§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
said: * Sir, in introducing a Bill upon this subject last year, I stated, as fully and clearly as I could, the history of the turnpike question. I have now to carry it a little further. My Bill was referred to a Select Committee, which sat through the months of May and June, and, having amended the Bill and made a special Report, sent the Bill so amended back to this House at a period too late to allow of its being passed unless it had been adopted by the Government. Now the House, by passing the second reading of the Bill without opposition, having sanctioned its main principle—namely, that tolls should be abolished, the Select Committee had to decide upon the best means of accomplishing that object, or, rather, whether it could be well and fairly accomplished by the proposals of the Bill—the Committee—composed of nineteen Members, of whom ten sat on the Government side of the House—adopted, either unanimously or by large majorities, the proposals of the Bill with reference to the following points. First, the termination of all trusts out of debt; secondly, the inquiry into the debts of trusts still in debt; and thirdly, the manner in which the repairs of the roads should be borne after the termination of the trusts. The point upon which the proposal in the Bill was not assented to by the Committee was the manner in which existing debts should be dealt with after their value had been ascertained. The Bill proposed that the Home Secretary, at that stage of the affair, should, by an Order under his hand, apportion the debt and the annual payments in liquidation thereof between the different parishes and highway districts; that, if necessary, tolls should, by his Order, be collected, in each case for a fixed 1700 and limited period, under the direction of the local authorities, their proceeds being applied to these annual debt payments in the first instance, and afterwards in aid of the road repairs. No such Order was to extend the period of toll collection beyond I the term of ten years from the 1st November 1868, during which period the vast majority of Trust Acts will have expired. After much consideration this appeared to me to afford the best practicable solution of the debt question. But the Committee, by a majority of 1, adopted an Amendment of the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the Member I for North Hants—That the Secretary of State should direct the amount of such debt to be defrayed out of the county rate of the county within which such turnpike road is situate.And another Amendment moved by the same hon. Member was also carried—That boroughs and places under a local Act which do not now contribute to the county rate, but through which turnpike roads pass, should be made to contribute to this debt by Order of the Secretary of State.I was unwilling to continue responsible for the Bill containing such a proposition, that districts of country in which turnpike trust debts had, by care and economical management, been discharged, and the trusts had terminated, should find their county rates increased, in order to pay the debts of other trusts which bad been managed differently and were still in debt, appeared to me to be obviously unjust; and the bringing into the county rate, for this particular purpose, places which were otherwise exempt, seemed an objectionable as well as certainly an unpopular proposal. I have therefore, with some trifling alterations, renewed the former proposal upon this point in the present Bill, and at the proper time I shall be prepared to defend it. Now, Sir, it will be well that I should state to the House the difficulties which stand in the way of this measure. In the first place, I may have thrown in my teeth the special Report of last year's Select Committee, which says—That in any future legislation on the subject of Turnpike Trusts it will be expedient to alter and amend the Highway Act, so as to provide an uniform system of road management throughout the country, and that the maintenance of all roads should be provided for by a rate levied on districts, and not as at present on parishes separately.Sir, I agree with every word of that Re- 1701 port. But I maintain that, in all these cases, it is wise to proceed gradually; and that whilst my Bill will in no way prevent the future alteration of the Highway Act, it actually paves the way for that uniform system of road management which is thus strongly recommended. I do for the first time—and this the Select Committee agreed to—place the repairs of these roads upon the common or district, fund of highway districts where such exist, instead of upon the individual parishes in which the road happens to be situate. And where counties have not adopted the Highway Act, I leave the law precisely as it stands, be that the liability of no individual parish will be increased by the measure, if the parish have within it a length of turnpike road; but, on the contrary, that liability will be lightened if the parish be now part of highway district, or if the county in which it is situate shall hereafter adopt the Highway Act, when the charge will fall upon the district instead of the parish. Of course a new liability—though, as I shall be able to show, more apparent than real—will attach to those parishes which do not happen to have within them any portion of the turnpike road; but the more true it is that these roads are main thoroughfares, the more evident is it that this is a liability which ought not to rest alone upon the few parishes in which the road actually lies, and which neighbouring parishes, which equally use the road unfairly escape when a trust terminates under the present Law. But, Sir, with the leave of the House I wish now to examine into the grounds upon which this measure is opposed—A large number of petitions have been presented against it. Chambers of Agriculture have generally viewed it with disfavour, and I, whose interests are entirely bound up with those of the land, am represented as wishing to increase the burdens upon land, and to add to local taxation, Now, Sir, the position I take is this—The present turnpike system is unfair, unequal, and expensive. It has been condemned by three Parliamentary Committees, and must, sooner or later be the subject of legislation. But that legislation will be more and more difficult, and the matter will become more and more complicated if we go on annually allowing some trusts to terminate, and others to obtain from Parliament a renewed lease of life for different periods of time. Therefore, partly for this reason and partly 1702 because there are such different theories upon this subject, I urge upon the House that, whether the particular plan of this Bill be adopted or not, it is high time that Parliament should lay down some clear and definite principles upon which it is prepared to legislate, The opposition to this Bill is mainly based upon three grounds—1. The fear that rates will be increased. 2. The argument that the debt ought to be paid off, partly or wholly, from the general taxation of the country. 3. The statement that the system is working itself out well, and requires no legislative interference. I must say a word upon each of these heads. Upon the first I can only repeat that, wherever the expenses are thrown over the wider area of the highway district, the rates will be lightened to many parishes and the burden will be more fairly distributed among all. Still more will rates be lightened as the enormous outlay upon collection and management gradually disappears. I need hardly remind the House that this outlay is variously estimated at from 30 to 50 per cent. upon the turnpike revenue, and even if the lowest, figure be adopted there must be something radically wrong in such a system. If it is disputed that a very large amount of turnpike revenue is expended upon collection and management, I may appeal to the evidence taken before the Select Committee of 1864, especially that given by Mr. Newmarch, Mr. Talbot, Mr. Clive, Mr. Higgins, and Mr. Lees. This will bear out my statement that the estimate of this expenditure is from 30 to 50 per cent upon the revenue. But I will not be satisfied with this appeal, I will support my statement by further evidence, The seventeenth Annual Report, presented this year to Parliament under the Act of the 3 & 4 Will. IV, c. 80, states at page 4 that the amount expended upon salaries and law charges during the year 1866 amounted to something over 10½ per cent upon the turnpike revenue. But to this must be added the salaries of toll collectors, the lighting and repairing toll houses, the hire of rooms for meetings of trustees, and several incidental expenses peculiar to the present system. The annual expense of a toll gate alone has generally been reckoned at from £25 to £30 per gate, and if I take all these expenses at 20 per cent, on the revenue—saying nothing of the profit of the toll lessee wherever the