§ MR. E. W. HARCOURT,
in rising to move a Resolution to the effect that part of the maintenance of main roads ought to be defrayed from other sources than county rates, said: Sir, we maintain that, in the present depressed state of the agricultural interests it would be manifestly unfair to lay upon the land any inordinate burdens. We maintain that it would be unfair to tax exclusively 43 particular class of property for benefits which are received by the whole country; and we say that if we find the income of the country amounts to £900,000,000, and if only about £250,000,000 is assessed for local rates, and if £650,000,000 pays nothing whatever under this head, then a gross injustice is being perpetrated. Why, may we ask, should such partiality be exercised in matters which concern all householders alike, whether their incomes are derived from personal or from real property? Some justice has been done in these respects in the matter of the county police; but there is another thing which presses very heavily and with great inequality upon the county ratepayers, and that is the highway rate. In the days of turnpikes, each man paid for the roads according to the use he made of them—a fairer arrangement could not be conceived—now, however, the unfortunate individual through whose lands the highways may pass are made to pay, not only for the accommodation which they themselves receive, but for the benefit received by the general public. Benefit received is a very fair test—I may say the only fair test—for the imposition of taxation for local purposes. I do not suppose that turnpikes will ever be restored. The inconvenience of putting your hand into your pocket to satisfy the toll-keeper was the cause of doing away with a just impost. The alternative which has been resorted to of making a portion of the public pay for the accommodation of the whole is founded upon no equitable basis. Why, we may well ask, shall a brewer who has been in the habit of paying £500 or £1,000 per annum in tolls for the use of the roads over which he has conveyed the beer with which he has supplied his customers suddenly find himself delivered from this expense, without any benefit to the public in a reduction in the price of beer; and why should this bounty be taken from the scantily filled pockets of the rural classes alone? It may be argued, neither would it be fair that the unbenefited public should be taxed for the sake of greasing the brewer's wheels; granted, but it would be unfairer still that a small portion of the public should bear the whole of the burden, and that small portion, too, which is also so heavily taxed in the matter of poor rates and school rates. I suppose that the public at large, who 44 have no interest in inquiring into these things, are utterly ignorant of the extent to which this injustice is carried; it must be ignorance alone which keeps down the righteous indignation of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, whose liberal hearts would be sorely hurt if they were fully aware of the injustice and oppression to which their brother men are subjected in country districts. The tale would be too pitiful if I were to unfold it all at once. I wish to spare the feelings of a Liberal and a sensitive Government; and, therefore, for the present at least, I will make no allusion to the poor rate and the school rate grievance. I will simply narrate a few facts relating to the maintenance of main roads. It is not my desire to plague the House with statistics, and I will take the position of one highway district as fairly demonstrative of the whole. The Bullingdon highway district, near Oxford, consists of an aggregation of 49 parishes, and we find that the expenditure has increased in this district from £2,668 8s. in 1872 to £4,945 19s. 10d. in 1880. Turnpike roads began to fall upon the common fund of the Bullingdon Highway Board, under the piecemeal legislation of the Turnpike Continuance Acts, in 1872; and the expenses of repairing turnpike roads were, with the salaries of the officers, &c., the only charges which from that date fell upon the common fund, until the 41 & 42 Vict. c. 77, caused all the expenses of the Highway Boards to fall upon the common fund. This gave but little relief to the Bullingdon Board, as the general effect of the Act was to relieve the small urban places at the expense of large rural parishes. Clause 13 of the Act above quoted provides that disturnpiked roads shall become main roads, and that half the expense of their maintenance shall be contributed out of the county rates, on the certificate of the surveyor that the roads have been properly maintained. What I should like to propose would be that part of the expenses mentioned in the above clause shall be contributed out of money provided by Parliament. I would propose that the whole of the expenses of the maintenance of main roads should, in the first place, be borne by the county authority, and that the county authority, in its turn, should be recouped by the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury as far as one-half of those expenses 45 were concerned. The payment by the Treasury should be dependent upon the certificate of a surveyor, to the effect that the main roads in respect to which a contribution was to be made had been maintained to his satisfaction. It strikes me that all this is very simple and very just. I do not know, of course, how my proposition may commend itself or the contrary to Her Majesty's Government—but this I know—that if they are in earnest in wishing to assist the agricultural classes, they will give that assistance in a way which will be of real use to those whom they profess themselves desirous to serve. I have a letter here from a tenant farmer in Oxfordshire—not a tenant of my own—which perhaps the House will permit me to read—DEAR SIR,—I find that in the old turnpike days, and having a turnpike close to my house, I used to contract with the gatekeeper for £4 a-year; now, sometimes, according to the new Act, we get a shilling rate, out of which I have to pay about a fourth, which comes to over £20 instead of £4. I have heard from good authority that it saves one of our local brewers over £500 a-year. Now, if you could bring in a Bill, either to put up the gates again or remedy this evil in some way or other, so that those who used the roads should keep them in repair, it would be of more benefit to the farmers than the Ground Game Act or doing away with the malt tax. Then, again, there are the school and sanitary rates, which are extra within the last few years; but I think the highway rate the most unfair of all.I see that my Resolution is to be met on the other side by moving the Previous Question. What does the Previous Question mean? Why, it means procrastination, it means delay, it means appointing Committees, it means falling back upon the general question. What it does not mean is giving immediate relief to the agricultural interests. It is just the same as if a man were dying of hunger, and a physician were to come, and instead of giving him the nourishment he required, he were to say he would go home and form a committee of his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts, and they would consider the general question. When that silly man came back he would find his patient dead. I know I shall be met with the statement that, if any assistance is given to rural districts in these matters, justice would require that an equal assistance should be given to urban districts—and I shall be told that 46 urban places have made no complaints under this head. Here I am afraid I shall be obliged to ask the House to follow me into a few statistics, in order that I may make good my case. The population of rural districts numbers about 10,000,000, and is located upon about 34,000,000 of acres of land. The population of the urban districts numbers about 13,000,000, and is located upon about 3,250,000 acres of land. The number of horses and vehicles kept by the urban population throughout the country is, as compared to those kept by the rural population, as about seven to one—as may be gathered from the horse and carriage licence Returns. The rural population maintain 106,000 miles of highways—exclusive of turnpike roads—at a cost, according to the Returns made to Parliament for the years 1872–3, of £1,487,820; besides which the turnpike roads cost in maintenance during the same years £787,620. It is in the matter of this last item of expenditure that we seek relief. And now let us turn to the position of the urban population. According to the same Returns, and in the same years, we find that the cost of highways in urban districts—that is, in cities, towns, local boards, &c., independent of the Metropolis, amounted to £1,061,098, which is £426,722 less than is paid by the rural population, without any reference to the main roads, which, as we have seen, cost £787,620; and these two sums taken together show an excess of payments of £1,204,342 by the rural over the urban populations. I have said before that it is only in respect of main roads—that is to say, disturnpiked roads—that we seek relief. Let us consider a little what turnpike roads were originally constructed for. They were made for the purpose of connecting centres of population comprised in urban districts. They are required by the country at large for commercial, postal, and military purposes. We have deduced that of the entire population of the country a very small proportion pays anything to local rates; we have deduced that the urban population pays considerably less for their highway accommodation than is paid by the rural population; we have deduced that since the abolition of turnpikes the municipal boroughs pay nothing whatever towards the maintenance 47 of main roads, although they use them on equal terms with the rural population, and with an excess of seven times the horse and carriage power; we have deduced that the main roads were constructed for the benefit of the nation; and it is a fact that any individual may prosecute any local highway authority if the roads are not maintained to his satisfaction, and to suit his convenience. I think, then, Sir, I have logically arrived at the conclusion that to relieve the public from contributing to the maintenance of main roads, and to throw the whole burden upon the country ratepayer, is manifestly unjust. I do not know what Government and what Party are going to redress these grievances. They ought not to be Party questions. I am well assured, however, of this—that these grievances are so real and so crying in their nature that some Government and some Party will be forced into redressing them before long. I beg to move the Resolution which stands in my name.
