HC Deb 12 February 1877 vol 232 cc234-41

I rise to ask leave of the House to bring in a Bill to alter and amend the Law in regard to the management and maintenance of Roads and Bridges in Scotland, and I will endeavour to indicate to the House, very briefly I trust, the circumstances under which the Bill is introduced, and the objects which it is thereby proposed to attain. Hon. Members of this House are probably aware that in Scotland there is no obligation at Common Law either to make or to maintain roads and bridges. Those obligations arise entirely from the statute law of the land. Our roads in Scotland, or public highways, are of two characters. There are statute-labour roads, which were originally intended simply for purposes of local communication, were originally maintained by the personal services of dwellers in each particular parish, and are now maintained in most cases by what is called commutation money—that is, by a parish rate levied within the bounds of the parish in lieu of the personal service formerly given. The second class of roads are called turnpike roads, and they are managed by trustees constituted by a long series of local statutes. As a general rule these roads constitute, or did constitute at one time, the main trunk lines of communication through the country, and serve for the purposes of what is called through traffic. As an invariable rule these turnpike roads have been maintained, not by assessment, but by a levy of toll from persons using the roads. Of late years the spread of railway communication throughout Scotland has altered very much the character of the traffic upon these roads. It no longer represents through traffic, because of late all such traffic passes either by water or by rail, and the result is that these main lines of road, originally formed and maintained for other purposes, have virtually become part of our local system, and are used as such almost exclusively. It is proposed by the present Bill to combine the management of our statute-labour and our turnpike roads, to abolish entirely the system of levying tolls, and to throw the maintenance of both classes of roads for the future upon a rate levied from lands and heritages throughout the whole of Scotland. It is proposed to give the administration of the whole of the roads, statute-labour and turnpike, within the county to the county, and to give the management and administration of all roads and streets within burghs in Scotland to the burgh authorities, meaning thereby the town council or the police commissioners of the burgh. It is right to inform the House that this Bill does not directly affect the whole of the counties in Scotland. It is right that the House should know that out of the 32 counties in Scotland, 14 have already obtained local Acts from the Legislature from time to time, under which tolls have been abolished, and roads of every class are maintained by rates upon lands and heritages. Two other counties have obtained local Acts, whereby the maintenance of the roads will be thrown upon rating as soon as the debt of the turnpike trusts has been paid off by means of tolls. Other two counties, Dumfriesshire and Forfarshire, have recently obtained local Acts in virtue of which they have power at any time to abolish tolls. In Dumfriesshire that has already been carried out to a great extent, although no steps have been taken, I am informed, in Forfarshire for the purpose. So there only remain 14 counties in Scotland in which turnpike roads are still exclusively maintained by the levy of tolls. In none of the cases I have referred to where tolls are still levied is there any right to continue that levy in perpetuity. Several of the Turnpike Acts, by which turnpike trusts are constituted, contain within themselves provisions continuing them in force for periods which have not yet expired; but the great bulk of the Scotch local Acts constituting turnpike trusts, depend, and have for many years past depended, for their existence on the passing through the Legislature from time to time of general Acts—the Turnpike Trusts Continuance Acts—and I find that in regard to those 14 counties which I have mentioned, in which tolls are still levied, and the turnpike roads thereby maintained, that all the Acts constituting those trusts, with a few exceptions, will expire in the year 1878, and all the trusts continued by the Turnpike Trusts Continuance Act of 1876 will expire with the close of the Session of Parliament in 1878. There would only then remain existing, were those Acts not renewed by a Continuation Act, the Ayrshire Turnpike Trust Act, which expires in 1879; three out of 11 turnpike Acts for Roxburghshire, two of them expiring in 1881 and one in 1892, and in the case of Lanarkshire, where there are no fewer than 21 separate statutes constituting separate trusts, only five would exist after 1878. Of those five, one would expire in 1879, one in 1880, one in 1881, one in 1882, and the last in 1887. It is proposed by the Bill that its provisions may be adopted voluntarily by Commissioners of Supply, whether they have a local statute or not, at any time within the next 10 years; but that at the end of 10 years it shall become a compulsory measure in all those counties where at that date the exaction of tolls or