HC Deb 28 June 1878 vol 241 cc450-65

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Sclater-Booth.)


in rising to move, as an Amendment— That this House regrets to find in the Highways Bill, as now proposed to be re-committed, no adequate provision for obtaining from those classes whose traffic most conduces to the wear and tear of the main roads in England and Wales, some proportionate contribution towards the maintenance of such roads; and that, in the opinion of this House, no settlement of this question can be final or complete which does not include such provision, said, that the history of the Highways Bill of this Session had been a very peculiar one. At the beginning of the Session a Bill was introduced which was described by the President of the Local Government Board as an omnibus Bill, and which practically contained no principle except that of union chargeability for Highway Boards. If that Bill had followed the usual course, there would have been no necessity for considering it at any length either in Committee or afterwards. But in the course of the Session the whole policy of the Government had undergone re-consideration. On coming down to the House one day, he found that there had been a general transmigration of clauses from the County Boards Bill into this measure, the County Boards Bill was not to be proceeded with this Session, and the Highways Bill, as amended, was to be pressed on the House. Under these circumstances, the matter had assumed a different aspect, and it now became necessary to consider seriously what would be the effect of the Bill so amended. One might as well expect the restoration of the Heptarchy as of turnpike tolls; but there was at least this to be said in their favour, that they made the people who used the roads pay for them. The old system of turnpikes was, he maintained, good in principle, because it involved a direct payment for the benefit of the general community; but, on the other hand, it was bad in practice, because it involved a good deal of annoyance to the public. But to abolish turnpike tolls without directly taxing in some other way those who now paid them, would be to grant a great relief to some classes at the expense of the general community, and a mere re-adjustment of machinery for such purposes could not be considered as a satisfactory settlement of the question. In 1876 his right hon. Friend brought in a Bill to deal with the ques- tion, and he very much preferred that Bill to the one which had been introduced this year. The Bill of 1876 dealt more fairly with the average traveller than any other measure that had been proposed, while it afforded a certain amount of alleviation of the grievances the ratepayers would otherwise suffer from. He understood that his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board relied principally upon the extraordinary traffic clause in the Bill to mitigate the undoubted grievance under which the ratepayers would suffer after the abolition of turnpikes. He might say that the Scotch Members were satisfied with that clause in their Roads and Bridges Bill. He (Mr. J. R. Yorke) admitted that generally the Scotch made pretty good terms for themselves in that House as elsewhere; but they must remember that the Scotch occupier was in a very much better position than the English occupier. The former only paid half the rate, and under the Roads and Bridges Bill the assessment for debts on roads and the payment of interest would fall upon the owner. There were several ways in which the inequalities which would come in operation if turnpikes were abolished might be mitigated. If the Government had passed the County Boards Bill, and established a proper authority to administer any funds paid over to them from the Imperial Exchequer, they would be in a much better position to deal with the question. The system of graduated rental which prevailed in Scotland might, for instance, be adopted. So well had that system worked that the Scotch Poor Law Amendment Act of 1866 proposed to make it compulsory. That Act contained an exceedingly stringent clause, giving the sheriff powers to assess exceptional businesses which carried on exceptional traffic. The principle embodied in that was not entirely new, for the germ of it was to be found in English legislation. All the less difficulty, therefore, would be experienced in adopting, or, rather, adapting it. Some people would not be satisfied with less than one-half the amount of the expense of the rates being paid out of the Consolidated Fund. He was not prepared to go so far as that. He did not wish to see the principle of grants in aid from the Consolidated Fund extended any further, because it had a tendency to centralization and to weaken local authority. It had been suggested by his hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire that local licences should be granted for local purposes. He did not see why we should not have a graduated scale of licences according to the damage likely to be done to the roads. A gentleman of great experience, who for 20 years had been the principal manager of the South Wales turnpike roads, in which six counties were combined, had given evidence to the effect that those who kept horses and carriages should not be placed on the same footing as those who did not. He therefore suggested that the licences for those who kept horses and carriages should be increased 20 per cent, or to such other amount as might be thought necessary; and he added that to abolish tolls, unless the parties who now paid them were taxed directly in some way or other, was granting a great relief to a small section at the expense of the general public. That was his whole case. He thought the best settlement would be that the main roads should be laid entirely on the county fund, that the Quarter Sessions should be added as a contributory area, and that the rates should be supplemented by increased local licences for carriages. His fear was that we should have a sham settlement on the plea that something must be done. There was a widespread idea in the county to which he belonged that the Government had no really comprehensive scheme for adjusting the contributions which ought to be made by the different classes of the community. Unless that was done no measure would be complete. He begged to move his Amendment.


