HC Deb 19 March 1867 vol 186 cc139-59

Sir, I rise to move for leave to bring in a Bill to alter and amend the Law relating to Turnpike, Trusts. In attempting to legislate upon this question, I know that I am undertaking a task which is not unattended with difficulty—there are so many conflicting interests to satisfy, so many different opinions to reconcile, that no man could hope to frame a measure which would not necessarily be subject to much criticism and munch opposition. Moreover, this is a subject which would more fitly be dealt with by the Government of the day than by a private Member; and it is not until I had ascertained by inquiry from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Walpole) that there was but little probability of his dealing with it during the present Session, that I ventured to give that notice for which I now bespeak the kind indulgence of the House. And, perhaps, it will be well to clear the way at the outset by the remark, which will be easily understood by those who are conversant with the subject, that the Bill which I shall have the honour to propose will in no way affect the interests either of Ireland, or of Scotland, or of South Wales. Ireland, indeed, is a step in advance of England in this matter; since the year 1857 her tolls have been abolished, and the repairs of her roads borne by the rates of counties and baronies. Scotland has a system of valuation of her own, differing from that of England; and if any alteration in her road laws is required, it may safely be left to her own representatives, who have always shown themselves so competent to manage Scotch legislation. And as to South Wales having courted legislation by a series of popular protests against turnpike tolls, which are known by the name of the Rebecca riots, South Wales has been since the year 1844 under a Consolidation Act, by which the extinction of her debt was provided for by an advance out of the Consolidated Fund, repayable by Terminable Annuities of thirty years. It is therefore with England and North Wales alone that I have to do. I have to show that the present system is a bad system, and further, that the alterations which I propose may be adopted to the advantage of the public without being attended with such hardship or injustice to localities as would, in any material degree, neutralize or counterbalance such advantage.

Now, Sir, that the present system is a bad system is an opinion which, rightly or wrongly, has been entertained by Parliament for the last thirty years, so far as Parliament has expressed any opinion upon the subject. I can hardly sum up the objections better than in the words of the Select Committee of the House of Commons which sat in 1836. They say— The great proportion of the witnesses appear nearly unanimous in their testimony that the system of exacting toll from the public for the use of the roads is vexatious and expensive in the collection, by the number of collectors and tollgates kept up, and from a combination occasionally found amongst the lessees of such toll-gates in the vicinity of large towns, by which, in some instances, time fair equivalent in rent is not obtained by the trustees." "Where great towns are not found, the chief burden of the toll seems to fall upon the landholder and the inhabitants of the neighbourhood; and whilst they are paying more in tolls than they would probably pay in some other manner if the system were altered, they find their property in houses and land deteriorated in value from the impediments to a free intercourse of commodities arising from tolls. This Committee was of opinion that "the abolition of tolls throughout the Kingdom would be beneficial to the community," and this opinion was fully endorsed by the Committee which sat in 1864, under the Chairmanship of the hon. and learned Member for Hereford (whose name is with my own on the back of the present Bill), and which summed up its opinion upon the point in these words— Tolls appear to your Committee to be un equal in pressure, costly in collection, inconvenient to the public, and injurious as causing a serious impediment to intercourse and traffic. Now, Sir, if I took these words for my text it would be easy for me to found upon them a somewhat lengthy argument. But it will probably be more convenient to the House that I should assume, for the moment, that the opinion of these Committees, adverse to the present system, is a correct opinion; that I should endeavour to state, as clearly as I can, the present condition of the question, the alterations which I propose, and the advantages which I believe would be derived from those alterations. The House will, of course, be aware that the great majority of turnpike trusts have their origin in local Acts passed within the last century, limited at first for a term of years, and subsequently renewed by Parliament from time to time. In the year 1850, when the system was in a state of great confusion, an Act was passed which enabled the Home Secretary, on receiving from the trustees of any trust notification of the consent of two-thirds of the mortgagees, to issue a provisional order, reducing the rate of interest and extinguishing arrears. This has been done in the case of upwards of 160 trusts; but there are many cases which, the consent of the mortgagees not having been either asked or obtained, will not come within the power of the Home Secretary until their Acts expire. You may, in fact, divide the turnpike trusts of England and North Wales into two divisions—1, those whose local Acts have not expired, or have been renewed; 2, these whose local Acts, having expired, are continued by the Animal Continuance Act. And, again, there is another important division which may be made—namely, trusts in debt and trusts out of debt.