tolls are let—I have here more than my 30 per cent, and I think I have shown the House that it will be quite safe to base calcula- 1703 tions upon this amount as the saving which will actually be made under the head of collection and management—of course the benefit to the ratepayers somewhat depends upon the question of how far ratepayers and toll payers are identical. I can only say that the evidence taken before the three Select Committees—to which I have already alluded—and the opinions of those Committees, go to prove this—that, since the introduction of railways, the through traffic—that is, the traffic created by others than the ratepayers of the district has enormously diminished—that in the great majority of instances the ratepayers are the toll payers, and therefore that the burden which is now borne in the shape of tolls will, if this Bill pass, be borne hereafter in the shape of rates to a great extent by the same persons who bear it now. But it will be borne reduced, modified, and regulated by the provisions of this Bill, and instead of having a debt hanging over their heads, which as to its amount and duration is painfully uncertain, the rate-payers will have before them a reduced I but a certain and specified debt, with the sure prospect of its early liquidation, Moreover, the expenditure will be under the control of the ratepayers themselves, instead of in the hands of an irresponsible body of trustees, so that representation and taxation will go together. And be it remembered that the majority of trusts are at this moment only kept alive by the Annual Continuance Act. By refusing to insert them therein the Home Secretary may at any time force them either to expire or to come to Parliament at great expense to obtain a new Act, the granting of I which must be uncertain; so that the state of things under which parishes fear an increase of their rates does actually exist now, and may very largely prevail at any moment. To show that this is no fanciful statement of my own, I will refer the House to the case of two trusts in the county of Gloucestershire, which expired last year—the Bristol and the "Bibury and Dancy's Fancy '' Trusts. These trusts might, if they had pleased, have come to Parliament for a new Act. They did not do so, and when they terminated upwards of 170 miles of turnpike road fell upon the rates of individual parishes. Can anything be harder? The clergyman of one of those parishes writes to me thus—My only excuse for intruding upon you is that I am a clergyman who find myself unexpectedly taxed to the amount of near £60 a year, for the 1704 repair of the old turnpike roads which did not formerly cost me £5; but if I wish to go into the very next parish I am still met by a turnpike gate the Sodbury Trust), which I am obliged to pay. Let all turnpikes be abolished; but let the roads be repaired by a fund paid alike by all in the district benefited by them.And this, Sir, is no isolated case. In a letter which I published some months ago I stated that 280 trusts had been allowed to expire within the last eight years—that is, an average of thirty-five per year. As the accuracy of these figures has been challenged, I will at once give my authority. I wrote to the Home Office to ascertain the number of new Turnpike Trust Acts, or extensions of old Acts, obtained during the last ten years, and also the number of trusts whose Acts have terminated, and have not been renewed during the same period. I obtained an answer from Mr. Harrison, the clerk who manages this branch in the Home Office, an accurate man, and, I believe, no enemy to the present system. He says that during the last eleven years (1857–67 inclusive) 123 new Acts or extensions have been obtained, and with regard to the trusts which have terminated he says—I cannot give this for the same period without considerable labour and search; but during the years 1860–67 inclusive—eight years—the number is 280.I think this shows the increasing complication of the system, and as the majority of existing Trust Acts will expire within the next twelve years, it is surely better to legislate now upon some general principle, rather than allow the matter to drift on in its present uncertain and unsatisfactory state. Sir, I come now to the argument that the debt should be wholly or partly defrayed from the general taxation of the country. It is quite time that this matter should be looked fairly in the face; for many persons who are otherwise well disposed towards the provisions of this or some similar Bill still maintain that, with respect to the debt, it should be, in some degree at least, a national charge. How, Sir, I do appeal to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to state his opinion upon this point clearly, unequivocally, and unreservedly. Now, let us examine a little into the nature and amount of this debt. The amount of nominal debt to be dealt with in 1866 was £3,536,000; during that year it was reduced by £175,000; leaving, on 31st of December, 1866, £3,361,000. It is probably now about £3,200,000, and I calcu- 1705 late that, under the provisions of this Bill, less than £2,000,000 would discharge the full amount of actual debt. I beg special attention to this fact—that the balances in the hands of the treasurers on the 31st of December, 1866, amounted to nearly £300,000, and there is, moreover, a large amount to be realized by the Bale of materials and sites of toll houses and other trust property. In 1866 there were—trusts out of debt, 191; trusts in debt, 791: total, 982. Of the 791 trusts in debt, 441—representing of the remaining debt £1,900,592—paid off a portion of their debt in 1866. Of these 258 paid off at par, though some very small sums; 183 paid at various rates below par; 93 of these trusts pay no interest on their debt, or an interest not exceeding 2 per cent. 350 trusts—representing of the debt £1,461,253—paid off no debt at all. Of the whole amount of debt one-third or above £1,000,000, pays an interest not exceeding 2½ per cent, of which amount £612,000 bears interest from 1d. per cent up to 2 per cent, and £280,000; bears no interest, or only a nominal interest. Many of the trusts which pay a high interest are just those which pay off none of the principal of their debt, and which, if the present law continues, will come to be sharply dealt with by the Home Secretary—much of their debt extinguished, and the interest lowered—if, indeed, they are allowed to exist at all. Of 150 trusts which expended money in improvements in 1866, 110 were in debt, of which 43 paid off no debt that year. These are some of the facts which induce me to believe that £2,000,000 will more than suffice to discharge the actual debt. If further proof be wanted as to the state of the debt, let me refer to the annual Report from the Home Office last year which states at page 8—There are, however, many trusts whose condition is very unsatisfactory, and to remedy which the powers vested in the Secretary of State appear to be inadequate. Thus, in the accounts for 1865, it may be observed that on 445 trusts no portion of the mortgage debt was paid off; but an examination of past years shows that on 291 trusts no debt has been paid for three years; on 225 trusts none has been paid for six years; on 191 trusts none has been paid for ten years; and on 141 trusts none has been paid for fifteen years.Now, Sir, the payment and the management of this debt is most unequal and irregular. Sometimes money in hand, available to pay off debt, is so applied 1706 without due notice being given to the bondholders, in order that they may tender the lowest amount which they are willing to take, and so the most may be made of the money so to be applied. Constantly money is expended in improvements, or—as I have already shown the House—carried over as balances in the treasurers' hands, which ought to have been employed in discharge of debt. In many cases the whole income of a trust is absorbed in the expenses of collection and management and payments in respect of debt; while the whole burden of the maintenance of the road even now falls upon the parishes, so that the ratepayers have first to pay rates to repair the roads, and have afterwards the pleasure of paying tolls before they can enjoy the privilege of using the roads so repaired. To show that I do not exaggerate, let me again quote from last year's Home Office Report, page 2—The amount of parish aid received in 1865 was £31,728; but this does not represent all the aid that is obtained from the parishes, many turnpike roads being repaired by the parishes in lieu of contributing funds out of the highway rates under the 4 & 5 Vict. c. 59. The number of trusts where the roads appear to be entirely repaired by the parishes is 120; while on 174 others aid in money or labour is received, making a total of 294 trusts where the roads are wholly or partially kept in repair at the expense of the parishes, the funds on most of these trusts being principally