HC Deb 25 April 1866 vol 182 cc2061-6

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that the turnpike system of England and Wales involved an expenditure of about £1,000,000 a year, and as far as he could form an estimate, not having been able to obtain the Returns which he had moved for, the debts amounted to some three or four millions. Therefore, so far as the turnpike system was maintained for the purpose of paying debts incurred, the only question which the House would have to consider was in what way they were to meet a charge of about £150,000 a year in payment of an existing debt, which being disposed of, he ventured to say there would be no pretence whatever for keeping up a single turnpike road in England and Wales. In the turn pike Acts passed from time to time, the object in all cases being either to make a new road or improve an old one, the toll authorized to be levied had been applied not only to the purpose of the payment of the debt, but likewise to the repair of the roads. That, from the first, was a great stretch of power for Parliament to grant, for it was a transfer, by express legislation, of the common law liability of keeping the road in repair from the land to the public generally. Now, the term during which tolls could he levied for making a new or improving an old road had been always limited, but there was scarcely a single case in which the condition with respect to time had been complied with. As long ago as 1836 a Committee of that House had declared almost unanimously that this tax was the most vexatious and most injurious to every interest of the community that could possibly be levied, and that opinion had been confirmed by the Report of another Committee in 1864, Notwithstanding that, there had been a continual violation of the contract between the managers of the turnpike trusts and the public, and the Government, in spite of repeated appeals, had allowed that state of things to be perpetuated by Turnpike Trusts Continuance Acts, which were renewed from year to year. Under these circumstances, where-ever the landowners and occupiers in any particular district took the sensible and practical view of the ease that it was their interest to pay what might be necessary, whether for debts or repairs, the object of this Bill was to offer facilities for doing so. The Bill was similar to that which he introduced last Session. It was permissive, and its object was simply to get rid of turnpike trusts and tolls by empowering landowners and ratepayers who took the view he did of their interests to rate themselves for the maintenance of the roads belonging to such trusts and hitherto paid out of such tolls. The Bill was to operate upon the decision of a majority, say of two-thirds. There was, however, one compulsory provision. Some turnpike gates were kept up, not under original Acts, but under the continuance Bill passed at the end of every Session, usually at such an hour as to preclude the possibility of discussion. He proposed that in these cases the gates should remain so long as the debt was unpaid, that the tolls should he applied exclusively to the payment of the debts, and that the Home Office should undertake the responsibility of inquiring into the circumstances of these trusts, and that it should have the power, by its own order, to keep alive original Acts so long as any debts remained due by the trusts. The evidence before the Committees showed that 25 per cent at the very least of the tolls was absorbed in keeping up the gates, and by the jobbery that were going on between the trustees and the lessees, and the lawyers, and that it was clearly the interest of the landowners and the tenants that the repairs should be paid for out of rates. It ought, therefore, to be a matter of honour with Parliament not to sanction the continuance of a monstrous injustice any longer than was absolutely necessary. It was unjust that tolls should be levied except to pay off debt, and that view was concurred in by the late Sir George Lewis.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill he now read a second time."—(Mr. Whalley.)


solicited an opinion from the Government as to the desirability of passing the Bill, when so much had been done to remedy the evils it was designed to meet. This Bill, so far from being a permissive Bill, would be a coercive Bill, compelling a certain course to be adopted with regard to turnpike trusts. Some years ago, when he took an active interest in the matter, the position of turnpike trusts was as different from what it was now as light from darkness, and gradual improvement had taken place. The aggregate debt which was once £8,000,000, had dwindled down to half that sum. The late Sir George Cornewall Lewis attempted to meet all cases by a general measure; but it was found that it was possible to proceed only by a careful consideration of each case by a Committee of the House. Every case rested on different grounds, to which it was impossible to apply a general rule. He trusted that the Home Office would continue to bring as many cases as it could under the consideration of Parliament, although the number that could be dealt with must be necessarily limited by the great pressure of private business. It was, however, as he had already stated, impossible to deal with all cases at once.