Now, Sir, the arrangement of the Annual Continuance Act is to my mind not a very satisfactory part of the duties of the Home Office. There is no definite principle clearly laid down to guide the decision as to which Acts shall be continued and which shall be inserted in the schedule of the Act to expire on the 1st November in the then next year. The consequence is that one Home Secretary, taking a different view from another, and acting upon a different principle, the operation of the law is uncertain, and therefore unequal and unfair. When I had the honour of succeeding Mr. Baring, the present Lord Northbrook, as Under Secretary at the Home Office last year, I found that this subject was one which had been intrusted to him by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth, and I succeeded to the charge. To this and to every other question with which he had to deal Mr. Baring brought that acuteness of intellect and careful attention which I venture to say constituted him a valuable public servant. He had sat upon the Select Committee of 1864, and, acting in the spirit of the Report of that Committee, had turned his attention particularly to the cases of those trusts which, being out of debt, were annually continued. Early in February last year a circular was sent from the Home Office to all trusts which were out of debt, asking in each case full particulars of the circumstances of the trust, and whether there were any special reasons for its continuance. It fell to my lot to receive and consider the answers returned to these circulars. Now, Sir, the number of trusts, according to the last statement of turnpike income and expenditure in possession of the House—that for the year ending 31st December, 1864—had been 1,055 at that period. In the schedule prepared by Mr. Baring in 1865, eighteen trusts had been marked for abolition, freeing from tolls 476 miles of road. This left 1,037 trusts, of which 534 were under the operation of the Annual Continuance Act, and 114 of this number were trusts out of debt, to which the Home Office Circulars applied. Having obtained the consent of my right hon. Friend at the head of the Department to the principle upon which I proposed to act, I carefully considered each case, and finally inserted in the schedule for abolition 83 out of the 114. Out of 420 trusts in debt, I found special circumstances which enabled me to place in the schedule upwards of forty more, so that if the right hon. Gentleman opposite had maintained last year's schedule in its integrity, the 1st of next November would have seen the termination of about 130 trusts, freeing from tolls some 3,000 miles of road, and only leaving in existence thirty-one trusts out of debt, which number might shortly have been further reduced. From information reaching me from different parts of the country, I am induced to believe that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has materially diminished this schedule. I do not presume to blame him—he may be right and I may have been wrong—the utmost I should be inclined to say of him is, that I fear that in listening to the representations of trustees and of persons fearing an increase of rates in their parishes, he has evinced a tender-heartedness, admirable in an individual, but sometimes inconvenient in the management of a great public Department. I will not weary the House with individual instances which have come to my knowledge, but I will quote one as a sample of the whole. I take the case of the Devizes trust. This trust is twenty-seven miles in length. In 1865 its debt was reduced from £700 to 2500. The property of the trust was carefully valued at £595, sufficient of itself to have extinguished the debt, and responsible people in Devizes were ready to guarantee the trustees indemnity for any loss to be sustained by the removal of the toll-gates. The trust was inserted in the schedule of 1865; but, at the instance of the hon. Member for Devizes, it was re-inserted in the Continuance Act of that year. Having most fully considered the case, I again placed it in last year's schedule, and I believe all parties would have acquiesced in such an arrangement. Now, if the trustees had come to Parliament for a new Bill, those who desired the abolition of the trust would have had an opportunity of being heard against the Bill, and I venture to say the Bill could not have been obtained. But, instead of this being the case, I understand that the Home Secretary, listening to representations from I know not whom, has again inserted this trust in the Continuance Act. Now, Sir, I instance the case of this trust, because I venture to say that there are no arguments to be advanced in favour of its continuance further than those general arguments of persons who are the advocates of the present system and who dread the increase of rates, so that if the right hon. Gentleman has spared this trust, there is no reason why he should not equally spare the great majority of those which were scheduled last year. Again, I say that I do not presume to blame the right hon. Gentleman for acting upon a different principle from those who preceded him. I am only pointing out the uncertain operation of the law; and in justification of my own course, I will merely refer to the concluding words of the Report of the Committee of 1864, where, after referring to the case of trusts out of debt, they proceed to say— Your Committee suggest that such trusts should be excluded from the operation of the Continuance Act, and be obliged to come to Parliament for a renewal of their Acts. But, Sir, if the Home Secretary had maintained last year's schedule in its integrity, there would have still remained the necessity for legislation. And, no doubt, it would be most desirable, if it were possible, that we should deal simultaneously with all turnpike trusts. But before I state to the House the proposals which I shall venture to make in this direction, it is necessary that I should say a few words upon the state of the income and expenditure of these trusts. I find that the income of turnpike trusts from all sources amounted in the year ending the 31st December, 1864, to £1,037,000. The expenditure in the same year was £1,017,000, of which £147,000 had been employed in paying off debt, and £120,000 in paying the interest of debt.