§ MR. R. H. PAGET,
in seconding the Motion, thanked his hon. Friend for the great ability and the remarkable moderation with which he had introduced that subject. He hoped that the Government would not refuse to accede to the moderate and reasonable demand just made by his hon. Friend, who, he thought, had established his case. They were not now asked to enter into an elaborate discussion of so important an investigation as that of a re-adjustment of local taxation. There was no better test of the civilization of a country than the state of completeness and perfection of its roads. In early times, when manufactures wore slight and trade but scarce, a few ordinary bridle roads were sufficient to carry on the commercial transactions of the nation. Now, however, we had a costly system of well-kept roads intersecting the country in every direction. The roads of the United Kingdom, including highways and turnpike roads, were not maintained for less than about £7,000,000 sterling per annum. The fact was that the roads were used by all, they were wanted by all, and they might to be paid for by all. The turnpike system did provide that those who used the roads paid for them in proportion to their use of them. The turnpike system was dead, and he did not propose 48 that it should be revived in any way. In anticipation of the ultimate discontinuance of the system, each Turnpike Act was passed for a limited time. The Acts were renewed singly for limited periods, and they had gradually expired one by one. If it had not been for the existence of the railway system, the turnpikes could not have been extinguished without a material contribution from the State towards the expense of the roads. The injustice of leaving them a charge on the local rates would have been so glaring that a remedy must have been found forthwith. The fact that the railways had taken a great amount of the traffic that would otherwise have gone on the roads had had the effect of minimizing the grievance; but it was none the less a grievance; and any grievance, however small, was felt with severity in the present depressed condition of agriculture. The particular grievance they desired to discuss was that of the main roads. Since 1870 15,000 miles of road had been disturnpiked; and, assuming the cost of maintenance to be £30 a-mile, the annual charge thrown upon the rates would be close upon £500,000 sterling. The only reason why there had been no combination to resist this result was that the Acts had expired one by one. But now it was possible to realize as a whole the burden which had been thrown on the county rates. Assuming the case to be made out, the question was how relief was to be given, and to be given immediately, and as a temporary expedient. It was nut suggested that there should be a Government subvention in perpetuity; but if there were to be one, it would be a temporary expedient to enable the case to be dealt with this Session without legislation. As to other suggestions, there might be a new horse tax or a new wheel tax. He was not prepared to advocate either, but he would not discard them. There were difficulties in the way of imposing new taxes and reviving old ones. One difficulty was that such taxes would have to be accompanied by the great evil of exemptions. He had suggested the transfer to the local authorities of the dog tax, which was largely collected through the agency of the country police, and in Ireland was paid over to the local authorities in aid of local taxation. There 49 was the possibility of the future transfer of the house tax to the local authorities, and some such scheme might be the ultimate solution of the difficulty. In any scheme care must be taken that the relief was greatest where the grievance was most keenly felt. At present there was an absence of Returns to enable them to work out in detail any definite plan for the transfer of taxation. A Return of 1872 was valueless because it omitted the dog tax, which produced over £300,000; and this and a later Return were also valueless because they adopted areas which did not coincide with those adopted for local taxation. Those who complained could not come forward with a complete remedy because the necessary information was not accessible to them. If they could not come forward with any definite scheme of their own, there was nothing left to them but to place such a proposal as that made by his hon. Friend before the House as a temporary expedient. It was for the Government to consider and settle a method of dealing with the question. There were two Amendments on the Paper, and a third, of which Notice had been given; and, without suspecting the hon. Members who had given those Notices, he believed their Amendments shadowed forth the nature of the official reply. He should be pleased to think that the official reply would be the promise of a remedy; but he feared it would be an admission of the fact that the Bill of 1878 required to be remedied. He did not deny that fact; but that would merely mean indefinite delay. Again, it might be said that there was a Committee of the House of Lords sitting. No doubt there was. But that Committee sat last year, and might, for aught he knew, sit next year. They might look forward to a very valuable Report from that Committee; but that, again, meant delay, and what was demanded was immediate action. Then, again, the official reply might be that the proposed transfer of taxation would require the establishment of a County Board. But the demand of his hon. Friend might well be complied with while the scheme as to a County Board was being matured. The question of the incidence of taxation would be referred to. But figures of a rateable value were misleading, because the burden of taxation was in proportion to the ability to pay. These figures gave 50 no notion of the ability to pay, and throughout the whole of the length of England the ability of the farmers to pay was less now than it had ever been during the present generation. He had often heard it asked—"Why did the farmer make such a fuss when 1d. in the pound was added to his rates?" He would tell the House why the farmer was entitled to complain of such an addition. Let them take the case of a farmer whose rent was £300 a-year. His income was assumed to be half his rent, and the Income Tax was levied on that amount. The addition of 1d. in the pound in the Income Tax would mean the payment by him of 150d., while the addition of 1d. to the rates would mean the payment of an additional 300d. His case was aggravated by comparison with that of his neighbour. A man with an income of £150 a-year, living in a house close by, would pay the same amount of Income Tax as the farmer; but as he would probably live in a house rated at £20, a 1d. rate would only take 20d. from him; so that each 1d. rate would hit one man 15 times as hard as it hit the other. He had always taken a deep interest in this question, and not the less that his entire constituency were interested in it, and considered their case so strong that they could not wait. The Amendments, on the other hand, simply said wait. The farmers said they had waited too long already. The demand put forward was a reasonable one, and it was urged on behalf of that eminently loyal class, the British farmer. They asked for justice and no more; and he confidently appealed to the sense of justice of the Government not to refuse the present very reasonable demand.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That in the opinion of this House, it is expedient so to amend 'The Highway Act, 1878,' that part of the maintenance of main roads may be defrayed from other sources than county rates."—(Mr. Harcourt.)
§ MR. J. W. PEASE
said, that he had listened with great attention to the two speeches made by his hon. Friends in favour of this Motion; and no one who represented a county constituency but must sympathize with his hon. Friends in the object which they had in view. It had been stated by his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Somerset (Mr. R. 51 H. Paget) that the annual cost of the roads in England and Scotland was something like £7,000,000; but Ireland and Scotland were entirely out of the question in dealing with the highways of England and Wales, while it should be borne in mind that his hon. Friend had also included in his calculation the very large extent of the roads maintained in the Metropolis and other local authorities. The actual cost of the highways in England and Wales was £1,800,000 per annum; but, according to a Return published in 1878, he found that the maintenance of the disturnpiked turnpike roads from 1870 to that year was something under £200,000. There was also a Return which showed that the turnpikes which would probably be disturnpiked during the following five years might be put roughly at £80,000 more, so that the House was now asked practically to deal with a sum of £280,000; and it was of one-half that amount, or £140,000, that his hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt) proposed to relieve the highway authorities by placing it on the Consolidated Fund. Now, there could be no doubt that there was a great feeling of soreness among the farmers, because of the fact that the highway rate and other rates had come upon them one after another. He found that in one Union in his locality there had been an increase of taxation of 9¼d. in the pound in the aggregate; and, under these circumstances, it was no wonder that they looked round to see in what manner relief was to be obtained. He was one of those who were of opinion that unless we had much better harvests than we had had for the last two or three years, the farmer would have little less than ruin staring him in the face. His sympathies, therefore, went very much with every attempt which was made to relieve him from any portion of his burden. The position of the landlords, he might add, was only one degree better. They had largely reduced their rents; they had, too, spent large sums of money in drainage and other improvements, in order to keep the farmers in good heart. Again, there were settlements, and other encumbrances, which they had to meet out of depleted pockets. Taking, then, £140,000 as the figure, the farmers would repay about half that sum 52 in Income Tax, and that would reduce the amount to £70,000, or, at most, £75,000. Still, he could not make up his mind to think that his hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire was right in asking the House to deal with the question before it by putting his hand into the Imperial pocket to make up the deficiency. Was his hon. Friend prepared, he would ask in the first place, for a large system of Government inspection, for that must be the result of his Motion if carried? For his own part, he should by no means like to see a new race of Government Inspectors sent into the country to interfere with the highway rates. But there was another difficulty in the way of his hon. Friend, and that was that the Highway Act, as to the main roads, applied only to England and Wales, and he could scarcely ask Ireland and Scotland to contribute. Now, he should like to read a few lines from the evidence given before the Committee of the House of Lords by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth).
§ SIR BALDWYN LEIGHTON
asked whether the hon. Gentleman was in Order in quoting from a Report which had not been laid before the House?
