised on the part of the public if they were allowed to make the repairs ordered in their own way. He would therefore merely divide the counties into districts, appointing a surveyor to look after each, and in this way a remedy would be applied to all the defects of the present highway system. The law, would then, he thought, have to be enforced in very rare cases, and when the public had a voice in the matter all the roads would be much better looked to. He was aware that this proposal was liable to the objection of his hon. Friend, that it would take more power out of the hands of the ratepayers. But he believed that the ratepayers would not object to the authority he had suggested. After the strong opinion which bad been expressed in favour of some such Bill, he would advise his hon. Friend not to divide the House against the second reading. Perhaps the best mode of dealing with the Bill would be to refer it to a Select Committee, as had just been suggested. He should not himself offer any opposition to the second reading, but should take the opportunity upon future stages of the Bill of endeavouring to make it more conformable with his views.


said, the roads of South Wales had been mentioned somewhat disparagingly, and he thought rather unfairly. He recollected when those roads were in a really bad state, but he wished to bear testimony to the improvement that had been made under the operation of Lord Cawdor's Act. Not many years ago a Welsh clerk of the peace, being asked by a committee of the House of Commons "what was the state of the highways in Wales?" replied, "There are none." He was asked, "How do you travel, then?" to which he answered, "In ditches." He had himself ridden many score miles in roads which wore more truly the beds of brooks. He (Mr. Bruce) lived in a parish of 18,000 acres, and in it there were four hamlets. The surveyors used to be farmers, who in many instances celebrated their year of office by making good roads up to their own farm-houses. Each hamlet had its own unpaid surveyor. Availing themselves of the powers given them by the Highways Act, the parishioners appointed one paid surveyor for the four hamlets, at a salary of £40, and in a very short time he reduced the highway rates to half their former amount, while the roads were four times as good. The highways of South Wales were now managed on a system almost identical with that proposed by the Bill before the House. The adoption of that system was not due, as the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hodgkinson) supposed, to the Rebecca riots, which affected only turnpike roads, but was the work of a nobleman of great ability and administrative powers—the late Lord Cawdor. At the request of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Hardy) he had written to clerks of several districts in Glamorganshire to inquire into the relative efficiency of the old and new systems. He had received very full and satisfactory returns, making out, he believed, in every instance, a case of reduced expenditure and increased efficiency. The measure worked well, and without any of those evil consequences threatened by the Member for Notts.


said, that having for many years felt great interest in every measure of this kind, and being desirous of seeing something done to remedy the defects of the present administration of highway law, he could not but support the second reading of this Bill. In doing so he must not be taken as agreeing to all the clauses, or even all the principles in the Bill. In the first place, he thought it was unnecessarily complicated. He could not see upon what principle the Secretary of State for the Home Department was to be drawn in as an active party in carrying out the provisions of this Bill. He believed it would be better if it were left to the magistrates of the county in the first instance to set the new system in motion, and that they should have the power, if they thought fit, upon representations being made to them, to sub-divide the county into districts in such manner as would best enable them to administer the law. Having done that, he did not see why the Secretary of State should be called upon to confirm such arrangement. The Secretary of State would be placed in the predicament of deciding between contending parties upon matters of which he could have no positive knowledge, and concerning which he could only derive his information from the magistrates on the one hand or the parishes on the other. There were other parts of the Bill to which he objected; but, as they were matters that could be better discussed in Committee, he should not enter upon them on the present occasion; he should therefore confine himself to the general principle of the measure and the reasons why he thought the House would adopt and the country would accept something, although, perhaps, not this Bill in its present shape. His experience led him to think that a large amount of money was now thrown away upon the management of highways. Some hon. Gentlemen were afraid that the new system of way-wardens and what had been called irresponsible boards, would necessarily cause increased expense. He had a firm conviction that if the waywardens did their duty a large diminution in the present rate of expenditure would follow. The public had a right to expect when travelling over eight or ten miles of roads that they should not be subject for one-half the distance to journey over execrable roads, when, by simple management, the road might be made equally good throughout its length. He was sure that a larger area of management under proper control would lighten the expense upon all, and greatly tend to the advantage of the public. The hon. Member for Nottinghamshire (Mr. Barrow) had used a hard word—"confiscation," but neither he nor the hon. Seconder had given any definition of the term to justify its use in reference to this Bill. Whore could be