Now, Sir, I put plainly before the House one of the immense evils of the present system of this expenditure, to meet which the public has to endure this inconvenient tax. The amount which goes in collection and management is variously estimated at from 30 to 50 per cent on the revenue. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head; but from all the information I have been able to obtain, I believe I may safely estimate this expense at an average throughout the country of 40 per cent. You have the salaries of clerks, treasurers, and surveyors. You have the cost of maintaining, lighting, and repairing toll-gates, and keeping a staff of collectors. You have legal charges and the great periodical expense of renewals, and you have also, in the many cases in which tolls are let, that which it is impossible to estimate accurately, and which is beyond this estimate—namely, the profit of the lessee. He must have a profit, and that profit must come out of the pocket of the public. Then, Sir, I say that on the grounds of public economy alone, if I went no further, the turnpike trust system stands condemned. But apart from the expense of collection and management, the House must not suppose that the remaining expenditure is devoted to, and is sufficient for, the neces- sary repairs of roads and the payment of debt. The conditions and circumstances of trusts vary greatly. Some trusts, no doubt, are annually paying off some portion—often a very small portion—of their debt. Some, without hope of doing this, have their income absorbed in the payment of establishment charges and interest of debt, whilst the repairs of their roads are even now borne by the parishes. Some trusts, I am afraid, keep up a nominal debt for the sake of obtaining a place in the Continuance Act; and a considerable number, although in debt, actually spend in improvements money which ought to go towards the liquidation of that debt. The House will be surprised to learn that out of 187 trusts, which employed a portion of their income in improvements in the year 1864, no less than 151 were actually in debt at the time of so doing, and of this number eighty trusts, or more than half, paid off not 1d. of principal debt during the year. No doubt, the application of a general principle to these trusts is not an easy task. The complications and varieties of the system, whilst they render its alteration desirable, infinitely increase the difficulty of effecting that alteration by any uniform and simultaneous act of legislation. But, Sir, supposing that we agreex2014;as I hope the House will agree—that alteration is necessary, there are two great difficulties which always stare us in the face—first, the alleged hardship of throwing upon individual parishes the repairs of roads which were originally constructed for through traffic, and not for local traffic; and secondly, the debt. With permission of the House, I will deal with the debt first.

I find that the turnpike debt in England and North Wales amounted in the year 1837, in round numbers, to £7,000,000. In 1860, it, was £4,688,000, and in 1864, the total amount of debt was about £4,500,000. But for floating debt, balances due to treasurers, and a large sum of unpaid interest which cannot be fairly called debt, and would infallibly be extinguished by the orders of the Secretary of State, as the Acts expired, I strike off at once £500,000, and I take the actual amount of bonded debt in the year 1864 to have been about £4,000,000. As the Returns of income and expenditure for 1865 and 1866 are not, and cannot yet be, in our possession, I am unable to state the precise amount of the debt at the close of last year; but as I find that the average annual amount of debt paid off during the six years ending the 31st December, 1864, was about £135,000, I shall not be far wrong if I estimate the debt on the 31st December, 1866, to have been about £3,700,000; and as the marketable value of the debt, upon an average throughout the country, certainly does not exceed 70 per cent, I take the actual marketable value to be from £2,500,000 to £2,600,000 at the present time.

Now, what is the condition of the mortgagees and bondholders? I speak the more feelingly, but also the more freely, as being myself one of that honourable fraternity. I am sure that this House would always wish to deal tenderly with persons who had invested their money upon anything like the faith of Parliamentary security. But what is our position? Some of us, no doubt, have advanced our money because we thought it a good investment, and had faith in the continuance of the system. Many of us, or our fathers before us, advanced money in order that our own estates and neighbourhoods might be improved by the making of good roads, and from such roads we have received a very considerable benefit. But all, wisely or unwisely, invested their money in that which they knew clearly at the time to be in law a terminable security—all have had fair warning for the last thirty years of the spirit in which Parliament was likely to regard this question, and I say that we should do wrong if by our legislation we attempted to give an increased or fictitious I value to a debt which in very many instances is of exceedingly small value. You might almost as well propose to compensate those who have invested their money in coaches and roadside inns, the value of whose property has been so much deteriorated by the introduction of railroads. Besides, Sir, we are bound to consider what would be the position of the bondholders, and what their prospect of payment, if we were not to legislate at all upon the subject. Comparatively few of them could ever hope to receive any considerable portion of their principal; as the Acts expire, their trusts would come under the control of the Secretary of State, their interest would inevitably be reduced, their arrears of interest extinguished, and their fate would be uncertain at best. I ant always most unwilling to trouble the House with derails and statistics; but, as this is one of the main difficulties of the question, I have taken infinite pains to analyse closely the condition of these trusts, so that the House and the country might have clearly before them the varying, different, and uncertain value of this debt with which we have to deal.

