HC Deb 16 March 1866 vol 182 cc462-7

said, he rose to call attention to the Report of the Committee on Turnpike Trusts, 1864, in which they state that— Tolls are unequal in pressure, costly in collection, inconvenient to the public, and injurious as causing a serious impediment to intercourse and traffic, and that the abolition thereof would be beneficial to the community, and to ask what steps the Government intended to take to give effect to the said Report. If ever there was a ease of breach of duty on the part of the Government, it was their not having followed up the recommendations contained in the Report of 1864 There was no subject which had led to so many riots even in Wales, one of the most peaceable localities in Europe. Ireland, with all her alleged wrongs, had not a single toll bar. The system of turnpike trusts operated as a great wrong throughout the country. The effect was, to relieve landowners from their common law liability of keeping the roads in repair, and to keep up a rapacious body of lawyers, surveyors, and officials by an unjust tax on the public. They were originally constituted with the view to the improvement of our roads, and nothing could be more just than that the repayment of the money required for making new or repairing old roads should be raised by moans of a charge on the districts which were liable at common law, though it must, he thought, be admitted that turnpike tolls were the most costly and inconvenient system which could be adopted for the purpose. It appeared that nearly £1,000,000 a year was now raised under these trusts, notwithstanding that the payment of the charge within a period which had expired had been promised by the trustees. They had therefore not kept faith with the public, and he had to complain that the Government should renew the trusts from year to year in a Bill brought in at the end of the Session, and generally speaking at two o'clock in the morning, without giving any good reason for continuing to impose so heavy a tax on the public. The authorities at the Home Office were—doubtless owing to the pressure of local influence—not discharging their duty when they said that they were getting rid of the turnpikes by putting them in the schedules. They ought not to be satisfied with that, but they ought to do something themselves, or else encourage any efforts, however humble, made by independent Members. In the Bill introduced by him there was a provision which had received the approval of the late Sir George Lewis, and which would entirely remedy the present state of things. That provision was with respect to trusts which had expired that when application was made to Parliament for a renewal of the trusts it should be a condition that the tolls to be collected should be applied, not to the repair of the roads, but solely to the liquidation of the remainder of the debt. As regarded those cases in which the trust had not expired, he (Mr. Whalley) would recommend that the landowners should have power voluntarily to abolish them, a step which they would act wisely if they took, for the greater part of tolls was derived from local traffic, and it would be infinitely better to raise the money by a rate than by a system which was most inconvenient, most costly, and most injurious. He wished to know what steps the Government intended to take to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee of 1864?


said, he thought that the hon. Member's speech might have been more appropriately delivered on the second reading of his own Bill, to the principle of which the Government could not agree, because they did not think that it could be acted upon to any public advantage. With regard to the statesman who had been alluded to by the hon. Gentleman, and whose name always carried with it the greatest possible respect in that House, he must observe that Sir George Lewis was not at the Home Office subsequently to the Report of the Committee of 1864, and that while at the Home Office he brought forward no such measure as that described by the hon. Gentleman. He was, therefore, unaware of the grounds on which the hon. Member stated that Sir George Lewis would have supported such a measure.


said, that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Clive) had mentioned to him that that was the view of Sir George Lewis; and in an interview on the Highways Bill he had himself been given to understand by Sir George Lewis that such was the case.


said, he must remind the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peterborough that the Committee of which his hon. Friend the Member for Hereford was Chairman had made a Report by no means in accordance with his views. One question was, whether turnpike trusts which were free from debt should be at once abolished? That was negatived by the Committee. Another point of still more importance was, supposing turnpike trusts abolished, how the expense of keeping the roads in repair should be borne? [Mr. WHALLEY: Each parish is at common law bound to repair its own roads.] The common law principle was inapplicable, for they were not local parish roads. Every one was aware how exceedingly disagreeable turnpike tolls were; but the expense of maintaining the roads in a proper state of repair must be provided for; and the Committee were utterly unable to recommend any feasible scheme by which turnpike tolls should be abolished. Whenever any tangible scheme was brought forward it was negatived. The proposal to throw the expense of keeping up the roads on the parishes through which they passed was negatived by thirteen to four. The next difficulty was how to fix the district upon which the burden should fall; and the Committee, having negatived a proposal that it should be put upon the highway district, and another that it should be put upon the county, came to no conclusion upon this essential matter. The only practical paragraph in the Report was the last, and on that the Government had acted. It recommended that attention should be directed to the several turnpike trusts whose Acts were continued from year to year by the Annual Continuance Act, and that those which were free from debt should be thrown open. In 1863 92 miles of turnpike roads had been thrown open on the expiration of their Acts; in 1864 63 miles were thrown open; in 1865 219 miles were thrown open, and by the 1st of November, 1867, turnpike tolls would be abolished on no less than 695 miles of road. Real progress had, therefore, been made in this matter. Till some great change was made in the area of taxation, it would be impossible for the Government to accept the proposal of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peterborough. If the House should at some future time alter the state of the law with regard to highways, first by making the adoption of the Highway Act compulsory over the whole country, and next by adopting district instead of parochial rating for highways, it would be more easy to deal with turnpike trusts; but until these preliminary steps were taken, it seemed to him idle to expect that any general system could be established. He fully appreciated the care and attention which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) bad bestowed on this subject, but he should not be able to support the second reading of his Bill.


