HC Deb 24 January 1878 vol 237 cc419-34

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—{The Lord Advocate.)


said, that while he had great pleasure that the Government had introduced such an important measure as this at so early a period of the Session, he could not but express his disappointment in finding that the Bill, so far as he had examined it, appeared to be defective in some essential particulars. One point to which he desired to call attention had reference to the power which elected trustees would have in their own parishes for the management of the roads, and another had regard to the period of grace to be allowed before tolls were abolished. The Bill of last year provided that the general county trustees should consist of one member elected by each parish, and that the County Road Board should consist of those elected trustees, together with the landlords of the county. This was upon the lines of the private measures which had been passed through Parliament, but the Government now proposed to withdraw with the one hand what they professed to give with the other. The Bill now before the House provided that the only work which the elective trustees would have to perform would be to meet together and appoint a local committee for the management of the roads, in which the elected trustees were to be in a minority. It was provided that the District Board should not consist of more than one-half or loss than one-third of the elected trustees. This was really making a farce of the elected trustees. The ratepayers in each parish would not certainly meet together merely for the purpose of electing trustees, whose only duty would be to take part once a year in the appointment of a local county board. One of the great advantages under the private Acts which had been obtained for the abolition of tolls in Scotland consisted in this, that, under those Acts, distinct provision was taken for having the elective trustees largely interested in the maintenance of the roads. He asserted with confidence that in the counties where the private Acts to which he referred had been put into operation—in the county, for example, which he had the honour to represent (Forfarshire), and in the county of Aberdeen, where one of those measures had been in force for some time—the system which they provided had acted most successfully, and had been attended with the greatest advantage both to landlords and tenants. The elected trustees had taken a very active part in the management of the roads. They co-operated very heartily with the landlords in the matter, and he thought he might say on very considerable evidence, that this co-operation, in the opinion of the landlords themselves, had been of the very greatest advantage to the management. One of the greatest evils of the old system was that there were no trustees interested in the management of the roads, which was consequently very much left to officials, and no real supervision was kept up over the expenditure of the money. Now all this was changed. The elected trustees took a very active interest in the management of the roads, and they saw that value was obtained for money expended. Therefore, he thought it would be very unfortunate, both for landlords and tenants, if some clause were not provided for interesting tenant trustees in the management of the roads, as had been done in the private Bills recently passed. Another strong point was the long period of 10 years allowed for the expiration of the turnpike trusts. He understood, and he thought it was the general understanding, that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary promised last Session that expiring trusts should not be continued without some inquiry into them. Under this Bill, however, trusts which otherwise would die out in a year or two might be continued for 10 years. This was extremely objectionable, and if agreed to would be very disastrous to many turnpike roads in Scotland. What would be the policy of the trustees? The valuation of the road would be determined, no doubt, by the amount of interest which they had paid for the preceding few years, and therefore the trustees would be very much tempted to starve the roads in order to pay a higher interest upon the debt. The roads, consequently, would gradually get worse; and finally, when the turnpikes were abolished and the Act came into operation, the roads would be handed over to the new trustees in such a condition that they would require to be almost entirely re-made at very great expense. In his opinion, if the provision was retained, a clause should also be added that the roads should be handed over in good condition. If that were done, he had no doubt all the turnpikes would be abolished in a very short time. For these and other reasons explained last year, he hoped the Government would introduce some modification in the Bill. He would suggest that they should make inquiry into the private Acts in operation in Forfarshire and Aberdeenshire, and if it was found that the tenant trustees worked harmoniously, and to the perfect satisfaction of the landlords, that the Government should modify their Bill in that direction; otherwise he was afraid the roads would fall into the hands of officials with results that would be very unsatisfactory to all parties. He was not going to divide at that stage, but on another occasion he should take the sense of the House on what seemed to him very unjust—that the tenants should pay half the rates equally with the landlords, and yet not be allowed to have an equal voice with them in the expenditure of the money. He hoped it was not too late for the Government to take some stops in the matter before the Bill went into Committee.


