HC Deb 20 June 1865 vol 180 cc534-8

Bill eonsidered in Committee [Progress 19th June].

Amendments made.


, in moving that the Chairman report Progress, said, he did so in order that he might have an opportunity of making a statement as to the portion of the measure, and the motives by which he had been actuated in bringing it forward. There was, however, small need for explanation since a paper which he held in his hand, explaining the reasons for introducing the Bill and the arguments in its support, had been scattered broadcast over Scotland, and had been sent to every official person and every one who might be supposed to be interested in the subject. He had brought it forward at the instance of a large number of people in Scotland who were anxious that there should be an improvement in the system of maintaining roads in that country. Various measures for that purpose had been laid before Parliament, and it had been frequently debated in that House. The result was that a Royal Commission was appointed which had recommended that all tolls should be abolished, and that the turnpike roads should be maintained for the future by an assessment. In consequence, tolls had been abolished in various districts of Scotland by means of Private Bills; but he (Lord Elcho) and those with whom he acted, finding that the feeling in favour of the abolition of tolls was so general, and that so many counties were applying to Parliament for special Road Bills, came to the opinion that this was a good opportunity for bringing in a general Bill which would make it necessary for counties to make their special applications. A Bill was drawn up by a Committee appointed for the purpose, and was sent to us to be introduced before Parliament, but as its object was confined to the one point of abolishing tolls, it was felt that there was little chance of its obtaining the assent of that House. Great pains were taken to draw up a series of Amendments, which it was thought would make the Bill more acceptable to the House, and the delay thus occasioned was the reason why the Bill now came on at so late a period of the Session. The Bill as it came before the House was simply a permissive one; for it had been found, from the nature of the various applications for Private Bills, that the circumstances of the different counties were so varied that it was essential that the measure should be made elastic so as to be adapted to the requirements of the various districts. With regard to the general principles of the Bill, he might describe them as being three in number. One provided for a better method of establishing the claims upon statute labour roads; another was for the consolidation of tolls, so as to maintain roads at a cheaper rate; but the third and chief point was the proposal to maintain roads by assessment instead of tolls, as they were maintained in Ireland. He could not conceive a greater mistake on the part of the railway companies than that they should ask to be relieved from the just assessment of their property for the support of roads —for it must be to their advantage that they should have good roads to take travellers to and from the railways. But another opponent of the Bill was the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr (Sir James Fergusson), who had given notice to move that the county of Ayr be excluded from the Bill. They could not have anticipated the opposition of the hon. Baronet, for he Lord Elcho was one of the Commission which recommended the abolition of tolls. Neither did they expect to have any opposition from the burghs, as they had supposed they at least would like their communication with their counties to be unfettered by tolls. The burghs, however, took a different view. The burgh which seemed to be most violent in opposition was Perth. It seemed to think that it represented all Scotland, and his hon. Friend the Member for that burgh (Mr. Kinnaird) showed himself a worthy representative of that spirit. Up to the present moment, it had been found impossible to satisfy the burgh of Perth; but all the other towns—with the exception, of course, of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other very large places-were satisfied with the changes which have been made in the Bill. What they objected to was that any portion of the assessment should be placed on the burgh. But it was manifest that the fairest plan was that proposed by the Bill—to assess the various parishes according to the mileage by the assessor appointed for that purpose. The burghs which were the chief opponents of the Bill had all, except Perth, withdrawn their opposition; but the special ground on which the hon. Member (Mr. Kinnaird) in his notice on the paper claimed to exempt Perth, was not a little curious. He proposed that Perth should be exempt, because the Harbour Commissioners have incurred a heavy debt for the improvement of the river communication on the Tay. That argument—if argument it could be called —was equally applicable to every town which had spent money on public improvements. There was another clause to be proposed by the hon. Member who objected to pay any portion of any debt now owing by the roads. But what did the Bill propose? Simply that the occupiers should pay the interest, and the landlords the capital. At present, it was well known that the occupiers paid the interest; and the Bill, therefore, left them exactly where it found them. The promoters had steadily kept in view the principle that the Bill ought not to shift any burdens or alter liabilities, but simply to unfetter the traveller's legs, so that he might travel more easily. However, it was manifest that the Bill could not pass this Session, and, therefore, all he proposed was that any enterprising Member of the new Parliament introducing a Bill on the subject should have the advantage of seeing this Bill amended as proposed. He therefore proposed to go into Committee pro formâ, that the Amendments might be printed, and not to proceed further. Whether any very enthusiastic Gentleman took up this subject in the new Parliament or not depended very much as to what took place in Scotland; but whether his Bill passed or not, tolls would soon be extinguished. Such being his opinion, it might be asked why trouble himself about any Bill at all? The reason he wished to see the Bill passed was that so many counties would apply for private authority, and he wished to save them the expense of coming to Parliament for so many private Acts. Out of the thirty-three counties of Scotland, eleven were free of tolls; and of the remainder, some, he knew, were about to apply to Parliament. The spirit of Rebecca was not stifled. They all remembered how she startled us some years ago with her white nightcap and long white shift, and her weapons, the crowbar and hatchet; but when they saw her again she would be clothed in a lawyer's gown and wig, and be armed with a blue bag and a long bill. In the course of a very few years these tolls would be swept away, but it would be better for Scotland if it were done by means of some such measure as he was now proposing to withdraw. The noble Lord moved that the Chairman do report Progress.

Moved, That the Chairman do report Progress.


said, any Scotch Member who took up this subject in the new Parliament would find it rather a hopeless one. There could be, however, no objection to the Bill being put into a more perfect shape, with a view to its consideration hereafter. The noble Lord was mistaken in thinking that he (Mr. Blackburn) opposed his Bill in the interests of the railway companies. They had nothing to ask. He, however, objected to permissive Bills altogether. The noble Lord, however, he might be permitted to say, was eminently entitled to the thanks of the country for the pains and trouble he had bestowed on the measure.


said, the noble Lord had not quite done justice to the county which he (Mr. Stirling) had the honour to represent. He was aware that when the Bill came before Parliament the county of Perth did not view it in a very favourable light; but after it had been amended, they were disposed to look upon it with a much more approving eye. The noble Lord might, therefore, I think set down the county of Perth as favourable on the whole to his measure. He concurred with the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Blackburn) that the noble Lord deserved the highest praise for having taken up this subject, and the light he had thrown on it.


thought every one would admit the care and ability with which the noble Lord had discharged his self-imposed task, and he, for one, regretted his labours had not been crowned with the success they deserved. If the Scotch Members would take a larger grasp of the subject, and not allow difficulties such as would arise in all cases of this kind to be regarded as insurmountable, there would be no impossibility in passing this Bill even now.


The principle of the Bill was right; but there were private interests and associations which were opposed to any general measure on the subject. He believed a Bill to abolish tolls would be generally approved if their interests could be propitiated.


could not refrain from tendering his thanks to the noble Lord for the able and frank manner in which he had done his best to meet all objections.

Motion withdrawn.

Bill reported; to be printed, as amended [Bill 231]; re-committed for Monday next.