in seconding the Amendment, said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to accept it. He could not believe that the Government, which had already relieved the burdens of the local ratepayers, would be deaf to the representations which had now been made to them. The point to be borne in mind was, that it was proposed by the Bill to throw on the rural ratepayers, only a fraction of the community, charges which ought in fairness to be borne by a larger area. The amount of taxation that fell on the rural taxpayer was excessive. He ventured to say that the rural tax- payer paid something like 30 per cent more than any other taxpayer, while most of the money was applied to general, and not local, purposes. There was tithe and rates equal to about 5s. in the pound; then there was land tax and education tax, equal to another 1s. in the pound. Hon. Members were accustomed to consider tithes as an immemorial rent-charge; but that was a mistake. It was paid partly and chiefly as poor rate. It was a trust with a distinct purpose and object. The trust had been broken, and the money, to a great extent, alienated from its purpose; but the object remained. He did not suggest any present alteration—at least, not until the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich came down there to propose that the time had come to disestablish the Church of England. Whenever that time arrived, there might, perhaps, be something to be said. Now, as regarded these turnpike roads, it would not be correct to suppose that they were merely local highways. They were used frequently for heavy through traffic. As to the practical solution of the question, his hon. Friend had suggested one or two solutions. He talked of a Government grant; and this might be the simplest way. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer were present, no doubt, he would say, "No, no," to this proposal; but the amount that would be required would not be very much. A quarter or half-a-million would be all that would be required. It would be quite possible to raise this sum out of the assessed taxes, or it would not come to half a farthing of income tax; but there were hon. Members who were quite willing to propose some contribution to this object who would not be disposed to throw it on these funds. The hon. Member for East Gloucestershire rather pointed to local licences; and this, perhaps, would be the most practical mode of meeting the question. He thought some of the smaller licences, the dog tax, and the gun tax, might be handed over to local bodies. He believed those taxes would be better looked after by the local authorities than by officers representing central authorities. They had heard yesterday of 17,000 prosecutions for dog licences. If the tax were handed over to the local authorities, they would be considerably reduced. Reference had been made to the inclusion of boroughs in the county areas, but he did not think that arrangement would amount to any adequate relief. He might refer to the case of South Wales, where of a total of £78,000 £75,000 was raised by tolls and £3,000 only raised by rates. The cases of Scot land and Ireland did not bear on the subject; but in neither case was the expense thrown on the highway district. In Ireland the barony or the county had to pay, and in Scotland the expense also fell upon the county, and not upon the smaller districts, or what were called highway districts; and there was the precedent of Glasgow for charging a portion of this burden upon other property. He hoped the Government would take this question into consideration, and that his hon. Friend would then consent to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House regrets to find in the Highways Bill, as now proposed to be re-committed, no adequate provision for obtaining from those classes whose traffic most conduces to the wear and tear of the main roads in England and Wales, some proportionate contribution towards the maintenance of such roads; and that, in the opinion of this House, no settlement of this question can he final or complete which does not include such provision,"—(Mr. Reginald Yorke,) —instead thereof.

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


said, they had just listened to a speech on local taxation of a much too wide and general character to be applicable to a Highway Bill. His hon. Friend the Member for East Gloucestershire (Mr. J. R. Yorke) said that, in the opinion of the House, on settlement could be final or complete which did not include the provision he desired, but it might be added, that, even if the Bill did include this provision, it could not be regarded either as final or complete. Of all the questions which were brought before that House, the one that varied most, according to the circumstances of the day, was that which was connected with our local life. He considered that the Bill was a very useful one, its main principle being the simplification of highway management; and it also settled other points on which simplification was very much desired, and for which it was right the President of the Local Government Board should legislate. The Amendment related only to one clause, and could be better discussed in Committee. He hoped that the Amendment would not be pressed, and that the House would go into Committee on the Bill without further delay.


supported the Motion. In former times, when the main roads were turnpike roads, the cost of their maintenance was borne by those who used them, and he, for one, should not be sorry to see the old system reverted to; but, in the absence of that, he thought the ratepayers in the country districts were entitled to receive some assistance from the Consolidated Fund. This would be only fair; it would be no particular hardship upon any class, and would, he believed, meet the views and wishes of the country ratepayers. But, beyond that, there was still the question of the enlargement of the area over which the rating for the purposes of the Bill should be taken. That was a question well worthy of the attention of the Government, and he hoped it would be duly considered. There should be also, in his opinion, a tax on carriages or wheels, so as to compel, to a greater extent than was at present the case, those who used the roads to pay for them. He thought the Amendment expressed the feeling of the country, and he believed that any act dealing with the highways would not have the slightest chance of going on for a moderately long time unless something were done to assist those people who, only sharing n the value of the roads, yet had the whole burden of their maintenance thrown upon their shoulders.