§ MR. J. W. PEASE
said, the Paper was one which had been delivered last year, or early this Session; and the right hon. Gentleman to whom he referred, in answer to a question which had been put to him, stated that, in his opinion, the cases in which the inhabitants of the country parishes received no benefit from the turnpike roads were comparatively rare, and that the cases in which the owners of property derived no benefit from them were still rarer; while to throw the charge for their maintenance on the central authority would, in his opinion, necessitate a system of interference which was open to objection. As for the Motion of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, he thought the principle was wrong; but he must, at the same time, express a hope that his right hon. Friends on the Bench below him would deal with the question as soon as the opportunity presented itself. There could be no doubt that the Act of 1878 ought to be amended, 53 and he hoped right hon. Gentlemen would deal with it as soon as they had the opportunity. That Act was one of those unfortunate measures which was rushed through the House when nearly all the Members had gone homewards. The 16th of August was the date on which it received the Royal Assent; but had it been subjected to patient scrutiny, which hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side and many hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side would have applied to it, he believed that it would never have become law in its present undigested form. The Act had caused great inconveniences and anomalies. Under the Act certain thoroughfares were to be made main roads. As far as the district in which he resided was concerned, the question of main roads operated most unfairly. Although it was a moorland district one-third of the moiety fell on the county rate of the cost of main roads, and received nothing whatever in return for that contribution. He had no doubt that what occurred in his district occurred in the districts of many hon. Members. There were other anomalies occasioned by the establishment of district rating under the Act of 1878—for instance, one township with a mile and a-half of road, which used to cost them £100 to £150 per annum, now had to pay £900 a-year; whilst another moorland township, with about 54 miles of road, which used to cost about £7 10s. per mile, now escaped by a payment of little more than half that amount. In addition, under the Act of 1878, unless action was taken to dismain turnpike roads before February of the following year, they remained main roads for ever, although it might have been a mere accident that steps were not taken in the short space of time allowed to the Justices to deal with them. He could not support the Motion, because he thought it would produce an infraction of a principle which he thought most of them assented to. The Select Committee of 1870 reported to the House that in any reform of the existing local taxation it was expedient to adjust the system of rating in such a manner that the owners and the occupiers might be brought to feel an immediate interest in the increase or decrease of local expenditure and in the administration of local affairs, and that it was expedient to make the owners as 54 well as the occupiers directly liable for a certain proportion of the rates. He believed these highway rates required an entire revision. The present mode of taxation was exceedingly irritating to the farmer. It was all very well for philosophers to say that the owner of land was the man on whom ultimately the burden of rates fell. For a generation the incidence of taxation fell upon the man who was the immediate occupier of the soil. Though he sympathized very much with the object of the Motion, he begged to move as an Amendment that all the words after "expedient" be omitted, in order to insert—To amend 'The Highway Act, 1878,' and especially those portions of the said Act which relate to main roads.Amendment proposed,To leave out all the words after the word "expedient," in order to add the words "to amend 'The Highway Act, 1878,' and especially those portions of the said Act which relate to main roads,"—(Mr. J. W. Pease,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. WALROND,
in supporting the Motion of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt) urged that the present system of highway rating was most inequitable. Only one-fifth of the property of the nation was real property, and he held that other kinds of property should bear a share of the burden, which had become much heavier than it was before the passing of the Act. There was, undoubtedly, a great amount of discontent existing in the country on this subject; it had caused more heart-burning during the last 10 years than any other question, and they could not conceal from themselves that the evil must be removed. He could mention, from his knowledge of Devon, a great many conspicuous instances of the way in which the burden of maintaining the highways had increased, and from information received from other counties—such as Nottinghamshire and Norfolk—he had no doubt that the same thing was happening all over England. When, to quote a phrase used by one of his correspondents, the whole country was "seething with discontent," it was evidently high time to remove the grievance of which the agriculturists com- 55 plained. Admitting the desirability of doing so, it became a question whether it could best be done by the means proposed by his hon. Friend. The idea that special taxes should be imposed with that object might be dismissed at once. All things considered, he held with his hon. Friend that the old turnpike roads, having been originally made for Imperial purposes, ought to be maintained by Imperial funds. Indeed, he went further than his hon. Friend, and would throw on those funds not a moiety of the charge, but the whole. It had been suggested, but not in the House, that the turnpikes should be replaced; but that, in his opinion, would be an absurdity and an inconvenience, to say nothing of the fact that the cost of keeping up the turnpikes themselves was a serious percentage of the sum collected. His hon. Friend asked only that a moiety of the expense should be borne by the Imperial funds; but he feared he knew the answer that would be given by the Government. They would probably say that, pending the inquiries by the House of Lords and a Royal Commission, the matter ought to be allowed to rest. That was very much to be regretted, as the Government had it in their power, by granting the demands of Chambers of Agriculture all over England, to do a much-needed act of justice.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
expressed his astonishment both at the ingenuity with which the Motion had been drawn and at the speech of the hon. Member who had seconded it. The Resolution had evidently been drawn up so as to catch all sorts of votes; and when he looked at it he thought the hon. Member must have crossed the House and obtained the assistance of his right hon. and learned Relative the Home Secretary. "The hand was the hand of Esau, but the voice was the voice of Jacob." However, the meaning of the Motion was clear. It meant a long pull and a strong pull and a pull altogether at the public purse, and an immediate increase of the grant in aid of local taxation, such as was now given in aid of the police rate. He thought that that recommendation had been disposed of by the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for South Durham (Mr. J. W. Pease). It was an objection to the Motion that it touched a single part of 56 the question which the Act of 1878 was intended to solve. That Act had produced great dissatisfaction in many ways and was very imperfect, partly, perhaps, on account of the haste with which it had been passed; but the subject would have to be dealt with as a whole. A decision of the late Attorney General had given great dissatisfaction, by which, if it were sought to dismain any part of a road, the whole of it must be dismained. That decision had been questioned by lawyers of as great eminence as the late Attorney General himself; but the result had been that many miles of road had been made main roads which ought never to have been made so. Then difficulty had arisen from the clause by which half the costs had to be paid back to the local authorities by the county authorities. He did not think that those who had passed the Bill had at all realized the complexity of the system and of accounts. The county was in account with every urban and rural highway authority, and with every separate highway parish. There was a tendency to confuse Quarter Session boroughs and urban sanitary authorities. It was only the former which were kept distinct from the county authority. In boroughs other than Quarter Session boroughs county rates were paid, and half the cost of main roads was repaid by the county authorities. Thus great complexity of accounts was caused. Sometimes claims for a quarter of a mile of main road were sent in; such claims had to be examined, and it was sometimes a year before such claims could be settled. He had had personal experience of the difficulty of dealing with such claims in his own county, where he had much trouble in getting two small urban sanitary authorities to send in their claims. Then there was a difficulty in framing what might be called the County Budget, as the year was divided for different purposes in different manners. The county financial year ran from the 1st of January to the 31st of December; the highway financial year began with the 25th of March; and it had been held that the recent Act for making the accounts of local authorities run to even dates did not apply to county authorities. Then there was the question of overlapping areas, as the highway district and the district under the Board of Guardians were not coincident. 57 That difficulty had, to some extent, been dealt with in the Bill passed by the late Government; and he was glad to acknowledge that the Bill had, in that respect, been of real service. But the cardinal fault of the Act of 1878 was that it gave the county authority no control over the money it paid to the local highway authorities, and hence an extravagant expenditure had arisen. If he could not support the Motion, it was not because he did not concur in the end at which it aimed; but he took a different view of the means best adapted to secure that end. It must not either be forgotten that the abolition of the turnpike system threw bridges as well as roads upon the county rates. In his own county, in 1876, the cost of maintaining bridges was only £780; but now it was £2,148. It was true that part of that expenditure ought to be placed to capital account, as many bridges were in a state of disrepair; but there was, without doubt, and there still would be, a great increase in the annual cost of bridges. He thought there was far too great a tendency to ask for Government help. There was always a cry for assistance out of Imperial taxation. That was a great evil. If persisted in, the result would be that the sound principles of local self-government would be undermined. Government help meant Government interference, and that interference operated as a stimulus to bad administration. It encouraged the tendency, already rife, to spend 5s. in order to get back 2s. 6d.; and the local authorities were too apt to overlook the fact that, in the end, 7s. 6d. had really to be paid in one form or anothor. Instead of asking that the Consolidated Fund should bear the burden of bad administration, it would be far better to preserve local independence, to avoid Government interference, and to bring about good and economical administration. He knew of instances in which that would effect a saving of double the amount ever likely to be obtained from Government by any form of grant in aid. He had worked the matter out for one locality, and he believed that what was true there was more or less true of the whole of England. The Government might, perhaps, render useful assistance by appointing a surveyor for each great Poor Law division and placing his services at the disposal of the county and local autho- 58 rities. But he deprecated Government interference in the matter of roads. He would much prefer that the Government should bear a larger share of the cost of education, for that was not an hereditary charge on the land, as roads and bridges had always been considered to be. But otherwise he would look rather to the reform of units of administration within county boundaries and the strengthening of the representative element as a means of increasing public interest in local managements and bringing about an economic and efficient system of local government in the counties.