I find that in 2 counties the average rate of interest is 5 per cent. In 10 counties it is 4, but less than 5. In 25 counties 3 per cent up to 3½ per cent, and in 9 counties it is less than 3 per cent. This exhausts the 46 counties of England and North Wales. I find that out of 873 trusts which were in debt in the year 1864, only 431 paid off any portion, and some a very small portion, of the principal of their debt during that year; 442 paid off no principal at all. Of these 873 trusts, representing £4,000,000 of bonded debt, I find that 316 trusts, representing £1,616,000, paid 3 per cent, or less than 3 per cent interest; of which 143 trusts, representing £768,000, paid 2 per cent, and less than 2 per cent; of the remaining trusts, representing something less than £2,400,000, as many as 229, representing upwards of £900,000, paid 5 per cent; and, at first sight, this would, of course, appear to be good property. But when you look closely into their condition, you will find that only 67 of these trusts, representing £260,000 (and this includes a Middlesex trust representing adebt of above £57,000), paid off any principal either in 1863 or 1864; the remaining 162, representing debt of £650,000, paid off, and were likely to pay off, no principal whatever. Their high interest, therefore, affords little criterion of their real marketable value, and when their trusts expire it would at once be reduced by order of the Secretary of State. The question seriously arises whether, if the present system is admitted to be inconvenient and vexatious, Parliament will for ever maintain that system in order to secure the interest of their money to persons who have invested that money in a terminable security, and can never hope to receive their principal. It is very well to deal tenderly with individuals; but, after all, it is justice to the public which should guide our legislation.

And now, Sir, I come to the second difficulty—namely, the hardship to individual parishes if the repairs of the turnpike roads within them were to fall upon them. Sir, it was the opinion of the Committee of 1861 that, to obviate this hardship, there should be an extension of the area of rating. But that Committee, whilst unanimous in this recommendation, failed to agree upon any specific area. For my own part, I do not scruple to say that I think the best and simplest solution of the question would be to make the Highway Act of 1862 compulsory, and to put the repairs of all roads, highway and turnpike, upon the district fund of the highway district to which they belong. The whole district benefits by good roads, and, to my mind, the system of parochial management of roads is the system of a bygone age. Sir, when the Highway Act of 1862 was passed, I was strongly of opinion that the proper course to pursue was to make the new highway districts coterminous with the union districts, with a power of subdivision where necessary. You had a staff of officers already at work—you had a place of meeting ready to your hand—you had a combination to which parishes had become accustomed—and I believe this course would have increased the popularity as well as the efficiency of the measure. But the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) was of a different opinion; Parliament decided otherwise, and we have to deal with things as they are. I know that the proposal to make the Highway Act compulsory under existing circumstances would create touch opposition. I scarcely venture to propose it upon my own responsibility; but if the Government should give their sanction, and if I perceived an indication of the opinion of the House in this direction, I should be perfectly ready to engraft it upon the Bill, which I think it would simplify and render more efficacious. I may mention that the Highway Act, according to the Return of 1865, was then in force in 35 counties, or parts of counties, in England, and one in Wales, comprising upwards of 300 districts, and a very large mileage of road. Sir, I do propose that, wherever the Highway Act is in force, the repairs of these roads should be placed upon the common fund of each district. And where the Highway Act is not in force, if it is right that the parishes should any longer escape their common law liability to repair the roads within them, I do not think it ought to be by means of the wasteful and inconvenient system of turnpike tolls. Let us look the matter fairly in the face. The evidence taken before your Select Committee goes to prove that, in the vast majority of cases, the through traffic upon these roads has sunk into comparative insignificance since the introduction and multiplication of railroads. These roads now practically ex- ist for the purposes of local traffic, and those who pay the tolls are the same persons as those who pay the rates—namely, the owners and occupiers of the district. Then, if I have shown you that the expense of turnpike toll collection and management is enormous, is it worth while to continue this expense for the sake of the very small benefit which is derived from through traffic, that is to say, from the payment of tolls by persons who are strangers and not ratepayers in the parishes? Is it worth while to keep up, side by side in the same locality, a double set of officials—a double expense for practically the same object, and an irresponsible instead of a representative management? For bear in mind, that as soon as you shift this burden from the tolls to the rates, you apply the principle of representation following taxation, and you give to the parishes a power and an interest in the control of expenditure which they do not now possess. But, Sir, it is frequently urged, as an argument in favour of the present system, that those who use the roads should pay for them. I respectfully submit that this is a result which is not obtained under the system of toll-gates. I say nothing of the fact that all those who walk equally use the roads and pay nothing; but a very large percentage of the riding and driving public constantly evade tolls by means of lanes and byways, and whilst the expenses of parishes which have to repair such lanes and byways is thereby increased, you cannot, by possibility, place your toll-gates in such a position as to render the incidence of this tax just and equal. Besides, if the argument is worth anything, that those who use the roads should pay for their maintenance, it is equally applicable to the case of highways; and yet every person who rides or drives is using highways, to the repairs of which he contributes nothing, the very moment that he passes the boundary of the parish in which he happens to live and to be rated. It must also be borne in mind that the existence of a good road must, more or less, benefit a parish and improve the value of its property. In many instances, too, these turnpike roads were originally highways, and in all such cases the parishes would only be reverting to that common law liability from which they have for many years been relieved at the expense of the public. But, Sir, it is said that great injustice will arise in the case of roads in the vicinity of large towns—of coal-mines, of ironworks, and of manufac- turing establishments, whose heavy traffic will tear up the roads which country parishes will have to repair. It must not, however, be forgotten that the very existence of such places is of enormous advantage to the neighbouring parishes—supplying their local wants, employing their surplus labour, and immensely improving the value of their property. In many instances, too, the increase of railway accommodation has removed or lessened the heavy traffic complained of; and, acknowledging as I do that there may be some cases of hardship, where through traffic from town to town really exists, or from other particular circumstances, I propose to give power to the justices in quarter sessions to grant contributions from the county rate in aid of the rates of any parish or parishes which shall appear to them to be unduly enhanced by the operation of this Act.

