HC Deb 01 May 1867 vol 186 cc1835-49

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen.)


said, he had no objection to the Bill being read a second time, on the understanding that it would be referred to a Select Committee. It would, perhaps, he convenient if he were to refer to one or two points, to which the attention of the Select Committee should be especially directed. The Bill which purported to alter and amend the law relating to turnpike trusts, was really intended to effect the abolition of tolls. He wished to call attention to the three parts of the Bill. The first provided that where there was no debt remaining and the trust had expired, it should be discontinued at the end of a year. The second, that in cases where the trusts had expired but debts remained, provision should be made for extinguishing such debts. The third, and most important, related to the rate-in-aid, where the trust had expired, and where the charge thrown upon the parishes through which the road passed was deemed by the justices of the peace in quarter session to be unduly augmented. Upon the first he was not in a position to arrive at any conclusion as to whether or not the House would think it desirable that the trusts therein referred to should expire within the year, irrespective of all local circumstances. There were many matters that would have to be inquired into by the Select Committee before they could advise the House to accept one iron-bound rule to be applied in all cases. The second portion of the Bill also appeared to be open to objection. He did not see that any provision had been made to meet the case of the Secretary for State not approving the arrangements that had been entered into for the extinction of the debt. Also, if the tolls were to be applied solely in extinguishing the debt the duty thrown upon the parishes of repairing the roads would be badly performed. The third portion would require very careful consideration, as it involved the most important principle in the Bill. The Bill proposed to enact— In all cases where it shall be made apparent by the local authorities to justices of the peace in Quarter Sessions that the rates of any of the several parishes or highway districts have been unduly and disproportionately augmented in car-wing out the provisions of this Act, it shall be awful for such justices to contribute any funds out of the county rates already assessed or to be hereafter assessed for the purpose of aiding and assisting any of such parishes or highway districts which, in pursuance of any order under the hand of the said Secretary of State, has been directed to be assessed by the said local authorities for the purpose of maintaining and keeping in repair the portion of the turnpike road which passes through any such parish or highway district, according to the provisions hereinbefore contained, and such contribution shall be apportioned by the said justices between and amongst any such parishes or highway districts in such manner as they may deem expedient. That was a very important provision. It was an attempt to meet that which had always been a difficulty in every proposal for discontinuing turnpike trusts by what he had called the rate-in-aid, that was by extending the area of rating. But what was to guide the justices in determining whether there had been an undue and disproportionate augmentation of the charge? That charge might vary from 1d. to nearly 2s. in the pound in different parishes. He threw out these observations for the purpose of drawing attention to the points which the Select Committee would have to consider. The Select Committee should have all the necessary powers to enable them to fully investigate the matter. He should not object to the second reading of the Bill provided it was clearly understood that it was to go before a Select Committee.


said, that the object of the measure was to meet the difficulties which existed by giving to the Home Secretary on the one hand, and to the magistrates on the other, power to deal with the local circumstances out of which difficulties arose. He desired to express his obligations to the hon. Member who had brought forward this Bill in fulfilment of a pledge of the late Government upon the occasion, when he (Mr. Whalley) brought forward one of a similar nature. The matter was ripe for decision, after the evidence which had been taken by the Committee which had sat upon the subject. The Bill carried out a desirable object much more effectually than the Bill he had himself been allowed to introduce. The sound, originial, and constitutional principle was, that the roads should be maintained by local property; but within a brief legal memory these turnpike trusts were sanctioned by Parliament on a false pretence of improvements, and the public was made to pay not only for improvements but for the maintenance of the roads, the onus of providing for which of right lay with the property of each district. This was a grievous injustice inflicted upon the public and all the objections urged against the Bill rested upon a desire to perpetuate the wrong.