said, he fully endorsed what his hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire had said as to the expenditure upon the roads by trustees if another period of 10 years should be permitted before the expiration of the trusts. In England when Turnpike Acts expired they were referred to a Select Committee to inquire whether they should be continued; but as to Scotland a continuance Act had been passed every year, and the result was that the great ma- jority of the turnpikes in Scotland were continued in this way every year. Thus a simple suspension of the Bill for a Session would make these Acts lapse. He must say that the provisions of this Bill were not consistent with the promise made by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary last year, when he expressed an opinion that the system of continuing these trusts ought not to be persisted in.


observed that though the Bill had been introduced without remark by the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, it was substantially the same as that brought in last year. He (Colonel Mure) was not prepared to offer any opposition to the second reading, but he wished to make one or two very short observations. He understood a Government official of high standing and great reputation had been employed to report upon this question, and especially as to the opposition offered by Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire with reference to the position of the city of Glasgow, no must express his regret that the Report had not been presented to Members, for the chances were that it contained a good deal that was new and very interesting about the road system in Scotland. As to the city of Glasgow, he believed the Government as to that would introduce some clause similar to that introduced as to bridges over which special traffic passed, and which would enable them to deal more satisfactorily with that city. There were many other matters which could be touched upon in Committee; but as he understood the rejection of the measure was to be moved on going into Committee, they would then have the opportunity of further expressing their views. He did hope, and that was his main object in rising, that the right hon. Gentleman would see fit to have this Report, to which he had alluded, placed in their hands.


said, he had looked into the Return which had been referred to, and it certainly contained details of considerable interest as to the action taken by the counties of Renfrew and Lanark. Whether the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary justified that action or not he could not toll, but the Return obtained by the hon. and gallant Gentleman showed that they had not been justified in their opposition, and that the statements made had been much exaggerated. In Lanarkshire the expenditure on turnpike and statute labour roads only amounted to 6d. in the pound on the valuation of the county; while in the city of Glasgow it was 4½d., and he did not think a difference of 1½d. on the rate per pound ought to be a barrier to a settlement between burgh and county. Renfrewshire was in a somewhat similar position. The annual valuation amounted to £1,177,471, and the total expenditure on roads was £28,426; an assessment of 6d. on that valuation would, therefore, produce £29,436, or more than equal to the whole of the present expenditure on both turnpike and statute labour roads. If the same details as had been furnished in the Return he alluded to had been obtained as to other counties, he believed it would have shown in these cases also that there was no proper ground for the opposition to the passing of the Bill. He begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman on his own behalf and that of every hon. Member for bringing in the Bill at so early a period in the Session, and he hoped he might think proper to introduce clauses to make the Bill better suited to the particular circumstances of each district. The hon. Member for Forfarshire had suggested that the right hon. Gentleman should examine the local Acts under which the roads in Forfarshire and Aberdeen were managed. They had enjoyed in his county for a very long period the advantages of a local Act, and indeed they were the first to have one abolishing tolls and statute labour. Under it the county was divided into districts, the trustees in each of which had power independently to levy assessments within itself. He trusted that the Lord Advocate would see his way to accept some modifications of the provisions of the Bill, as it then stood, in order to meet the case of the counties placed in the circumstances he had described. He had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman would do so, and he believed that such modifications, if accepted, would be of great advantage to the community when this Bill became law.