§ SIR BALDWYN LEIGHTON
I will not follow the noble Lord the Member for Calne (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) into the intricacies of county government and administrative details through which he has carried us. The noble Lord seems to have wandered rather far from the subject before us. I will venture to recall the House into the simpler and purer atmosphere of fact and principle. But first let us welcome the appearance of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister on that Bench, who comes like a Deus ex machina among us, and who acknowledges by his presence that the subject is a dignus vindice nodus, which it undoubtedly is in its larger issues. Sir, the extent of the turnpike roads in England and Wales is about 20,000 miles, of which 15,000, or just three-quarters, have been disturnpiked; and their cost in counties and boroughs—for we must not separate the boroughs—is about £750,000 a-year; or, in round numbers, when the present and prospective roads are disturnpiked, the cost will amount to something like £1,000,000. We simply ask, now that tolls are done away with, and carriages and horses pay nothing, that this charge shall not be unjustly thrown upon the already over-taxed ratepayers in town and country, and more especially on the agricultural ratepayer—namely, the tenant farmer. It is often assumed, and we have already heard it to-night, that the maintenance of roads is an ancient and hereditary charge on land. Sir, it is nothing of the kind; it was a charge equally imposed on real and personal property, as a local income tax. We all know that the Statute 43 Eliz. imposed rates on personalty, "according to ability of the inhabitants of the parish," and out of that rate the road 59 rate was afterwards directed partly to be paid. But there is a far stronger statute—namely, 3 Will. & Mary, c. 7, which first imposed the rate. It is there directed that the rate for all roads, not main roads only, shall be paid by a rate not exceeding 6d. in the pound on lands, "or 6d. for every £20 of personal estate"—that is to say, both personalty and land were taxed on an exactly equal basis. Now, neither of those statutes have ever been repealed. By a Continuance Act, passed every Session since 1840, stock-in-trade is exempted from rating; but the Legislature has never dared to repeal either of those Acts. Well, now, 100 years ago or so, turnpike trusts were created, and the maintenance of main roads was taken off the shoulders of the ratepayers, or, rather, the charge was practically dormant. When the gates have been taken off, the ratepayers wake up to find the roads gradually thrown upon one species of property—that is to say, the incidence altered for the sake of convenience, and a most grievous and unjust charge thrown upon them, not only contrary to justice, but contrary to law; and that at a time when agriculture is suffering more than any other interest in the Kingdom. Give us Free Trade by all means; but give us also fair play. Do not handicap us in this intolerable manner. Do not take and tax us to the amount of half our income for national purposes, when other interests are only contributing 1–20th. Yes, Sir, one-half our income, as I shall presently show. For what is the amount of these rates? and what, first, is the amount of this charge for main roads in excess of what the tenant farmer, for instance, paid before in tolls? Sir, we can compute it to the fraction of a penny. It is found—and any hon. Member may calculate it for himself—that on the average a tenant farmer formerly paid in tolls what would be equivalent to a rate of 1½d. or 2d. in the pound, and that not only paid his way, but covered the cost of collection and debt. Therefore, in doing away with turnpikes and the cost of collection and debt, the rural ratepayer ought to take his share in the economy, and his rate reduced to 1d. on the average. But what is the result? The tenant farmers are in most places paying a rate of 6d. in the pound; and in some places a great deal more, in 60 consequence of the gates being taken off—that is to say, they are paying in many places a rate of 5d. in the pound in excess of what they ought to pay, or an income tax of 10d. in the pound for the general public; for a farmer is assessed by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue on half his rent as his income, and therefore every 1d. he pays in rates is an income tax of 2d. in the pound. Now, as it is impossible to separate this question of the charge for main roads from the whole question of local taxation, let me read a letter received from a clergyman in a Midland county on the subject of the intolerable burden of these rates—I am rector and tithe owner in a parish skirted by a highway from London, very little used by the parish, as the land lies in other directions; but it is charged on the ratepayers, My tithe average for 1880 amounted to £325. nearly the whole of my income; and I am assessed on tithe and house £303. The rates were—and I beg you to note the amount—for poor, highway, and school board, £80 16s., or over 5s. in the pound. The reverse picture is this—1. A parishioner, driving two carriages, four horses, and two carts, and enjoying an income of £4,000 a-year, pays £25 yearly. 2. A Government clerk, with an income of £600, pays £11 3s. 3. A tradesman, turning over £7,000 a-year, driving pony carriage, two carts, and two horses, pays £6 10s., and so on. I have, in addition, Income Tax, insurances, dilapidations, ecclesiastical fees, and all the poor to relieve. So much for oneself … … As for the farmers, the land cannot bear the burdens. My tithe is unpaid, as they prefer to trust to the tender mercies of the parson rather than to those of the rate collector. One man failed, another cut his throat, another threw up his farm. The country all round here is woeful, going out of cultivation, ruined![Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh; but to us on this side, who live among these men and see their sufferings, it is no laughing matter. It seems to me, Sir, like a tragedy of unjust taxation and ruin. Just consider, in this parish the rates are over 5s. in the pound to a farmer—that is, an Income Tax of 10s. in the pound, and that in these days of confiscation and ruin. Well, Sir, so much for the law of the case and the incidence of these taxes, and now for the remedies. There are three modes, I think, or general lines of relief that are applicable for the main roads. First, as to the old system of tolls, which was undoubtedly the fairest, I will only observe, without suggesting the possibility of their revival, that the Govern- 61 ment is maintaining the system in South Wales under a Department of the Local Government Board. So that, while throwing these charges on the unfortunate ratepayers, in other places they are maintaining the toll system in their own district. Secondly, it has been suggested that the objects which formerly paid toll should now contribute by a carriage or wheel tax. That has much to recommend it on grounds of equity, and there is the precedent of the Isle of Man, where the roads are maintained by a wheel tax; but properly to distribute or graduate the tax would be found very difficult and invidious. If everyone paid in proportion to use, as they formerly paid in tolls, you would have to ask the doctor to pay £20 or £30, the miller and tradesman to pay £40 or £50, and the brewer, perhaps, to pay £100. I have heard of cases where brewers and others have been saved £500 to £1,000 in tolls by taking down the gates. There is the carriage tax that might be still collected by Government, and made over, by way of contribution, to the repairing authorities; but that would amount almost to a charge on the Consolidated Fund, and you might as well put ¼d. on the Income Tax. Then, thirdly, there is the principle of extending the area or incidence of the tax generally, and there I would call attention again to the provisions of the Statute of Will. & Mary, which I quoted before. One suggestion is to extend the rate to the boroughs within the county whose vehicles use the roads. There would probably be opposition to that, and I am not in favour of it, because there would be constant friction of authorities as to the main roads repairable; but it must not be forgotten that there are many miles of disturnpiked road in boroughs, and I am entirely in favour of subverting them in the same way as the county roads. Then there is an alternative which finds favour in some quarters, of dividing this and other rates between landlord and tenant. Well, that would be a very inadequate relief; but I am in favour of the landlord paying a fair share of rates, on the ground that it will improve the administration, and I think also get more attention paid to these subjects in this House. But you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to share the rates administered by an old authority. If you constitute a new authority and a 62 new rate, there is no difficulty; and you have the cattle plague rate as a precedent. I am entirely in favour, for instance, of the school board rate being shared, and if we create a new River Conservancy Board that rate should be shared. But you must, of course, give equal representation to owners, and with regard to any old rates and old authorities—such as roads and poor—you have to deal with leasehold property as well as representation, which makes any change exceedingly difficult. Then there is a third alternative, which will, perhaps, be found the most simple—namely, to apportion or appropriate an Imperial tax by way of subvention—such as the house tax. That exactly represents a local Income Tax, and was proposed once by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) to be given up for poor relief. It should not be handed over to the local authority, but dispensed by the Government under inspection. If this tax were applied, half to the in-door poor, and half to the cost of main roads, it would, in my opinion, be an equitable settlement of those two questions, and lead to economy and sound administration. But it will be said by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone), or anyone else filling the Office of Chancellor of the Exchequer—"If you take this £1,600,000, you are practically taking it out of the national purse; I must make it up somehow." [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!] I entirely sympathize with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I will say at once that I am opposed to general charges on the Consolidated Fund; but special grants appropriated to special taxes which can be increased or lowered are very different things; and that is the direction in which we should go in this great question, for it is a great question. There is a sum of nearly £2,000,000 now charged upon the Treasury for police and lunatics. Now, what produces crime and lunacy? Why, intemperance. If all the crime and lunacy that comes from intemperance were got rid of, we should not ask for any contribution from the Treasury for those purposes at all; and, therefore, this grant for police and lunatics should be thrown on the excise—½d. a gallon on beer, and a similar charge on spirits, would meet the case, and set free the present charge to balance the house tax. I must apologize, Sir, 63 for enlarging on the subject; but it is quite impossible to deal with the fringe of the question on rational grounds without going futher into the bearings of local taxation. What I suggest now, in supporting the Motion of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt), is that an immediate temporary grant from the Exchequer be made for one or two years until the whole question can be fairly dealt with—that is, a sort of rate-in-aid; and one additional reason for that is that, owing to the state in which the roads were given up, the present ratepayers are having to re-make them. I should include all disturnpiked roads in boroughs; in some places, a very heavy charge for a mile in a borough costs more than double a mile in the country. And as regards Scotland and Ireland, which have been mentioned, they ought certainly to be also included; wherever the house tax is payable there the relief should be given. I thank the House for the patience with which it has listened to the somewhat extended statement I have been compelled to make to bring oat what appears to me the full bearings of this large subject.