said, that abolishing the turnpikes would be a great boon to the public; but he did not agree that this charge should be entirely thrown upon real property. These roads were, no doubt, for the good of the land; but generally they were made in an agricultural district lying between two great centres of trade. They were not generally in the position of parish roads, and they cost four or five times as much as the parish roads to keep them up. If the Bill passed in its present shape it would throw a grievous burden upon the holders of one description of property. Nothing could be fairer than that those who used the roads should pay for them. If the expense of the turnpike roads were thrown upon the parishes there would be great discontent excited throughout the country. A part of the expense should be placed upon the Consolidated Fund, as had been done in reference to the police and the poor, and for the same reason—namely, that the object to be obtained was for the benefit of the whole country. He hoped that when the Bill was returned from the Select Committee there would be provisions for placing part of the expense upon the general public instead of its being all placed upon real property.


said, that as a Member of the Select Committee of 1864, he had been much struck by the local circumstances detailed before that Committee, and believed that, but for those local circumstances, legislation would long since have been attempted. Indeed, the difficulties of this kind were so great that he hardly knew how the Select Committee would deal with them. In 1863 the Metropolitan Turnpike Heads Act threw seventy miles of roads on to what were principally suburban parishes, and there was great opposition. But these suburban parishes had not a leg to stand on, their vicinity to the metropolis, from which the traffic came, benefiting them to an extent much more than proportionate. But there were cases in which, though the burdens might increase, the benefits failed to do so. Districts, for instance, where the land through which the road passed remained agricultural in its character, though there might be a large town at either extremity of the road. Then there were cases where there were mines, the immense traffic from which cut up the roads very much, whilst many paid no rates at all. Others only paid upon the royalty, which was nothing like what a rate upon the produce of the mine would be. Lead and iron mines did not pay any rates, so that, unless they were actually levied on the carts containing the heavy material, they escaped altogether. In the case of coals no amount was ever levied by a rate upon the estimated yield of a colliery corresponding to that paid in actual turnpike tolls. The rate was charged on a royalty payable to the owner of the mine. Probably £70 a year might be produced by a rate, where the tolls or carriage of the coals before had yielded £300 or £400. Pleasure traffic, to such places as the Peak in Derbyshire, used the roads very largely, and yet would not pay a single farthing in the shape of rates towards their repair. Except, probably, for their hotel bills, the excursionists, if there were no tolls, would escape scot free. There were many local circumstances of this nature, forming a great variety of separate cases, which he did not believe could be lumped with advantage, and dealt with off-hand in one sweeping general Act. As to the case of parishes which were to contribute to the amount of the debt, he understood the Secretary of State was to allocate the debt upon the different parishes through which the road went. This might answer in counties where there were highway boards; but parishes which were not in any highway district would be placed in very great difficulty, and would have good ground to complain of the burden which would be put upon them. The debt would have been incurred without their advice or consent. Perhaps it had been incurred unwisely, or there had been no prudence used in paying it off. Then it was said that there might be a rate in aid for these parishes; but he did not think it right that they should be thrown upon such a precarious resource. They would be thrown upon the mercy of quarter sessions, and there would be great opposition to a rate-in-aid in support of particular parishes. These were points to which he thought that the Committee should attend.


said that the first thing that struck him was, that it was something new to refer a mass of debt amounting to many millions to the arbitrary decision of the Secretary of State, and particularly so when they considered how some of the debt had been incurred. The Bill would summarily deprive parties of the power which they had hitherto possessed of coming to Parliament and making out a case, if circumstances rendered that feasible, for the renewal of their security. There were certain provisions according to which the trustees were to arrange the value of these securities. Then the matter was for the approbation of the Secretary of State, whose duty would not be very agreeable. He knew of no instance in which a similar course of proceeding had been adopted in reference to so large a property. Nothing could work better than the present mode of winding up these trusts. The circumstances of the different turnpike trusts were so various that he doubted very much the possibility of making a general law that would work well for the whole of them. It was proposed that under certain circumstances the county rate should be called in aid. The counties would thus be called upon to pay by rates monies over the application of which they would have no control. He feared also that this Bill would destroy the state and good quality of the turnpike roads. No one could doubt that the turnpike roads were, as a rule, in a better condition than the parish roads. He did not know what security they could have that the parishes would keep the turnpike roads in a better condition than they kept the parish roads. Parishes were not fond of spending more money than they could help, and as long as they kept clear of indictments they would be satisfied. Anything in the way of improvement, such as cutting down hills, would come to an untimely end. As to the debt, much of it had been incurred for the purpose of making improvements, and to keep them in repair for the sake of the through traffic; and his experience was that the through traffic never paid for the roads, large as the tolls were. The Bill, in its present state, was very objectionable.