agreed with the Amendment, and contended that the Bill did not grapple with the main question. He thought it was hard upon the inhabitants of small parishes to compel them to maintain entirely at their own cost roads which were really of little or no use to them as individuals. As a matter of fact, the Bill in the form in which it was before the House was a mere piece of patchwork. Let the measure be thoroughly thought out, and let it cover the whole area of the question. He did not think the country districts wanted any help from the Consolidated Fund; but they could have local licences, like a wheel licence, and he did not think his friends, the farmers, would quarrel with a wheel licence. What the farmer did not like was that a number of people should use the roads to a great extent and not pay for them. In his part of the country there were two or three timber merchants, one employing 20 or 22 horses, and another employing 15, always working on the roads. Neither of these men were rated at more than £70 a-year, while many of the farmers might be rated at £700 or £800 a-year, and the farmers did not use the roads one-tenth part of these timber merchants. Now, that was not right. Why not grapple with the whole question in another Session, and let the country have a comprehensive measure?


said, there was also a township in Yorkshire through which a heavy stone traffic passed, cutting up the roads. The township received little or no benefit for that traffic, and he wished to know if Clause 18, or any other clause in the Bill, would prevent the whole expense of maintaining the roads from falling upon that township alone?


said, that, so far from agreeing with the arguments of the hon. Member who had proposed this Amendment, he thought, on the contrary, that boroughs ought to be relieved of a great deal of the taxes which at present pressed upon them, and for which no good reason could be shown. There were three classes of boroughs—first, those which were under urban sanitary authorities, who had no Quarter Sessions of their own, and with respect to these it appeared to him that the proposals of the Bill were fair, because it acknowledged a reciprocal obligation. Second, there was a class of boroughs which, having Quarter Sessions of their own, were not required to contribute to the county rate, and in their case also he considered there was no objection to the proposals of the Bill. But there was, third, a class of boroughs such as Birmingham, which, although they had Quarter Sessions of their own, were obliged to contribute to the county rate. They were asked to pay one-half towards the maintenance of the county roads without obtaining from the county any return in the shape of a contribution to the repair and maintenance of its roads and streets, which were used much more by the inhabitants of the county than the county roads were by the people of Birmingham. He could not support the Amendment of the hon. Member. When the Bill came into Committee, he himself would propose certain Amendments to prevent such a borough as Birmingham from making any contribution to such roads.


was sorry that the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) had raised an invidious distinction between counties and boroughs in reference to this matter of keeping up the roads. Boroughs had quite as much interest in keeping up good roads in the country as the country itself. If the boroughs kept up their streets, the county districts had to keep up their highways. He had been waiting so many years for a Highway Bill, that he was only too glad to jump at any measure that was brought forward. This was not such a very small Bill after all, and he was sincerely obliged to the Government for having listened to the recent Report of the Turnpike Roads Committee, of which he was a Member. He hoped that the Bill would be passed this Session, and, if necessary, it could be amended another year. So anxious was he that this Bill should pass, that he had almost resolved not to speak on the subject nor to move any Amendment. There was, however, one Amendment which he should bring forward at the proper time, to the effect that the Bill should be made compulsory throughout England and Wales.


said, he could hardly support the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for East Gloucestershire, because the time had passed away when they could lay an embargo upon either wheels or horses for the maintenance of roads. There was no wish to receive money from the boroughs towards the maintenance of the roads in the county districts without adequate remuneration. It should be borne in mind that, owing to the enormous increase of traffic, the provision originally made for keeping the roads in repair was now quite inadequate, and a measure dealing with the question was greatly required. He suggested that the repairs of the roads should be thrown on the hundreds of the various counties. Although he had to thank the President of the Local Government Board for introducing this measure, yet he thought it must be made compulsory, if it were to do any good. He should be ready in Committee to assist in making the Bill useful and beneficial to the country generally.


said, that as he lived in a district which was largely composed of stone quarries, he was most thankful to the President of the Local Government Board for the "extraordinary traffic clause," as it was called. A feeling prevailed that it was unjust to endeavour to make those who did not use the roads in their own neighbourhoods repair them. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire would consider together whether a supplementary clause could not be inserted, for the purpose of giving special licences to men in a large way of business, particularly stone-quarry owners, with a view to the rectification of some of the grievances complained of.