said, that though not a Member of the Committee he had given evidence before it. Considerable difference of opinion prevailed as to the Report. He most approved the last paragraph but one, in which reference was made to the system adopted in Scotland and South Wales. Tolls were not abolished in South Wales, but the trusts were consolidated, and that system had given the greatest satisfaction. He hoped the Government, notwithstanding the reproaches of the lion. Member (Mr. Whalley), would continue the course it had hitherto pursued. He believed that Sir George Lewis had expressed himself in favour of tolls. After all, this constituted a very fair plan, whereas that of rating was a hap-hazard system, under which one man paid for what another enjoyed. A gross injustice would be caused by resorting to the parochial system, and the plan of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) was exactly that which provoked the Rebekah riots in Wales, the trusts being deeply in debt and the tolls being absorbed in meeting the interest upon it.


said, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) spoke as if nothing had been done towards the abolition of turnpikes, but having sat on Committees on the subject for fifteen years, and having most of that time acted as Chairman, he could assure him that they had been acting on a regular system. They could not get rid of tolls all at once, but the aggregate debt had been reduced from £9,000,000 to about £4,000,000, and in no instance had the market value of the mortgage bonds been depreciated, for though the interest had been reduced this had been counterbalanced by the better security that had been given. Not a year elapsed in which the Committee did not reduce the debt and close some trust. Only those, however, acquainted with the circumstances of the different trusts could appreciate the injustice which would be done to parishes in certain districts by suddenly abolishing the tolls, and throwing the roads upon the parochial rates. In many of the agricultural districts of the south of England such a measure might not be attended with great hardship, but in the north there were roads connecting large towns and passing through parishes of small agricultural value. The expense of those roads, owing to the heavy traffic, was sometimes as much as £300 or £400 a mile per annum, and the towns, having generally adopted the Local Government Act, could not be made liable, so that the rating system would throw the expense on parishes which derived but little benefit from them. The formation of districts, moreover, was attended with great difficulty, on account of places being able to escape the burden by adopting the Local Government Act. He believed the Scotch system was the only way of rapidly abolishing tolls, but this was permissive—not compulsory as proposed by the hon. Member—meetings being held in each county at which it was agreed to consolidate the trusts or to adopt an assessment system, and then Parliament was applied to to sanction the arrangement. He believed this method might be carried out in England, but the precipitate adoption of parochial or district rating would involve great injustice.


said, the House was indebted to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) for his continuous and persevering efforts in bringing so pressing a grievance before them. Nothing could be more monstrous than to have an army of tax collectors posted over the country, the greatest number of whom only raised enough for their own support. A Committee of that House had condemned the system unequivocally, yet they were told that no remedy was possible, a conclusion which was absurd, for, if the grievance was so bad, some remedy must exist. He understood the Under Secretary (Mr. Baring) to suggest that parties interested in expiring trusts should be allowed to come before Parliament to have their position considered, but he hoped he was mistaken, for such an overture would be very ill-advised. Parties would be only too happy to avail themselves of the opportunity of incurring the enormous expense of private Acts, in order to prolong the existence of the trusts, and he knew of one case in which the debt was only £700, and yet the trustees came before Parliament, at a cost of not less than £500, and so increased their debt to £1,200, much to the satisfaction, no doubt, of the clerk and other offi- cials. The proper policy seemed to him to be to put all such trusts into the Abolition Bill, and then, if the parties desire it, the question could be investigated by the Committee, and at a trifling expense a satisfactory arrangement could be made. His hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough had been trying to please everybody, and seemed to have ended, as generally happened, by pleasing nobody; the person least pleased being the "Under Secretary, with whom he had taken more pains than with any one else. The House was not now in a position to discuss his hon. Friend's Bill, with which, though his name was on the back of it, he had himself no knowledge. But he would urge him to persevere in his attention to the subject, and the course pointed out by the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken seemed to offer a solution of the difficulty.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.