said, that if it had not been for the local circumstances which had been referred to, turnpikes would have been swept away long ago. As a general rule, the amount of taxation imposed in the shape of tolls on parties living in the neighbourhood of roads for their maintenance was in excess of that which they would have to pay if the whole of the expense were levied in the shape of rates off the different parishes. There were about 22,000 miles of turnpike road, and there were upwards of 7,700 houses for the collection of tolls. The average cost of repair for these roads for a long series of years had been £51 per mile, and in addition to this there were the expenses of collection and the profit to the lessees of the tolls. These two sources of expense together amounted to a sum of very nearly £400,000, and this sum the public paid in excess of the real cost of repair. This added expenditure brought the average cost of repairing turnpike roads up to £70 per mile; the cost of parish roads being, some years ago, as low as £11 per mile. Practically, the through traffic had now been absorbed by the railways, and if residents along the roads would calculate, as a friend of his had done, what they actually paid now in the shape of tolls, as compared with what they would have to pay hereafter in the shape of rates, they would probably find that a saving would be realized by the latter method of collection. The expense of a double set of surveyors and management would be saved when there was no longer two systems of road management in existence. As to the apprehensions excited by the proposal to intrust the Secretary of State with these powers, it must be remembered that for a long series of years the Secretary of State had exercised powers of a precisely similar character, whenever parties applied for a renewal of Turnpike Acts. The result of the Bill would be that the highway Boards would have the power of limiting the expenses of the repair of the bye roads when the main roads were open to the public free. He knew that there might be some difficulty in the carrying out of this measure, but was fully convinced that the time had come for abolishing the present turnpike system altogether, and under those circumstances he should support the Bill.


said, he could scarcely see how this Bill could be carried out without inflicting injustice on certain classes of the community. It was founded upon the Report and recommendation of the Select Committee of 1864. The witnesses that were examined before that Committee, however, in almost every case came there with but one notion—namely, to get rid, if possible, of the present turnpike system. Some of them volunteered to give evidence in order to detail their own exceptional grievances. When it was proposed to make such a sweeping change as that of shifting the burden of those rates from the shoulders that at present bore it to the various parishes throughout the country, he thought it was only fair that the evidence of witnesses from the classes that were to bear the burden in future should be taken. Within the last few years the debt had been reduced from £7,000,000 to about £4,000,000, and judging from that fact there was every reason to suppose that in a few years more the whole debt would be entirely wiped out. No one could doubt that a considerable saving in the management of roads would take place if these trusts were abolished; but the burden on the locality would be increased. The only question was, whether the Consolidated Fund should not be called upon to assist in paying off the debts. At present the broad principle was carried out that those who used the roads paid for them. If those who came from a distance contributed nothing to the maintenance of the roads it would operate as a great hardship in many instances. A timber dealer who gave evidence before the Select Committee stated that he kept eight or nine horses in constant work; but that if tolls were abolished he would only pay a rate on a year, the annual value of his house. If, however, on the contrary, as was contended, the roads were simply used for local purposes, why should those who were anxious to change the law in their own case interfere with those who desire for the present to maintain it. As to the suggestion that an appeal to the quarter sessions would be a security against a grievance inflicted, it was his opinion that the quarter sessions would not be inclined to interfere at all in the matter. He hoped that the Select Committee to which the Bill was to be referred would take into their consideration the case of those trusts that were really progressing in a favourable manner, as it appeared to be most undesirable to deal with such in the summary way in which the Bill proposed to treat them. Let representatives from the different trusts give their views, and the Committee would be able to deal in a fairer manner with the variety of their interests.


