HC Deb 29 March 1870 vol 200 cc858-72

rose to call attention to the hardship and injustice inflicted on the Ratepayers of certain parishes by the present system of partial abolition of Turnpikes, and to move a Resolution on the subject. The hon. Baronet said, that the grievance to which his Motion referred had been so often and so fully debated that he would not weary the House with going over the old ground. It was a subject upon which numerous Committees had sat, and upon which many valuable Reports had been drawn up. He need not travel into those Reports, for they were familiar to the House, and, at all events, were easily accessible to those who wished to consult them, and it was a remarkable fact that they all concurred in the opinion as to the expediency of the abolition of toll-gates. His sole object at present was to state the grievance which was inflicted upon parishes of providing the cost of maintaining the turnpike roads of which the trusts had expired. In the month of October, in the year 1866, the question was, for a second time, brought by him under the notice of the quarter sessions of his own county, Gloucestershire, and the following resolution, moved by the Earl of Ellen-borough, and seconded by the Earl of Ducie, was unanimously passed:— That having taken into consideration the grievance arising from the present management of the roads and the expense that will be thrown upon certain parishes by the partial and immediate abolition of tolls in certain districts, we respectfully desire to press upon the Government the necessity of giving their attention to the whole subject, with the view of submitting to Parliament some wise and general scheme of abolishing tolls. Since that year another Committee had sat upon the subject of toll abolition, and in their Report they acknowledged the hardship of the case he was submitting to the House. That Committee were of opinion—and he shared their belief to the full—that as the diminution of tolls and a consequent divergence of traffic increased, the evil of which he was complaining also increased, and the means for meeting it diminished. Furthermore, the Committee were of opinion, that although the present turnpike system was arbitrary and unsatisfactory, still, in the present state of the highway laws, to abolish turnpike tolls until the trusts became free from debt would only be throwing a new and heavier burden upon the parishes that were to maintain the roads, unless some legislation took place which would adequately and fairly provide for the payment of the charges for which the individual parishes through which such turnpike roads passed would now alone be liable. What he wished specially to impress upon the House was, that a very great evil was caused by the partial abolition of tolls. It was quite impossible to reimpose tolls that were once taken off. It was equally idle to expect to remove the evil by a gradual decrease. If the grievance was to be removed at all it must be by a total and simultaneous abolition of all tolls; because unless they could reimpose all turnpike tolls that had been taken off—and to do which was of course utterly out of the question—they could not hope to go back upon or diminish the evil. In the year 1868 the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) wrote a letter upon this subject, which so completely expressed his own views, that he would read from it one or two sentences. That hon. Gentleman said— If no legislation takes place within the next twelve years, the great majority of the trust Acts will have expired, and unless renewed at great expense, the trusts will come to an end, and the repairing of the roads will fall upon the individual parishes in which the roads happen to be situated. …. Within the last eight years a great many Acts have expired every year which has tended further to complicate the system, and the promoters of the present Bill believe that the time has come when a general measure to provide for the gradual abolition of turnpike trusts upon an equitable principle should be introduced. Those opinions were expressed by the hon. Gentleman when he was in Opposition; and he (Sir George Jenkinson) now begged to ask how it was, seeing that the hon. Gentleman was now a Member of the Government, that no legislation had been attempted to remedy the evils complained of? He was quite aware, in the present circumstances of Ireland, that it was a very difficult thing to hope for any legislation upon an English subject, more especially if it related to agriculture; but, at the same time, he could not help expressing the opinion that the time had come for the question to be taken up. He would briefly explain the manner in which the grievance he was talking of pressed most harshly. One highway district in his own county was made up of thirteen parishes, and there were twenty-four miles of turnpike road, which fell only upon certain parishes of the district. Only seven of the parishes out of the thirteen, in fact, actually paid for the maintenance of these roads, at a yearly aggregate expense of £584 10s., which increased their rates to the extent of 1s. 6¼d. in the aggregate or 2½d. in the pound upon the rates of each. That, it would be admitted, was a very hard case, for there were six parishes which also used the roads that paid nothing towards their repair. That was one strong reason why he anxiously desired to see an alteration of the present system. Complaints were made that the Turnpike Act did not work well; but the reason of that was that the application of the Act was partial instead of universal. Failure was the fate of all permissive legislation. As long as men—and especially farmers, knew that a law was absolute and must be adhered to they obeyed it; but if they knew the law was permissive they would not fulfil what they disliked. One word with respect to the working of the Highways Act. It appeared that 208 districts had reported favourably respecting its working, ninety-nine had reported un-favourably; thirteen had been formed too recently to give an opinion; and twenty-one had given in no report at all. It was, therefore, unfair to say that this Act had not worked well, seeing that so large a preponderance of districts had reported in its favour. The surveyor of his own district referring to the working of this Act said, with reference to the expense, that that included £120 for improvements, of which five-sixths would never have been effected under the old system, and had been forced upon the parishes in the interests of the public generally. He considered that was good testimony in favour of the Highways Act. Good roads were a great desideratum, and the highway boards had increased the goodness of the roads, although it was true that they had also increased the expense. He might be asked what remedy he would propose. He would propose something like the following:—Wherever the Highway s Act is in operation, and wherever within such a district the cost of maintaining any turnpike road of which the trust is extinguished has been thrown or may be thrown upon a particular parish through which it passes, the expense of maintaining such a turnpike road shall be borne by a rate to be paid proportionately by a common charge upon all the parishes within the district, instead of by the parish through which the road passes. He had not inserted such a proposal as this in the Resolution he had moved lest it might not be agreed to; but he thought that anything which would make the adoption of the Highways Act more universal would in itself be useful. He believed that the remedy he proposed would do more than any- thing else to reconcile the country classes generally to the Highways Act if they saw that the Act would make the expense of turnpike roads of which the trusts and tolls might be a bolished, would fall equally upon the whole district, instead of upon the particular parish through which such turnpike road passed. Another point which he wished to impress upon the House was the excessive partiality which trusts out of debt seemed to have for amalgamating with trusts that were heavily in debt. In his own district, for instance, there were, as he had stated, twenty-four miles of road to maintain. But on the other side of the turnpike road between them and the railway was a trust which was entirely free from debt. Now the one that was out of debt, for the purpose of keeping up the staff of the trust, actually amalgamated with another trust which was £2,000 in debt. He called that nothing else than robbery of the ratepayers of the parishes which had already paid off their debt. That was one part of the subject demanding the most careful consideration. He should have no objection to see the county made the area on which to place the cost of the highways, and with respect to a proposal previously made by him to place a portion of the cost for the maintenance of the turnpike roads and for the payment of the debt on the Consolidated Fund, though he agreed in a remark which had been made regarding it, to the effect that it was easy to apply to the Consolidated. Fund, but not so easy to get the application attended to; still, he conceived that after turnpike roads had been made to their present extent, and used in days past for Imperial purposes, some slight assistance might be afforded from the Consolidated Fund as to the future maintenance of those turnpike roads—with regard to their present width—and looking to them as the main arteries of the road communications of the country. He would not meddle with this point, however, because it was mixed up with the larger question of local taxation. But he would urge the Government to consider the very great grievance which he had brought under their notice, and to provide some machinery for relieving particular parishes through which turnpike roads passed from the whole cost of maintaining them, while other parishes, equally benefited by them, paid nothing. He trusted the Government would take a favourable view of what he had urged. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving his Resolution.