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he had listened with sympathy and interest to the various speeches which had been made that night on the subject, because, as a resident in the country, he knew where and how the shoe pinched, particularly with regard to the highway rate. In these times every increase of an old rate, or every additional new rate, was most severely felt by the agriculturists, who had suffered so recently from bad seasons. Highway rates, in particular, had increased of recent years, and they had appeared to grow more than they really had, because highway districts had been created, involving a certain shifting of burdens between parishes. The result was that the parishes which suffered by the new arrangement naturally remembered it and cried out, while the parishes that gained quite as naturally forgot it and remained silent. There was no doubt, also, that often when a highway district was first created it involved an increase of total expenditure, because a highway district took over the roads of some parishes in very bad condition, and the new Board had to put them in repair, and it was well known how very expensive it was to put in good 64 order roads which had been allowed to get thoroughly out of repair. Another cause of the addition to highway rates was the extinction of turnpike trusts and the charge upon highway rates of roads formerly maintained by toll. Within the last 10 years highway rates had increased by £400,000. They had grown up from £1,300,000 to £1,700,000. Some hon. Gentlemen had shed a tear of regret over the abandonment of turnpikes. ["No, no!"] He was glad to hear that disclaimer, for he looked upon the turnpike system as the most extravagant mode of maintaining roads which the ingenuity of man or of fiend could devise. Though highway rates had increased by £400,000, the actual cost of the roads had diminished by £130,000, because tolls had been reduced by £530,000. His hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt) claimed Imperial support for the roads on the ground of the facilities they afforded for military and commercial transport. [Mr. HARCOURT: I said originally.] He was glad to hear the correction, because, since railways had been created, road traffic had become year by year more and more local and subsidiary; and, therefore, the justification for looking upon roads as a matter of Imperial charge had been year by year diminishing. He looked with great fear upon any proposition which would enable any person to put a hand into the Exchequer and take out of it one moiety of whatever he should think fit to spend upon a matter admitting of indefinite expenditure. What had taken place in connection with the grant in aid of police served him as a caution. Sir Robert Peel, many years ago, gave to the county and borough police in England and Wales a grant in aid equal to one-fourth of their pay and clothing. The grant was increased in 1873–4 to one-half of the pay and clothing. The grant in 1873–4, the last year of Sir Robert Peel's grant, was £294,000. What, however, was the amount which the Exchequer had to pay in 1870–80? It was £857,000, so that it seemed to have nearly trebled. [An hon. MEMBER: By increase of pay.] He very much questioned whether the rate of pay was much higher than in 1873; the cost of clothing was probably less. He had taken the published Returns of the Local Government Board, and hon. Members 65 could make the comparison for themselves. In the year 1873–4 the charge upon county rates and borough funds for county and borough police was, after deducting the grant received, £1,239,000, whereas in 1879–80 the net charge for county and borough police was £1,018,000, showing a saving to the local rates through the increased grant of £221,000. But that relief of £221,000 was purchased by a loss to the Exchequer of £563,000, so that for every 1s. of relief to the rates 2s. 6d. was paid by the Exchequer. Further, in 1873–4 for the county police the charge per man was £92; in 1879–80, when one-half of the pay and clothing was found by the Exchequer, the charge had risen to £101, showing an increase of £9. But when he said that half the pay and clothing was defrayed by the Imperial Exchequer, it only really represented two-fifths of the entire cost of the police. Now, his hon. Friend proposed that half the total cost of the main roads should be borne by the Exchequer; and the proportion of contribution would, therefore, be larger than in the case of the police. Moreover, under the Act of 1878, it was left to the discretion of the local authorities what should be declared main roads. The result, if half the cost were paid by the Exchequer, would be that the list of main roads would be largely increased. It had been suggested that assistance should be given to main roads by the surrender or the creation of a tax to be handed over to the local authorities. Two Governments had considered that scheme. The right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) had proposed to surrender the house tax; but that proposition had not met with much favour. The late Government had also considered the surrender of a tax. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer had increased the grants to the police, and also to lunatics. But he had made that proposal avowedly as a stop-gap, as he said that the Government had really not had time to consider the question. There were great difficulties about the surrender or creation of a tax, although it would have a distinct advantage over grants in aid from the Imperial Exchequer. The difficulty was in finding an appropriate tax. The advantage would be the absence of central interference, and of any stimulus to expenditure such as attended grants in 66 aid. But it would be difficult to find a suitable tax which could be collected by the locality; and, if it were imperially collected, it was difficult to ascertain the best mode of distribution. If distributed to localities according to their rateable value it would give most assistance to the richest places, which were least in need of it. If distributed in proportion to expenditure it would have the effect of stimulating expenditure; and if, in dealing with highways, the tax were given according to mileage, they would still be giving it unequally, because mileage was no measure of traffic and wear and tear, or of the abundance and cheapness of the materials at command for repairing the roads. Lastly, mileage was only a measure of the length of roads, and not of their breadth, which was a very material item in estimating cost. It appeared to him that the present system of grants from the Exchequer required consideration, in the interests both of the localities and of the Treasury, as to the mode in which they were given, and in some instances as to the purposes for which they were given. In making such grants the Government ought to consider—first, whether the charge to be borne by the Treasury would have the effect of producing a corresponding amount of relief to the local taxation; secondly, whether a stimulus would be given towards increased expenditure; thirdly, the extent of the liability undertaken by the Government should be definite. Now, in the case of roads, even more than in that of the police, the Government would be undertaking an indefinite liability. The fact was that the law relating to roads was in a state of transition. They had been for years considering whether the roads should be transferred from parishes to districts; and it was yet unsettled whether they should be transferred to districts formed for that special purpose, or to sanitary districts, or to the counties, or in part to districts and in part to the counties. There was much difficulty attending the constitution of those districts. A Committee of the House of Lords was sitting on the subject, from which they hoped to derive much assistance; but, meanwhile, they had no representative body in the counties to which they could satisfactorily refer the management of roads. He had hoped that the Government would have been 67 able to deal with the system of county government during the present Session, and it was only the pressure of absolute business which had induced the Government to abandon their intention for the present Session. With reference to the Act of 1878, it was passed under circumstances of considerable difficulty, late in the Session of that year; and he believed that his right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had not the time or means at his disposal then to pass a more complete measure on the subject. But he quite agreed with the hon. Member for South Durham (Mr. J. W. Pease) that that Act stood in need of amendment, more especially in regard to main roads. He had already given one reason for saying so. He would now give another. He did not think that the system which had been established of dividing the cost of main roads between county and parish, or county and district, was a good system, because it involved a double system of surveying and inspecting, which was attended with expense. He went further, and said that the entire law which regulated the maintenance of the highways stood in need of revision. He had already said that their system of county government stood in need of reform, and the existing grants in aid stood in need of careful examination as to their mode and their object. Under these circumstances, he could not accept the Motion of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt). This was not from any want of sympathy or appreciation of the importance of the subject. If he accepted the Motion, it would be received by those in whom the wish was father to the thought as an assurance that the Government were going to deal with the subject of main roads in the manner proposed by the Resolution. On behalf of the Government, he had to say that they wished to keep themselves free to deal comprehensively with a matter which they consided required to be so dealt with. He could accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Durham, and, therefore, if his hon. Friend went to a division he should vote for the Amendment. He was prepared to go further than that Resolution but he should accept it as an expression on the part of the Government of their bonâ fide intentions to deal with the subject at the earliest available moment.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he had no fault to find with the allusions made by the right hon. Gentleman to the Act of 1878. It was very easy, of course, to get rid of an objectionable Resolution by smothering it with the suggestion that it was only part of a larger question. The point was, however, whether an admitted grievance, which had been loudly complained of in years past, and which the Act of 1878 had intensified, though it had not created it, should or should not be removed. If they were to wait, not until the Highways Act was amended, but until the whole question of county government was dealt with, until the relations existing between the Imperial and local Exchequers were settled, Gentlemen who recollected what had gone on in that House during the last four or five years would believe that the question would lie unsolved for many years to come. He had read in one of the papers that morning the extraordinary statement that by the Highways Act of 1878 turnpikes were done away. He believed that was an opinion which prevailed in many parts of the country; but the process had been going on for the last 20 years, and the Acts had been allowed to lapse year after year, the Government of the time having little to do with the matter. It was in 1878, under his humble agency, that the late Government endeavoured to find a remedy for the very serious hardship that the occupier of agricultural land found himself labouring under when large disturnpiking operations took place behind his back, and he was saddled with an increase of rates, for which no provision was made when he entered into his agreement with his landlord. The Act of 1878, he contended, had not been a failure, the important provision as to casting a portion of the maintenance of the main roads on the county rate being the necessary preliminary of any future legislation. They had thus obtained the nucleus of a classification of roads. What the agriculturist said was that a small, unimportant, ill-repaired road would suit his purpose sufficiently well, and that he objected to pay for a road which was four or five times the size he wanted. Those roads had been constructed for the public convenience out of borrowed money; turnpike tolls had been allowed to be charged 69 to meet the interest on that