said, that the owners of property and not the Consolidated Fund ought to bear the burden of the debt. The roads had been made, for the most part, for the benefit of the owners of property, and they ought to pay the debt where debt existed. As Chairman of the Committee of 1864, he could assure the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Beach) that he was mistaken in supposing that there were no witnesses called or examined but such as were favourable to the proposed change of the system. There were several gentlemen examined who were decidedly favourable to the existing law. The evidence, however, as well as the recommendations of the Committee, had effected a marvellous change in the opinions of many who had hitherto supported the existing system. He rejoiced that the dear old fallacy about those who used the road paying for the road had intruded so little into the discussion. As regarded the carriage of timber, minerals, and other heavy substances, special provisions must, of course, be introduced on that head. If the Committee by which the Bill would be considered were a good one, as he had no doubt it would be, he had great hopes that the Bill would be worked into a good shape.


said, that there was a general prevalence of opinion that some alteration should be made in the law relating to turnpike trusts. He approved many of the Bill's provisions; and hoped that the labour undertaken by the introducer would result in substantial benefit to the country. He particularly approved of that part of the Bill which recognised the hardship inflicted on some parishes by the abolition of the trusts. He hoped that the principle laid down in respect to that would be carried further. But he had several objections to the Bill as it stood. If, for instance, the cost of maintaining the roads were thrown upon the rates, the tax would weigh heavily upon some descriptions of property and lightly upon others. Some alteration was absolutely necessary in the present basis of rating, and also in the area of taxation, before a rate for mending roads could be fairly levied. And if, as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) had recommended, the court of quarter sessions should have power to make a rate, it should also be given extraordinary power enabling it to insure that the rate was properly applied. He should like to see clauses introduced making highway districts compulsory throughout the country. In this matter the example of South Wales should be followed. In each of the six counties of South Wales there was a head county Board. In England a similar Board might be constituted with power to dispense money, and also to appoint a chief surveyor to superintend the operations of highway surveyors throughout the country. At present the surveying department was ill-attended to. Either the district was small, and presided over by an incompetent man, at a low salary, or else the district was too large for the surveyor properly to do his duty. He objected to the way in which the Bill proposed to deal with trusts whose debts had been liquidated. The proposal was that those trusts which had paid off their particular debts should cease in 1868, but that the remainder should continue on for ten years longer, or until they had paid off their debts. Now, the practical result of such an arrangement would be that the public, who were generally disposed to go even a round in order to avoid the tolls, would favour those roads in which they had been removed, and would thus create a greater burden upon the ratepayers of particular parishes than they had hitherto borne. It was his opinion that all the trusts should be kept up until the whole debt was paid off. At a recent meeting of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, at which he was present, two resolutions were passed. The one was to the effect that the turnpike trusts should be abolished simultaneously. The other was, that inasmuch as a portion of the expenditure for the turnpike roads had been incurred for Imperial purposes, the Consolidated Fund ought to aid in the payment of the debt. In France the main roads were maintained out of the Imperial revenue, and much public money had been spent in Scotland in making roads; but it was only in very rare instances that the State had contributed to the making of roads in England. He asked whether, as the credit of the country was applied on behalf of bankrupt Irish railways, it should not in equal justice be applied in behalf of bankrupt English roads. ["No!"] Of course, Irish Members would say "No!" He trusted that the Bill would be sent before a Select Committee and there improved.


said, that having served on the Committee of 1864, what struck him most was the injurious treatment which the ratepayers had received under the present system and the extraordinary system that was kept up in order to favour the mortgagees. He believed there was scarcely a single debt hanging over the turnpike trusts that was perfectly legal. The Acts in respect to the debts which were paid off had all expired, and the Acts relating to those which were not paid off had also expired; but the tolls were kept up by continuous Bills introduced year by year by the Home Department. In the case of the debts which had not been paid off, there was really no legal claim, because the conditions upon which the money was advanced had not been fulfilled. He strongly objected to the continuance of a system which placed a double charge upon the ratepayers of the country, and he should support the present Bill, believing that some advantage would arise from it.


