§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. M'LAREN
, in rising to move—That the mode in which expired Turnpike Acts in Scotland have hitherto been dealt with, and which this Bill proposes to follow, is unjust in principle, and ought not to be continued,said, he would not take up much of the time of the House upon the matter; but he should like shortly to explain the grievance which existed. In England, as hon. Members knew, when Turnpike Acts expired, there was a body to whom the maintenance of the roads was handed over; but in Scotland, there was no such law, and if the Turnpike Acts were allowed to expire, there was no provision for keeping up the roads. Last year, for the first time, the Scotch expired Acts were placed in a separate Schedule of the Turnpike Acts Continuance Bill, with the intention that they should be dealt with in the same way as the English expired Acts. A Committee was appointed, over which a noble Lord on that side of the House presided; but the reference to the Committee was found to be so restricted, that it did not include Scotch expired Acts, and therefore they could not take up any question relating to Scotland. It was suggested that a separate Committee should, be appointed for the consideration of Scotch Bills, in the same manner as was done with English expired Acts; but this was not done, and the consequence was, that all the expired Scotch Acts—45 in number—were included in the renewal Bill now before the House. It was proposed in the Bill that they should be continued for one 709 year, and thereafter until the end of the next Session of Parliament, which meant that the expired Acts should all have an existence of two years more. That was exactly what was done last year; and there being no Committee to refer them to, they might in the next and the year following be dealt with in the same way, and thus be establishing a machinery for continuing these Scotch Acts until the end of time, without ever being able to review them. The effect of this system was such, that the feeling in Scotland was almost universally in favour of the abolition of tolls and turnpikes. ["No, no!"] An hon. Member said "no, no," which meant that the feeling was not almost universal. Well, he (Mr. M'Laren) would restrict the expression as much as the hon. Gentleman liked, and he would say only that there was a strong feeling in Scotland in favour of the abolition of tolls. The proof of that was to be found in the fact that 16 counties in Scotland had already applied for, and obtained, private Bills for throwing the maintenance of the roads on rates in the counties. There were many other counties in which the same feeling had been expressed. Another proof of the accuracy of his statement was, that in the metropolitan county of Edinburgh, the feeling was so universal that last Session the county trustees and the town councils unanimously resolved to give notices for Bills to abolish turnpike trusts on all the roads. Each party gave the required notice. Preliminary meetings were held, and it was expected that they would be able to arrange the clauses and get a Bill passed. Circumstances occurred—he did not wish to blame anybody for it, as he did not think anybody was to blame—under which both Bills were referred to the Committee; but the county trustees appeared to have changed their minds to a certain extent, because they urged that the Preamble of their own Bill should not pass, but that they should have another year to arrange the details. The Committee he referred to was a most important and excellent Committee, with whom no body could find any fault; but their first decision was to agree to the request of the county authorities that the Preamble of their own Bill should not be passed. The Bill promoted by the town council of Edinburgh and the other town councils, was gone on with, and a good deal of evidence 710 was taken on the subject. The Committee adjourned for two or three days, and asked the parties to agree to clauses that would suit them; but as the parties were not able to agree, the Bill was withdrawn. He thought that what he had stated was sufficient to justify him in saying that there was an exceedingly strong general feeling in Scotland in favour of the abolition of tolls and of maintaining the roads by means of a rate. A good many years ago, Lord Derby's Government appointed a Royal Commission, the object of which was to devise a plan for the abolition of tolls, and to levy a rate for the maintenance of the roads, and that fact showed that there was even at that time—15 years ago—a strong feeling in Scotland on the subject. That Commission unanimously reported that tolls ought to be abolished and the roads maintained by rates. He was not going farther into that Report, but he was glad to see the Homo Secretary present, as it was to him his appeal was made; for he (Mr. M'Laren) was aware that, although technically the Bill before the House was promoted by the Local Government Board, yet, in consequence of an arrangement between that Board and the Home Office, the latter Department had the charge of Scotch roads. All he wished to urge on the attention of the right hon. Gentleman was, that next Session he should bring in a Bill to place the law of Scotland on the same footing as the law of England—namely, that when the Turnpike Trust Acts expired, the roads should be thrown upon the rates; and that there should be a Committee appointed, as was now the case for England, to report upon such Acts as should be allowed to drop at particular dates. The English law was found to work so well and so economically, that the people of Scotland ought to have a similar law passed with respect to their turnpikes; and he therefore entreated the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to place Scotland in this respect on the same footing as England. He asked, as an act of justice, that when the Committee should be appointed next year to consider the expiring trusts, the reference should not be limited as it was this year to English