said, he was rather surprised that the Lord Advocate should have introduced the Bill without any explanation. At the same time, they were so grateful to the Government for having brought in a Bill at so early a period of the Session— the great majority of Scotch Members being anxious that a good Road Bill should pass—that he would not make any serious complaint on that score. He entirely concurred in the observation of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), who had expressed regret that those Acts, which would otherwise have expired at an earlier period, were to be extended to a further existence of 10 years. That, he thought, was a great mistake; for, in his opinion, the period ought to have been considerably shortened. Not only were the Acts to be extended to so long a period; but, as he understood the question, whether the new Act should be adopted or not within that long period was to rest with the Commissioners of Supply, and the Commissioners of Supply were the most considerable landowners of the county. Therefore, the result would be that the decision of this great question would be left mainly in the hands of the extremely aristocratic element to the exclusion of small ratepayers. [The LORD ADVOCATE dissented.] As the right hon. and learned Gentleman shook his head, it was to be hoped he was about to explain that the matter would not be left in that way, and that the ratepayers as well as the aristocracy were to have something to do with the decision of this question after all. There was one important point which he did not see provided for in the Bill. There were some small burghs, little larger than villages, but with large roads passing through them. As these small burghs could not sustain the burden of keeping up these large roads, it was desirable that they should be united with the counties for that purpose. With regard to the former Bill there was a difficulty in providing for such cases; because he believed there were some small burghs that were not willing to unite with the counties, as they would be united under the Bill of last year. He thought some provision should be made in the present measure to meet cases of this description. But this Bill went to the other extreme. It appeared that no Royal or Parliamentary burgh, however small, would be exempted from the operation of the Bill. His impression was, that a small burgh with an important road running through it, would be placed in a difficult position if, as he understood, such burghs were not to unite with the counties for road purposes. He hoped that when the Bill went into Committee some proposal would be made to meet such cases.


said, he differed from one or two observations which had been made by hon. Members opposite, though, as he came from a district in which the abolition of tolls was not popular, perhaps he would not be expected to defend the Bill of the Government cordially. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Ramsay) on the assessments, he thought the hon. Member hardly understood the principle of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman appeared to be under the impression that the assessments would be levied in equal proportions in all parts of counties. That, however, was not the Bill as he himself read it. The Bill provided that counties being divided into districts and trusts, each trust would have to levy a rate for itself; and this being so, one trust might possibly have to levy a considerable rate, while another might levy a very small one. In that case the inference which the hon. Member for Falkirk seemed to draw from the Government proposal with regard to Lanarkshire and Ren-frewshire hardly held water. The extension of the period to 10 years struck him (Sir William Cuninghame) as one of the most valuable proposals in the Bill— because it gave time to counties and burghs to settle the very difficult and intricate negotiations which would be raised between themselves. He also thought that the clauses of the Bill were well devised which referred those points on which differences of opinion were likely to arise to arbitration, or finally to provisional orders. With respect to the observations of the hon. Member for Forfar (Mr. J. W. Barclay), it must be remembered that the landlords were much more permanently interested in the proper management of the roads than the tenants could be. Although they paid half of the assessment during the time they were on the farms, their interest in the matter ceased when they left their holdings. It was natural to suppose that those who had a permanent interest in the proper upholding of the roads would take care to look after them better than those who wore merely temporary occupiers. Practically, also, a largo portion of this assessment, which was paid by the tenants, would come out of the landlord's pocket, as part of, if not the whole of, the expense paid by the tenant would be deducted from the rent that the landlord received. Under these circumstances, the landlord would practically pay the larger part of the assessment. Therefore the landlord was entitled to a larger share in the representation on the County Board. It had been wisely and properly said that those who used the roads should pay for them. Looking at the Bill as brought forward by the Home Secretary, he certainly thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman could not himself hold that principle. Whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman did so or not, the Bill did not hold that principle—at all events, that would not be the effect of the Bill as he understood it. Take a farm 10 miles from a market and another five miles off, the two farms being in every other respect equal in value. On the principle that those who used the roads should pay for them, the most distant farm ought to pay twice as much as the near one. That, however, would not be the effect of the Bill. The farm nearer the market town would, in all probability, be on that part of the road whore the traffic over it was the heaviest. It would there fore have to pay a larger amount of assessment though it used the road the least. The reply probably would be that it could not be avoided, and that this was the case in all assessments such as the poor rates. He admitted that, but there was no alternative in the assessment to poor rates. It was not so in regard to roads. At all events, there was the alternative of tolls, and he contended if it was impossible to make an equitable assessment that they ought to continue to maintain tolls. One farther defect, and that a serious defect, he saw in the Bill. It appeared to him that of all Governments a Conservative Government ought to be the last to interfere with contracts between man and man. Take the case of a farm let for 21 years. The landlord let the farm to the tenant practically with the stipulation that the tenant should pay the whole cost of the upholding of the roads during the currency of his lease in the shape of tolls. He, for one, could not understand on what principle the Government could say in this Bill that in the future the landlord was to pay half of the expense. It appeared to him that this was taking part of the charge which the tenant had contracted to bear from his shoulders and placing it on those of the landlord. That was a principle as to which some amendment ought to be made in the Bill. In this respect the Government had gone in the face of the recommendation of the Royal Commission, which properly and equitably advised that during the currency of the leases the tenant should, as now, pay the whole of the charge.