said, he thought that they might with advantage go to Scotland for some hints as to the future management of the turnpike roads. Although the Bill introduced by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) and the subsequent measure of the Lord Advocate in respect to the turnpike system of Scotland had failed to pass into a law, Scotchmen, with that shrewdness and sagacity which characterized them, proceeded to introduce Bills for their several counties, and thus with great prudence and judgment managed to get rid of their tolls. He was quite in favour of an alteration in the law of this country. One great evil in existence was the expense attending the renewal of those turnpike trusts. He believed that every measure introduced for the renewal of a trust, though unopposed, cost about £500 or £600, which money was taken from the pockets of the public. He should be glad to see an improvement of this system. He hoped his hon. Friend would be able so to improve his measure by the aid of the Select Committee that it would pass with ease.


said, that having made a very full statement upon the introduction of the Bill, he should not have troubled the House but for some objections which had been raised during the course of the debate. His hon. Friend the Member for North Hants (Mr. Beach) had stated that the Bill was founded upon the Report of the Select Committee of 1864. He (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) begged to say that, although he was grateful for the assistance which he had derived from that Report, the Bill was founded upon long and earnest consideration of the question; upon some little practical knowledge of the working of the turnpike system; and upon the sincere belief which he entertained that the time had arrived when the question might receive a satisfactory solution. His right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had mentioned several points to which he would refer. And first with respect to the case in which the Secretary of State might not approve of the provisional arrangement made between the trustees and the mortgagees, the right hon. Gentleman had said that no provision was made as to what should be done. He (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) was obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for pointing out that which might possibly be an omission in the Bill. The intention certainly was, that when no arrangement could be made which the Secretary of State approved, he should then proceed upon his own authority—inquire, by means of the ample machinery at his command, into the value of the debt and circumstances of the trust, and make his order accordingly. Then the right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the tolls maintained for a certain time by order of the Secretary of State as if they were only to be applicable to the payment of establishment charges and debt. But a reference to the latter part of Clause 5 would show that the surplus of such tolls was to be applicable to the repairs of the roads within the parishes and districts; and when it was said that the ratepayers were going to have the responsibility of a large amount of debt thrown upon them, he must observe that this was only a nominal responsibility. Let it be remembered that the ratepayers and the toll-payers either were or were not identical. If, as was sometimes contended by the opponents of turnpike abolition, they were not identical, then, during the maintenance of the tolls, the ratepayers would be receiving extraneous assistance towards the discharge of the debt. If, on the other hand, they were identical, the ratepayers would be no worse off than at present. They would have, as at present, to pay the interest of the debt; and any temporary increase of their rates would be in a great measure met by the economy in the management and collection of tolls which, having the matter for the first time under their own control, they would be able to effect. His noble Friend behind him (Lord Henley) had made two objections to which he must refer. One related to the fact that lead mines and some other mines not being rated, and the traffic from them being considerable, the effect of toll abolition in the milling districts would be very injurious to the neighbouring parishes. He would, however, remind his noble Friend (in addition to arguments which he had formerly advanced with reference to the advantages which the existence of mines and similar properties conferred upon a neighbourhood) that this very question of the rating of mines was at this moment under the consideration of a Select Committee, and that the objection was therefore in a fair way to be obviated. The other objection of his noble Friend was made upon the supposition that in some cases the debt would remain and be left upon the parishes after the tolls had ceased to be collected under the order of the Secretary of State. This, however, was a misapprehension of the object and scope of the Bill. It was intended that the Secretary of State should fix the period during which tolls should be collected, after a full investigation of the circumstances in each case. By this investigation he would be guided as to the time which he should fix for the duration of the tolls; and in the great majority of cases the market value of the debt would be paid off before the limit fixed beyond which toll collection might not be extended—namely, 1878. In all cases the debt would cease simultaneously with the collection of tolls. With regard to the observations of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley), whilst tendering his thanks to hon. Gentlemen generally for the manner in which they had received his Bill, he felt bound to express his acknowledgments especially to debt and reduce