applied to the payment of the debt and interest.This will show with tolerable accuracy, the anomalous state of the question so far as the debt is concerned, and the hardship inflicted upon the different parishes under the present law. But, Sir, there is still to be encountered the favourite theory that part at least of this debt should be defrayed out of the Consolidated Fund. Let us consider the question fairly. Comparatively few of these roads can be said to have been made for purposes so essentially national in their character as to justify the discharge from national taxation of the debt incurred in their construction. In most cases localities have received the principal benefit, and localities must bear the burden. It not, it will be somewhat unfair upon those many localities in which, by care and economy, the debts have been paid off from local resources, that a premium should thus be paid upon less careful management; and it will be hard upon bondholders who have been paid off at a low percentage, that others should be better treated on account of the national purse being called in to aid. And I ven- 1707 ture to say that the case of the bondholders is not one which will become stronger by close investigation. Many of these are persons who have been greatly benefited by these roads, and whose money was advanced in the first instance principally on account of that anticipated benefit. In all cases this money has been lent upon a terminable security, with a full knowledge on the part of the lender that such security was terminable. The only strong point in the bondholders' case is this, that Parliament has several times renewed this security in many cases. True, but in each case a term has again been named; and for upwards of thirty years there has been on record the deliberate and unanimous opinion of a Select Committee of the House against the continuance of the toll system, and a fair warning has been given of the probable spirit in which Parliament would deal with the question. There is a curious fact bearing upon the understanding with which these sums of money were originally lent, which was lately brought to my notice in a letter from a Devonshire gentleman, an extract from which I will read with the leave of the House—That all parties knew that the loan was in the nature of a speculation, and that it was just possible they might never get repaid, and that the security on which the money had been advanced, was the tolls to be collected for a certain and specified term of years and no longer is clear and obvious from the fact that when, in the year 1755, the Legislature passed a Statute reducing the tolls to be taken under the local Turnpike Acts for carriages having wheels of a certain description, it made a compensation to deed-poll holders who had lent their money on the faith of the tolls granted by such local Turnpike Acts in these remarkable words, 'And to avoid the least suspicion that lessening the tolls and duties as aforesaid may be in any way prejudicial to creditors who have lent, or shall lend, their money upon the security of the tolls, be it enacted that all and every Act or Acts of Parliament made in this Session of Parliament, or heretofore made for repairing or amending turnpike roads shall be continued and be in full force for five years, to be computed from the several ends and expirations of all and every such Act and Acts respectively.' What proof can be desired more clear and conclusive than this, that the creditors who advanced their money for making or repairing the roads had done so on the credit alone of the tolls to be received during the term of years granted by the Act creating the trust, whether twenty-one or thirty-one years? If that be so, what right or equity can the creditors have a century afterwards to allege that they have a permanent claim on the tolls? What pretence have they for doing so? Clearly none—they lent their money on a contract, and by the terms of that contract they must stand or fall.1708 Sir, I have read this extract from no hostility to bondholders, of whom I am one. Their interest has always been well represented in Parliament, and they have been tenderly treated; but that tenderness has been at the expense of the ratepayers and now that we are to have a Parliament principally elected by ratepayers, I think the bondholders will do well to regard with favour a proposal which recognizes their claims in a modified form, and provides for their liquidation. Sir, with reference to the statement that the system is working well and may be left alone, I entirely deny it. It is a system surrounded with uncertainty; it necessitates a double set of expenses in the same district, and it fosters a great staff of officers, whose direct interest it is to keep the trusts in debt, because as they become free from debt, the trusts and the offices expire together. It is working badly, because, as year by year trusts die out, the tendency of traffic to leave toll-supported roads and to come upon adjacent roads thus freed from toll, constantly throws an undue amount of wear and tear upon the latter, and thus at the same time reduces the income of the trusts which still exist, increases the burden of the neighbouring ratepayers, and complicates the system further and further. It is working badly, as is evidenced by the confusion when a trust terminates, and the want of any definite rule to guide the action of trustees. I quote again the case of the Bristol Trust, and will read to the House a letter which I have received on the subject from a reliable witness. He says—Upon winding up the trusts a most disgraceful scramble ensued. The Borough Commissioners outvoted the County Members of the Board, who ceased to attend, and gratuities were voted to the clerk, a member of the largest professional firm in Bristol; to his under clerks, the surveyor and his son, who bad not been long in the employ of the Commissioners, and who both got similar appointments before the trusts were wound up; the toll collectors, and even to the labourers who had been employed on the roads at weekly wages. The consequence was there were no funds in hand for some of the trusts, and the Highway Board had to pay, for the materials placed on the road in readiness for the coming winter.But, Sir, it is said that under the provisions of this Bill the "great users of roads," the "capitalist" and "bondholder" will escape. But let me ask how do such people contribute now? Only when they happen to be living in the country and pay casual tolls; and in this 1709 case they are, directly or indirectly, ratepayers. Then it is said, "Tolls are approximately apportioned to the use of roads." This is so far true, that no one pays the toll who does not use the roads; but it is equally true that vast numbers use the road who never pay tolls. I myself afford a good instance. My house happens to be close to a turnpike road. I have a turnpike gate seven miles from me on one side and four miles on the other. But my property being mostly situate between the two, I constantly use this eleven miles of intervening road without contributing one farthing to its maintenance. Who pay the bulk of the tolls? The farmers of the neighbourhood, great and small, who go—and send their stock—to the towns at either end of the road. We should, in proportion to our use of the road, contribute much more fairly by means of a district rate. And at the same time, whilst in driving along this road, either to Ashford or Hythe, I am met by a turnpike gate, I can drive ten miles to Romney or fifteen miles to Canterbury over a good road, supported by highway rates and under a highway surveyor. The turnpike road surveyor and the highway surveyor have to travel over each other's roads to survey their own roads; and this case affords a good example of the double expense incurred under the present system. But it is said—"the people in the towns will escape." Well, Sir, I do not want, and I do not believe that the people in the towns wish, that they should escape any burden which it is right they should bear. It must be borne in mind, how ever, that, the people in the towns pave, watch, and light their own streets at a great expense without asking the country to contribute. And if you tax your butcher, your grocer, and your baker by means of tolls, depend upon it that the tax ultimately falls upon the consumer of the commodities which they carry out into the country. In my humble opinion, anything which tends to create an impediment to the free circulation of traffic between town and country is an unmixed evil; and this, no doubt, is one reason why this turnpike system has been condemned by our Select Committees. There is one alteration in the Bill to which I desire to direct notice. By the 11th clause power is given to the Home Secretary to inquire into the special circumstances of any trust if he shall think fit, with a view to propose to special 1710 scheme for the maintenance of its