, in seconding the Motion, said, he was glad of the opportunity of calling upon the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) to fulfil the natural expectations that were entertained that he would, as soon as he assumed the responsibilities of Office, legislate on this subject in the spirit which he had advocated whilst sitting in the cool shade of Opposition. That hon. Member had proposed a Bill upon the subject in the year 1868. In introducing that Bill he had declared that the question was a very pressing one, and if the remark was true at that time, it was surely doubly so now, He (Mr. Sclater-Booth did) not so much complain that the Government had refrained from introducing a Bill for the abolition of turnpike tolls as that they should not have brought in a measure for extending and amending the Highways Act. The House would agree with him that this latter question was a very pressing one indeed. The hardship complained of was one that was increasing year by year, and as the various turnpike Acts had not many years to run, if a remedy were not soon provided there would be no remedy at all. Parliament would not go back when turnpikes were abolished and relieve parishes from the burdens to which they had become liable by the common law of the country. He hoped, therefore, that the Government would speedily introduce a short Act for the compulsory adoption of the Highways Act. He would not enter into the question of the policy of that Act, because it was one which he did not approve of. He thought that the maintenance of the roads might have been provided for by the parishes to which they belonged, under the administration of some machinery such as a county inspector. Spite of all protests, it had pleased Parliament to pass the Highways Act, and that having been done, he held that the Act ought to be made compulsory in all counties, and a district rate substituted for the parish rate. If Government would take some such step as he had hinted at a great deal of hardship would be got rid of, and future legislation on the subject would not be prevented. He hoped that this would be done.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, the present system of providing the cost of maintaining the Turnpike Roads of which the Trusts have expired is unjust, and inflicts great hardship on particular parishes, and in all such cases where Tolls have been or may hereafter be abolished, the urea from which the cost of maintaining such Roads is levied ought to be extended, and should not be limited to those parishes only through which such Roads actually pass; and furthermore it is incumbent on the Government to take steps, with as little delay as possible, to provide a remedy for the injustice and hardship referred to."—(Sir George Jenkinson.)


