HC Deb 08 May 1868 vol 191 cc2012-21

said, he rose to call attention to the Seventeenth General Report on Turnpike Trusts made by direction of the Secretary of State for the Home Department under the Act 3 & 4 Will. IV., c. 80. In 1864, he had the honour of being Chairman of a Committee on the subject, of which the Under Secretary for the Home Department (Sir James Fergusson) was a member; so that, whenever during the past year or two he had been asked by his Friends what progress had been made in the matter, or rather, why no progress at all had been made, he answered that there was a Gentleman at the head of that Department of Home Affairs who was thoroughly acquainted with the subject, and would, no doubt, do it justice. He had believed there was every reason to hope for favourable results from the present Administration. But what had occurred? Under the former Administration, 120 or 130 Turnpike Trusts where scheduled for abolition; but since the accession to Office of the present Government — and especially under the Administration of the noble Lord, now a Governor in Australia (the Earl of Belmore)—a retrograde course had been pursued, and the policy adopted for many years past with regard to turnpikes had been exactly reversed. In the first paragraph of the Report, credit was taken for a great improvement in the work in connection with this subject in the Home Office. He objected that a reflection should be thrown upon the administration of the Home Office in former years; and contended that no credit whatever was due to the present administration, notwithstanding the claim which had been put forward. The official Report, contrary to all precedent, was taken up with two or three pages of the old stock trumpery arguments, which had been answered again and again in favour of the continuance of turnpikes; and the statement, moreover, was entirely ex parte. It certainty was disheartening to find that, after so many years' effort to get rid of the evils of the turnpike system, renewed impediments should be thrown by the action of the Government, or by the influence of their supporters, in the way of useful legislation.


, in seconding the Motion, said, that all that the Home Office could do was to press the clerks to produce the returns as soon as possible. He concurred in the complaint made by his hon. Friend (Mr. Clive), and must further complain that the action of the Home Office had led to the introduction, for the first time, of arguments into the annual statement with reference to trusts. He was aware that the Act of Parliament stated that observations might be made in the Report; but the Legislature never intended that it should contain a series of arguments which would enable persons who took a peculiar view to quote an official document in support of it, and to assert that it was the judgment of the Home Office. During the few months that he had filled the Office of Under Secretary for the Home Department, he had never ventured to embody in an official statement of this nature his own views on the subject of turnpike tolls. This was a question of the very greatest importance, and he should like, if the opportunity were afforded, to have a further discussion upon it. When he saw the contents of this annual statement he was inclined to answer it, but refrained from doing so because he thought that course would be inconvenient to the House. He could not enter into the question as it stood now without raising the whole turnpike question; but, when the Turnpike Bill, of which he had charge, came before the House, he should be glad to discuss the whole subject, and to expose the weakness and fallacy of the statements which had been made. The present Government had reversed the process which had been acted upon for years with regard to turnpike trusts, deliberately setting aside the Report of the Select Committee. He perceived in the Report statements which he ventured to think he had answered successfully two or three years ago. He hoped they had not been introduced for the purpose of creating a precedent; but he thought that they ought not to have been introduced in their present shape, even with the object of elucidation. He believed the present state of the law to be unequal, uncertain, and most unsatisfactory; and, therefore, if the Government undertook to bring in a Bill to effect the desired reform, he should be very glad to give them his assistance.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copy of all the Communications received in reply to the Circular sent in February 1866 to certain Turnpike Trustees referred to in p. 9 of the Seventeenth Report on Turnpike Trusts, of which Extracts are therein given, together with the names of the Correspondents,"—(Mr. Clive,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that the subject was one of great importance. The Report confirmed an idea which he had formed, after what he had heard in Committees on the turnpike system—namely, that the Home Office was not the tribunal by which matters relating to turnpike trusts could be decided in a satisfactory manner. There were as many as 1,033 of those trusts, and it could not be supposed that either the Secretary of State for the Home Department or his Under Secretary had time to attend to them. Besides, they required local knowledge which one could not expect to find in the Home Office. There were 194 trusts out of debt, but with these the Home Office had not dealt very satisfactorily. As for the reasons assigned in the Report for not throwing the reads on the parishes when the trusts had expired, they might be summed up in the allegation that such a course would increase the rates. Why, of course it would; but he had supposed that the great desideratum was to have the roads maintained by the parishes. That had been done in some districts of the metropolis where the expense of maintaining the roads was something like £2,000 a year per mile. When, in 1863, the suburban parishes, such as Fulham and Hammersmith, objected to the Act throwing open about seventy miles of roads in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, on the plea that the wear and tear of those highways were caused by the metropolitan traffic, the answer was that the valuation of those parishes had been enormously increased in consequence of their proximity to the metropolis. In Hammersmith the rateable value of the property in the parish had been increased from £30,000 to £150,000 in about thirty years, and the same argument could be applied to almost every turnpike road in the country which ran through an agricultural district. All parishes through which a high road passed, were to some extent benefited by it. There were 834 trusts still in debt, and in respect of these also the action of the Home Office had not been satisfactory. He threw out these suggestions in the hope that, in any legislation on the subject which might be in contemplation, some of the difficulties might be removed.