roads, subject to the approbation of Parliament. The object of the clause is this—some of these roads, though I think comparatively few, are either really main arteries, or are subject to an exceptional amount of through traffic, or of heavy traffic from non-ratepayers It may be that a general measure, applicable to the majority of trusts, would fall heavily upon these cases, and that their condition may justify either the maintenance of toll gates, or the adoption of un area of taxation greater than that contemplated in the Bill. But instead of bringing these cases forward, as is frequently done, by way of argument against a general measure of toll abolition, I would apply general principles to the great bulk of the trusts to which they are applicable, and would give power to deal specially with the class of cases to which I have alluded, I have no doubt, Sir, that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire will presently urge with great eloquence his objections to this Bill. I hope, however, that he will not lay too much stress upon the alleged failure of the Highway Act in Worcestershire, and the complaints against it which emanate from that county. Should he do so, he must bear in mind that, as it can be shown that, in some other counties, this Act works well and has given satisfaction, it is possible that the House may think that in the case of Worcestershire the fault lies not in the Act, but with those whose duty it is to see it carried out properly, And I beg to point oat the great disadvantage under which that Act has been worked in eon-sequence of its having1 been introduced—mistakenly as I think—as a permissive Act, When there has been a great opposition to an Act of this kind, when its opponents have been defeated, and when they know that it is still possible to rescind the action taken, and to get rid of the Act without coming to Parliament, they are very often not particularly desirous that a scheme should work well which they have prophecied would be a failure; and in the county of Worcester, where the Act was much opposed, and where opposition to it has assumed such a form that the question has been made a prominent one in a contested county election, I think it will be readily seen that the Act is hardly likely to have been worked with any great hope of entire success. But, whether from dislike of the Highway Act, or from love of turnpikes, 1711 the Member for Worcestershire is about to oppose this Bill. I have told the House that many petitions have been presented, and speeches made against it. But both have been evidently founded upon a great misconception as to the scope, intentions, and effects of the measure. And I should attach more weight to the petitions, if they had not been mainly the offspring of an organization which could with equal facility have produced petitions upon the other side of the question. I observed that at a recent meeting of the Warwickshire Chamber of Agriculture the Members congratulated themselves upon the fact that they had obtained 199 petitions from parishes against this Bill in answer to their circular. Well, I know pretty well what that circular was. Probably something akin to the statement issued by the Worcestershire Chamber, which embodied with singular infelicity all the old fallacies of the advocates of the toll system. This paper was extensively circulated, and created a considerable prejudice against the Bill. I found some prejudice existing in my own county, but an opportunity occurred of explaining the Bill to the East Kent Chamber of Agriculture. This is as independent and intelligent a body of agriculturists as can be found in England, and, after hearing my explanations, they adopted a petition in favour of the general principles of the Bill, adding, however, I am bound to say, that, in their opinion, the Consolidated Fund should aid in the liquidation of the debt. Sir, as the chief agitation against turnpike reform has appeared in Worcestershire and Warwickshire, and as Gloucestershire has also been discussed in the public journals, I have carefully analyzed the condition of these three counties with regard to their trusts. I am very unwilling to trouble the House with many figures, but this is a subject so interesting to the agricultural community, and bearing so strongly upon that subject of local taxation which will have to be dealt with by the new Parliament, that I must ask some further indulgence upon the subject. I take these three counties, presuming; that, as in two of them at least the turnpike system seems to be so much approved, they must be favourable examples of its working, and therefore the House will see that I have not picked out the worst examples, as I might have done, to strengthen my case, but taken these three, which may be supposed to be model 1712 counties. And first let me quote a letter which appeared not long ago in The Times from Mr. Whitaker, Chairman of the Worcestershire Chamber of Agriculture. It was written in answer to some letters of Sir George Jenkinson, and after making several statements to which I think I have replied by anticipation, it goes on to show the effect which the writer believes this Bill would have, in the following words:—Having the blue books before me, with your permission, I will show the effect Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen's Bill will have in Gloucestershire if it passes. There was expended in 1865 upon all the roads in the county (exclusive of debt and interest) the sum of £69,518; this was raised, £35,274 by tolls, and £34,244 by rates; it, therefore, follows that if tolls be abolished the highway rates must be increased nearly 100 per cent, after allowing for those expenses which are peculiar to the toll system; and even that will not make provision for the mortgage debt of £170,000, the commuted value of which (at best a heavy burden) will have to be apportioned among the several parishes, and liquidated by further rates; or the Secretary of State may continue the tolls for ten years for that purpose—in either case a pleasant prospect for the ratepayers.Nothing is so easy to make as a statement such as this, and nothing more calculated to mislead the ratepayers. But now let me show the way in which the Bill would really apply to Gloucestershire. The sum actually expended in that county under the turnpike system was £45,878—that is, £10,604 for debt, principal and interest, and £35,274 for all other expenses. Accepting the statement, which I think I have shown to be correct, that 30 per cent will be actually saved upon collection and management, the saving in Gloucestershire in 1865 would have been £13,761—that is, not £45,578, but £32,117 would have been required but for these extraordinary expenses. And let me add, that as the two trusts since abolished expended nearly £15,000 of the whole amount, the sum to be dealt with by this Bill is now considerably less. Then comes this practical question. Does or does not this 30 per cent so saved represent a larger percentage than that which the ratepayers now receive from that portion of the toll-paying public who are not ratepayers? An overwhelming weight of evidence answers this question in the affirmative. And still bearing in mind that the ratepayers pay the bulk of the tolls, would the additional sum from rates required for a limited time to meet the commuted debt, under this Bill, be greater than the sum now annually paid by rate- 1713 payers in tolls for debt and interest added to the 30 per cent wasted on collection and management? These questions appear to answer themselves; but if I am wrong, and if the percentage collected from nun-ratepayers is greater than the sum to be saved, then, under this Bill, the ratepayers will still be able to receive this extraneous assistance under the order of the Secretary of State, so long as their debt lasts, and, in either ease, they will have that which dots not now exist, namely, a positive certainty that the debt will gradually and speedily disappear. Moreover, the sum stated by Mr. Whitaker to have been raised by tolls was not all so raised. I find that above £2,000 in 1865, and above £1,700 in 1866 was raised in Gloucestershire under the several heads of "Parish composition in lieu of statute duty," "Estimated, value of statute labour," and "Incidental receipts." The latter head includes money received from the sale of trust property when trusts have terminated, and the former relates to money now received from parish rates where tolls are insufficient for the maintenance of the roads. It is, therefore, a great fallacy to talk, as does Mr. Whitaker, of the increase of highway rates nearly 100 per cent; and from any apparent increase must be deducted the large amount now paid by rate- payers in tolls. The value of the debt is not easily to be learned from the annual abstract presented to this House Some; trusts, as have shown, pay off a portion of their debt at par, and then pay off no debt for two or three