thought it a pity that so much time should have been taken up in discussing what he could not help regarding as an obstructive Amendment, because the points which had been raised could have been more satisfactorily dealt with in Committee on the Bill. The Bill did not go so far in many respects as he could have wished. It was a mistake on the part of the Government in attempting to deal with so many separate measures having a bearing on the same subject this Session. The highways of the country should be dealt with in a more comprehensive measure. What he wished to see constituted was a central authority which should deal with the roads, and the roads themselves divided into different classes—one to be maintained out of the general rates of the counties, and the other to be looked after by district highway authorities, and a third and smaller class, which might possibly have a claim to contribution from Imperial taxation. The Bill appeared, with two or three exceptions, to be a practical measure, likely to do some service, and he expressed a hope that the House would be allowed to go into Committee on the Bill.


said, he could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that time was wasted in discussing the Amendment. Since the withdrawal of the County Board Bill, the Highways Bill had been, practically, re-modelled; and it was right, therefore, to take the present opportunity of discussing it before going into Committee, and such discussion would be most useful, because it would simplify their proceedings in Committee. As a Member of the Turnpikes Continuance Act Committee, he agreed with the noble Lord the Member for Derbyshire (Lord George Cavendish), that they were all most anxious for a comprehensive measure on this subject; but he did not agree with him in saying that he was anxious to see a measure passed under any circumstances. It would be a mistake to pass a Bill now which would have to be amended next year. Their object ought to be to pass a good measure, which would deal effectually with the evils which were generally acknowledged, and would not require speedy amendment. In his opinion, no highway legislation would prove effectual and useful unless there was a uniform system of road management for the whole country. Tolls were not liked, but a system of licences for locomotives, and other vehicles, to use the various roads, should be issued, and thus contributions could be had in aid of the main roads of the country. If some provision of this kind were introduced, it would render the measure more equitable; but without it there would be little to compensate for the expenses which the additional machinery of the Bill would involve. At the present time, when the taxation of the country was so heavy, they could not expect aid from the Exchequer for carrying out the objects of the Bill; but he hoped it would be given at some future day, when the House might pass a Highway Bill which would be beneficial to the country.


said, he had heard with great regret a statement of the noble Lord (Lord George Cavendish), whose position in the House rendered him so great an authority on the subject they were considering, that he was so anxious for a Highway Bill that he would accept anything the Government chose to offer. That was hardly the spirit in which they should address themselves to a question which was of permanent importance. They were asked by the Government to deal with a number of subjects this Session, all of which were intimately connected with the pro- gress and well-being of the country, and they were asked to deal with, them in a very slip-shod manner by means of measures which did not even pretend to be permanent. If turnpikes were done away with, an equitable arrangement should be made for the maintenance of the roads. A certain portion of the charge of the roads which ceased to be turnpikes should be thrown upon the county funds. That was a fair and reasonable proposition, although he did not believe that they could meet every possible case. They were asked to do one thing which, he thought, very objectionable, to give the county authority power to levy more taxation upon the boroughs, when these boroughs had not the slightest voice in the composition of the county authority. The Bill would fail in the object of securing compulsory highway districts; and as regarded providing a county authority fairly representative of the ratepayers at large, that authority would consist of gentlemen who found themselves in the position, not in virtue of any election, but because they had been selected by one gentleman—the Lord Lieutenant of the county.