outlay; and Parliament had permitted those turnpike Acts to expire, and the tolls had come to an end. But the question was, why was the occupier of land to have those charges thrown on him, and not the general public, which had been accustomed, heretofore, at all events, to pay a certain proportion of them, but which had now been relieved both from the inconvenience and the burden of turnpike tolls? His hon. Friend behind him said that that was a question which could not wait for settlement—it could not wait till his right hon. Friend (Mr. Dodson) had not only introduced, but had passed, a County Government Bill and an Amendment of the Highway Act. The task of carrying such a measure through the House would be heavy, and what chance was there of its being speedily accomplished? If his right hon. Friend had a plan of operations in his mind, and knew the mode in which he was to assist the highway rate—if he had his scheme and an opportunity of bringing it forward, that would be something for them to go upon. But his right hon. Friend said nothing of that sort; he had given them his objections to the system of subventions, which they were all aware of, and also his objections to the proposal of handing over certain taxes. The late Government had been found fault with for having embarked in the system of subventions; and he certainly was not greatly enamoured of that system for local purposes. But there was a very bitter cry on this question; and he did not think there would be any great harm if the Government said that until they could put the matter on a permanent and solid foundation they would place a Vote of £200,000, or some amount of that sort, before Parliament, and distribute the money in aid of that local charge, not because they were not perfectly conscious of the objection to subventions, but because they perceived that the country generally had been relieved from a large expenditure and a great inconvenience in regard to the roads which they constantly used for purposes of business and pleasure. Now that they had got a county authority which grudged to spend much money on the main roads, and which was obliged to have surveyors to verify the condition of those roads, they had all the machinery re- 70 quisite, and a contribution in aid of the county rate might be given for the benefit of the districts and parishes in which the roads might be considered insufficiently aided. If the Government were minded to take that step, they might make a further contribution in aid of local expenditure, intrusting that contribution to the county authority, to be given in addition to their own. The county authority would thus be merely the instrument in carrying the aid to the districts and parishes. The subvention in aid of lunatics had, in his opinion, worked extremely well; but he would admit that the subvention in aid of the police had not operated in the direction of public economy, nor would he wish to see it extended. But the sole cause of that he believed to be that the Home Office, through their Inspectors, laid so much stress upon smartness of dress, drill, and efficiency, and had a criterion of military efficiency which they were able to apply, notwithstanding the dead weight of county resistance. The tendency of the county was economical; that of the Inspectors, as regarded the police, was otherwise. He did not wish to be bound by any particular scheme of subvention; but he had shown how it might be done, and he would willingly support the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
maintained that the burden of keeping up the roads ought in justice to fall upon the land, the taxation upon which, compared with landed property in Germany and other countries, was ridiculously light, and which, but for the existence of the roads, would be comparatively valueless. It was the interest, and therefore the duty, of the owner of real estate to maintain the means by which he could bring his goods to market, and carry his produce over land. The burden thrown upon the occupier was already too heavy, and if the maintenance of the roads were charged upon the Imperial Exchequer it would be the unfortunate occupier who would bear the brunt of it. The soi-disant farmers' friends who supported the Motion were, therefore, in reality, the greatest enemies the farmer could have.
§ SIR GABRIEL GOLDNEY
contended that no reason had ever been shown why the maintenance of turnpike roads should be thrown upon the rates of localities at 71 all. He understood the complaint of his hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire to be that that which ought to be a public burden was cast unfairly upon special localities. Turnpike roads, since their commencement in the reign of Charles II., had never, under any circumstances, been chargeable on the highway rate until the year 1841. In and subsequently to the year 1841 Acts had been passed entailing the burden of their repair on the localities. For his part he believed that the expense of maintaining roads, which were made, as expressed in the very words of their Acts, for the national benefit—for the passage of troops, for example, in time of need—ought to be borne, not by the localities, but by the general public.
§ MR. RATHBONE
thought that unless Parliament dealt with the question as a whole they would only be drifting more and more into inequalities. The question ought to be met by a different mode of levying local taxation, which would make the rich colliery owners and manufacturers who used the roads pay for their maintenance, instead of the cost falling upon the ratepayers. He had always considered that there was a strong claim upon the owners of personal property to contribute towards local burdens; but he objected very strongly to giving these small sops to local burdens without dealing with the whole question of local management and taxation. The inequalities existing in relation to the roads also existed in regard to the water supply and other matters. The whole system ought to be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. It had been urged on Government after Government, but somehow it had not been done. It was not wise to go on legislating piecemeal on this question; it only created difficulties which would have to be overcome in the future. He would suggest that a Royal Commission, consisting of the strongest men of the House, should be appointed, with instructions to have their Report prepared before next February. This would be a most valuable aid to the Government in carrying any measure of reform on the subject. He was certain it was possible to make a system of wise taxation more equal and just than it was at present, and to make its administration more economical and efficient; but he did not believe it could be without the appointment of a Com- 72 mission, as the Government had not sufficient information in their possession. He hoped all the Motions on the Paper would be withdrawn, and that the Government would assent to his proposition, so that they might at last see a system of local taxation of principle and method in place of haphazard legislation.
I understand that the hon. Member for Oxforshire (Mr. Harcourt) means to divide the House upon this subject. In answer to the appeal which has just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone), who desires that a Royal Commission should be appointed for the purpose of considering this very large and diversified matter, and asks that it should not be dealt with in a piece-meal fashion, but completely as a whole. On that subject I may say that I do not wish to bind Her Majesty's Government, nor have I been asked to do so. It would require a preliminary consideration of the functions and province of the Commission before Her Majesty's Government could undertake to decide whether the labours of such a body could be made useful. As to the entire question, when it comes to be dealt with in a satisfactory manner, I am convinced that it must be dealt with mainly on the responsibility of the Government. Still, I will not express an opinion adverse to that of my hon. Friend—namely, that the question should be inquired into by a Royal Commission. My right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Dodson) has made statements on the part of the Government in regard to two matters. He has declared two things. In the first place, he said that he gives his support cheerfully to the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease); and, secondly, that Her Majesty's Government are very anxious to deal with the question. We are anxious to deal with it; and my right hon. Friend went a point beyond that statement, and frankly informed the House that Her Majesty's Government would have been anxious to place upon the Table of the House a measure dealing with a large portion of the subject, and an essential portion of it, and to have passed it during the present Session, had it not been for the circumstance that the time available for the purposes of Imperial legislation 73 had been effaced by the local necessities of Ireland, partly in reference to the preservation of peace and order in that country, and partly in reference to the conditions of the Land Question, and that the demands which have been made upon our time have left a residue available for other purposes so small as to be quite insignificant. It appears to me that the real strength of the pleas urged by the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, and by all those who have spoken in a similar strain for a long period of years—that the real strength of those pleas is founded on one consideration, and on one consideration only—that the personal property of the district upon which the local rates were originally leviable was undoubtedly held in the letter and spirit of the law to be liable to contribution for local purposes. I must, at the same time, point out to the House that it is a most unsatisfactory substitute for the liability of that personal property to pursue the method which has been so much in vogue during the last 30 years, and was increasingly in vogue during the existence of the last Parliament, of making large transfers, one by one, from the local rates to the Consolidated Fund. For as far as the effect of this transfer from the local rates is concerned in the rural districts, do not conceal it from yourselves, and do not conceal it from the country, that however you may, in the first instance, in some measure, be granting relief to the agriculturists and the farmers of the country, every shilling of the relief finds its way, by a certain process, on each change of tenancy, into the pockets of the landlords, and it is that transfer and that pocket which is to be ultimately relieved. And what is the fund on which you lay the charge? Is it a fund supplied by real property alone? No; and you say, and say truly, that it ought not to be a fund supplied solely by real property, or by personal property. No, Sir; the Consolidated Fund represents a vast amount contributed from year to year, of which vast amount I, at least, for one, am convinced that at least one-half of it is supplied by the labours of the country. And, therefore, in the long run, and in the main, when you make these transfers, you are making them largely, by placing them on the labour of the country, not in the first moment, but after a short period, and by a certain process, by placing on the 74 labour of the country taxes hitherto borne by the land. Now, I say that that is a very serious matter; and, in my opinion, the lesson to be drawn from it is this—that this is a process which ought not to be carried on piecemeal; but it ought be dealt with in view of the whole facts of the case, and upon a large scale. Let Parliament examine, and examine upon a large scale, what is the best mode of giving to real property that aid which it was once accustomed to receive from personal property, and let it make an adjustment of taxes, employing Imperial agency for their collection, but making a portion of the proceeds available for local purposes in proportion to what it thinks would be a just arrangement on the subject. If so, it can, in the very nature of the tax, avoid the difficulty I have described. It can avoid the difficulty of placing on labour burdens which never, in the history of the country, was intended in the spirit of the Constitution to place on labour. I challenge the hon. Gentleman to show that it is a right or just principle of legislation that a large portion of the local burdens of the country should be placed on the labour of the country as an inevitable consequence of these wholesale transfers carried on without any view of their ultimate bearing on the subject of local rates. Now, let us see what is asked of us. The hon. Member makes a Motion, one of the most innocent I have ever known submitted to Parliament in its terms; and I must say, from long experience, that my suspicion is excited in regard to all Motions which take the form of truisms or assertions in identical terms. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire moves—That, in the opinion of this House, it is expedient so to amend 'The Highway Act, 1878,' that part of the maintenance of main roads may be defrayed from other sources than county rates.They are paid for out of other sources than county rates now. The Motion, therefore, in its terms is absolutely unmeaning; at least, it is no more in its terms than the affirmation of a truism. Why are we to be called upon to vote for a Motion of this kind, if it is only in the nature of a truism? I decline to be bound to do something or other quite indefinite, except according to the declaration of the hon. Gentleman opposite, and which is not expressed by the vote 75 before the House. If the hon. Member has a plan, he should state his plan in his Motion; but while he says—It is expedient so to amend 'The Highway Act, 1878,' that part of the maintenance of main roads may be defrayed from other sources than county rates,he gives his own construction to that Motion. I want to know, suppose his Motion was accepted by the House, can it be imagined that the House or the Government are to be bound to do something under it? How are they to interpret it, and to know what it is that is wanted? Is not the House bound, in prudence, for its own dignity, and for the public utility, to speak in intelligible language when it expresses its opinion that the law ought to be changed in this way or in that. I am not, I think, taking an unreasonable objection. I have heard four different interpretations given to the Motion by Gentlemen who have supported it, and one of the speeches suggested to me a fifth interpretation which, I must confess, I thought quite as good as any of the other four. The first interpretation is that part of the expense of maintaining highways should be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. That is the interpretation, I think, of the Mover. A second interpretation is that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents a portion of the county of Devon (Colonel Walrond). He says that the whole cost ought to be placed upon the Consolidated Fund. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Shropshire (Sir Baldwyn Leighton) stated in a speech which I must say was, I thought, pervaded by a spirit of justice more enlightened than that which was conspicuous in the speeches of other hon. Members—that the placing of the charge on the Consolidated Fund is a very rude method, and ought only to be temporarily adopted. Then came the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth), who said he did not recommend before the Committee of the House of Lords, where he was examined as a witness, anything like a subvention from the Consolidated Fund. But the right hon. Gentleman has now discovered something totally different from what he recommended to the House of Lords, notwithstanding the long experience he had had when he went before that Committee. He now comes 76 down and makes a proposition totally different. He says that he is prepared to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire; but he says that it ought not to be thrown in as a mere quota, and that it ought not to go in relief of the county rates, but in relief of that portion of the charge paid by the district. That is an essential check. But there is an evident flaw in this view. His main argument was that the county rate would be administered by those who would endeavour to exercise an efficient check over expenditure. Yes; but there are two objections to that. First of all, that by the present law the county authorities have not the power to exercise that check; and, secondly, that under the present system, and while the county authorities represent the principle of nomination and in no degree the principle of representation, it is impossible for them to serve the purposes of an efficient control over the local authorities. These are the four plans which have been submitted to the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hampshire said it was a very hard case for the occupier, as perhaps it is, that he should be burdened with the cost of maintaining roads which he could not have anticipated when he made his bargain with his landlord. Then that suggests to me a fifth remedy quite as good as any of the other four—namely, that those of us who are landlords should take upon ourselves one-half of this burden. But whether four or five or 50 plans may be suggested, I must say that I think the adoption of these blind Motions, which express nothing, which in their terms have no meaning, or which are meant to be covers under which, by slow degrees, hon. Gentlemen may put forward their particular views, ought not to be accepted by this House. When my right hon. Friend near me speaks of dealing with county government as a whole, the answer is—"We cannot wait." It is admitted that the system of subvention is full of defects. Just let me remind the House how full of defects it is. In the first place, this is a system of subvention for England alone, and the proposal is to place half the cost of the maintenance of the main roads of England upon a fund to which Scotland and Ireland contribute in the same manner, and substantially to the same extent. I think that is a very serious 77 and strong argument in favour of the doctrine that we ought to deal with this matter as a whole. In the second place, it is admitted that these methods are most unfavourable to economy. The real power in this case is in the parish, or in the district boards or authorities; and the parish or the district authority, as I believe, draws upon the county rate, with the county rate very nearly as helpless as the Consolidated Fund is. But when I say that I complain of the control of the local authorities over the Consolidated Fund do not let me be misunderstood. I do not mean that they control it in the sense of undue power over the public purse in augmenting the Public Expenditure. But we deserve it for the manner in which we have proceeded, for the manner in which we have brought in centralizing processes in connection with this system of local grants, and for the manner in which we have given them a turn and a tendency which is most injurious to that system of local government and economy which we all profess to reverence, and which we really believed to be one of our greatest treasures when it commenced some ten years ago. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had been in the House when his right hon. Friend near him (Mr. Sclater-Booth) spoke on the subject of the Police Fund. There is one of the finest examples of the system we have been lately pursuing. When we have continued to tax the Consolidated Fund and the general taxpayer two or three or four times, we are told the trifling and trumpery benefits the local ratepayers obtain from the maintenance of the police ought not to be an inducement for us to wait for county government, but that we should redress the grievance. But how long has this been said? When this system of grants in aid was begun, as long as ten years ago, there were very great difficulties to be overcome in altering and re-casting the system of local authorities in the country, so as to place them in due relation to one another, to the public for whom they act, and to the Central Government. But we had an enormous leverage in our hands, by which we could overcome prejudice and opposition, and which was grounded upon other motives, because we held a purse, out of 78 which we were prepared, on proper principles, to give largely in aid of the rates. That was found difficult—and so, what have we done? For the last six years we have gone on shovelling out large sums of money to no result, and upon no system, except to quell, for a moment, the appetite which grew with what it fed upon. £2,000,000 out of the public taxes were given away by the late Parliament; and the consequence is that our difficulty is greater now, because there is not the same power and the same inducements which you formerly had to bring local influences into conformity with the will and desire of Parliament. I think it is time to refuse to go on with this haphazard and piecemeal system, and that, at the first moment, when circumstances will permit, we should look at this question as a whole. It was not a satisfactory result, that was obtained from the labours of the last Parliament. I have pointed out what was done with regard to local grants, and that certainly effected a very important change in the balance of taxation as between land and labour; but the same Parliament, while relieving land, laid a heavy additional tax upon personal property by increasing the probate duties. In the expiring days of the last Parliament, £750,000 was laid by way of taxation upon personal property. Is it right that we should go on, time after time, always postponing the real process by which justice may be done among the various classes of the community, and that on the present occasion, in deference to a Motion, with regard to which I think I have shown expresses nothing, and which has for its main characteristic this—that it allows every hon. Gentleman in the House to apply it as he pleases. Under these circumstances, I think the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised that we cannot accede to his Motion. I do not wish to use the term offensively; but it is a hood-winking Motion. Let him raise the issue by some intelligible declaration if it is to be raised at all. But I put it to him, and to the House generally, that we are bound to consider the greatness of these questions, and to make some effort at the adjustment of the balance between real and personal property. We are here travelling away from this further and further, and it is time, I 79 think, that we should declare that we will not advance in that direction. Let the hon. Gentleman urge upon us as rapidly as the state of Public Business will permit the despatch of the matter in hand; but do not let us take a course which is really unworthy of the dignity of the House in the discharge of legislative functions, and which certainly cannot have any comprehensive or accurate application to the principles of justice in reference to the various classes of the community.
§ SIR MASSEY LOPES
said, all who were interested in land were much indebted to the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, (Mr. E. W. Harcourt) for having initiated so interesting a discussion, and having ventilated a grievance of which the owners and occupiers of land so bitterly and yet so justly complained. The very serious depression which so generally affected the agricultural interest intensified the grievance. The charge for highways was one of the two most crying evils of which the agricultural community had to complain—the other was the education rate. These were new charges exceptionally imposed upon real property within the last ten years; they were not hereditary burdens. They were not taken into account or considered by him when he brought forward his Motion on local taxation in 1872. When he introduced that Resolution he was, to some extent, responsible for advocating the course which had been condemned by the Prime Minister, of making, a subvention from the Consolidated Fund. He had, undoubtedly, recommended a subvention on that occasion; but if he had to suggest a course in the present case, although he might quite concur with his hon. Friend that a subvention from the Consolidated Fund might be the first step, yet he should not advise it in the present instance. He should infinitely prefer a local licence. With reference to these subventions, he wished to point out that, although since 1874 £2,000,000 a-year had been given by way of subvention to the local rates, the whole amount had been swamped and swallowed up by these new charges for highways and education. It was a fact, that the additional rate for education amounted to about £1,300,000 a-year, while the highway rate amounted to £500,000; and then there was the sanitary rate to be taken into account.