the confiscation of property when the management was to be in the hands of the parties interested—the ratepayers and the waywardens? The hon. Gentleman had said that, under the present law, the ratepayers met in vestry to elect officers; but that was really not a correct description of what took place. True, the vestries elected officers, as they were compelled to name some one to be surveyor; but it was notorious that one man after another sought to evade it or to get out of it as soon as possible, and, when obliged to serve, the surveyor was incompetent to perform his duties because he was ignorant and uninstructed in them. That state of things demanded a remedy, and he knew none so good as the appointment of a district surveyor—a man with specific duties, who would be paid for the discharge of them and responsible to some authority for their due performance. Such a remedy would, he believed, tend to improve the parish roads, and at the same time to diminish the expense. It was said that the vestries might give salaries now; but who would expect them to do so when the person elected knew nothing of the duties he had to discharge, and who only accepted the office because he could not avoid it? Some such system as that now proposed was necessary. The hon. Seconder of the amendment had alluded to clause 37, giving the magistrates certain powers which he thought they ought not to possess, but upon reference to the clause it would be seen that it only applied to magistrates at quarter sessions who happened to be way-wardens and who were not therefore to be precluded from acting as magistrates. A hint had been thrown out about referring the Bill to a Select Committee. If he believed that such a reference would shelve the Bill, he should oppose it, because he thought the measure was based upon a principle laid down by a Committee; but, assuming the principle to be adopted, and with the distinct understanding that the Committee should entertain nothing but the Bill in order to put it into working shape, without taking evidence, he should not object to the suggested reference. Looking at the diversity of opinions upon the subject and the complicated nature of the Bill, he was disposed to think that would be the most practicable mode of getting some measure passed this Session.


said, that feeling a deep interest in this subject, he was anxious to bear his testimony as to the necessity of passing some measure of the kind. The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Hodgkinson) had said that it was not a question whether there should be good roads or bad roads, but whether the parishes should he interfered with. He (Mr. Walter) thought the House would agree that in a Bill for the better management of highways, the state of those highways had something to do with the question. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill (Mr. Barrow) had given the House a minute description of the legal remedies available for the enforcement of the present system; but from his experience he (Mr. Walter) could conscientiously say that he should never dream of attempting to resort to those remedies, because there was no machinery to carry them out. Any one riding along a country road, and seeing the way in which road-mending was carried on—a cartload of large stones tumbled down and merely strewed over the road—the side, which should be left turfed for the benefit of riders, being broken up and destroyed -could come to no other conclusion than that those who were employed in carrying out the repairs were incompetent to the performance of their duties. Let any one consider what the parochial system was upon a matter of this kind. He believed the average area of the parishes in this country was 3,000 acres. No one would say that such an area was sufficient to employ a competent staff to manage the repairs of the roads. Then again, there were in many districts in the South of England what were called "drift ways," which were being gradually brought into use—roads which until within a few years had been merely sand roads or turf roads, but which, in consequence of increased population, were being gradually put into a proper state of repair and made passable for carriages. Suppose three parishes— and he knew of such a case; that the parish at one end, which he would call A, put its road in perfectly good repair; the parish C, at the other end, did the same thing; but the parish B, between the two, left its road utterly impassable, for carriages. Would any one tell him that was a proper state for the roads of the country to be kept in, or that any Hill which deprived the parish of the power of leaving its roads in this disgraceful condition should be charged with centralization and confiscation, and he knew not what other terms? There were certainly some clauses in this Bill which he should wish to see dispensed with. He did not know why the Secretary of State should trouble himself with the accounts about those roads, overburdened as he was already with other business. He considered that that was really the centralizing element of the Bill. There was no more reason that accounts should be sent into the Secretary of State for those districts roads, than that the accounts for county bridges and roads in general should be referred to the Secretary of State. He hoped, therefore, that in Committee that clause would be expunged. It appeared to him that roads, being intended for the public benefit, and not for the benefit of the parish merely, should be kept in repair for the benefit of the public. If such roads were merely means to an end, it must be quite evident, he thought, to every one that the public at large were as much interested in the roads at one end of the kingdom as in the roads in their own parishes. That principle he had always supported as an amendment of the present law, and he should cordially support the second reading of the present Bill.