Sir, I have prepared a summary of the Bill which I propose to introduce, and perhaps it will be a convenient course that I should now read it to the House. First, I propose that all trusts out of debt, excepting those which are scheduled to expire on the 1st November in the present year, shall expire on the 1st November, 1868. I propose that, where the Highway Act is in force, the repairs of the roads within the district, and the debt, where debt exists, shall be charged upon the district fund, with power given to maintain toll-gates daring the continuance of the trust, the proceeds being firstly applicable to the expenses of such gates, and the liquidation of debt as hereinafter provided. Where the Highway Act is not in force, I propose that the repairs shall be borne by the parishes, as is the case under the existing law, according to the mileage of road in each parish, with power to justices in quarter sessions to contribute from the county rate in aid of the rates of any parish which shall appear to them to be unduly enhanced by the operation of this Act. Then, with respect to the termination of trusts now in debt. The trustees of trusts whose Acts have expired, and of other trusts when their Acts expire, shall endeavour at once to make an arrangement with the creditors of the trust, and communicate the result to the Home Secretary on or before the 1st March, 1868, in the first case, and in other cases, on or before the 1st March in the year following the expiration of the trust—notice of the proposed arrangement to be advertised in at least one newspaper circulating in the district, prior to the transmission to the Secretary of State. This is to give the local authorities and the public an opportunity of objecting if they please. If such arrangement is approved by the Secretary of State, he shall forthwith, but not before the 31st March (so as to give time to any objecting party to represent his objections to the Secretary of State), issue an order confirming the same, fixing a date for the termination of the trust, authorizing the continuance of toll-gates upon the conditions stated above, in cases where an annual sum is to be paid to the creditors, and stating such sum, or, otherwise, stating the sum agreed upon to be paid in full discharge of the principal of the debt. In cases where the Highway Act is not in force, the order is to apportion the debt among the parishes of the trust according to the rateable value of each parish, and the income of the tolls in like proportion. Where no arrangement is announced to the Secretary of State on or before the 1st of March, he is to ascertain the marketable value of the debt, and to issue an order as above, naming an annual sum to be paid to the creditors during the existence of the trust. In all cases the basis of any such sum shall be the average surplus revenue which, during the three years ending December 31st, 1866, shall have been annually applicable to the payment of interest and principal of debt. Upon the issue of any such order of the Secretary of State, the duties and powers of the trustees are at once to terminate, and the trusts and trust property to be transferred to the local authorities. "Local authorities" I interpret to mean highway districts, where such exist, Local improvement Boards, and parish vestries in other places. No order shall extend the duration of any trust beyond the term of ten years from the 1st November, 1868, and those trusts whose Acts extend beyond such term are not to be extended beyond the limit of their present Acts. Then I give power to local authorities to borrow money to pay off debts; or if the debt can be extinguished by voluntary subscriptions or sale of property, prior to the date named for the expiration of the trusts, to obtain a certificate of the fact from the Secretary of State, and to remove toll-bars. The only other clause with which I need trouble the House is that which relates to compensation of officers. Last year I received at the Home Office a large deputation upon this subject, and, after much consideration, I agreed to insert in the Continuance Act a clause giving power to trustees who, upon the termination of their trust, should have balances in their hand, to compensate at their discretion any clerks or surveyors whose offices were about to be abolished, provided that such officers should have served for ten consecutive years before the expiration of the trust, and that the amount of compensation should in no case exceed the amount of three or four (I forget the exact figure) years' salary. When the right hon. Gentleman came to the Home Office, he declined to adopt this clause, which he had not sufficiently considered. But when the Bill was before the House, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) moved my clause in Committee, and, after some discussion, it was carried by the unanimous vote of the House. It was, however, lost in the other House; and I now propose to introduce it in this I Bill, giving to the trustees, with consent of the Secretary of State, power to compensate, in the same manner, and under the same conditions.

