HC Deb 06 July 1880 vol 253 cc1814-8

in rising to call the attention of the House to the expense of maintaining Main Roads, and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is not just that the cost of the maintenance of Main Roads should he wholly and entirely home by the Local Rates, said, that a Petition on the subject, very numerously signed, had been presented from the county of Somerset, in which it was alleged that, owing to the abolition of turnpikes, a grievous burden had been thrown on the agricultural interest for the purpose of keeping the roads in repair; and he hoped the Government would not lightly set aside the claims of Petitioners to be heard because those claims were urged with moderation.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


resumed. He held in his hand a Return which showed that there were 10,000 miles of main roads, which were maintained at an expense of £300,000—an average of £31 per mile—while the mileage of roads not main roads was 57,000, and the average cost per mile £14. The main roads were intended for the benefit of the community, and without them the ordinary commercial enterprizes of the country could not be carried on. The burden of maintaining them, however, fell solely upon the ratepayers, who justly held that they were aggrieved. When the turnpike system was in vogue the burden of maintenance was borne by the public at large; but, by the abolition of the system, the burden, to the extent of £500,000 a-year, was transferred to the shoulders of the ratepayers—in other words, partly on the owner and partly on the occupier. That, he contended, was unjust and unreasonable. The question was, Who was to pay for the maintenance of the highways? It would be said that the proper persons to pay were the landlords. That was one of the stock arguments which were always being brought forward. But it was an argument which ought at once to be thrown aside. The Amendment which had been brought forward was no Amendment at all. It was said that the cost of maintaining the roads ought to be borne by the occupiers. But that position was entirely untenable. Then it was said that there ought to be a division of the rates. But he felt sure that no relief would be obtained in that way. He thought that no satisfactory settlement would be reached until they reverted to the principles which were adopted in earlier days, when all who used the roads wore made to pay for their maintenance and repair. Those principles were laid down in a well-known Statute, the 43rd Elizabeth, which provided that the liability to pay should be in proportion to the ability to pay. Everybody had to supply labour for the maintenance of the roads with horses and carts, and, if he had no horses or carts, with personal labour. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were much interested in the Land Question, and were, many of them, anxious to create a peasant proprietary; but, in the present state of things, the burdens on land were so great that nobody would be anxious to take them upon his shoulders. He wanted to draw attention to one fact— the progress of personalty and realty. They were both progressing year by year; but while realty—land and houses —was making steady advances, personalty was advancing by leaps and bounds. Now, what he maintained was this—that, in view of the these facts, every Chancellor of the Exchequer should carefully consider the adjustment of taxation, and should maintain it without considering how it affected these two classes of property. Under the auspices of the late Government advances were made in aid of local taxation; but the new charges had absorbed the whole of the recent subventions. He pointed out these evils; it was no part of his business to find a remedy; but there were more ways than one of meeting the evil. One was the method of subvention out of Imperial funds, with which they were all familiar. Then there was the Bill which had been laid on the Table for the establishment of a horse tax, in order to create a fund in aid of the roads. It had also been suggested that the assessed taxes should be thus employed. It had further been suggested—a suggestion which he was inclined to think the most feasible—that the dog tax should be handed over to the local authorities in aid of the maintenance of roads. A few years ago the Commissioners of Inland Revenue recommended—what was now practically carried out—that the dog tax should be collected by the county police. Moreover, in Ireland, the dog tax was handed over to the local authorities, and that was a precedent entirely in point. The amount of the dog tax received in 1878 was £371,000, and a Return made up to Lady Day in the next year brought it up to £422,000. The allocation of a tax which might be collected in the country and applied to country uses, as was done in Ireland, would be a lit mode of meeting a just and reasonable claim. The Highway Act had had the effect of introducing a classification of roads, and if the State singled out the main roads as entitled to such a contribution for their maintenance they would be found ready to its hand. In conclusion, he might say that the grievances of the English farmers were not urged with the vehemence with which those of their brethren in the sister Island were often put forward; but they ought not on that account to receive less consideration from the House, for there was no question to which attention was so much turned in the rural districts as the one included in his present Motion. This question should not be pooh-poohed. The farmers of the country asked, not for favour, but for justice. They would be found among the most loyal of the people. "These burdens," they said, "are new; they were imposed at a time when we were afflicted, and we have a right to ask that these things should be carefully considered." This was no imaginary grievance. The demand was moderate, and he had urged it temperately. He begged to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, it is not just that the cost of maintenance of Slain Roads should he wholly and entirely home by the. Local Rates."—(Mr. Richard Paget.)


said, this question was, as hishon. Friend (Mr.R. H. Paget) had stated, one of great and ever pressing importance. Most county Members on that side of the House, who had to attend Vestry and other meetings of their constituents, in the course of the Recess, must have remarked what very great importance appeared to be attached to the subject in the minds of their rural constituents. He could only say, for himself, that whereas foreign affairs were in a troubled condition, and Members of Parliament sometimes addressed harangues, treating of Eastern and other foreign questions to their constituents, their remarks on those subjects fell comparatively flat on the ears of the audience, compared with the avidity with which they listened to any allusions to agricultural questions, and more especially when they treated of the highway grievance. That, he thought, was the experience of almost all of them; and they felt very strongly that the Session ought not to pass by without a new Parliament and a new Government having their attention directed as forcibly as possible to the pressing importance of this question. His hon. Friend had narrated, with great accuracy, the history of the question. There was no doubt that turnpikes, for some time past, had been felt to be a doomed institution. Whatever their merits, and, as his hon. Friend very properly said, they were constituted on the principle that those who used roads should pay for them, and that they should pay for them just in proportion to the amount in which they used them, still they were, to a certain extent, an anachronism, dating back to the time when road traffic was much more important, before the introduction of railways, and when the relative cost of collection was nothing like so great as at present. When the cost of collection, in some cases, amounted to something like 30 per cent on the total receipts, it became evident that an institution such as that of turnpikes could no longer be reckoned among the permanent institutions of the country. Well, the way in which this matter first came before the public was in consequence of the injustice and the hardships of the piecemeal disturnpiking of roads. Every year most of the country Members had applications made to them, from districts scheduled, for disturnpiking by the Turnpike Committee, and every year some victims were selected for a termination of their precarious existence. The Turnpike Committee in 1877 made a Report, which showed the embarrassment which they experienced in dealing with those matters. They said the circumstances of the several trusts varied so much that it was impossible to apply any one rule. In some districts the turnpike road formed a thoroughfare between two populous towns, and almost assumed the character of a street, large sums being paid out of the tolls for lighting and watering. They continued— In such cases, and where no agricultural district intervened, your Committee had no difficulty in recommending that the Trust should he discontinued. But no greater cases of prospective hardship in parishes came before your Committee than where a line of road, with a very heavy mineral traffic, between two towns, or to and from a railway station, passed for a considerable distance through agricultural parishes. And the next sentence was important, because they said— Whatever may be the provision for other parts of the country, it seems to your Committee that some general provision will have to be made to meet the cases.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjourned at half after Twelve o'clock.