, having been a member of the Select Committee which considered this subject, and which placed on record their opinion that the present state of things was exceedingly unsatisfactory, expressed his opinion that the present was an opportune moment for the moving of the Resolution of the hon. Baronet. There was, no doubt, a grievance to be remedied, and he trusted that would be done, if not this, at least next Session. Two other matters, he thought, also ought to be taken up at the same time—namely, the question of the desirability of removing the exemption from rates of property which at present enjoyed that exemption, and the question of local taxation and its incidence. These matters would have to be considered, because when they came to consider the question of abolishing tolls, a serious question would arise, not as regarded the maintenance of the roads, but the payment of the debt. It appeared to him that the system in Scotland was preferable to that in England, for in Scotland, while the maintenance of the roads was divided between the owner and the occupier, the rates for the payment of the debt were thrown entirely on the owner. With respect to the maintenance of the roads in England there would not be much difficulty, because if highway districts were made throughout the country, then with great fairness these rates might be thrown on them. He hoped when Government took up this question they would take a large and thorough view of the whole matter. On looking back to the Reports of some of the Committees of both Houses on this subject he found an expression of opinion that public roads were not established on any principle, and that many which were now turnpike roads should be treated as parish highways, and many highways as turnpike roads. This he found in the Report of the Duke of Richmond's Committee in 1833. No doubt, the ratepayers in some places were very averse from any legislation on the subject or any extension of the highway districts; yet, when they considered that it was a large question, dealing with roads all over the country, they might become reconciled to it, and the system would work much better.


said, he might, perhaps, be allowed to make a few observations on the Motion of his hon. Friend, as he was a Member of the Select Committee which sat upstairs on this question last Session. He quite agreed with the Motion, for it coincided with the Report of the Committee. A great quantity of evidence was brought before them, and it certainly showed the evils of the present system of dealing with turnpike trusts; it showed also the great necessity there was for a general measure relating to roads—a measure to deal with the whole question of the maintenance of all roads in the country—including turnpikes. It had led them to the conclusion that the hardships on parishes in many instances were very great under the present system, that it largely increased the rates—very often in maintaining roads that were of little use to the parishes themselves. The hardship would be particularly felt in manufacturing districts in agricultural parishes between large towns where there was a mineral traffic, which, but for the tolls, would pay nothing towards the repair of the road. In purely agricultural parishes, too, these roads, laid out originally for national rather than local purposes, were often not wanted for parish roads. If they were the hardship was not so great; but, even if they were required, they were not wanted beyond the usual width, 30 feet; still they had to keep them up to the full width, 60, 70, and 80 feet, and sometimes more. This, surely, was an unnecessary burden to throw upon the rates. Then, again, the very same parish had, perhaps, to keep up a road on the other side of the parish for public traffic to a railway station—traffic that had been diverted from the very road they were required to keep up to the full original width. There was no necessity to go into any evidence on this point, a passage from the Report of the Committee would show the House the conclusion they came to after full consideration of the evidence— The evidence brought before your Committee has led them to the conclusion that, although the present turnpike system is vexatious in its mode of collection, in many eases costly in its management, as well as arbitrary and partial in its operation; still, in the present state of the highway laws, to abolish turnpike trusts singly as they become free from debt is a course often attended with injustice to the parishes on which the liability for future repairs falls, and one which, in some instances at least, leads to the deterioration of the roads. A new and heavy burden is frequently imposed on the ratepayers of the parishes through which the road passes, without relieving them from the obligation of paying tolls on other trusts in their immediate neighbourhood. He, however, objected on another ground—the increase of local taxation to such an extent—particularly when the whole subject was about to be looked into. Fifty-three trusts would fall on local rates this year in June; and every year, in the same way, some would fall on them. He regretted that the Government could not bring in a Bill this Session, even if it were only laid on the Table of the House for consideration, as an earnest that they intended to take the matter up as soon as it was possible to do so. No doubt a good reason for delay for one year was the hope that a measure of this kind would be made a part of a general measure on the subject of a local taxation; but he hoped it would not be delayed beyond that time. Meanwhile, he trusted that as few turnpike trusts as possible would be abolished. He hoped that a general measure, dealing with all roads, would be brought in, for it was impossible to deal satisfactorily with the question by piecemeal legislation. It was with the idea that a measure would be brought in this Session, at all events with as little delay as possible, that the Committee drew up their Report, and under these circumstances he thought that either the large majority of the trusts ought to be continued in view of a general Road Bill, or that the Committee should be re-appointed. His hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Home Department might think he wished to interfere with the powers of the Home Office. Such was not his wish. The Committee was originally appointed to avoid the practice of bringing in the Continuance Bill at the close of the Session, when no one paid any attention to it, and he thought that if only for that reason it ought to be re-appointed. At all events, he hoped the Government would come to some distinct understanding with the House on the subject.