said, they had had Highway Bills so often before them, that it would be a curious thing to have a sort of variorum edition of Highway Bills, to see how they agreed or differed one from another. His opinion of the merits of the present Bill would depend very much upon the answer be received from the Home Secretary to the question he wished to ask as to the true interpretation of the 5th clause. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had given a very curious illustration of the evils of the present system, when he said—Suppose that parish A and parish C made their drift way good at either end, but that parish B bad an impassable bad road in the midst. Well, under the existing law the remedy was very simple—it was as simple as A B C. Assuming it to be a legal highway—for otherwise neither this Bill nor the existing law would enable it to be done — the remedy was most simple. Let them go before the magistrates at petty sessions, and the thing might be done; it was inexpensive and of no difficulty. But, so far as be had been able to read this Bill, that remedy had been entirely cut from under their feet. He did not see any remedy at all in the Bill. The Bill expressly exempted the Board from all the penalties which fell upon the surveyor now if be did not do his duty, by the express enactment that those penalties were taken away. But it might be said they had the old remedy by indictment for nuisance. Unfortunately the parish might be indicted and the inhabitants amerced by fine; but they would have no power by law, according to the Bill, of abating the nuisance. That was a point which was capable of being remedied in Committee; but it had been said that Boards had neither noses to be polled, nor another part to be kicked, and it did not appear what remedy was given against Boards if they failed to discharge the duties imposed upon them. Boards, however, were very pugnacious, and he ventured to say that country Boards would fight any one who attacked them, to the last breath in their body. They were very pugnacious, because, among other reasons, they did not fight with their own individual money, but with the money of the ratepayers. He was almost induced to call this a pleasant Bill, because there was really a provision in it so very extraordinary that he had not seen anything like it of late years. They would constitute a Board of way-wardens, who were to be elected. Those gentlemen would meet. The right hon Gentleman was evidently afraid that his Boards would not meet, and therefore he imposed a penalty upon them of something between £1 and £5 for non-attendance. But who was to enforce it? Why, the gentlemen themselves. That was a very pleasant arrangement. But if they did not do their duty, who was to fine them and make them meet? Why, they would fine themselves. That was a degree of virtue which he thought it possible that a Board might not always possess. They had heard in times past of churchwardens' dinners and all that sort of thing, which they had hoped was got rid of; but here was a nice machinery set up exactly for the same purpose. Here was a Board which had power to fine from £5 to £1. They might borrow to any extent; there was no limit except the consent of the Secretary of State. And then they were to audit their own accounts; so that the parties whose money was spent were to have no check. But those men were to have the auditing of their own accounts, which was equivalent to saying that there was to be no check at all. Why, they might have turtle dinners put in as items in the road accounts. Who was to know? He thought the right hon. Gentleman Would see that that was a provision which, whether the Bill went upstairs or was dealt With in that House, must have a proper remedy put to it. Where persons were spending other people's money it was right there should be an independent audit. These were some of the prominent objections which appeared to him to exist to the details of the Bill; and, certainly, some rather odd arguments had been used that night in its favour. The hon. Member for Sussex (Mr. Dodson) had given a strong illustration of the inconvenience he suffered in going a distance of five miles and a half through seven different jurisdictions to a railroad. One turnpike road was bad, and one good; there was a parish road very good, and another execrable; there were I two "hundred" bridges, and there were roads ratione tenurœ. But this Bill would not deal with the "hundred" bridges; they would remain untouched— the bad turnpike roads would remain untouched. He might have a chance of amending his bad parish road or of making the good one worse. That was all the hon. Gentleman would gain by the Bill. But this Bill, if he had read the 5th clause aright, relieved him of a good deal of the difficulty he had felt with regard to the other Bills that had been submitted to the House. He did not know whether, under this clause, the magistrates at quarter sessions would have power simply to make one district, and so from time to time to bring other districts into the system, if it ! was thought desirable; or whether, upon the requisition of five magistrates, it would be imperative on the quarter sessions to divide the whole county into districts. The; nature of the information he received would decide his vote. If it was