years. Some pay a high interest, but never pay off any of their principal, and of course something of the value depends upon the length of time which the security has to run. The few figures, however, with which I am about to trouble the House will show the condition of the trust system in the three counties to which I am alluding, and they may be taken as a sample of the rest Mr. Frewen's Return in 1848 shows the turnpike roads in Gloucestershire to comprise about 950 miles. In 1865 there were 42 trusts in that county. Of these 2 were amalgamated with other trusts in. 1866 and 2 expired in 1867. Of the remaining 38, 20 are continued by the annual Continuance Act, and would therefore immediately come under the operation of this Bill; 13 will expire within the next ten years; 4 within six years afterwards; 1 in 1890: total 38. In 1865, No. of trusts in debt, 35; paid off at par, 4; paid off 1714 below par, 16; paid off no debt, 15: average per centage of those who paid off below par, 55 per cent. In 1866, No. of trusts in debt, 33; paid off at par, 8; paid off below par, 17; paid off no debt, 8: average percentage of those who paid off below par, 64 percent. The trusts which paid off at par represented a remaining debt, in 1865, of £11,500, in 1866, £30,715; the trusts which paid off below par represented a remaining debt, in 1866, of £95,000, in 1866, £90,170; the trusts which paid off no debt represented a remaining debt, in 1865, of £68,700, in 1866, £45,165: total debt, in 1865, £175,200; in 1866, £166,050. And, in 1866, the trusts bearing interest above 3 per cent represented £50,124; trusts bearing interest at 3 per cent, £28,541; trusts bearing interest below 3 percent, 87,385: total £166,050, and of the latter amount upwards of £34,000 bears no interest at all. Balance in treasurers' hands, December 31st, 1865, £10,045; December 31st, 1866, £12,463. In 1866 there were in Warwickshire 480 miles of turnpike road and 32 trusts: of these 26 are continued by the annual Act, 5 will expire within 6 years from the present time, and 1 in 1880. Of these trusts, 27 were in debt in 1866: only 9, representing a debt of £11,948 paid off any debt in 1866. It was all paid at par; but only 3 of these had paid at par, and 2 below par in 1865; and of these 2 had paid no debt in 1864, and 1 no debt in 1864 or in 1863. The 18 trusts which paid no debt represented a debt of £28,032, showing the total debt, £39,980. I may say that Warwickshire does not seem to improve, so far as pacing debts is concerned, for 1 find that 13 trusts paid of some debt in 1863, 9 in 1864, 7 in 1865, and, again, 9 in 1866. The balance in the treasurers' hands was £4,445 in 1865, and £5,391 in 1866. In 1866 there were in Worcestershire 522 miles of turnpike road, 30 trusts. 22 of these are continued by the annual Act, 7 will expire within 8 years from the present time, and the remaining one in 1880. Of these trusts 21 were in debt in 1866–6 trusts paid off some debt at par, leaving a debt remaining of £9,388; 4 trusts paid off some debt at an average of 75 per cent, leaving £8,572; 11 trusts paid off no debt, leaving a debt of £10,863: total debt £28,823. Of the Worcestershire trusts 14 paid off some debt in 1863, 10 in 1864, 11 in 1865, and 10 in 1866; several of the latter being trusts which 1715 had paid no debt in the three previous years, or only in one year out of the three. The balance in the treasurers' hands was £8,932 in 1865, and £8,104 in 1866. A glance at these figures will show how unequally the present system works, and how well the provisions of this Bill would apply. And, as to the debt, the balances in the hands of the treasurers, and the trust property, would, in the cases of Warwickshire and Worcestershire, represent more than half the amount required to discharge the commuted debt. The value of the site and materials of toll houses has been reckoned at £70 per house; but I think this is a low estimate, and if taken at from £70 to £100 per house it will be seen that there is considerable property which might be at once made applicable to the reduction of the commuted debt. Now, Sir, I am sorry to trouble the House so long, but before I conclude I wish, to refer to two cases within the three counties to which I have referred, as exemplifying some of the inequalities of the present system. I take the last trust in the Gloucestershire list—the Winchcombe Trust. This trust would have expired in 1865. Its average income for the three previous years was £1,522 per annum, during which time no debt was paid off. This trust obtained a new Act in 1865, extending its term for seven years. The law charges in that year were £337, or 22 per cent upon the average income. By the new Act the tolls were to be applied—1st. To the payment of the expenses of the Act. 2nd. To salaries, which, exclusive of salaries of toll collectors, were not to exceed £100. 3rd. To the interest of the debt at 2 per cent. 4th. To the repairs of the road, but this sum not to exceed £300. 5th. To paying off the debt. The length of the road is about twenty-two miles. Exclusive of salaries and debt the average expenditure for three years previous to the Act was £950. The sum apportioned to repairs under the Act being £300, the House will be able to judge for itself as to the position of the bondholders, and also as to what amount of extra rates is likely to be demanded of the parishes during the continuance of the Act. And now for the second instance. In 1864 there was a notable marriage in Worcestershire. The Dudley and Wolverhampton Trust, whose Act expired in 1860, and the Dudley, Halesowen, and Bromsgrove Trust, whose Act will expire 1716 in 1875, were married to the Dudley and New Inn Trust, whose Act expired in 1863. The first two trusts were out of debt, with a joint income of nearly £4,000 per annum, and should have been allowed to expire; whilst the last, with an income of £427, had a debt of £2,425. And let the House mark the sequel. You would have expected, of course, that the debt (would have been gradually discharged. But in 1865 no debt was paid off, but a sum of £1,959 9s. was spent in improvements! In 1866 again no debt was paid off, and a further sum of £668 11s. 2d. spent in improvements!
And now, Sir, I hope that I have succeeded in pointing out to the House some of the evils of the present turnpike system, and the desirability of early legislation. I do not wish to be understood as believing that the plan which I have the honour to propose to day is perfect in all its details, or the best plan in every respect which could be devised. What I do contend is that we cannot do worse than maintain the existing state of things. There have been several plans, proposed and supported by more or less authority, which might be I followed without departure from the two great principles of this Bill—namely, the abolition of tolls and the extension of the area of taxation. There is the plan of making the county rate the fund from which these road repairs should be provided for; there is the plan, which I believe is adopted in Scotland, of dividing the rate between owner and occupier; there is the South Wales system; and there is the proposal—well worth discussion—that a Commission should be issued to value the debt with a view to its extinction, and that the roads should be classified and divided, some requiring a larger area of taxation than others. So long as the principles of my Bill are preserved, I am not opposed to or prejudiced against any of these plans, if on full consideration they should appear more satisfactory than that which I propose to-day. But I think the time is come when we should proceed upon definite principles, and when some scheme should be brought forward upon the responsibility of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary proposes to postpone legislation. He has now arrived at the point which the late Government had reached two years ago. He proposes, as I understand, to place in the Schedule of the Continuance Act a large number of trusts, with a view to 1717 compel them either to die quietly, or to come next year to Parliament—not under the old expensive process—to obtain a new Act, but to have their case heard before a Select Committee of this House Of course the practical effect of this will be to postpone any legislation upon general principles until 1870. I regret, this delay, and if I do not oppose the Continuance Bill now, I hold myself at perfect liberty with respect to future action. In any case, I hope that the position to which the question has now been brought will lead to early legislation; and shall be very glad if the statement which I have made to-day, and the labour which I have bestowed on the subject, may in any degree assist those who will hereafter have to legislate upon the matter, or in any measure tend to promote the ultimate settlement of the question upon a just and equitable basis. Sir, I move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen.)