said, the peculiar circumstances of some of the roads rendered it impossible to deal with the trusts except by means of a general measure. The Committee tried to deal as fairly as they could with various trusts; but some it was impossible to keep up for any reason whatever. There were cases where the salaries of the officials ate up the collection; and the trusts were kept up for no other purpose that the Committee could discover. In some of the cases the trusts were out of debt; and yet there was the clerk, there was the surveyor, and there was the treasurer. The Committee put an end to the existence of these cases as soon as possible. There were others in which there existed the slightest possible reason for keeping up the trusts. In these instances they assigned a special term to their existence—they were put in the Schedule for a certain period and no longer. But a general measure was wanted on the subject. It would be unjust, however, to throw the expense of the roads on the radius of the parish, since another parish might run side by side with the road and use it, without contributing to the expense of keeping it in repair. One of the faults of the present road system was that the Highways Act was not made compulsory. He was not an advocate for that measure when it was first passed; but he thought the only reason which prevented its success was that its operation had not been uniform throughout the country. If carried out on an extensive, uniform system it would, no doubt, prove more successful. He hoped the Government would deal with the question. They should not confine the expense of the roads to a narrow area; the area, in his opinion, should be the whole county. The roads should be divided into different classes, and rules and regulations laid down for the maintenance of each class. That system existed in Prance, and was found extremely successful. It was unfair to throw the rates on one species of property; contributions should be made from the community in general towards extinguishing the debt and maintaining the roads.


said, he was in the fortunate position of being able to agree with nearly every word which had fallen from the previous speakers. He had been reminded by his hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) and other hon. Members that when he was in "the cold shade of Opposition" he had brought in a Bill dealing with this subject, and that now he was a member of a powerful Government he ought to do the same; but it did not follow that the same freedom of action which he then possessed was now within his reach, for upon the Treasury Bench a man got into an atmosphere where Irish Church Bills, Irish Land Bills, and other measures jostled one another, so that a measure even of the importance of a Bill dealing with the turnpike roads of Great Britain was obliged to be postponed. The hon. Baronet (Sir George Jenkinson) had stated very fairly that there was a hardship to parishes under the present system, and he wished that the area of taxation should be enlarged. He quite agreed in this. The only fault he saw in the Motion of the hon. Baronet was that perhaps it did not go far enough, and hon. Gentlemen who had urged upon the Government propriety of action were probably not aware they were using his own thunder. As far back as 1867 he had suggested that the best and simplest solution of the question would be to make the Highways Act of 1862 compulsory, and to put the repair of the whole of the roads of the district on the common fund of the highway district, where such existed, as a general rule. Parochial management of roads was a system of a bygone age. At the same time he admitted that there might be cases when, for instance, roads had been formed for Imperial purposes, or were subject to exceptional through traffic from one great town to another, or formed a route for mineral traffic, (the owner of the minerals contributing nothing to the rates) in cases such as these the roads perhaps might fairly be classified and dealt with in some other manner than by the machinery of district rates. As a general rule, all roads should be repaired by a district rate; but certain other roads of an exceptional character should be repaired by a wider area. But which were those roads? He would devolve the task of making the selection on a County Financial Board, properly constituted, with an appeal, if this were thought desirable, to the Home Secretary. His hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Henniker Major) had expressed a wish that the Committee of last Session should be re-appointed; but, it should be borne in mind that it had been appointed for a special object, a sort of promise having been given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. G. Hardy) that the question of the manner of dealing with turnpike trusts should be looked into by some authority outside the Department. That Committee investigated a great number of cases, and he believed in every instance their recommendations had been adopted. Those trusts of which the non-continuance had been recommended by the Committee were invited by circular to assign any special reasons for their continuance, in default of which they would be discontinued; but he did not think, unless the Committee were disposed to undertake a new and very much wider field of inquiry that their revival this year would be attended with advantage, or that from their inquiries any principle of general application would be evolved. He was inclined, on the contrary, to believe that the matter might be safely left in the hands of the Homo Office, whose full intention it was to introduce a general measure as soon as the pressure of other business would allow. A new Road Bill, embracing turnpike roads and highways, was wanted, and he had prepared and sketched out a scheme, which he thought would sooner or later become the law of the land. He thought it was the duty of the Government in all these matters to settle, after due consideration, what was desirable, and then, the Parliament having given it their sanction, the whole community should be called on to obey it as part of the law of the land. To make the Highways Act compulsory would be fair and just, and he regretted that this was not done when it was passed. If the hon. Baronet would omit the last clause of his Resolution, he would relieve him (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) from the necessity of opposing any part of the Motion. His right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would, no doubt, bear him witness that he had given him no peace upon the subject, but had continually pressed for leave to deal with the subject. He was glad that the discussion had taken place, because it had shown an amount of agreement as to the principle on which the new measure should be framed.