who had acted on the two Committees that had sat upon the subject, thought that the House and the public were under some obligation to the hon. Member for Peterborough for the care he had taken in preparing the Bill, some parts of which, however, were almost impracticable. The subject was one that Parliament ought to take into serious consideration, and the Government had been very slow in dealing with it. The system of turnpike trusts was most expensive, and cost more than it ought to do, and it was therefore a wise policy to annihilate the trusts; but they were being abolished so slowly that their diminution was scarcely perceptible. In 1854 there were 1,112; in 1860, 1,095; and in 1864, 1,085. There were a number that were actually out of debt, and those might be dealt with much more easily than others, because the expense of maintaining the roads would be thrown upon the rates of the parish or district, although there would be injustice in throwing the interest or the principal of the debt upon the rates. But the Government had scarcely even dealt with the trusts that were out of debt. In 1860 there were 153 that were free of debt; and in 1865 there were 160; but in the latter year only eleven were annihilated. The system would never come to an end if the trusts were abolished only at the rate of eleven a year. No doubt the debt was much less now than it had been. He thought, however, the best course for the hon. Member to pursue would be to leave the matter for the present in the hands of the Government. But this diminution was largely owing to the fact that many insolvent trust had been dealt with, the debts having been in some instances cancelled, the deficit in 1841 having been £7,500,000 and in 1864, £4,350,000; whereas, at the present time, considering the depreciation of the property, it might be taken in round numbers as low as £3,000,000, the expense of collection being equal to the interest on that sum.


said, that the cost of the collection of tolls at the turnpike gates was equal to the interest of the debt, there being 1,100 trusts, having an average of four gates, each costing at least £25 a year. The best course would be to withdraw the Bill with a view to the further consideration of the subject by those best acquainted with it, and the introduction of a Bill to effect a considerable improvement of the present system.


said, he thought the thanks of the House were due to the hon. Member for Peterborough, not for his Bill, which would rather lead to the inference that he was in favour of, than opposed to the present system, but for drawing the attention of the House to this subject. The principle of levying this amount by rate instead of toll, and over a larger area, was, he believed, gaining ground. Farmers were anxious that some change should take place, and the subject was to be taken into consideration at the next quarter sessions of Gloucester. They should take care that nothing unfair was done, by throwing on small parishes the cost of maintaining roads which were almost exclusively used for the purposes of manufacturers and miners who contributed nothing to them, otherwise great injustice would be done to parishes bordering large towns, and to agricultural interests. He also contended that legislation on this subject should not be retrospective in its operation, but if it was possible to extend the area of turnpike roads beyond the area of parishes, it would be desirable. That course was recommended by the Committee of 1864, and he hoped that the Government would introduce a Bill to accomplish this object, and which would deal finally with this subject.


also hoped that the Secretary of State would be induced another year to consider whether something could not be done, and stated that Sir George Cornewall Lewis had a Bill in the course of preparation when he left the Home Office. This Bill did not propose to throw additional burdens on the rates. He did not think there was any difficulty in this matter which the Government might not overcome.


could not at all agree in the opinion which had been expressed, that the Government had been remiss in this matter. If the House would refer to the Report alluded to by the hon. Member for Peterborough, they would see that the Government had acted on the practical recommendations of the Committee, and had acted on them with vigour. It was assumed that the Committee bad recommended some system by which tolls would be abolished, and that some area of rating should be adopted. That was far from being the case. There wore three several proposals made to the Committee. The first was that if turnpike trusts were abolished, the expenses should be thrown on the highway districts. That proposal was negatived by the Committee. The next proposal was, that the expenses should be thrown on the parishes. That, again, was negatived by the Committee. The last proposal was, that the expenses should be thrown on the county rate, and the Committee likewise negatived that proposal. Now, he would ask the hon. Baronet what course he would recommend. The hon. Baronet had himself pointed out how unjust it would be to throw the expenses of the maintenance of roads forming long lines of communication between largo towns on the parishes in which the roads were situated. That was the main difficulty in this matter. If the highway districts were to be taken as the area of taxation, it would be necessary first to make the adoption of the Highway Act compulsory, and it might be advisable to consider if in all cases proper districts had been formed. He objected to this Bill because it dealt with all trusts together, and did not consider the circumstances of each, so that if it were to pass, it would inflict great injury upon ratepayers in many instances. Some progress had been made in the abolition of the trusts. In 1863, 92 miles of turn pike road had been thrown open; in 1864, 63 miles; and in 1865, 219 miles, including those important trusts on the south of the Thames; and in this year, 476 miles would be thrown open, and a circular had been sent to the clerks of various trusts, in order that trusts free from debt might be abolished, where there was no hardship in the case, and the expense of the roads thrown on the highway rate. He thought he had shown sufficient reasons to the hon. Member for Peterborough to withdraw the Bill, and to leave the question to be dealt with as a whole.


said, he could not accede to the suggestion. [Cries of "Time."]


had observed that he did not see the absolute necessity of stopping the discussion at that moment, when—

It being a Quarter to Six of the clock—Debate adjourned till To-morrow.