said, he was sorry to see that so little improvement had been made in the Bill since last Session. Admitting that it bore evidence of great care having been taken on minor points, yet in the general features of the Bill it was just as bad as ever. At the close of last Session, two or three hon. Members opposed the renewal of the county trusts, and he remembered that one argument was that no trust that had expired in England was renewed without hearing evidence and having all questions settled; whereas in Scotland, trusts that had expired 20 years ago, and some 40 years ago, had been renewed without one word being heard on the subject. That was pressed very strongly. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said he saw the injustice at once, and said that this system would not be allowed here after, and he would take care that a change should be made bolero these Scotch trusts were renewed again. But what did this Bill do? It provided that all the principal clauses of the bad Acts which had expired should be renewed for 10 years, so that those trusts which wore now renewed year by year would be enforced for 10 years. With that clause in the Bill, he would far rather have had no Bill at all. As one of the Commissioners who had inquired into the subject, he knew that they recommended that the boundaries of burghs and counties should be fixed at once. But what did this Bill do? It provided that the body which was the most aristocratic in each county should take the initiative to set the Act going, and without their setting it going, the Act could not come into operation. Not only was this so, but a majority of two-thirds was required before the Act could be put into force. It was extremely difficult to get two-thirds of any public body to agree on any subject whatever, more especially local bodies, and if they had required a device to prevent the Bill from coming into operation that would be effectual. Burghs and large cities, such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Dundee, had no power to apply to the Secretary of State to put the Act in operation. Well, Edinburgh had three times as large a population as the county, and had three times the wealth of the county, and paid far more than three times the taxation of the county, and yet it had no power to put the Act in operation. He looked upon the Bill as it now stood as an incomplete measure. It was no enacting Bill at all. It was merely a permissive Bill, and yet was, in some respects, a prohibitory Bill. Many of the parishes of Scotland, as everybody knew, were very small. Yet each had two members, while the burghs under 10,000 were to have only one. A great deal was known in Scotland about the shutting-up of roads, so that the people durst not walk on them. In place of preventing that sort of thing, this Bill would make bad worse. In large towns like Glasgow and Edinburgh, there were perhaps 20 miles of road separating the burgh from the county, and in common fairness it would be admitted that the two should bear the burden equally. But what did the Bill say? That when the road was the boundary between county and burgh, the burgh should maintain it all. He could go further into details, but would merely revert again to the fact that the Bill could not be put into operation except by the Commissioners of Supply.


said, the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) had touched on the blots of the Bill so well, that it was almost unnecessary for him to say anything, except that he agreed with what the hon. Member had said. The Bill would throw all the power into the hands of the landlords, for not only wa3 the initiative entirely with the Commissioners of Supply, who were the landlords, and their eldest sons, but the whole subsequent management would be the same. Tenants were almost entirely ignored, and ratepayers were also almost entirely ignored. That was a blot in this Bill which must be most carefully considered. Last year he had an Amendment down to make the trusts better by making them to consist of one-third landlords, one-third tenants, and one-third ratepayers, and he should this year move Amendments to the same effect.