80 These three imposts had absorbed the whole of the money given by way of subvention. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had always opposed these subventions; but he had never suggested any other adequate relief; and he must remind him that subventions in aid of the local rates for Imperial purposes in the country were first proposed by Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell. They publicly stated in that House that if the House adopted Free Trade it was absolutely necessary, as a matter of justice, that certain subventions should be given towards the exceptional taxes which were then being paid by the landed interest. What had been done since that time? Parliament had accumulated fresh charges on the landed interest; and notwithstanding the subvention of 1874, which, as he had shown already, had been swallowed up, nothing whatever had been done to relieve it. They complained, also, of the abolition of the turnpike trusts. What was the result of the abolition of tolls during the last 10 years? In 1870 there were, in round numbers, 1,000 trusts with 20,000 miles of road. In 1880 there were only 180 trusts with 5,000 miles of road, and in six more years all trusts would have run out. The repair of 15,000 miles of road at £30 per mile would add £450,000 to the burdens of the ratepayers, and the 5,000 miles yet to be disturnpiked £150,000 a-year besides; so that the abolition of turnpikes alone would have added £600,000 to the local burdens. Some remedies had been proposed that evening, which might very well be applied to the case. The carriage tax yielded £500,000 a-year; the dog tax £380,000, and the gun and game licences together yielded £230,000. In his view there could be no more proper tax than the carriage tax to be handed over to the localities. This, he said, might be handed over to the counties, put into hotch-potch, and then disposed of according to the proportion of mileage of main road in each highway district. That arrangement would be a fair one. But if the Government did not like to give so large a sum as that of the carriage tax, why should not the dog tax be applied to the purpose, and the amount collected by the county authorities by means of the police? It had been very truly said by his hon. Friend that Parliament admitted the grievance 81 of the main roads being charged on the local rates when it passed the Act of 1878. But it was well known that that Act was never regarded as final, nor had it been altogether a satisfactory measure, although it was at the time considered as indispensably necessary to deal with the grievance. The hon. Member for South Durham admitted that the present law with regard to highways was not satisfactory, and that a comprehensive measure was required. He (Sir Massey Lopes) was sure the House would agree that it was absolutely necessary to consolidate the many Highway Acts in existence and replace them by an Act intelligible to all. Again, he thought, everyone would agree that there was a great want of uniformity in the bye-laws of the various counties, each of which possessed a different set, and these had constituted a continual source of heart-burning and annoyance. An attempt ought, therefore, to be made to introduce uniformity in the bye-laws prevailing in the various counties. The same want of uniformity was also true with regard to highway districts. Ten counties had adopted highway districts; 10 had declared they would have nothing to do with them, and the rest adopted a system of half-highway districts and half-parishes. He thought the Government should have the boldness to come forward with a compulsory and not a permissive measure upon this subject. Many hon. Members professed to sympathize with the landed interest in the present depression; but if there was any real desire to mitigate that depression, some of the legislative oppression, which was felt so heavily by the landed interest, must be removed.
§ MR. E. W. HARCOURT
said, he would reply very briefly to the observations which had been made in opposition to the Motion he had submitted to the House. In the first place, he would refer to the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Durham (Mr. J. W. Pease). He regretted that he had been obliged to be absent from the House at the commencement of the hon. Member's speech. On his return, however, the hon. Member was just explaining to the House that the payment of rates by tenant farmers was a matter to be treated philosophically. He could not agree that this would convey any consolatory idea to the farmers in question.
82 Then, with regard to his objection on the ground of the expense of inspection, which he pointed out would swallow up a great deal of the amount of the grant, it must be remembered that there was already in existence a number of Inspectors who could be made use of for this purpose. The whole of the speech of the hon. Member was in favour of the Amendment of the Act of 1878; but he must be well aware that this could not be done during the present Session. So that, in fact, his advice to the farmers was—"Wait." The hon. Member for South Durham was followed by the noble Lord the Member for Calne (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice), who remarked that it was extremely clever on his (Mr. Harcourt's) part to ask for immediate relief. In reply to that, he was unable to perceive the talent; it was a want so obvious to all practical men that ignorance in this matter would indicate a great dunderhead indeed. All he had intended to do was to make a recommendation. He was, however, perfectly willing, as were his Friends also, to take anything they could get. The noble Lord went on to say that the difficulty was owing to the bad administration in the counties. He (Mr. Harcourt) thought in matters of that kind hon. Members should speak of their own counties alone. It was possible that the county in which the noble Lord was interested was badly administered; but even if that were the case, it was no reason why he should accuse other counties of being in the same plight. Lastly, they were told that the only thing possible to be done by way of remedying the evil would be to establish County Boards. The contention, then, of the noble Lord was the same—"Wait." Then came the President of the Local Government Board, who said that the expense of the roads was less. But he had not told the House that the condition of the roads was much worse than it was. He stated that the main roads were now less used by the public than they were. But the fact that some brewers were paying £500 or £1,000 a-year for the use of the roads did not look as if that were the case. The right hon. Gentleman said—"Hands off from the Exchequer," and referred to the increased cost of police management, since the Government had contributed to their maintenance, as a proof of the great demand which would be made upon the 83 Exchequer. But it had been wisely remarked that the increased expenditure on the police was not due to local mismanagement by county authorities, but that it had been forced upon them by the expensive habits of the Government. He could not but regard the illustration of the hon. Gentleman, with reference to the green lanes being turned into highways, as having been used in a playful mood. He was well acquainted with country districts, and was aware what store we set by the violets and primroses of our village lanes, which no amount of subvention would tempt us to turn into useless main roads. Then he went on to say, before they added to the grants, they ought to consider whether any corresponding good would come out of them, and whether they would stimulate reckless expenditure. There, again, was an attack upon the local authorities, and doubt was cast upon their management. He next spoke of the road laws being in a transition state, and alluded to the Committee of the House of Lords then sitting, and stated that County Boards would shortly be established. This was exactly the official answer shadowed forth by his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Somerset (Mr. R. H. Paget) in the observations he had used in support of this Motion, and this was another repetition of the Government refrain—"Wait." He (Mr. Harcourt) felt certain that if the Government gave an offer of some kind in the present, they would not find the farmers hard to please; but they would be unwilling to be put off with promises as to the future. He would be quite content to accept either of the alternatives proposed by the right hon. Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) and the hon. Baronet the Member for south Devon (Sir Massey Lopes). But the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers), who was a gentleman of very large beliefs, assumed that the taxpayer was patient, and was not eager for assistance. This showed that the Professor was not much up in the subject. He mixed up main roads and bye roads, and spoke of certain properties in Oxfordshire with which he professed to be acquainted. The hon. Member spoke of a road which, he said, led to his (Mr. Harcourt's) property. As a matter of fact, it did not lead to his property, but was very largely used by the hon. Professor himself when he was 84 taking exercise to sharpen his appetite for dinner. At the close of his speech he said the land was much too lightly taxed; no wonder that he also should say—"Wait." The hon. Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone) objected to give small sops to local burdens without entering into the general question of local taxation. However, he (Mr. Harcourt) contended that it was much easier to deal with one stick out of a bundle than to try to deal with the whole bundle at once. The hon. Member suggested the appointment of a Royal Commission; and he, too, was one who counsels us to "wait." The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said he could not deny that, in the first instance, personal property was liable to these things. But he further said that a subvention to the tenant would find its way into the pocket of the landowner, and would come out of the pocket of the labourer. He (Mr. Harcourt), as a practical man in a country district, could not and would not submit to such a definition. The three interests, landlords, tenants, and labourers, could not be separated, because what was for the good of the one must be for the good of the other. Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman said that his (Mr. Harcourt's) thesis could not be controverted. Why, then, did he not vote for it? If the Government agreed to this they would be bound to do something at once, and, of course, they would be able, in their wisdom, to devise methods for carrying out the wishes of the farmer; and he (Mr. Harcourt) would answer for it the smallest assistance would be gratefully received. The only alternative, however, offered by the right hon. Gentleman was to wait until there was some grand scheme of county government prepared. This he took to be the crowning advice of the Government—"Wait." On this he would divide. They were not prepared to wait; and he would consider that those who went with him into the Lobby on this occasion would be representing the views of every farmer in England. The farmers wished for something at the present moment, and if the right hon. Gentleman would only give them that he would earn their lasting gratitude. This being so, he did not despair of seeing the right hon. Gentleman in the same Lobby as himself.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 145; Noes 159: Majority 14.—(Div. List, No. 170.)
§ Words added.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, it is expedient to amend "The Highway Act, 1878," and especially those portions of the said Act which relate to main roads.