said, the Report showed that there were in round numbers about 1,000 turnpike trusts, of which 800 were in debt, and 200 out of debt. The lettable amount of the tolls was in 1866 about £950,000, and the expense of collection and toll-rents' profits amounted at the lowest computation to about £300,000 more, bringing the total amount which the public contributed up to about £1,250,000. The whole sum expended for the repair of the roads only amounted to about £500,000 however, and in reduction of that the parishes contributed about £50,000. Now, if the repair of the roads throughout England were thrown on the parishes, those parishes would be relieved to a very large extent from the maintenance of many of the parallel roads in existence, or would only have to repair them to an extent sufficient for the agricultural purposes of the various districts. He had been able to prove to farmers who objected to having the maintenance of the roads thrown upon the rates, that if that course were adopted they would pay considerably less in the shape of rates for the repair of the roads than they had to pay now for tolls in going to markets and railway stations. The public were mulcted of £1,500,000 annually, for which they were only benefited in return to the amount of about two-fifths, the rest going in one way or another towards expenses and machinery. The county of Essex had got rid of all its turnpikes and was now experiencing the benefit of the stop it had taken. Surely that was good evidence in favour of the abolition of turnpikes. The Report now before the House ventilated the whole subject thoroughly, and he was glad to hear that the Government intended to bring in a Bill upon the subject.


said, he thought the Report went in a retrograde direction, and entirely upset all that had been done before. The Home Office had in a most extraordinary way taken the part of the country against the cities, and had actually gone out of its way to show reasons why the law should be—he might almost say—violated. They had gone as far back as the year 1836. All the tolls throughout the country were levied under certain Acts of Parliament. The power to levy was originally a contract, ratified by Parliament, between the trustees and the public, and was always limited to a certain number of years. Every year, therefore, a Turnpike Trust Continuance Bill was brought in, usually at the end of July to continue these contracts and the power of levying tolls. The public in the districts concerned were never consulted with regard to the Bill; there was no possibility of discussing the question, and Parliament was really acting entirely in opposition to the interests of the public in this matter. He would observe that those persons who lent their money on these trusts knew that the investment was in the nature of a terminable annuity, and consequently in the matter of their renewal they had the barest equity. If the turnpikes were to become an institution, under the Home Office, why was the Continuance Act brought in every year? The proper course would be to make the Act permanent. It was a mistake to suppose that this question was one in which no interest was felt. The state of the roads had occasioned riots in Wales, and Sir George Lewis had said the only way the people could remedy the grievance was by taking the law into their own hands. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would be good enough to listen to the earnest appeals that were made to him to pay attention to this matter, which, as time advanced, affected the interests of the country more and more.


