§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ MR. BARROW
said, he objected to the principle of the Bill. He should have been more satisfied with the Bill if it had been made permissive. He objected to it, because it violated the principle that representation and taxation ought to go together, and put the taxation of the country too much under the control of the magistrates. One of the clauses provided that a magistrate whose act as a member of the board was appealed against, should not form one of the tribunal appealed to, but that would be very little protection to the ratepayers. He would move as an Amendment that the Bill be read a third 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. FREELAND
feared that it was too late to do more than enter his emphatic and deliberate protest against the passing of this wretched Highways Bill. By delegating to an irresponsible body the option of imposing a new system involving local taxation on their respective counties without being bound to consult the ratepayers, he thought that the Government had struck a blow at a principle that every Liberal ought to hold sacred, the principle that taxation and representation should go together. The Committee had been chosen exclusively from among those who approved of the principle of the measure, though it was difficult to say what that principle was; yet when this happy and united family got into a committee-room upstairs they divided, as he found from a Return which he held in his hand, no less than ten times on the clauses. 274 The Bill was based very much on the Welsh highways system. The Home Secretary had stated, that the Welsh highways cost, on an average, only £6 per mile; but he found, from a letter which he had himself received from the clerk of the Llansawel district, that in the mileage of those highways in some instances the mileage of bridle roads and footpaths was included. On the face of a Return which he himself had moved for, it appeared that in the Vaynor district, out of 64½ miles, 3¾ miles consisted of highways neither used nor repaired. In the Pontypridd district, out of 181¼ miles, 70 miles consisted of mountain tracks occasionally repaired. Looking at these facts, he was inclined to consider £6 per mile a high average, and he thought that the statistics of the Home Secretary could not be relied on. He objected to the establishment of a system tending to centralization, and to which the ratepayers were opposed. Highway boards had been established in Wales, and were now about to be established in England. A central Board would soon be asked for to rule unruly boards and to secure uniformity of highway administration. It was worthy of remark, that the only proposition involving a liberal concession to the ratepayers had come from the other side of the House—the proposition for giving to a majority of the vestries the right of interposing a veto between the provisional and final order of the magistrates. That proposition had been rejected by the Liberal Home Secretary of that which called itself a Liberal Government, though many of those who sat near him had long since ceased to put any faith in that designation. He rejoiced that the Bill had to go before another assembly, where the wishes of the ratepayers might, perhaps, receive more attention than they had received from the Home Secretary in that House.
MR. H. A. BRUCE
said, that from ten years' experience of the working of the South Wales Act he was enabled to say that the system had worked well, and had given general satisfaction. Many of the mountain tracks referred to by the hon. Gentleman had been improved, and generally the roads were put in a better condition than they were under the old system.
§ SIR BALDWIN LEIGHTON
observed, that the power proposed to be given to the magistrates was not unprecedented, for at present the justices had to decide upon the erection of lunatic asylums. If 275 the new powers were given to the magistrates, he did not believe that the ratepayers' interests would at all suffer; for, if the rates were heavier—which he did not expect—there would be the compensation that the roads would be better looked after.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would defer to the very large majorities which had already affirmed the Bill, and that the House would not be put to the trouble of dividing. They had heard how beneficially a similar measure had operated in Wales, and he must repeat his belief, that so far from the system it proposed being expensive, it would, while improving the roads, also turn out to be an economical one.
§ MR. THOMPSON
said, that although that Bill had been very handsomely abused in that House, the number of petitions that had been presented against it were few, and indicated a great falling-off as compared with the number presented in 1860 and 1861 against a similar measure. As to the supposed addition which the measure would entail to the taxation of the country, he had taken the opinion of some of the best surveyors in his neighbourhood, and one of them said that he would keep the roads in his district in repair for £100 a year less than they now cost. Other gentlemen having practical knowledge bore their testimony with equal emphasis in favour of the theory that the division of the country into districts each sufficient to occupy the whole time of an experienced person would really be an economical proceeding. He must also deny that the Bill would sever the connection between taxation and representation. It only applied to the highways of the country that principle of union and co-operation which had produced most of the great improvements of the age.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, in the constituency which he represented there was but one feeling in regard to the subject, and that was that the proposed intervention of justices in the highway boards was but a means of superseding the legitimately-expressed voice of the ratepayers. He regretted to hear hon. Gentlemen representing a large town argue in favour of that invasion of the corporate privileges of the country parishes. The House, it appeared, was about to pass a Bill which was calculated to create the greatest discontent throughout the whole of the counties in England. Let them not flatter themselves 276 that the measure would prove agreeable to the ratepayers. Parishes might certainly have neglected their duties in regard to the repair of highways, but there were ample means under the existing law of compelling the surveyors to discharge their duties. No reasons had been adduced to justify so extensive an alteration of the existing machinery for the maintenance of highways as was proposed by the present Bill. If the House were about to legislate for the convenience of the higher classes, they might depend upon it they would purchase good roads at a severe cost. It was unnecessary to cast that element of discontent upon the country. Hon. Members who cited their own experience, and their own cases of grievance, had neglected the means which the law afforded them of procuring the object they sought. If individuals felt aggrieved, individuals had a most ample and ready remedy. Hon. Members who complained of the badness of their roads should have indicted them. The passage of the Bill would be a proof of want of courage in the class which complained; and he was confident that the fact would add much to the discontent which the Bill was calculated to produce. The people of England did not like to be governed by a class which had not the courage to assert their own just rights. He trusted that in another place, where the members were exclusively of the class for whose benefit the measure was especially intended, they would take due care that they did not purchase somewhat improved roads at the expense of the feelings of their poorer neighbours. By casting on them a sudden expenditure which was not allowed for in the agreements under which they held their farms and land, the Bill would inflict class taxation in its most aggravated form.
thought it only fair that he should hear some of the brunt of adverse comment which had been directed against that measure. So far from the Bill deserving the strong language which had been used against it, he believed that it would not only improve, but cheapen the roads. Good roads were in themselves cheap; for they tended to save horses and carts to a degree of which many persons seemed to have no conception. As to putting a new tax on the tenant, there was not the least ground for the assertion.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
The hon. Member is misrepresenting me. I said by creating 277 a sudden change the agreements under which the tenants hold their land, and the calculations on which those agreements are founded, will be defeated.
said, the sudden change could only amount to three tenpenny rates, and to that amount the tenants were liable at present. If a parish had neglected its roads the rates might at first be high; but he did not think that would be an evil. A fallacy seemed to have pervaded the arguments against the Bill. The roads were not made for the parishes through which they passed, but for the public at large. At present, there was no audit of the surveyors' accounts; but under the Bill there would be an audit, and an efficient one. He did not altogether approve of the Bill, for he would have made it compulsory. He believed the magistrates would only put it; in operation where it was required; and both the ratepayers and the public would derive great benefit from it.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 152; Noes 31: Majority 121.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 3°, and passed.