left open to the ' quarter sessions, on the requisition of magistrates in the neighbourhood, to form a; district, it might be generally presumed I that that would not be done without the wishes of the inhabitants, and he for one could see no objection to a system of that kind, because the principle volenti non fitinjuria was a very sound one. If the parties wished for such an arrangement, they would be brought to have a good district surveyor, and no doubt the roads would be: made better and more economically. If they got a good district surveyor, they got better roads. But in a poor district with small farmers they might have a district surveyor job, as Boards would job as well as other people; and if they got a bad surveyor, they would have more expense and worse roads, because there would be less control over him. And therefore it would depend upon the explanation which the right hon. Gentleman would give of the 5th clause, which was by no means clear, whether or not he would support the Motion for the second reading. It was true that these and other points might be amended in a Committee, either upstairs or in that House; and as the Bill had been introduced early in the Session, he hoped something would be made of the subject in time.


said, that he had not addressed the House on moving the second reading, because he felt that he had nothing new to state, the present measure being identical in principle with other previous Bills which had received the sanction of that House. With the exception of the hon. Gentlemen who moved and second ed the Amendment, the Bill appeared to have met with very general assent as far as regards the principle that Highway districts should be formed, and Highway Boards established, to superintend the repair of the roads in those districts by means of paid district surveyors, whose business should be exclusively to attend to that duty. These Highway Boards were to be composed of the representatives of the ratepayers in each of the parishes forming a district. The Bill rested on authority and experience. The House had repeatedly affirmed its principle. The existing Highway Act, as it passed the House of Commons, contained a provision for the compulsory union of parishes as Highway districts, which provision was modified by the House of Lords so as to make it optional on the parishes to form the districts. The result was that that provision was acted upon but in a very few instances, as the assent of every individual parish had to be obtained; but in the districts where the power had been exercised, and the roads placed under the charge of district surveyors, the result had been most beneficial in the improvement of the roads and the economy of expenditure. An hon. Member (Mr. H. Bruce) had referred to South Wales, where it was stated the system adopted was almost identical with that proposed by the present Bill; and he found, by the last accounts, that in 1859 the expense of maintaining the roads there was, on an average, only £6 per mile, while in England it amounted to £11 2s. Thus it appeared that the expenditure on roads in South Wales was very little inure than half the amount spent in England, while, according to the testimony of the hon. Member, the roads in South Wales were kept in a better condition. The hon. Member for Nottinghamshire (Mr. Barrow) said that the Bill would confiscate the rights of parishes and deparochialize the country. Now, assuming that the high roads of England might he treated as parochial matters (which he denied), did the Bill confiscate the rates of parishes? The rates were to be collected within the parish I and applied within the parish, with the exception of that small portion which was to be appropriated for the expenses of the Board, the district surveyor, and clerk. As to deparochializing the parishes, was it the fact that roads ought to be considered as exclusively local matters to be confided exclusively to the charge of each parish? That, as had been truly stated by the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), was not the case, and the public at large had a direct interest in a continuous road passing through several parishes, and would naturally desire that the management should not be broken up into several small jurisdictions, producing different results in respect to the manner in which the road was kept. It was said that there existed means for compelling the present authorities to do their duty. No doubt, that was the case, if the roads should be in an indictable state and not passable; but there were many roads which, though not in an indictable condition, formed a very unfavourable contrast with what was termed a good road; for there was a science in road-making as in other things. An hon. Gentleman had described one manner of road making to consist in the careless throwing down of cartloads of stones, and filling up a hole here and there, without any system. A road so repaired might be passable for carts, but it would not be in such a state as a line of communication between one part of the country and another ought to be in a civilized community. It could not be denied that many of the present surveyors were wholly unfit for the duty. It must be borne in mind that the establishment of railways had made some difference in respect to the public roads. The turnpike roads used to be the great lines of communication; but now other roads, radiating in all quarters from railways, were brought very greatly into use, and he feared that they would never be maintained in an efficient state of repair unless some such system as that proposed by the present Bill were adopted. But it was said by the hon. Member for North Lancashire (Col. Wilson patten) that a Board was a most cumbrous mode of obtaining the end in view, and might very well be dispensed with, and that all that was wanted was a district surveyor. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Member that a district surveyor was essential; but it must be remembered that the Board was a representative body, and he thought the Bill would have been open to greater objection if it dispensed with a representative Board, and merely left the appointment of the district surveyor in the hands of the magistrates. He believed that the Teal difficulty in passing these Bills through Parliament had proceeded from fear on the part of the ratepayers of expense consequent on the adoption of the proposed provisions. He did not deny that, when the roads were bad, there would be some expense in repairing them; but, when once the roads were, under the new system, put into a good state of repair, they would afterwards be kept in a much more efficient condition at much less expense than under the old system. One or two Members had asked why the Home Office interposed in this matter, if the magistrates agreed to divide a county or a portion of a county into a district. The only reason why the assent of the Home Office was made necessary to the final formation of a Highway district was, in case there should be any strong local opposition to the decision of the magistrates, that there might be an appeal to the Secretary of State, and an opportunity for reconsidering the matter. There was no desire on the part of the Home Office to add to its own duties by taking upon itself business of a merely local nature. It had been suggested last year that there should be a formal appeal from the decision of the magistrates. That, however, would clearly have been a cumbrous and inconvenient mode of operation, and a reference to the Secretary of State had been inserted instead. Still that precaution might be an unnecessary one; and if such should be the opinion of the House in Committee, he would be happy to dispense with it. It had been asked why the Home Office should interfere with the accounts. Under the present law, the accounts of turnpike trusts and of highways were sent to the Home Office, principally, he believed, for statistical purposes, that department being thought a convenient channel through which all such information should be obtained for Parliament. That, he believed, was the object of this provision. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) had objected to what he called the indefinite power of borrowing given to the Board, subject only to the approval of the Secretary of State. That was a point to be discussed rather in the Committee than on the second reading; and he hoped to be able to satisfy the right hon. Gentle man that this power was not indefinite. There was a limitation in the amount of highway rate itself which might be levied in any parish. The money must be borrowed on the security of the rates, and no one would lend more than the sum the interest of which could be paid out of the rates in addition to the cost of repairing the roads. However, any amendment that might be proposed on this point might be very fairly considered in Committee. So too, with regard to the audit, in respect to which the provision in the Bill was the same as the one in the South Wales Act. If it should be found that that provision had not worked well in South Wales, it would, perhaps, be better to have an independent audit. The right hon. Gentleman had also said that the Board would be under no liability that could be enforced to maintain the roads in good repair. The 19th clause, however, declared that the Highway Board should perform the same duties and be subject to the same obligations as those to which the local surveyor is liable. Therefore, the duty being transferred to the Board to be performed by their servant the district surveyor, if that duty were neglected proceedings might be taken against them as a corporate body to enforce the fulfilment of the obligations imposed on them by Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman fancied that the 5th clause was ambiguous, and asked whether it was imperative on the justices to divide the whole county into highway districts, or whether they might limit their action to a part of the county. Certainly it was the intention of the Bill—and he thought that intention was clearly expressed — that it should not be incumbent on the magistrates to divide the whole of the county into such districts, because there might be some parts of it in which the management of the roads did not require any alteration, and others where improvement was urgently demanded; and no doubt it would be competent to the justices in such cases to divide a portion of the county, instead of the whole, into districts. He did not know whether he had now sufficiently answered the observations of the right hon. Member for Oxford.