, while admitting that nothing in a small way was more vexatious than to be stopped on the road to pay a toll, said, that the toll system at least secured good roads, which were paid for by those who used them. If the repair of all roads was thrown on the parishes, a much more vexatious state of things would exist—the roads would be allowed to go out of repair. You might force the repair of the road upon the unwilling ratepayers, but they would prove like the horse at the water that could not be made to drink. Farmers would repair the roads to be traversed by their own carts, but would leave them in an unsatisfactory condition for other conveyances. Had we possessed all our present experience we might have devised a better system as regards our legislation on turnpike trusts. Certain districts might have been grouped together, and, as the terms fell out, the trusts might have been continued from year to year until all the roads in that district could have been brought under the Home Office together. If that had been done, greater economy could have been practised, many toll-bars might have been removed, and, finally, one term could have been fixed for all the roads in the district. As it was, great injustice often arose; because an Act was allowed to expire a road was thrown upon the highway rates, perhaps a parallel road was repaired by tolls, and the result was the traffic was diverted to the road which had been freed from toll-bars. This might have been avoided under a more uniform system, which would have allowed those who took an interest in the matter to put the roads of a large district under one management. The gradual abolition of tolls under such a system would have led farmers to look upon highway districts with greater satisfaction. In speaking of the debt, he wished to refer to the system which prevailed in Scotland, and which worked admirably. The system of rating was different, for the landlords assumed the payment of the debt; but, although the English system was different, the solution of the difficulty would be facilitated if the landowners would take one-half the debt on themselves, and the other half were paid by the occupiers. One source of difficulty in dealing with the debt was the apathy of creditors about their capital when it was once lodged in the hands of a trust. That might be natural when 5 per cent interest was paid, but the extraordinary thing was that it should be so in the case of trusts paying 1½ per cent. He had known cases where persons who were only receiving 1½ per cent, and not always that, upon the worst security in the world, had neglected to accept offers to pay them off at £50, and even at £60. In one case he had got on behalf of a charity a composition of £47 for such a debt, which was at the rate of more than thirty years' purchase, where the Act would expire in five years. This apathy accounted for the large debt still remaining on the trusts; but when Government took action, and proposed to do away with the trusts, these same people would object that their property was being confiscated, though they had neglected their chance of obtaining composition for their money invested in the roads. He thought that the only settlement of the question which could prove satisfactory would be to throw the cost of the roads on large districts rather than upon parishes. It was understood that a measure was to be brought forward by the Home Secretary, who would perhaps give some explanation of it, but without knowing what the Government would do the House could hardly come to a practical conclusion.


agreed that the fanner who used the roads would not have to pay more if the roads were maintained out of the rates; but the grievance would be that those who did not use them would have to pay the same as those who did.