said, he was very glad the Government had introduced this Bill, and he was certainly prepared to give it his support. Last year he laid one or two Amendments to the Bill upon the Table, the effect of which was to enable counties which had no Bills of their own to adopt portions of it. It was particularly useful to counties which had bridges in common. Last year his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate agreed to these Amendments; and he trusted he would permit this Bill—not the whole Bill, but such portion of the Bill as the Commissioners might agree upon, to be incorporated instead of the whole Act. That was the principal Amendment, he suggested, so far as regarded counties that had not Bills. Though he was prepared to support this Bill, he sympathized with the observations of the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr (Sir William Cuning-hame), about the burdens placed on land. If they would look at the Returns he got two years ago as to the financial accounts of Scotch counties, they would see what the assessments were. He would not trouble them with details, but in the county of Aberdeen, where the valuation of the county was £700,000 a-year, the cost that had been placed upon that county was £20,000 a-year. That was a very heavy assessment undoubtedly; but he was not prepared to maintain that the maintenance of roads was not a legitimate burden to put upon laud. He thought it was a legitimate burden; but, on the other hand, they so often found in this House burdens placed on the land which were not legitimate, that one was almost inclined to resist those which were legitimate. Whenever there was in this House any proposal to relieve the land, the invariable argument was that the landlords got their property with these burdens, which they must bear. That was an argument he had heard over and over again, when there was any proposal to relieve the land. What had Parliament done within the last six or seven years in Scotland? It had imposed an assessment for education—they would find in some counties it amounted to so much as 10d. in the pound, while the assessments for roads reached 7d. or 8d. a pound—and they were perpetually accumulating burdens on land, while there was never anything proposed, such as the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren), for doing away with church rates; but everybody was shocked at the proposal of relieving the land from not only the maintenance of the Church, but of relieving it of anything. Although he was not prepared to offer any opposition to this Bill, he hoped the Government would feel that having placed the burden of repairing roads entirely on the land, under the system they contemplated, they would relieve the landlords by throwing on other shoulders the maintenance of some of those county burdens.


thanked the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, for introducing this Bill at so early a period. There were, no doubt, many great defects in the Bill which must be dealt with when it came into Committee. But he thought this was a Bill that could be passed in a proper shape, so as generally to please the people of Scotland. This roads and bridges matter had agitated Scotland for a great number of years past. He was quite sure when the Bill came into Committee, many of its provisions would be rectified. He had no doubt that the Lord Advocate would give them some statement in regard to the clauses of this Bill, which differed from that introduced last year, when the Bill came into Committee. He thought the Bill would generally be acceptable, with the Amendments that would be made on it in passing through Committee.