statute-labour money has not been abolished either under local Acts, or by the county having voluntarily adopted the provisions of the Bill. It appears to the framers of the Bill that that would give sufficient time for those counties in which there are exceptional difficulties with regard to the abolition of tolls or the adjustment of areas and burdens as between county and burgh, to overcome these difficulties, either by means of the machinery provided in Section 8 of the Bill, or by arrangement. When it is adopted, the provisions of the Bill are that the management should be vested, first, in a body of County Road Trustees, to consist of Commissioners of Supply of the county, in whom the control of our roads of whatever class is at present vested, with the addition to that body of the nominee of any corporation holding land of the value of £800 and upwards on the valuation roll, and the further addition of an. elective member, elected by the ratepayers, one for each parish within the county. As this body would be rather unwieldy for the constant administration of the trusts throughout the year, it is proposed that the plan adopted should be similar to that which has been followed with success in some of those local statutes—letting the County Road Trustees appoint a County Road Board, consisting of 30 members, with a certain proportion of elected members among them. Further, an important part of the administration of the local management of the roads will be entrusted to district committees. In the case of burghs the administration may be much more simply provided for; and here I ought to explain that by the word "burgh" in the sense in which I have used it, I mean, in the first place, Royal burghs; in the second place, Parliamentary burghs; and, in the third place, populous places of considerable size and extent which have adopted the provisions of the General Police Act. The limit fixed in the Bill is a population of 10,000, and it is obvious that a burgh of that extent may have an interest separate from the county, and roads and streets within it sufficient to form the subject of a separate local administration. Then, there being a separate administration for counties and for burghs, it is proposed that within burghs the streets and roads which are under the management of the local authority shall be as at present provided for in regard to maintenance, and new streets made and maintained out of rates levied on land and heritages in the burgh, one-half in respect of ownership, and one-half in respect of occupancy. Within the county a different rule is to obtain. There are three things to be provided for in both burgh and county alike. In the first place, the maintenance of roads; in the second place, the making of new roads or bridges; and, in the third place, provision must be made for the debt which attaches to roads already formed. It is proposed that within counties, in order to maintain the roads, an assessment shall be levied, one-half on owners and one-half on occupiers, but the provision made for the payment of debt and for new roads rests upon owners exclusively, and not upon those who temporarily occupy land, with this further provision, that in all questions relating to the formation of new roads no trustee shall have a vote imposing an assessment who is not himself an owner of land, so that it will be left to proprietors to decide whether their interests will be so advanced by it as to justify them in incurring the outlay. It is further proposed by the Bill that debts upon roads shall be taken over at their true value. The Bill also contains other provisions of considerable importance for making a fair allocation of the debt in the first place, as between county and county, because these turnpike trusts are not, like statute-labour roads, localized. There will also be an allocation as between county and burgh. As regards the debts on existing roads, there is no liability whatever incumbent upon the trustees except what may be met out of the tolls. In some instances these are amply sufficient to meet the interest, and in time liquidate the capital; but, in very many other cases, the tolls are not sufficient to pay the interest on the capital. With respect to these it is proposed that they shall be bought up at the fair market price. When a road serves the purposes of two adjoining counties, the debt will be fairly allocated between them, and under like conditions between the county and the burgh. Then, again, several of the bridges in Scotland are in an exceptional position. A bridge may be in a borough; but it may be equally useful to the county, as it may connect two parts of the same county or two districts, and therefore, in such cases they will be exceptionally dealt with, so as to apportion the cost of maintenance fairly between the counties, or the county and burgh, which are benefited by them without imposing the sole burden upon the county or burgh in which they may happen to be situated. Perhaps I may be permitted, in conclusion, to express a hope that, as this question of roads has deeply interested the people of Scotland, this Bill, which I ask leave to lay on the Table, may be the means of enabling the Legislature to arrive at an expedient and safe solution of this much vexed question.


