HC Deb 15 March 1872 vol 210 cc77-85

, in rising to move— That, in the opinion of this House, as great and continually increasing hardship and injustice is inflicted on the Ratepayers of various parishes by the present system of partial and piecemeal extinction of Turnpike Trusts, it is desirable that provision should be made for the early and simultaneous abolition of all remaining Trusts, and, at the same time, for the future maintenance of all Highways on an equitable basis, said, he trusted to be able not only to prove that turnpike trusts inflicted hardship upon the ratepayers, but that there really did exist, notwithstanding much that was said to the contrary, a perfectly equitable basis on which the hardship could be removed. The subject was not a new one, for in 1836, and again in 1864, Select Committees of that House had considered the subject, and in both cases had reported in favour of the expediency of abolishing tolls and tollgates, on the ground that the existing system was vexatious and expensive, from the number of collectors employed and the number of gates kept up. In February, 1866, a Circular was issued from the Home Office on this subject to the clerks of the trustees of certain trusts which were nearly free from debt, advising that such trusts should be extinguished as soon as possible, which showed the opinion of the Government of that day upon the subject, and the state of the tolls at that time. That Circular, alluding to a particular trust in his (Sir George Jenkinson's) neighbourhood, said— As the above trust is nearly free from debt, I am directed by Secretary Sir George Grey to request you to furnish information according to the enclosed form. Later on in the same year he wrote to the Secretary of State on the subject of that very same trust, and enclosing a memorial very numerously signed. The answer which he received from Whitehall, dated May 31, 1866, was to the effect that, pending the decision of the question as to the further continuance of the trust, the trustees had been requested to consider the expediency of the removal of the particular toll-gate complained of. From that correspondence one would naturally suppose that the trust, which was nearly free from debt, would be allowed to expire, and that the toll-gate in connection with it would be soon removed. What, however, was done? Instead of complying with the suggestion of the Secretary of State, that particular trust was allied to a bankrupt trust in the neighbourhood, which owed more than £2,000; and at that moment all the neighbouring parishes were still burdened with the toll-gate of the adjoining trust, which was deeply in debt. In fact, the general operation of the existing Acts resulted in this—that the roads from which the turnpikes had been removed were unduly worked and cut up, and the trusts which remained suffered a material diminution of their revenue. He thought that he had now shown a case for the intervention of Parliament, and for immediate legislation by the Government. At the Gloucester Quarter Sessions in 1866 he moved the adoption of a Memorial to the Government, with a view to an abatement of that evil. Although such Memorial was not passed in his own words, a resolution, moved by the late Earl of Ellenborough, and seconded by Earl Ducie, the Lord Lieutenant of the county, was passed, in which they pressed upon the Government the necessity of taking the whole subject into their consideration with the view to the adoption of some measure for the general relief of that part of the country from tolls; and a copy of the Memorial referred to was sent to the Secretary of State. On the 7th March, 1868, the then hon. Member for Sandwich, since Under Secretary for the Home Department, and now a Member of the Government (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen), wrote a letter on the subject, in which he stated that if no legislation took place within the next 12 years the vast majority of trusts under the Trusts Act would have expired, and unless renewed at great expense they must come to an end, and the expense of maintaining the roads would fall upon the individual parishes in which those roads were situated—that within the last eight years no fewer than 280 trusts had so expired, and every year complicated the system still further; and that the promoters of the Bill which was then pending on the subject believed that the time had come when there should be provision made for the gradual abolition of those trusts. Moreover, on the 30th March, 1870, the Government were induced to accept a Resolution, which was moved by himself (Sir George Jenkinson), and which was passed by that House, which showed that the grievance complained of was fully acknowledged by them, for the subject of that Resolution was embodied subsequently in a clause of the Turnpike Continuance Act of that year, and which provided for the expenses of the maintenance of turnpike roads, of which the trusts had expired, being levied upon the whole highway district where the Highway Act was in operation, instead of the particular district comprising the parishes where the trust was extinct. Notwithstanding all those facts, the evil still remained of partial and not simultaneous abolition of the turnpike tolls. In 1870, and about a fortnight ago, resolutions were passed in another place, in which the grievances on this subject were fully set forth, and the Legislature was urged to correct the evils arising from the partial abolition of tolls by abolishing them altogether. This question, like the payment of justices' clerks by salary and other additions to the rates, imposed of late years, was part of the larger question of local taxation. In early days the turnpike tolls were levied for Imperial purposes—for the transport of the mails, the conveyance of troops, &c.; and having long since served their turn, he contended it was not fair to allow this burden to rest upon the parishes only through which they ran. The next question to be considered was what remedy could be suggested which would secure the payment of the debts incurred as well as a provision for the roads. He would first refer to the expenses generally of maintaining those roads throughout the country. According to a Government Return of the income and expenditure of all trusts in England and Wales, from the 1st January, 1869, to the 31st December, 1869, both inclusive, it appeared that for all the counties of England the receipts of all those trusts amounted to £865,334 19s. 7d., and the expenditure to £860,224 9s. 7d., including the interest on the debt and the payment of the debt. In Wales, the amount received was £68,899, and the expenditure £69,016, making the total receipts £934,233, and the total expenditure £929,240. The total debt in England was £3,048,048, and in Wales, £247,347, making an aggregate of £3,295,395. If this were reduced by a computation of 25 per cent, which many persons deemed a fair computation, it would show £2,400,000, which at 4 per cent would be £96,000 a-year. Then, the cost of maintaining each gate was reckoned at £25 a-year, which multiplied by the number of gates, 1,100, amounted to £27,500. That sum would be saved by the abolition of turnpikes, and the sale of the gates and houses would realize £440,000, available towards the liquidation of the debt. Estimating incidental expenses at 15 per cent more, the result was, that £40 was wasted in the maintenance of the gates for every £100 levied on the public, thus bearing out the Report of the two Select Committees, which reported that the maintenance of roads by the present system was costly, inconvenient, and wasteful in the extreme. With regard to the most equitable mode of paying off the debt and maintaining the roads, he found that the Excise licences for horses and carriages amounted in England to about £900,000, a sum singularly near the present cost of maintaining the roads which those horses and carriages cut up. That might be handed over to the various counties for the future maintenance of the roads, and it would be paying a poor compliment to a Chancellor of the Exchequer who suggested the match-tax and who abolished the shilling duty on corn—a remission for which nobody had asked, and by which £900,000 had been sacrificed without anybody being benefited—to suppose that he could not devise some equivalent for the £900,000 transferred from the Excise to the counties, even if he added one halfpenny to the income tax. One hopeful fact, however, was, that the trusts were expiring so fast that between 200 and 250 of them had expired since the last Returns were made up. He believed that if the Government would consider the subject, they would find that of all the modes which had been suggested or could be suggested for the payment of the debts in respect of these roads, and for the future maintenance of them, there was no plan so reasonable and generally fair as that which he had ventured to sketch out. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had give Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, as great and continually increasing hardship and injustice is inflicted on the Ratepayers of various parishes by the present system of partial and piecemeal extinction of Turnpike Trusts, it is desirable that provision should be made for the early and simultaneous abolition of all remaining Trusts, and, at the same time, for the future maintenance of all Highways on an equitable basis,"—(Sir George Jenkinson,) —instead thereof.