said, he gathered from the tone of the discussion that the feeling of the House was in favour of the Bill being proceeded with, and that its details should be considered in Committee without delay. With reference to a remark which had fallen from the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Rylands), he agreed that the county authorities would have an opportunity of taking up other roads and placing them on the same footing as main roads; but their inclinations and their prejudices would be all the other way. The hon. Mover of the Amendment had complained that the Government had not provided any really new proposal in the Bill. The Government lay under no charge of injustice on the score of not providing a mode of taxation towards which the general public might contribute to the maintenance of roads, because it was the common law of England that the roads should be supported by the rates of the districts through which they ran. It was unjust to say that the general public should pay for roads which only a particular class used to any extent for general wear and tear. It was mainly in consequence of repeated suggestions by the Turnpike Committee that the Government thought it necessary to revert to the proposals of the Bill of 1876, which would at once enable the county authority to begin by setting apart certain roads in a way that could not be objected to. There were many parts where there was no feeling in favour of the turnpike toll system, and where, on the whole, the ratepayers were well satisfied with the present arrangement, and thought the expenses were best charged on the rateable property of the county. Several of the suggestions that had been made had been carefully considered by the Government before the introduction of the Bill, and among these was the suggestion that a tax should be imposed on the wheels of carriages. But such a tax must be levied on the whole community, and, if it were, the annoyance and irritation it would cause would be out of all proportion to the revenue it would yield. Ratepayers generally would be better satisfied that the charge should be imposed on rental than it should be imposed on the means of locomotion. If a charge were imposed upon brewers, for instance, it would simply be distributed among their customers, and so be paid by the general body of consumers. The Bill, nevertheless, did set up for the first time in the English counties a fund irrespective of rates, and this was the beginning of a system which could be developed into substantial aid in the repair of roads. With regard to the extraordinary traffic clause, the object of its introduction was to raise the question whether, by any means, some extra contributions could be obtained by taxing heavy traffic that caused excessive damage to roads. The Scotch Bill had adopted a similar clause. He was sorry to have to apologize for the form of the Bill, and to answer the charge of putting the cart before the horse; but last year the Government were obliged to withdraw a Bill, the only objection to which was that it involved the re-enactment of old laws. When comprehensive measures were met with such objections, there was no encouragement to introduce them. With reference to the Resolution, there could be no quarrel about the substance of it. The Bill was intended to be preliminary to a general measure of consolidation of the highway law, and to another general measure affecting loco- motives on roads. Such a measure had been passed in relation to the public health, and such was contemplated with regard to the Poor Laws by the measures of amendment which had been carried through Parliament. This was the justification of the Government for bringing forward the Bill in its present shape, and making the main roads a charge on the county rate. With regard to the case of Birmingham, he believed the present law was, that in the towns which were under the Municipal Corporations Act, and where a separate court of Quarter Sessions had been established, no fresh levy of county rates would be made, except in respect of charges to which they were previously liable. He asked the House to be content with such measures of reform as the Government had the opportunity of submitting to Parliament—reforms which would facilitate the passing of more comprehensive measures. He hoped the House would now permit the Speaker to leave the Chair.


also hoped the House would go into Committee, although the Bill was a half-hearted measure, and did not carry out the good old principle, that those who used the roads ought to pay for them. The old turnpike system had been very much objected to; but public opinion was rapidly coming round to the view that, except in some special circumstances, that system was the only one of dealing with the difficulties of the subject. The highway district over which he presided would derive no advantage from the Bill, but would have to contribute £200 or £300 a-year to the county rate, in addition to bearing the establishment charges, which it had been the object of the Board to keep down for the last 10 or 15 years. Highway districts were not always found to work so satisfactorily as seemed to be supposed. He had seen as much extravagance and jobbery under highway districts as he had seen under the old system; but there was one in which they never failed, and that was to increase the rates. He hoped the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire would not press his Amendment, but would allow them to go into Committee upon the Bill.


asked the President of the Local Government Board, whether, in the event of the House going into Committee on the Bill, it was his intention to proceed with it at once?


replied, that he should be in the hands of the Committee, and would not insist on going on with it if the general feeling of the Committee were opposed to that course.


said, that the exact interpretation to put upon the words "county rate" was a question of great importance, and there seemed to be some difference on the point. For his own part, he thought it was fair and reasonable that Quarter Sessions boroughs should be made to contribute to the roads.


said, the Amendment might be taken as a protest against the way in which the Government had arranged their Business with respect to three or four important subjects. The Valuation Bill would have been quite enough to have occupied their attention; but suddenly the Highways Bill, without any adequate discussion, was pushed forward. There was no doubt what the object of the Government was. They wanted to get the Speaker out of the Chair, and after that the Bill would be laid aside until the closing days of the Session, when the Government would have its provisions absolutely at their disposal. He thought that they should have some assurance when the Bill was to be proceeded with, and whether it was to be taken before or after the Valuation Bill, or whether the two were to run interlaced with one another. The present Bill offered a very poor alternative for the County Government Boards which would have been constituted under the Bill which the Government had abandoned. He should, therefore, in the event of a division, vote in support of the Amendment, and hoped that they would now be allowed to proceed first with the Valuation Bill or the County Government Bill.


thought that, on the whole, the Bill was likely to meet most of the difficulties which had been experienced in regard to this question. In the part of the country with which he was connected, they would infinitely prefer to have the highways settled very much on the lines indicated in the Government measure, rather than have the County Government Bill pressed on this Session. There were some points to be considered in Committee, but he hoped they would be allowed to proceed with, the Bill.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 256; Noes 47: Majority 209.—(Div. List, No. 189.)

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Preamble postponed.

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