said, he could fully understand the great difficulty which anybody had to encounter in proposing to deal with turnpike roads. This present Resolution, however, called attention to a limited and specific grievance; whereas Motions upon this subject generally contented themselves with confirming the expediency of abolishing turnpike roads, without providing any remedy acceptable to the country. Nothing was more easy than to obtain a general concurrence of opinion that a certain tax should be taken off; but when they came to the means they by no means found the same kind of unanimity. He had interested himself in the subject of roads for more than twenty years, and he would be very sorry to affirm positively in the House a Resolution that, under no circumstances, should tolls be maintained. Nothing was fairer than tolls in principle, because by them people were made to pay for what they used; but rates fell upon all, on the assumption that, in some mysterious way, all were benefited by the roads. Looking at the gigantic frauds of the last twelve years, he could not help thinking that the maintenance of tolls might be very useful as a memento to people that they must pay for what they used; but the difficulties surrounding the subject were such that no apology was needed from the Government for not rushing into it.


said, the grievances attending the turnpike trust and toll system were as great to the north as to the south of the Tweed. He had been one of the Royal Commissioners appointed to inquire into the system, and could testify that no species of taxation operated more injuriously. The towns, which paid the great bulk of it, were excluded from all control over the administration of the trust, and renewal Acts were passed from year to year. The trustees could not venture to apply to Parliament for a real renewal, because more liberal constitutions would be framed by Parliament for the protection of the public. Although the trust for the county of Edinburgh, had expired several years back, no steps had yet been taken to remedy the state of things which had grown up under it, and which was perpetuated by this sleight-of-hand Act of Parliament passed every year. The proper course was to say to those who applied for the benefit of this Act—"Prove your case before a Committee of the House of Commons, and if you can make out a good case, you shall have your Act renewed for once and for all; if not, it must cease." The present method of managing the roads in Scotland was unconstitutional, and should not be continued. The principle of the Resolution would meet with the hearty support of a great majority of the people of Scotland.


said, he had heard with satisfaction the statement of the Under Secretary of State on the question; but he thought it only right to warn the hon. Gentleman that when he did come to deal with that question, he must face the question of Imperial taxation as connected with it. Public highways were not so much a matter of local interest as of the general benefit and advantage of the entire community, and should be maintained accordingly.


, in reply, said, with regard to one remark made by the noble Lord the Member for Derbyshire (Lord George Cavendish) he wished to say that his Motion had only reference to places where debts had been paid where the trust was extinct, and the Highways Act had been adopted. He certainly thought those localities where the Acthad been adopted, and where turnpike trusts and tolls had been since abolished, were entitled to some indulgence at the hands of the Government. With regard to one remark of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Suffolk (Mr. Henniker-Major), who objected to piecemeal legislation, he begged to say that the whole course of legislation with regard to turnpike roads at present was piecemeal, including the annual Continuance Act, and it was to meet that evil that he had put forward his Resolution. He took exception to the statement from the Treasury Bench expressing a disposition to put upon a whole district the charge for maintaining the parish roads, because this would make the thrifty parishes pay for the careless, and those parishes whose roads were in the worst state would have them put into a good state at the expense of their neighbours. He desired to see a general rate for the whole of the turnpike roads of which the trusts had expired levied on all the parishes of any highway district. He would gladly accept the offer made by the Under Secretary for the Home Department, and would withdraw the last few words of his Resolution.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn. Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, the present system of providing the cost of maintaining the Turnpike Roads of which the Trusts have expired is unjust, and inflicts great hardship on particular parishes, and in ail such cases where tolls have been or may hereafter be abolished, the area from which the cost of maintaining such Roads is levied ought to be extended, and should not be limited to those parishes only through which such Roads actually pass.—(Sir George Jenkinson.)