HC Deb 18 February 1870 vol 199 cc551-6

, in rising to call attention to the Petition of the Wrexham Highway Board and Board of Guardians against the re-imposition of the Turnpike Toll Tax in that district; and to make a Motion; and, with reference to the statement on the part of the Government touching the necessity that requires the introduction of the annual Continuance Bill, to move for Copy of any Correspondence or other Documents explanatory of the necessity for the annual Continuance Bill, either generally as to all expired Turnpike Acts, or specially as to those relating to the Wrexham district, said, the Government was hardly aware of the way in which the country regarded this question. He earnestly appealed to them to give their serious attention to this subject. Repeated promises had been given by the Government to deal with this question, but they had never been performed. The object of his Motion was to get from the Government some intelligible statement of what they intended to do. There was no reason why four-fifths of the turnpikes in the country should not be abolished. When a new turnpike road was cut, Parliament gave the trustees power to levy tolls for a certain number of years, and at the expiration of that period the tolls ought to cease. The practice, however, had been for years to bring in, at the end of every Session, when there was no possibility of obtaining a discussion, a Bill called the Turnpike Acts Continuance Bill; no one paid any attention to it, and it was regarded, and had boon regarded for many years, as a mere formal renewal of Turnpike Acts that had expired. In that Bill was involved, he ventured to say, a greater breach of faith between Parliament and the public, and a much greater violation of all that was regarded as constitutional in the way of taxation, than in any Bill that had, under any circumstances, ever passed the House. To justify so strong an observation, he would refer to an observation that had been made by the late Sir George Lewis when sitting on that Bench— It is true," said Sir George Lewis, "that my countrymen in South Wales did rise, the Rebecca riots did occur, and the turnpike gates were annihilated in defiance of law, and of this Continuance Act. But I say such is the phlegm of this House, such their indifference, such the difficulty in dealing with the question, that I see no other remedy that the public have than that they should in every respect take the law into their own hands as they did in South Wales. Now, what was the hardship complained of? Simply this—that in the case of at least four-fifths of the existing turnpikes which now taxed every person that travelled the country this taxation was continued in violation of a distinct Parliamentary contract between the public and the persons who had made those roads. The two parties affected were, first, those on whom the tax was levied for the repair of the highways, through the turnpikes becoming highways; and, secondly, those persons who held turnpike bonds. Some turnpikes had no debt upon them, in which case one party only would be affected—namely, those who had to provide by rate for the repair of the roads. He contended that it was clear, with respect to turnpikes which were still burdened with debt, that if there was obligation upon anyone to pay off this debt, but which he did not admit, that the Government, were bound to pay off the debt, and so relieve the public in the several districts of the country from the operation and injustice of the toll tax. With regard to the other party affected—the ratepayers for the repair of the roads—he called the attention of the House to the complaint from the Wrexham Highway Board and the Wrexham Board of Guardians. The Petition, in each of these cases for the abolition of turnpikes, was a unanimous one from the members of the respective Boards; and to the same Petition assent had been received from numerous other Boards throughout the country. He now asked whether it was not high time that some pressure should be brought to bear upon the Government, with a view to the Government taking action in the matter. He had himself from time to time brought in a Bill by which, without presuming absolutely to do away with turnpikes, he proposed to afford facilities for all parties interested in that matter to make arrangements between themselves or to come to that House, as the Wrexham Boards had done, for the abolition of turnpikes. He had, from year to year, withdrawn his Bill upon receiving more or less distinct promises from the Treasury Bench that the subject would be dealt with in a comprehensive manner. He asked what excuse the Government had to offer for the continuance of that most obnoxious of all taxes and most wrongful system. The Under Secretary oft State for the Home Department said the Annual Turnpike Acts Continuance Bills were necessary in order to prevent injustice to individuals; but, having paid much attention to the subject, he was not aware of the slightest injustice to any single person that Mould result from allowing those turnpikes to drop out of existence in accordance with the compact entered into with Parliament. If there were really any cases of injustice, let them be fully stated; and he called on the Under Secretary of State to give some explanation why the Government did not, in compliance with repeated promises, deal with the matter. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.