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


, in supporting the Motion, said, the whole system was antiquated and absurd. It was impossible to devise a mode of taxation so costly, so unequal, and so pernicious in its results. He knew a part of the country where the farmers pulled down the turnpike-gates, a means of redress not altogether defensible, but it was effectual, for they had never been re-erected. In a drive of five miles round the principal town of Denbighshire no fewer than half-a-dozen of these obnoxious imposts were to be encountered, and the same thing, he believed, might be truly said of almost every rural district in the country. He did hope the Government would see their way to dealing with the question as a whole, because a system which might have suited our ancestors was entirely out of date in the 19th century.


said, he could corroborate the statements of the hon. Baronet (Sir George Jenkinson) as to the hardships involved in the present manner of maintaining the roads, which was based on no principle, and consequently inflicted injustice and hardship. In the West Riding of Yorkshire agricultural districts were situated, in many instances, between large manufacturing towns, and the farmers were put to the expense of maintaining the highways for the benefit of these busy centres of industry. What he desired was that there should be a fair adjustment of the burden between the manufacturers and the farmers. But it should also be remembered that the question had assumed a new phase under the Bill of the Government for public health, it being well known that many districts constituted themselves into Local Authorities, in order to escape the highway rate. Perhaps it would be well to take a leaf from the book of our Erench neighbours, who divided their roads into three classes—the Imperial, the Departmental, and the Communal—a classification which worked well. He hoped that before long the whole of this question would be dealt with by the Government, who would institute some authority to say what roads should be maintained by a large area such as a county, and what other roads should be preserved and developed by the parish authorities. Many of the roads which originally were arterial had become local; but were on so large a scale that it would not be just to impose the burden of maintaining them upon the parishes.