§ MR. KNIGHT
said, that having been a Member of the Committee to which the measure had been referred, he had found that the great majority of its members were known to be what was termed "Turn- pike Reformers," and that they had gone on the Committee with the knowledge that they were to be asked to agree to a proposal for the abolition of turnipkes. The moment, however, the question arose as to; who were the persons who should in that event find the necessary money, they were completely at variance. When the hon. Gentleman's Bill was brought under the consideration of the Select Committee it contained two great proposals. The one I was that the Secretary of State should; allocate the amount of the debts to each of the parishes within the particular districts, and the other was that the roads should be; maintained as public highway. The first proposal was rejected by the Committee, who determined that the debt should be thrown on the counties, and ultimately it was carried by a majority of 10 to 2 that the boroughs should be included, and the hon., Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) consequently found that the, first part of his Bill was set aside or destroyed. He (Mr. Knight) did not think, therefore, that the hon. Member could refer to that Committee as concurring in 1718 his views. He (Mr. Knight) never saw so little unanimity as had existed amongst the Members of that Committee. He admitted, however, that upon the question of the abolition of turnpike trusts, the Committee, with the exception of two of the Members, were unanimous in favour of such abolition. The principle of throwing the maintenance of the loads from the users of the road upon the occupiers of land had been largely discussed, especially by the Chambers of Agriculture, and it had not met with a great deal of favour. He had himself presented scores of petitions against it, and it measure founded upon this principle would certainly be contrary to the wishes of the agricultural districts. He inclined to the opinion that there ought to be, as in Ireland, two sets of roads and two systems of keeping them up—one set consisting of the great highways connecting the great centres of population, and the other consisting of the parish roads. A Parliamentary Paper published this Session showed the additional rating that would be required if the trust funds bad to be provided by the parishes through which the roads went. These rates would be increased from 1s. 9d. to 3s. in the pound, and in one case the rate would confiscate one fourth of the whole property of the parish. The hon. Member for Sandwich contemplated throwing the management upon the Highway Board, where it existed; but in Worcestershire the Highway Act was not much liked, and in one or two districts it had worked so badly that the parishes had returned to the old system. The Highway Act had, in Worcestershire at least, led to increased expenditure varying from 25 to 90 per cent. In many parishes the expense had been doubled. With regard to throwing any portion of the expense upon the county rates, he believed there would be a revulsion of feeling if there was any further increase in the county rates, while the great mass of the property of the country, as had been shown the other night, paid no rate at all. Until this injustice was removed he should strenuously oppose every attempt to increase the county rates. The hon. Member concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
§ MR. CORRANCE
, in seconding the Amendment, said, that the arguments used in support of this Bill appeared to him to be shallow and insufficient. He admitted that the payment of the turnpike debt should be local. The main objection 1719 to turnpike tolls was the expense of collection, which, it was assumed, amounted on an average to 40 per cent. There seemed to be no necessity it should be so high; for in his county (Suffolk) several roads were managed at an expense of collection of 16 per cent. He considered any expense much above that to be wholly needless, and to be the result of bad management. The argument of the hon. Member, if pressed to its logical conclusion, would show that there should be no local rates whatever. If the hon. Member proposed to do away with turnpike tolls it was his duty to find some acceptable alternative; and the hon. Gentleman had proposed three or four—the parish, the union, the highway district and a supplementary payment out of the county rate. Not one of these, however, quite met the case. If the expense of the turnpike roads were thrown on the parish, it would cause an addition to the rates which it had been given in evidence would amount in some cases to 2s. 6d. in the pound; while in other cases it would quadruple the present rates. He did not believe the proposal to maintain the roads out of the county rates would be acceptable. The hon. Member hoped that his Bill would pave the way to his favourite scheme of highway districts, but he failed to see any extraordinary advantages or any decreased expenditure from this cause. He had taken some trouble to examine the. Returns from thirty-four English counties and one Welsh county. He had got Returns for nineteen of these counties in which the Highway Act had been in operation for three years; and he found that in sixteen there had been an increase even in the third year as compared with the first. He believed that the system under the Highway Act was as easily corrupted and as likely to lead to expense as the present system of turnpike management. The incidence of these rates was upon the poorer classes rather than the rich; and every attempt to increase those rates would be, he trusted, opposed in that House. Allusion had been made to the payment of these rates out of the Consolidated Fund. He should object to throw local expenditure upon the Imperial taxes; but he must admit that the maintenance of the public roads was rather an exceptional question. In almost every country in Europe the making of the roads was regarded as an Imperial question, and in no case rested entirely on local management. The Bill was not likely to pass 1720 during the present Session; and if it did it would only add one more to the long string of abortive measures on this subject. Parish roads would fall into decay, populous towns would be complaining of the roads, the old war between town and country would be revived, and a new Bill would be demanded.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Knight.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
said, that although he did not agree with some parts of the Bill, he would vote for the second reading, because he thought it of great importance that the abolition of turnpikes should be affirmed by the House. The difficulty in dealing with the subject, and which was experienced both in the Committee of last year and in that of 1864, was, however, greatly aggravated by the unfortunately permissive character of the Highway Act. Nothing had done so much harm; and it had given him a strong opinion, not only in regard to the Highway Act itself, but against all permissive legislation. It was necessary to throw the expense of the repair of the roads upon a somewhat larger area that the parish. There was a small parish near Northampton through which several miles of turnpike road ran; and to throw the whole of the expense of keeping up that road upon the parish would be ruinous. At the same time, his hon. Friend the Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had deserved the thanks of the House for the trouble he had taken in attempting to settle the question by legislation.
§ MR. BEACH
said, he fully agreed that the House was much indebted to his hon. Friend (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) for the attention he had devoted to this subject, and he only regretted that the hon. Gentleman had not yet been able to lay before the House a measure that was satisfactory to the country. The difficulty in the way of legislation was, in fact, so great that it was hardly possible to introduce a measure that did not inflict hardship on some portion of the community. One element of difficulty was the difference in the circumstances and situation of the turnpike trusts. In some cases they were 1721 in debt, and in others they were free from debt. In some cases the Highway Act had been adopted in the district, and in other cases it had not. The Bill proposed that in districts where the Highway Act had not been adopted the expense of maintaining the turnpike roads should be thrown upon the parishes; but was it possible to conceive an Act that would inflict greater injustice? In one parish that he knew the turnpike road ran through it for three miles, but the limits of the parish only extended to the fence on the other side of the road. In that case the parish on the other side of the fence would pay nothing towards the maintenance of the road, while both would equally benefit. Take a road which had been alluded to in; the North of England, between two great manufacturing towns, but passing through an agricultural parish. The towns, having; Local Improvement Acts, would be exempt from the maintenance of the road, and the whole burden would fall upon the agricultural parish, which profited very little from the use of the road. It was u necessary preliminary to any fair legislation on the subject that the Highway Act should be rendered compulsory; but such a strong objection was entertained in some localities to its adoption that there would be a difficulty in forcing it upon them. Even if the Highway Act had been everywhere adopted it would not be easy to frame a system which should be perfectly fair and equal throughout the country. The debt had been reduced from £7,000,000 in 1837 to little over £3,000,000 at the present time. In some cases there was n satisfactory prospect of a further reduction; in others, there was no such probability. The trusts out of debt were to be summarily abolished. If, then, a particular trust was out of debt and all the trusts around were in debt the effect of the Bill would be to make the inhabitants of the well-managed trust, where the tolls were abolished, pay tolls when they travelled over the roads in the adjacent trusts. If the present Bill passed many inequalities must still exist. He did not think it would be fair, in dealing with the debts of turnpike trusts, to treat the mortgage holders in a harsh mannner. It was said that Imperial funds could not be made use of for the purpose of liquidating the debts; but he could hardly admit that, because many of these roads were originally made for the conveyance of the mails in a safe and convenient manner, and the mails 1722 passed over the roads without paying anything towards their maintenance. The proper mode of remedying the present system, which no doubt entailed considerable grievance in many cases, was by consolidating the various trusts and extending the area of management. If various trusts were formed into one there would be a great saving in the expense of management, and they might in the end see their way to abolishing turnpike trusts altogether.