said, the right hon. Gentleman's answer was so far satisfactory, and, no doubt, if the wording of the provisions was not clear, it would be made so in Committee.


Some of the speakers who were friendly to the Bill had proposed that it should be referred to a Select Committee; and the lion. Member for Kent (MR. Deedes) had said, no doubt sincerely, that he would not make that suggestion if he thought it would tend to defeat the Bill. On a previous occasion, it might be remembered, a Bill of a similar nature to the present was referred to a Select Committee; and, though the Committee were very unanimous in favour of the measure, the result was that it could not be proceeded with that year. Nevertheless, the present Bill had been introduced very early in the Session; and therefore, if hon. Gentlemen adopting its principle, and being anxious only to consider, and, if possible, improve its details, went into a Select Committee, they would probably report in about three weeks, and no serious delay would arise. On that under standing, and provided that the Committee would merely go through the clauses with out taking evidence or discussing the principle, he should certainly not object to the Bill, after its second reading, being referred to a Select Committee.


was surprised that the right hon. Baronet should have said that nobody who had opposed the Bill that night had objected to its principle. Why, there was scarcely any of those hon. Gentlemen who had not objected to its principle. For himself, he strongly objected to it, and that on the ground of its tendency towards centralization. He did not say that the Bill boldly asserted the principle of centralization, but it took a step in that direction, and as those things always began by small degrees and increased in magnitude, he objected to it. The Bill proceeded practically to sweep away all local control. It was said that in the parochial system they had not uniformity; but if the advocates of uniformity should carry this Bill and create district boards, what means had they of enforcing uniformity? They would have to come to that House and seek to enforce uniformity by the establishment of a Central Board sitting in London. There would happen in this case what had happened in the case of the Poor Law; and he asked the Members for England would their constituents and the people of England be satisfied to place their local rates and roads under the power of a Central Board sitting in London? He thought they would view such a proceeding with the greatest repugnance. He had also a constitutional objection to the Bill, and did not think they should abolish what remained to them of local self-government until at all events a case was made out that it had fairly been tried and failed. Was there, he asked, any case made out to show that the system of parochial control and self-government had failed? The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) who bad made an able speech in favour of the Bill, gave an instance to show that they had not tried their present system sufficiently. Having passed over a road that required repair, he applied to the parochial authorities to repair it, and they repaired it accordingly. The system of centralization which the Bill proposed to extend might render it a very good law for the French, but, in his opinion, it would be a very bad law for England. Not a single petition had been presented to the House calling for a reform of the law in the sense proposed by the Bill.


I voted against a Highways Bill upon a former occasion; since that time I have been in communication with my constituents, but I found they were not agreed upon the question, although they were all desirous that something should be done to improve the present system. Finding this to be the case, I have come to the conclusion of giving my support to the present measure so far as voting for the second reading, in the hope that in Committee the Bill will be so improved as to effect the objects which all have in view.


I object to the formation of these Boards; and, believing that the real requirements of the case are exceedingly simple, I cannot vote for a Bill fraught with the dangers which the noble Lord opposite has described. Under the present system aged and infirm labourers are employed, and thus kept out of the workhouse, and farmers have an opportunity of occasionally employing their men and horses profitably. These are advantages which should not be lightly thrown away. It has been said that this Bill will ensure economy. It may create a saving in pounds, shillings, and pence, but with a waste of means which may effect a more real economy.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 141; Noes 30: Majority 111.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2o, and committed to a Select Committee.