I hope the House will see clearly the principle upon which I desire to act, I wish at first to court an amicable arrangement of the debt at once between trustees and mortgagees, and I bring in the Secretary of State to see that the public is not wronged in any such arrangement. Failing such arrangement, I bring him in as the arbiter between the two parties. Under the present law he has this power practically at his option when the trusts expire, and I desire to enforce and expedite his action. Of course, the details of the measure, if I am allowed to introduce it, will be better understood when the Bill is printed. The first great advantage which I anticipate is the reduction in all cases, and the abolition in many, of the enormous expense of collection and management. Then, by dispensing with the necessity of an annual Continuance Act, we shall get rid of the element of uncertainty, and persons interested in trusts will know for certain the date at which the trust will positively expire. I have fixed the date beyond which trusts may not be continued at ten years from the 1st of November, 1868, but in most cases I hope a much shorter time will be sufficient. I may state for the information of the House, that, setting aside a few trusts which may have been renewed during the last two or three years, there are 311 trusts, limited as to time, whose Acts have not yet expired, and of these all but twenty-one will have expired before November 1st, 1878. So that any inconvenience to localities from the circumstance of one trust being abolished whilst an adjoining one remains, will decrease year by year, and in a dozen years' time will be almost entirely at an end.

I will not detain the House with allusions to other schemes which have been proposed for dealing with this question. There are great objections made to the proposal to charge these burdens upon the county rates, and I do not think that Parliament would sanction an attack upon the Consolidated Fund. If Parliament should agree to this Bill I believe it would be found to work well. If I have not sufficiently dwelt upon the disadvantages of the present system, it has been from a sincere desire not to weary the House with matter which any Member may collect for himself from the Reports of our Select Committees. The Committee of 1836 condemned the present system. The Committee of 1864 confirmed that condemnation, and dimly shadowed forth some portions of a future arrangement. I venture to go one step further, and to propose a definite plan. If the Government and the House should think it best to refer this Bill to a Select Committee, it will not be for me to raise any objection. I have endeavoured to state my views to the House clearly and intelligibly, and if I have presumed too much in dealing with this subject as a private Member, I can assure the House that my sole motive has been to promote, so far as I might be able, such a settlement of the question as may tend to the public advantage. He moved for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, it was exceedingly difficult to determine fairly how roads should be repaired. It must be either by rate or by tolls, and rates were most popular, because it was always most agreeable to put your hands into the pockets of others. No doubt, the principle of tolls was that every person should pay for that which he had, and in that view tolls were more just than rates. If a system of tolls could be devised for London, it would be more just than throwing the burden of the maintenance of the roads on the inhabitants; but practical reasons prevented it. Where difficulties could be obviated, tolls were in many cases preferable. In the district with which he was connected the system worked with great satisfaction. The tolls could be collected every seven miles, and persons did not feel that they paid more than they ought to pay. The hon. Gentleman had approached this subject much more effectually than the Committee. He objected to a Committee condemning a system while they dimly shadowed forth a remedy. There were some difficulties connected with the plan recommended. For instance, it would be a troublesome office for the quarter sessions to decide the amount of subventions from the county rate to be applied to a particular parish. Again, there would be objections to the continuance of tolls to pay off debts and the yearly gate expenses, and not for the maintenance of the roads which for the time would fall on the parishes. He had some experience of the "Rebecca" riots in Wales, one of the causes of which was the levying of tolls for debts, and not for the repair of the roads; and such an arrangement would be very difficult to manage with satisfaction. The system adopted in Wales, which did not, however, involve the total abolition of tolls, worked extremely well, and he should be glad to see it extended. No doubt all payments were excessively disagreeable. It was a very serious matter to impose a rate of 4d. in the pound in many parishes, as they might know, for if they attempted to impose 1d. or 2d. on the income tax, such a proposition would endanger the Government. The problem was in some way to provide that the persons who used the roads should pay more than those who did not use them. In the Isle of Man there were no gates, and the roads were maintained by a tax on wheels; but such a solution of the problem might not be feasible in this country.