trusts, but that it should be a general reference including all expiring trusts; or failing that, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would 711 appoint another Committee, with a certain number of Scotch Members on it, having the same powers and responsibility with regard to Scotch trusts as the English Committee had with regard to English trusts. In either case, the people of Scotland would be equally satisfied. He contended that with regard to the state of matters in Scotland great injustice and hardship existed. He would refer again to the Bill connected with the county in which he resided. When that Bill was passed, it was limited to a period of 31 years, and there was then a debt of £98,000, for the payment of which the Bill was framed. That debt had been paid off long ago, and the Act had expired seven years ago; but it had always been kept alive by these Continuance Bills; and the parties interested never had an opportunity of coming before Parliament to state their grievances or to get a new trust with the tolls modified; or to get the toll-bars put further out of the towns than they now were. In that Act, passed nearly 40 years ago, certain trustees were named, and they were to be succeeded by their eldest sons, which hereditary succession of trustees was now going on, there being hardly one of the original trustees named in the Act who was now alive; and the Act provided no mode of election or representation, but left with the trustees themselves the absolute power to do as they liked. Those trustees collected £20,000 a-year from the tolls, a large portion of which—ho believed two-thirds—was levied round Edinburgh and Leith, and the money so collected was expended, in many cases, 30 miles off, at the extremities of the county. He was not throwing blame upon anybody; but merely mentioning the fact to illustrate the condition of things, which he wished to impress on the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. Knowing how much business there was before the House, he would not say all he should have liked to have said on this subject, but would at once conclude by moving the Amendment which he had placed on the Paper.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the mode in which expired Turnpike Acts in Scotland have hitherto been dealt with, and which this Bill proposes to follow, is unjust in
principle, and ought not to be continued,"—(Mr. M'Laren,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he should not detain the House long, as it was perfectly true, as had just been stated, that there was a great deal of business that everybody present was anxious to get through; nor would it be of any use to raise a prolonged debate, on the subject, at this period of the Session. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) knew that that was a matter that had been brought under his (Mr. Cross's) attention, and to which he had already devoted a good deal of time. He was quite aware that the state of the roads in Scotland at the present moment was not satisfactory, and there was no doubt that there was a strong desire that something should be done. That was evident from the fact that so many counties had already made arrangements by means of private Bills for the purpose of effecting the object which the hon. Member for Edinburgh had in view. But the House must remember that there was a great difference between English and Scotch roads, and that each must be dealt with on different principles. When a road trust expired in England, there was a body ready to take care of the roads handed over to them; but in Scotland, it was quite different, because there, when a trust expired, they had to create a body who were to bear the expenses, and hence arose the great difficulty with regard to Scotland in the way of coming to an equitable arrangement. No one knew better than the hon. Member for Edinburgh that in certain counties in Scotland, and particularly in Lanarkshire and Renfrew-shire, there were very considerable difficulties in making arrangements in this matter; but with regard to the whole business, he thought it was understood by the deputation who had waited on him, that the matter was one that would receive his most careful attention during the Recess. In the course of the business then before Parliament, it was impossible to discuss the subject as it ought to be discussed; but he might say at that juncture, that in any proposal he should make to the House, by way of submitting 713 the matter to a Committee or otherwise, his chief object would be to take care that no injustice should be done to the parties. That, after all, was really a great question. He was of opinion, however, that the Scotch trusts ought not to go before the same Committee that was appointed for the purpose of proposing legislation with regard to English roads, because there was, as he had said before, such a difference between English roads and Scotch roads, that if there was to be a Committee at all, it would be better that there should be a separate Committee for Scotland. He had arranged with his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate that during the Recess he would himself go to Scotland and inquire carefully into the matter on the spot, and he hoped next Session to be able, at all events, to state his views upon the subject. He did not know whether they would be acceptable but whatever they might be, they would he assured the House, be carefully considered, and upon the principle he had just enunciated, that no injustice should be perpetrated.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
thanked the right hon. Gentleman for what he had promised to do, and he had no doubt, he would redeem his promise. He was anxious to see something done, because four of these unexpired trusts were in the county which he represented, and with a very little power, they might settle things without much difficulty.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee, and reported; as amended, to be considered upon Monday.