said, there was really very little difference between the hon. Baronet (Sir George Jenkinson) and himself in their judgment upon the present system, though there was a wide difference between them as to the remedy that ought to be applied. The principle of turnpikes had been condemned over and over again by one authority after another, and since 1836, when a Committee reported in favour of the abolition of tolls throughout the kingdom, the current of public opinion had been unchanged on the subject. Recognizing that judgment on the merits of the case, the Committee of 1864 reported that tolls appeared to be unequal in pressure, costly in collection, inconvenient to the public, and serious impediments to traffic. If the matter had stood there the hon. Baronet might have called on the Government to produce some measure on this subject; but the Committee of 1867, as the hon. Baronet knew, rather cheeked the progress of abolition by drawing attention to the hardship inflicted upon parishes by the abolition of turnpikes. They reported that in future legislation on turnpike trusts it would be expedient to provide a uniform system of road management throughout the country, and that the maintenance of all roads should be provided for by a rate levied on large districts, and not, as at present, on parishes separately. He would not follow the hon. Baronet into the discussion of the general question of local taxation. He would only say that the Government had applied its attention to the two alternatives suggested by the Committee—namely, that of leaving the burden upon the parishes, or extending the area, so as to embrace what were called districts. The hon. Baronet knew that it had now been provided that the burden of the maintenance of turnpike roads where the tolls had been abolished fell upon the common fund, where a highway district existed, than upon the parishes. Unfortunately the Act was partial in its application, and one of the first steps for dealing effectually with turnpike roads would be to place the matter on a satisfactory basis by the extension of the highway system to the whole country. In accordance with what had been said last year, he should have been prepared to bring in a Bill on the subject; but the hon. Baronet knew that such a measure had been abandoned, because the Local Government Board considered that the legislation they were trying to obtain this year would enable them to deal much more satisfactorily with the subjects of highways, including turnpikes, than would be the case if the Home Department carried any such Bill themselves. The hon. Baronet had overrated the extent of the burden imposed by turnpikes, and underrated the steps which the Government had taken to reduce it, for that something had been done to extinguish the debt would appear from the following figures:—In 1864 there were more than 1,000 trusts, of which 200 had been extinguished, leaving now 800. In 1837 the debt in respect to turnpike trusts was valued at £7,500,000; in 1864 it was £4,500,000; and in 1871, £2,500,000. The Committee, which had sat from year to year, had made rapid progress in investigating the condition of each trust and coming to equitable terms for its extinction, and now the Local Government Board hoped to be able to deal satisfactorily with the matter. Further than the intention of that Board to frame the comprehensive measure he had before referred to, he could not pledge the Government or himself in dealing with the question at issue.


said, he trusted hon. Members would consider well before they sanctioned any new arrangement, and would remind them that if they did away with tolls they must throw the burden on the rates, and the disposition of the House of Commons did not appear to be much in favour of increasing the rates.


hoped that in any such new arrangement that might be made the bargain made years ago with some of the turnpike trusts would not be broken.


recommended the hon. Baronet (Sir George Jenkinson) to follow the example set by Scotland, of sweeping away tolls by getting power from Parliament to do so, and by placing the burden upon the rates of each county concerned to clear it off. In Scotland they had no difficulty about the matter, further than that they could not get the Government to bring in a general rating Bill so as to enable the whole of Scotland to follow out the course which had been adopted in several counties. They had got many counties relieved from this grievance; but these counties had come to Parliament with a private Bill, and thus incurred considerable expense to effect what might be more easily effected by a general Bill over the whole of Scotland. Where turnpikes had been removed, the roads were found to be as well maintained as formerly, and the taxes were not felt to be so heavy as had been suggested, as he thought the hon. Baronet would find when he placed his shoulder to the wheel to relieve himself of the existing burden. At any rate, it was well worth the cost to get rid of the turnpikes. He would take advantage of that opportunity to press upon the Government the desirability of giving to Scotland relief by allowing them to do what the hon. Baronet wished to do in England. The hon. Baronet proposed, however, that that should be done at the expense of the Government; while in Scotland, if they had the power, they would be glad to do it at their own expense.


was glad to hear that this question was to be taken up, not by the Home Department, but by the Local Government Board; and he augured from that remark that there was a scheme in progress by which the whole local government of the country would come under one control, instead of being divided among many Departments as at present. Under the circumstances, he would recommend his hon. Friend not to press his Motion. He hoped, however, that in dealing with the matter, a distinction would be made between arterial roads, terminal roads, and what used to be called horse roads.


said, he was quite willing to accept the statement made by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of the Government, and would withdraw his Motion.


asked if Scotland would be included in the Bill of the Local Government Board? [Mr. WINTERBOTHAM: No.] He hoped that that point would be considered.