, in seconding the Motion, said, he hoped the Government would see their way, if not in the present Session, at some early future period, to introduce a measure for doing away altogether with the antiquated turnpike system, than which it would be impossible to devise anything more inconvenient, unequal, or unjust. This was not a mere local question, but was of Imperial magnitude, and should be treated accordingly.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "there be laid before this House, a Copy of any Correspondence or other Documents explanatory of the necessity for the annual Turnpike Acts Continuance Bill, either generally as to all expired Turnpike Acts, or specially as to those relating to the Wrexham district,"—(Mr. Whalley,) —instead thereof.

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


said, he was not disposed to underrate the importance of the subject, and as evidence of this he had previously introduced, as an independent Member, two Bills which had for their object the abolition of the turnpike; system; and he still believed that its abolition was simply a question of time, and that the Government would arrive ultimately at a uniform system of road management throughout the country. The House would scarcely expect him at that time, nor would it be right for him, to enter into the question of road management or into the question of turnpikes, and he would therefore simply amplify or render more lucid the answer which he had given a night or two back on the same question. The Petition of the Wrexham Highway Board was somewhat remarkable, because it expressed a desire on the part of the ratepayers to take charge of these roads, whereas the complaint against his proposal in past years was, mainly, that he wished to cast fresh burdens upon the rates. He was glad to hear that the people of North Wales were not showing their animosity against turnpikes after the "Rebecca" fashion, alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, but that they were now willing to abolish them on the only condition on which they could be abolished—namely, that the expense of maintaining the roads should be defrayed out of the rates. The case of the Wrexham Boards was undoubtedly a hard one, so far as he could ascertain its merits, that district being evidently much oppressed with turnpikes; but his hon. Friend must consider that the Government had to deal, not with any isolated case, or with one isolated trust, but with a great variety of trusts and a large number of cases. The Continuance Bill would not, as the hon. Member had said, apply to four-fifths of the turnpikes of the kingdom, but to one-half of them. His hon. Friend recommended that all these trusts should be abolished. What would happen if they were? These trusts divided themselves into two classes—those in debt and those out of debt. With regard to the trusts out of debt, a Committee of that House was appointed last year, on his (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen's) Motion, to deal with them. The Committee bestowed great attention on the subject, and recommended that some of them, the Acts for which had expired, should be abolished during the present year—and they now stood for abolition—and that some should stand over for a further period and for further considera- tion. That showed the difficulty which existed in the minds of the Committee with regard to trusts out of debt. As to those that were in debt, greater difficulty was presented, for whereas in abolishing any one trust it was constantly found that the co-existence of other trusts—which could not be abolished—side by side with the abolished trust diverted the natural course of traffic, and inflicted an injury upon ratepayers, in the case of trusts still in debt an additional element of confusion was imported in the varying circumstances of the different trusts, and the fluctuating value of the debt, while this sudden abolition would inflict a great hardship upon the bondholders. The question of dealing simultaneously with the turnpike trusts had been deferred from year to year, and with every year as the trusts expired the difficulties in the way of dealing with the subject greatly lessened. He might also add that the question had always been narrowly watched, and that every year since he had the honour of holding the office he now occupied he had been instrumental in abolishing a considerable number of the trusts. His attention would in due course be turned to the case which the hon. Member had brought under their attention; although, he must add that there had been no complaints from the trustees themselves. Any simultaneous abolition that might take place would be fraught with injustice unless it were part of a general measure. With regard to correspondence on the subject of the Continuance Bill, he was not aware that any such existed; but if his hon. Friend would point out any letter or paper in the Home Office which would in any way throw light on the particular case of Wrexham, or which would be conducive to the ultimate settlement of the general question, he was not aware of any objection to the production of such document. With respect to any promise to which the hon. Member had alluded, he wished to observe that neither the Secretary of State for the Home Department nor as far as he was aware anyone connected with the Home Office had ever pledged himself to introduce a Bill on the subject during the present Session. The promise which had been given was that the subject would be fully considered, and if the pressure of business would permit the Government would proceed to legislate upon the matter either during this or in some future Session. It would be a very happy day for him when he could introduce a Bill, with the support of the Government, to settle the road question in a manner satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman and others interested in the subject.

Amendment and Original Question, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.