§ MR. CLIVE
said, he hoped the House would read the Bill a second time. The present system was the most expensive, cumbrous, and least effective possible. In his opinion the only way in which the matter could by satisfactorily settled was by making the Highway Act compulsory, and he hoped a measure would be introduced for that purpose.
said, that if turnpikes were abolished and the expense of maintaining the roads were thrown on the ratepayers, it was necessary that the persons who were to be called on to pay should know beforehand what the burden would be. If, after the ratepayers had been made aware of the rates they would likely be culled upon, to pay, they pronounced in favour of the abolition of turnpikes, there would be no cause of complaint hereafter. He thought that the bondholders had been great benefactors to the country, as being the means of effecting improvements in the turnpike roads; but now that that benefit had been secured people were about to forget the sacrifices made by those who furnished the necessary money. If the tolls were done away with, and the expense thrown on the parishes, the burden in many instances would be intolerable.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
said, that there was a general dissatisfaction with the management of the public highways, and a general desire for the establishment of some system by which the petty hardships which the present system inflicted upon the community might be mitigated and gradually got rid of; but, when so many local interests were concerned, and 1723 public opinion was so little formed, it was evident that there must be many discussions in that House, and many abortive attempts at legislation, before a satisfactory settlement of the question could be arrived at. The proposed scheme was inadequate, in his opinion, to deal with existing evils, and unsatisfactory with a view to permanent settlement. Circumstances had greatly altered since the present system of turnpike roads commenced. The old toll system, which made those who used the roads pay for them, was very well for a certain period; but the railways had so interfered with the traffic of the roads, that the receipts were not equal to the necessary expenditure. But every year they were making great steps in the way of the abolition of trusts, and the debt they had to deal with became every year less. Therefore the difficulties of the case were not increasing. His first great objection to the Bill was that the manner in which it was proposed to deal with the debts of turnpike trusts was calculated to excite apprehensions of increased rates. It was proposed to impose the obligation to pay the debts on the parishes through which the roads passed. He thought that proposition most objectionable; for in many instances the parishes had not been consulted about making the roads, and the debt, too, had been incurred in making roads to serve considerable districts. Let it be remembered that the property through which these roads passed had increased in value in proportion to the easy access to towns and cities; and it was unfair to make an extra charge upon tenants who had only a casual interest in these roads, whilst the landowners, whose estates had been permanently advantaged, would be scot free. With respect to the bondholders, the House ought not in any case to underrate the claims of those who had advanced money to farm and improve turnpike roads at a time when there existed no idea that they would be rendered comparatively useless by the establishment of railroads; but at this time of day it could not be maintained that the maintenance of any read was a national concern, and he had a rooted objection to applying to the Consolidated Fund to pay for any road. Indeed he did not think the House would seriously entertain such a proposal. He thought that a much larger area should be taken for raising contributions towards the payment of the trust debts than either a parish or a highway district, and that the 1724 county should be taken as the area. In Scotland a similar subject to that now under consideration had engaged attention, and the general idea entertained by the Commission on this subject for Scotland was that the county should be adopted as the area of management, and that, from considerations of local peculiarities, it should be divided into districts allotted to competent overseers and engineers. When this was done there was to be no distinction between turnpike roads and parish roads; but all were to be managed by one Board, and a uniform rate for their maintenance was to be imposed on all descriptions of property. Parliamentary boroughs, if they did not choose to come into the general system, were to be omitted. An estimate had been made of the expense of such a system, and it was found that it would reduce the expense of management, and in no case would the rate which was levied exceed 1s. in the pound. Summarizing the objections to his hon. Friend's Bill, he would say they ought to deal with this subject in a much more complete form. There must be an equitable-and satisfactory mode for the extinction of debt, not one which was most partial and unjust. The Bill of his Friend would leave the existing anomaly of having highways side by side with turnpike roads. All the inequalities of the existing system would be continued by the Bill for years to come; and in many cases they would be aggravated in their harshness and inequality. The House had much better wait until a more matured and general measure was produced. There were difficulties in way of such a measure; but they had shown, in the northern part of the kingdom, that they could be overcome. He hoped the day was not far distant when every turnpike gate would be abolished without laying on the people any burden comparable with that which such an abolition would remove.
MR. C. WYKEHAM MARTIN
said, he thought that great injustice would be done to the inhabitants of parishes if the area of taxation were not extended considerably beyond the limits of the present highway districts. It was only necessary to instance the cases of parishes situated immediately without the limits of large trading and manufacturing towns in order to establish this. He considered that the county Boards ought to have power vested in them to issue traffic licences, which should be compulsory on the owners of 1725 all heavy vehicles, as it was the heavy traffic which cut up the roads. In that way, without increasing the burdens of the ratepayers, they might be able to settle the question in a satisfactory manner. He was the owner off farm in Worcestershire, which he was obliged to have valued afresh twelve or fifteen years ago, and ever since he had been obliged to submit to a reduction of 10 per cent on the valuation then made in consequence; of the pressure of tolls and the wretched state of the roads, which made it impossible to convey the agricultural products to the nearest market except at a large cost to the tenant. He mentioned this as an illustration of the evils arising from the present defective system of administration.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, it could not be, fairly objected to the working of the Highway Acts that the expenses wore large, as the present roads were the result of management that had continued during three or four generations. He thought, that the House would agree that any tax which cost 30 per cent in collection was a vicious tax; and that was the state of things with reference to tolls In 1866 £1,250,000 was collected, and yet only £500,000 went in the repair of the roads; £250,000 was absorbed by the debt; and the remaining £500,000 went in management expenses of one sort and another In addition, there was £1,500,000 for highway rates, making with tolls £2,750,000; but in his opinion the whole of the work could be well done for £2,000,000. His opinion was that the abolition of the present system would impose no serious burden upon any one The repair of the roads ought to fall on property, and not on the occupiers, Taking the existing debt at £3,000,000, a sum of £100,000 a year levied on property would suffice to provide for its extinction, and that would not amount to n rate of more than a farthing in the pound annually. The increase in the rates would be nothing, and the estates which had roads passing through them, or even placed at a distance from large towns, would be immensely benefited.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, the Under Secretary for the Home Department (Sir James Fergusson) had adverted to the Report of the Royal Commission of 1860, which recommended the abolition of tolls in Scotland, and of which he (Mr. M'Laren) had had the honour of being a Member. That 1726 Report took the same view in general as had just been done by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney); it recommended that the repairs of the roads should be defrayed by a rate on property payable by the tenants with a right to deduct half from the landlord; but that during the tenure of existing leases tenants should pay the whole rate, and that debt, as valued at the market worth of the bond, should form a burden on the owner of the land exclusively. He believed that a great deal less would be paid for management under such an improved system, and he deprecated every approach to payment of the debts out of the Consolidated Fund. It would be a premium to improvident management.