said, the hon. Gentleman had earned the gratitude of the House by the way in which he had attempted to grapple with the subject. Nothing could be worse than the present state of the law, under which turnpikes were yearly dying out, and grievous burdens were being inflicted on some parishes, for, although much through traffic had been diverted by railways, there remained a vast amount of traffic between country towns. In the county of Norfolk there was only one highway district, and the ratepayers were endeavouring at the next sessions to extricate their necks from the ropes cast around them. He objected to permissive Bills, believing that what was good ought to be enforced on the country. He would go so far as to say that all the roads in a district should be made chargeable to a common fund, just as the poor were chargeable to the common fund of a union.


said, he joined in congratulating the hon. Gentleman on bringing forward this measure, which showed that he understood the subject, and had mastered its details, though he was inclined to think that he rather underrated the difficulty of the task which he had undertaken. He believed that when they got into Committee upon the Bill there would be raised many objections which it would be very difficult to meet. He (Mr. Sclater-Booth) was a member of the Committee of 1864, and he found the difficulties of the question to be very much greater than he had anticipated, and that was the reason why, whilst the Committee condemned the present system, they found it impossible to arrive at a decision as to what should be the remedy. Permissive legislation was objectionable as casting odium on those by whom it was carried out. He thought that it would be extremely objectionable to keep up the tolls at the same time that the cost of repairing the roads was cast upon the parish. He also thought that it would be found impracticable for the quarter sessions to grant rates in aid to particular parishes. He looked forward with great interest to know what were the precise provisions of the Bill, and should be sincerely glad if the matter could be successfully dealt with.


said, he thought that any one who had taken an interest in the subject must have heard with great satisfaction the ability with which it had been handled by the hon. Gentleman, who must be prepared to meet with considerable opposition. This was a mere question between supporting the roads by rates or by tolls. He agreed that in large towns the toll system was unjust, and was only approved of by the man who lived on the lucky side of the gate. Every man who lived on the right side a toll-bar was glad that it should continue; but the man who unhappily lived on the wrong side had to pay not only for himself, but also for his friend on the other side. The inequality of the incidence of the present system could not be defended. It was a very proper desire that those who used the roads should pay for them; but the fact of the case was, those did not pay for the roads who used them. An immense number used roads without paying for them, and those who did pay for them paid for them twice over. He regretted that no measure for the re- form of roads in Scotland had been brought in by Government, because the system under which the roads were managed in that country was altogether effete and obsolete, the expenses of management and of collection amounting to between 25 to 30 per cent of the gross receipts. The system adopted in the Isle of Man of levying a rate upon wheels was equally unfair with that now in force in England. It should not be forgotten in discussing this question that pedestrians were interested equally with the owners of vehicles in the proper repair of the roads; and therefore it was not fair to throw the whole burden of the expense incurred in keeping the roads in a good condition upon the latter. It would be found on grappling with the roads debt that it was much less than was generally supposed, since a large portion of it brought no benefit to the creditors. Those who were interested in road reform would wish success to the hon. Member's measure.


said, that before the hon. Gentleman could expect to obtain the support of the Gentlemen of the different counties, He must suggest some method by which a portion of the expenses of repairing the roads might be borne by some common fund. The occupation roads might be repaired by the different parishes, and the expense of repairing the main roads between large towns and other parts of the country might be thrown upon some general fund.


said, he wished to express his thanks to the hon. Member for Sandwich for the lucid manner in which he had introduced this subject to the notice of the House. The question for decision was whether the expense of repairing the roads was to be met by rates or by tolls. When it was decided that tolls were to be done away with, and that the expense of repairs was to be met by a rate, the question would arise over what area that rate was to be extended. The three modes of raising the rate which had been suggested—namely, by a county rate, by a highway district rate, and by a parochial rate, had been distinctly condemned by the Committee of 1864, who suggested that the trusts might be watched and gradually got rid of from time to time as the debts upon them were extinguished. In his opinion this question could never be properly grappled with until the Permissive Bill for the highway districts was turned into a compulsory Act, and the charge of the turnpike roads, as well as of the highways, was thrown upon the highway districts. If that object could be accomplished, the question might be brought to a speedy and satisfactory termination. As to the trusts which had debts still unpaid, he feared that if his hon. Friend endeavoured to cast upon the parishes the burden of their debts, as well as the maintenance of the roads, he would hardly be able to pass his Bill. He did not quite understand the proposal as to a subvention from the county rate, yet that was a matter which would require great consideration, as it would involve the transfer of a burden from one place to another, which was not a proper mode of dealing with such a question. It was said that these burdens should be thrown upon the parishes; but many rural parishes did not benefit by roads which ran through them nearly so much as the people of adjoining towns. He had no wish to discuss the Bill at the present moment; but he thought that a discussion upon the second reading of the Bill would be useful. He hoped that when the Bill again came on for discussion, those Members who took a great interest in this subject would be able to devise some means by which the trusts might be gradually got rid of. The hon. Member had stated it to be his intention to propose, after the second reading of the Bill, that it should be referred to a Select Committee. On behalf of the Government, he had no hesitation in giving his sanction to such a proposal, as he believed great good would result from its being carried into effect.