Sir, whilst it is very obvious, from the course of the discussion that has taken place tonight, that Scotch Members generally approve of the principle of this Bill, in so far as that principle consists of the abolition of tolls, and the maintenance of roads by an assessment upon owners and occupiers of land, it is equally obvious that in regard to some, and these not unimportant, details of the measure, there is a considerable amount of difference of opinion amongst Scotch Members; and in the course of this discussion it can hardly have failed to be remarked that what some hon. Gentlemen have selected as the leading defects of the Bill have been studiously dwelt upon by others as the prominent merits of the measure. I think it is rather unfortunate, seeing that there has been Notice given that at a future stage some attempt will be made to object to the principle of the Bill, that we should have been discussing nothing to-night except matters most proper for discussion in Committee of this House. Well, in regard to that which is the proper subject of discussion at this stage of the Bill—namely, its principle—we have only had one faint note of objection, not carried to any practical conclusion, by the hon. Member the Representative of the Ayr Burghs (Sir William Cuninghame). I do not intend to enter into a discussion upon these parts of the Bill which have been mooted to-night. I am quite aware that the measure will be discussed, and very fairly discussed, and I trust that after discussion in Committee the Bill will form a measure which will prove suitable to the wants of the people of Scotland. I know that the question as to the time when it should come into operation is a delicate one, but there are many considerations in connection with that point which must not be disregarded in disposing of the, question. There are counties in Scotland, many of them, which are very peculiar in their circumstances, and I can honestly say that if one were legislating for Aberdeen and Forfar alone, there are many difficult problems which must be dealt with in this Bill; but which, in the case of these counties, it would not be necessary to deal with at all. But there are mining and other counties north of the Tweed in which contracts have been entered into on the faith of certain existing arrangements, which would be prejudicially effected by the instant adoption of this Bill in a compulsory form, unless some stops wore taken to guard them against that disturbance. As to the question of tolls, I admit that that is a difficult subject, if it is to be put in the power of counties to postpone the adoption of the Bill. But these roads must in the meantime be provided for, because in Scotland we have not the power as you have in England of levying a local rate, and the result would be that the ratepayers, when the Bill was adopted, would find the roads useless, if the means of maintaining them were not to be had meanwhile by levying a toll. Then there is the question of the Road Board, which has been raised by the hon. Mem- ber for Forfar (Mr. J. W. Barclay). I do not intend to argue that question with him to-night, but I wish to point out to the House that the functions and character of that Board are not precisely what he seems to apprehend. Following the example shown in the local Acts which have been referred to—that for Aberdeenshire in particular—the administration of the roads in county districts is to be given to a District Committee, and not to the Road Board. This Board, consisting of 30 members, is merely to be a Standing Committee. In some counties, if it were otherwise provided, you would have an unwieldy Committee, consisting of many hundred trustees. The Road Board, as you will see by referring to the 15th section of the Bill, must act subject in all respects to the directions and instructions of the general body of trustees. They have not the power of appointing district trustees. They have not the power of levying assessments. They have no power, other than of doing the work which may be deputed to them, subject to the direction of the general body of trustees. Then there is the question of Glasgow and the adjoining counties, a question which, though a local one, is, I admit, of great importance. There is no clause in the Bill dealing with that part of the subject, but I trust to be able to communicate to those interested in this question clauses bearing upon it, and designed to settle the question; and I also must, at the same time that I make the intimation, express a hope, and a very confident hope, that from such great bodies as the municipality of Glasgow and the corporations of those numerous burghs that lie upon the outskirts of that great city, together with the two counties, I will receive a considerable measure of assistance in framing clauses for the purpose of adjusting that which may fairly and reasonably be made matter of settlement between them. Failing that, I must endeavour to lay before the House such clauses as I consider just, in order that they may be disposed of by Parliament. Then, as far as regards small burghs, I content myself by saying, in answer to the observations made by the hon. Member for the Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir George Campbell), that the provisions of this Bill are in reality of the same character as those contained in the previous Bill. I am not aware of any substantial alteration made upon them. Reference has been made by the hon. the senior Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) as to certain clauses conferring powers to shut up roads. I have simply to say in regard to these that the only roads comprehended in this Bill are turnpike roads and statute labour roads, and that the general Acts which regulate these highways in Scotland contain powers exactly similar to those which it is proposed to confer upon the trustees under the Roads and Bridges Act. I am not aware that by the trustees these powers have ever been made matter of abuse or complaint. I am quite aware that complaints have been made of roads being shut up in Scotland; but the senior Member for Edinburgh can hardly fail to be aware that there are in these Scottish glens he referred to, a great number of rights of way, the property of the community, which are neither turnpike nor statute labour roads, and there is no power to shut them up except they are disused by the people. I do not propose to deal with that question at all. There have been competitions between the public and proprietors as to rights of way; but, so far as I understand the law of Scotland, such rights of way which are acquired by public uses cannot be shut up by the trustees of turnpike or statute labour roads. They may be disused for 40 years, and the public lose their rights. I do not propose to give power to shut up these, and the present Bill does nothing except to transfer from the existing trustees the powers which they already possess. I have avoided as much as possible any controversial matters in the remarks which I have addressed to the House, and in bringing these observations to a close, I have only to express the hope that the salient points upon which Scotch Members differ will be discussed and decided on an early day in Committee of the House.


asked when the Bill was likely to go into Committee?


Sir, I am unable to give a definite answer to the Question at present, but I hope to be able to state to-morrow (Friday) when the measure will be proceeded with. One word as to an observation which fell from the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren). The hon. Gentleman has referred to certain remarks which I made upon a particular occasion; but I would like to point out to him that when the remarks were uttered to which he referred, I was speaking of the Turnpike Acts Continuance Bill, and of that measure simply and entirely.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.