said, he was very sorry so much fault had been found with a Report published under his auspices; but many of the objections taken to it were not, in his opinion, valid. It was said that credit was taken for something now carried out by the present Government. It was not, however, this, but the last Government that had the credit—if credit were to be taken at all—for something that had been done by Mr. William Harrison. From the speeches made it might be supposed that the task of settling the turnpike affairs of the country was an easy one; but he was bound to say that, having had his attention drawn, during the last two mouths, to the subject, he had come to the con- clusion that the difficulties in the way appeared greater the nearer they were approached. In consequence of the strong feeling generally existing against any in crease in the rating, the present time was the very worst for dealing with the question; and therefore, if an attempt were made now to throw the roads upon the rates, he believed the outcry would be great indeed, and in many instances it would be just. It was true, according to the Report, that the tolls levied amounted to £945,458, and that the cost of repairs was only 58 per cent of the receipts. But 30 per cent was paid for interest upon debt, making 80 or 90 per cent, and law charges and salaries bring up the amount to about the 100. Beyond this there were the expenses and profits of the toll collectors, and thus a greater cost was imposed on the country than was estimated by the sum of £945,000. He could not say how much this would be. But he thought that before any steps were taken to deal with the subject of turnpike trusts there should be a valuation taken of debts at the present time with a view to ascertain what they were really worth; because, at the rates mentioned by the noble Lord (Lord George Cavendish) they would not prove so formidable in fact as they looked on paper. It would be desirable to know what they were really worth in the market; and he believed that the creditors of the roads would be glad to fake such a valuation if it were fairly made. The next question that arose was, how the roads, when freed from debt, were to be dealt with—whether by county Boards, or by highway districts. He confessed his present impression was that highway districts would give insufficient areas for the purpose. Again, when you were dealing with these turnpike roads, which were not now all main roads, power must be given to any authority set up to declare which should be main roads, and in the case of turnpike roads which were now only common high ways, to let them fall into comparative disrepair. He did not say that they should be allowed to fall into absolute disrepair; but all these roads need not absolutely be kept up on the same footing. It would be necessary, also, to enter into many other points. A difference existed in the penal laws affecting turnpike roads and main roads. To take a small instance. By the Turnpike Acts a person was not allowed to place manure within thirty feet of the middle of the road; in the case of a high- way, the distance allowed was fifteen feet. A case had occurred in which the moment a road was thrown upon the parish manure had been deposited within fifteen feet of it. It would be necessary, therefore, if they proceeded to deal with the question, to consider all the laws relating to the two classes of roads. Great fault had been found with a part of this Report which contained certain reasons; but he thought it was well that the House should have before them a narrative of what occurred in 1866. In giving this narrative his object was not to offer an argument on the part of the Home Office, but to show the nature of the trusts in different parishes. His hon. Friend had included in the Turnpike Trusts Continuance Bill a great number of trusts that were meant to expire. At one time he had thought of inserting in the Continuance Bill all the trusts which were out of debt, and referring the Bill to a Select Committee. He should have done that this Session, but hon. Members whom he would have liked to place upon the Committee expressed a disinclination to undertake so great a task. He proposed, however, to introduce a Continuance Bill at an earlier period than usual—as soon as he could get it ready; and he should have no objection, in cases which seemed to the House to require investigation, to refer them, or any part of them, to a Select Committee. With respect to bringing in a Bill himself, he had had a Bill prepared, but having only just received it from the draftsman, he had not yet had time to examine it; and he should not bring it in unless it was one which met with his entire approval, and unless it was in a shape which satisfied him that it had a chance of passing. His desire was that the thing should be thoroughly understood; but the circumstances of the Session forbade a general inquiry. It was not desirable to discuss the question further on a Motion of this description. He agreed that turnpikes and turnpike tolls were disagreeable things; and on this point he spoke feelingly, because in no part was the toll system more vexatious than in that in which he resided. Up to last year there were three turnpikes between his house and the railway station, and there were now two. As far as he was concerned, therefore, he should be glad to get rid of turnpikes. At the same time, it was only fair to consider who was to bear the burden when tolls were abolished. His own notion was that you could not arrive at a satisfactory conclusion on this point without the creation of county Boards, giving them power, as he understood was the case in Scotland, to take tolls at such points as they thought proper.


said, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not overlook the case of those roads where the tolls had been abolished; for redress was called for with respect to them as much as it was called for with respect to those where tolls still existed. A flagrant injustice had been done under the substituted system of rating. There were instances in which those roads were made without any reference to the parish in which they were made, and which was rated for their maintenance. He knew an instance in which a road had been made just outside a gentleman's park, and not with any unjust idea, for, in the first instance, the road had been kept up by tolls; but the abolition of those tolls had thrown the burden upon an adjoining parish.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


, who had given Notice of a Motion that the position of Turnpike Trusts now expired but annually renewed should be submitted to the consideration of a Select Committee, said he should not press it, but hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would appoint a Select Committee to consider the expired Turnpike Trusts Acts which might be brought under his notice; and he trusted that it would not be long before the Continuance Act was introduced.