said, he had been consulted by the hon. Gentleman when the Bill was being prepared, and he desired to say a few words upon the points that had arisen in the course of the discussion. It was, of course, difficult to explain all the details of the measure at this stage of the proceedings; but he believed that when the Bill was in the hands of hon. Members it would be admitted that it grappled successfully with the difficulties of the case. The proposal was not to throw the debt of trusts on parishes which had to maintain the roads, but to provide that if parishes undertook a debt equal to that now distributed among the creditors, they might assume the trust and be repaid out of the produce of the tolls. He justified the county contributions, because there were many roads which formed the communication between remote parts of the county and large towns, but were now of little use to the parishes through which they passed. The right hon. Gentleman had entirely misapprehended the proposal with reference to dealing with any existing debt. Of course it would be idle to throw a debt upon a parish, and at the same time to make that parish bear the expense of maintaining the roads. But it was an injustice to compel those who maintained their own roads to pay turnpike tolls. The struggles that often took place in that House for the maintenance of trusts where a debt of a few hundred pounds existed, were not for the benefit of the public, but were fostered by professional people for their own benefit. In the metropolis all the turnpikes had ban got rid of; but it was a great injustice that persons residing in the country were at liberty to drive into the metropolis at the expense of the inhabitants who maintained the roads, whereas Londoners driving into the country were at once beset with turnpikes, and had to pay tolls in order that the roads might be kept up in all the surrounding districts. Indeed, the number of roads maintained by the ratepayers was now so great that the continuance of turnpikes at all was an injustice. The present system had gone on a great deal too long, and ought to be altogether abolished; and he thought the present measure would meet a great variety of circumstances, and would, though not immediately, bring about the total abolition of turnpikes. It was not sought to effect that end at once and violently, but to deal with each particular case as it arose in a quiet and temperate manner.


said: I will not repay the House for the kind indulgence with which they have heard me to-night by detaining them with any lengthy reply. There are only three observations to which I desire to allude. My hon. Friend the Member for Haverford-west (Mr. Scourfield) has mentioned the difficulty there will be in asking the quarter sessions to adjudicate as to the granting aid to parishes from the county rate. I am quite aware of it. But the whole question is surrounded with difficulties; and, to be quite frank with the House, I hope and expect that one result of calling the attention of the quarter sessions to this matter will be the adoption of the Highway Act in many places where it has not hitherto been adopted, and the demonstration to parishes that by adopting this Act the area of their rating will be extended, will, I hope, render the adoption of the Highway Act more popular than it now is with some of the agricultural ratepayers. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) says that the Select Committee of 1864 negatived the parochial rate. I had forgotten the fact for a moment; but let me remind him that the present law throws the repairs of those roads upon the parochial rates when the trusts expire; so that now, unless they obtain, at great expense, a new Act of Parliament, it is practically only by the arbitrary power of the Secretary of State that the trust is maintained and the roads kept from the parochial rates. This is a great responsibility upon the Secretary of State, from which I wish to relieve him. But I wish the House to note carefully one expression which fell from my right hon. Friend. He said that he feared "we should never deal satisfactorily with the subject until the Highway Act was made compulsory." Well, Sir, I rejoice to hear the opinion of my right hon. Friend, and when we go to our Select Committee I hope that he, or those who are authorized to speak for him on that Committee, will make a proposition in accordance with that opinion. Upon that and every other point I shall be most ready to receive and adopt suggestions for the improvement of the Bill, and I trust out of that Committee we may produce a useful and satisfactory measure.

Motion agreed to. Bill to alter and amend the Law relating to Turnpike Trusts, ordered to be brought in by Mr. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN, Mr. GEORGE CLIVE, Mr. AYRTON, and Mr. GOLDNEY.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 80.]