§ MR. READ
said, he had fears as to how turnpike roads would be maintained if the burden of keeping them up was east upon parishes. He objected to the increase of rates while so large a portion of the property of the country escaped being rated; but he agreed that at present the matter was in a very unsatisfactory state. He hoped that before the 200 trusts, which had been referred to should cease, some general measure embracing all the roads of the country would be adopted.
said, he hoped that a division would not be taken on the second reading of the Bill, because it raised questions on which it would not be expedient at present to pronounce an opinion, either negatively or affirmatively. This measure deals with various matters; in the first place the abolition of tolls, and then the debts of the trusts. They were told that it was proposed to deal with the debt "somehow;" it would be very satisfactory to creditors for several millions that their debt was to be treated somehow. He had the greatest, respect for Secretaries of State, past, present, and to come; but this was not a question which ought to be left to any Secretary of State, be he man or angel. This debt "had been created by sanction of Parliament, and should only be dealt with by Parliament. He did not agree that the debts were decidedly local; and certainly in his own county many roads in the coaching days had been made for Imperial and not for county purposes—for cutting down hills and filling up valleys to enable stagecoaches to travel nine or ten miles an hour with safety—and debt had been incurred in the course of the work. Even at the present day there was a great deal of 1727 through traffic for which local expense was incurred. The Secretary of State was not only to assess the value of the debt, but he was also to allocate it; and there would be immense difficulty in framing any rule to meet the vast variety of circumstances of different places. No one had stronger objections to tolls than he had—he had often run the risk of breaking his neck in jumping over hedges in order to avoid them—and in many instances the cost of collecting them was enormous. It would be almost impossible to frame a general Bill that would not work great injustice in individual instances. He thought that it would be far better to withdraw the Bill than to ask the House to pledge itself to any principle. The House would then be free next Session to carry a better measure if a better measure could be devised.
§ SIR JOHN SIMEON
said, he entirely concurred in the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley). In the Isle of Wight they continued to be under the Act 53 Geo. III., tolls being leviable at every eighth mile. He thought there was a great tendency to bear unduly on the rates, and to throw on them everything which could possibly be laid on them. The amount paid by the farmers for the maintenance of roads bore a very undue proportion to that paid by the inhabitants of towns. He must express his earnest hope that in the course of the discussion which must take place on this important question in the ensuing Parliament great care would be taken not to lay too great pressure on the ratepayers.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he was glad that it was not the intention of the hon. Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) to divide the House on this occasion on the Bill, and he would recommend the hon. Member behind him to withdraw his Amendment also. The discussion showed that no two Members could agree upon the vote which they would give upon the Bill, except so far as this, that they desired to abolish the present system of the management of turnpike roads. They were agreed upon nothing else, and there would be no use in their passing what would in effect be an abstract Resolution upon the question, by which no one would be bound. It would no doubt be to the general interest of the country that the existing bad and expensive system should 1728 be got rid of. No doubt there were difficulties in dealing with the question, but still they had precedents in Wales and in Scotland for solving those difficulties, and he did not despair of seeing the difficulties solved in England also. The most injurious part of the present system was that there were frequently two trusts close together, each of which had gates within a short distance of gates on other trusts; and as people were obliged to pay at both these gates there was a great impediment to traffic. In Wales they had an arrangement that no two gates should be within eight miles of one another, and such an advantage might be secured here by a consolidation of trusts. If, however, they handed over to some other body the management of roads, they must take into consideration the system of highways. He agreed with one of the objects of this Bill, that there ought to be one central Board, which should have the power to decide what roads were to be kept up as parish roads, and what roads should be treated as portions of the general communication of the country. On the other hand, he objected to the duties that were sought to be imposed upon the Secretary of State of deciding upon these points; and he objected to the provision that the Justices should have the power of deciding where they would supplement the repair of a road out of the funds of the county, and where they should be left to the care of the parish. This was to make a permissive Bill in its worst form. As there seemed to be much misapprehension entertained of the principle on which the Home Office decided in reference to these questions, he thought it would be desirable that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the whole matter, and to determine whether the principles on which the Home Office now acted were sound and reasonable, or whether new principles should be laid down. As the Bill was about to be withdrawn, he would not discuss its clauses further than to say that he thought an improvement in the management of our high roads was desirable, if indeed it was not absolutely necessary, as the railway system had rendered many roads which were formerly only parish roads now to be high roads, and vice versâ. But he did not think the Consolidated Fund ought to be applied so as to bear any share in the expense.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
As I am anxious to save the time of the 1729 House, I will not exercise my right of reply by criticizing, as I should under other circumstances be desirous of criticizing, several of the observations which have been made during the debate, There are, however, two or three words whish I feel bound to say before I consent to withdraw this Bill. I think I may congratulate myself upon the result of this discussion. I understand from the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayrshire the Under Secretary of State, that the Government admit the two main principles of the Bill—namely, that tolls should be abolished and the area of taxation extended. The more logical sequence appears to me that the Government, holding these views, should support the second reading of my Bill; but as they think otherwise, and as the Bill could not under any circumstances go beyond its present stage during this Session, I do not think I should gain anything by pressing for a division, especially as the question has made material progress during the debate. But there is one remark which I desire to make. Having stated the main principles of the Bill in my opening speech, I beg to remind the House that I most distinctly laid it down that I was prepared to accept any plan which, on consideration, might seem preferable to my own, so long as it was consistent with the adoption of those two principles. I myself mentioned the county rate as a possible area, and I also alluded to the division of rates between owner and occupier. But another reason prompts me to consent to the withdrawal of the Bill for the present. It is evident that the Government are in advance of some of their supporters upon this question, and I am not without hopes that some further delay will still further improve the position of affairs, and that time and reflection will produce upon this subject that harmonious action between the Government and their supporters, which is so much to be desired. I will therefore withdraw the Bill upon the understanding of course that the Amendment is also withdrawn.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
did not wish it to be supposed that he assented to the principle of the total abolition of tolls.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.