interest, but to that hon. Gentleman, who had himself introduced more than one Bill upon the same subject and had some claim to deal with it, having conferred good service by calling public attention to the question. He had, however, forborne to press any such claim, or to propose a rival scheme, and agreeing in the main principle of his (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen's) Bill, had given it a cordial and hearty support. The hon. Member for Worcestershire (Mr. Knight) had complained of the grievous burden which would be inflicted upon parishes not forming part of a highway district. But he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) would beg to remind the hon. Gentleman that this burden was now inflicted upon the abolition of a trust, and that such abolition practically depended upon the arbitrary will of the Home Secretary, because although the approval of Parliament was formally required, yet the Turnpike Continuance Bills which dealt with this matter were of necessity introduced so late in the Session, that Government had practically always a majority, and an attempt to continue or discontinue any particular trust when the opinion of the locality had been opposed to the decision of the Secretary of State, was almost hopeless. So much was this felt to be the case that he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had only that very morning received a request that he would move to refer to a Select Committee the Turnpike Continuance Bill of the present Session, wherein it was believed the pre- sent Home Secretary had, to a considerable extent, reversed the decisions of his predecessor. He (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) was most unwilling to do anything of the kind which might be hostile to the right hon. Gentleman; but he mentioned the fact to show the complaints which existed. It was clear that the "grievous burden" upon parishes existed now. The Bill would not alter their common law liability, but it would deal more fairly and more equally with them than was at present the case. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire said that this Bill would adopt a new principle in referring a large debt to the arbitrary decision of the Secretary of State. Again, he must remind the House that this was precisely the case under the present law upon the termination of a trust, and the only object of the Bill in this respect was to expedite and equalize the action of the Secretary of State, who now had the power to extinguish debt and reduce interest, but who would be obliged to act in certain cases instead of continuing Trust Acts annually and only abolishing them at his discretion. The right hon. Gentleman had also doubted the possibility of making one general law upon the subject. He (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had by no means shut his eyes to the complications and difficulties of the subject. They would, however, be lessened by the adoption of the measure before the House, and the state of things be rendered less unequal than under the existing system. He (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) entirely agreed with the views of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), that the true solution of the question was the universal adoption of the Highway Act, and the placing all roads, turnpike and highway, upon the common fund of the highway districts. But in all legislation it was necessary not to ask always for the whole extent of your requirements if you found you could better obtain what you wanted by degrees. He must notice one omission in the speech of the Home Secretary, who, he had hoped, would have followed up his suggestion upon the introduction of the Bill, by announcing an Instruction to the Committee that they should have power to deal with the Highway Act, so as to make its adoption compulsory if they should think fit. He (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) should be ready to move such an Instruction himself, if he had any indication of the opinion of the House being favourable to such a course. With respect to the suggestion of the Home Secretary that evidence should be taken before the Select Committee, he could, of course, only yield a ready assent to such a wish expressed by a Gentleman in the position of the Home Secretary. He hoped, however, that the right hon. Gentleman would agree with him that it would be inexpedient to re-open the whole question of the toll system, upon which there already existed for reference a mass of evidence taken before the two Select Committees which had previously sat upon the subject, but that the evidence taken should be restricted to particular points connected with the working of the proposed measure. In this view, and with the understanding, clear and certain, that the principle of the desirability of abolishing turnpike tolls was admitted by the House and by the Government, he would go into the Select Committee prepared to receive every suggestion for amendment in the most conciliatory spirit, and with the sole desire that the Bill might come forth from the labours of the Committee in a form which might offer to the House and to the country a satisfactory settlement of the question.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee. And, on May 6, Select Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH, Mr. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN, Mr. ALGERNON EGERTON, Mr. GEORGE CLIVE, Mr. WELBY, Mr. HASTINGS RUSSELL, Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH, Colonel FRENCH, Mr. KNIGHT, Sir ROBERT ANSTRUTHER, Mr. READ, Mr. GOLDNEY, Colonel WILLIAM STUART, Mr. WHALLEY, Mr. WOODD, Lord HENLEY, Mr. MITFORD, Mr. HOLLAND, and Mr. JASPER MORE:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.