said, that he had a Bill of his own on this subject, but he was very glad that the Government had given the House so early an opportunity of discussing the question, which was thoroughly ripe for immediate legislation. He thought the Bill in its main provisions was the same as that which was brought before the House last Session. References had been made to the effects produced upon the road traffic of Scotland by the formation of railways, and there could be little doubt that this was practically the case, and what were formally looked upon as main lines had become used for local purposes only. He thought it was a question whether those who made the most use of the roads would, under the provisions of the Bill they had heard explained, contribute their fair share to the expenses. Some years ago he had advocated a plan, and this plan had received the support of many authorities on the subject. This plan was to adopt a uniform management, with a uniform scheme of tolls. He explained that such a plan, if carried out, would tend to lighten the burden on the shoulders of those who had to bear it, and not lay it on the shoulders of others in an unfair way. He trusted that his suggestion would be considered by the Government, and that the result would be a more efficient management than the one at present in existence.


said, the Government deserved thanks for introducing this Bill at so early a period of the Session, and he looked upon it as an intimation of the earnestness and desire of the Government to carry the measure this year. He agreed with the principles laid down by the learned Lord Advocate, but he regretted that the Government had gone back with respect to the period of final application. It was proposed last year that the option should not extend to more than five years, but, according to the Bill, 10 years might elapse before the total abolition of tolls in Scotland. Now, he thought that there were certain inconveniences attending such deferred legislation. If the owners of the roads or the trustees interested chose to do so, they might adopt the policy of starving the roads with a view to increase the interest on their debt; and when the time arrived for handing over the roads, they might be found out of repair. This would of course throw a heavy burden on the new trustees, in order to put them in proper condition. In his constituency the Commutation Road Trustees had allowed a large proportion of the roads to become entirely worn out, and consequently the cost of repairing them had fallen very heavily upon the owners and occupiers. He apprehended that under the system proposed by the Lord Advocate the roads which would be affected by it would also become worn out before they were handed over to the new authorities. He trusted, therefore, that the Government, if they kept to the period of 10 years, would insert in their Bill a provision requiring the old trustees to hand over the roads in a fair condition of repair to the new trustees. It was unfortunate that the power of adopting the Bill would be placed in the hands of a body which was hostile to the new system, and of whose opinions the hon. Baronet who had just spoken (Sir Edward Colebrooke) might be taken as a representative. He might remind the House that no one had benefited so much previously by the formation of roads and railways as the owners of the land in their neighbourhood, and, therefore, it was very selfish of them to object to pay their fair proportion of the expense of keeping them in repair. He trusted that the Bill would become law during the present Session, and would give it his earnest support.


expressed a hope that the Government would assure the House that sufficient time would be given between all the stages of the Bill, so that all persons interested would be able to give the measure full consideration. He quite saw that, owing to the short period there was to elapse before the expiration of the different trusts, the learned Lord Advocate was obliged to introduce the Bill that evening; but he would point out that the Act for the county of Ayr expired not in 1879, but in 1878. It should be borne in mind that 14 counties would be affected by the Bill, and that the circumstances of those counties differed very materially. Some of them were what might be called mineral counties, while others were devoted almost wholly to agriculture. The county which he had the honour to represent was partly mineral and partly agricultural; and he might say that the agricultural country roads were some of the best in Scotland.


approved of the general principle of the Bill for the abolition of tolls, and hoped that all the bodies in Scotland who were interested in the measure, and competent to form a judgment upon it, would have sufficient time allowed them to consider its provisions before it was set down for a second reading. The Bill contained numerous details of great importance to mineral owners, land owners, and others, and there were many districts in Scotland which had peculiarities in comparison with other districts, and which had Acts of their own so framed as to meet local wants, and these circumstances gave rise to a considerable diversity on local re- quirements. That was an important fact to remember in the case of a Bill which, if it passed into law, was to be made compulsory at the expiration of a period of 10 years.


, in reply, admitted that Lanarkshire, like Ayrshire, stood in an exceptional position; and as to the separation of the burghs and counties, he pointed out that the separation, unless attended by a provisional order or by agreement, would take effect either at the municipal or the Parliamentary boundary of the burgh.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to alter and amend the Law in regard to the maintenance and management of Roads and Bridges in Scotland, ordered to be brought in by The Lone ADVOCATE and Mr. Secretary CROSS.

Billpresented, and read the first time. [Bill 65.]