HC Deb 01 May 1882 vol 268 cc1901-15

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Dodson.)

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "now read the third time," and add the word "re-committed," instead thereof.—(Mr. Hussey Vivian.)

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


said, he had a Notice on the Paper of a Resolution on the third reading of the Bill. He trusted the House would take into consideration the manner in which the measure passed its last stage. It was slipped through Committee at 5 minutes to 7 on the occasion of a Morning Sitting, although there were, at least, two Notices of hostile Motions placed opposite to it on the Paper by Members representing South Wales county constituencies. He should not have thought that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would have proceeded with the measure, at such a time, under such circumstances. He did not know whether he would be now in order in moving his Resolution; but if he was not he should seek a more favourable opportunity. The terms of his Motion were— That, in the opinion of this House, considering the constitution of the County Roads Boards of South Wales, the purposes for which they were originally formed, and the comparatively small number of roads under their control, it is not expedient, in view of the contemplated change in the whole system of County Government, to pass any measure which, whilst neglecting to provide for the better and more economical management of highways as well as turnpike roads, unnecessarily provides for the making of any additional appointments by the boards, and throws the additional expense upon persons who are not represented thereon. He wished to point out that at the time of the Rebecca Riots in South Wales it became necessary to pass a measure dealing with the turnpike roads, and providing for the money due by the trusts being paid off. Part of the scheme consisted in the appointment of a General Superintendent of the turnpike roads in South Wales. The Act had been put into operation by the Government, and had answered its purpose well. The roads had been well kept, and the debt had now been paid off. He (Mr. Pugh) had put down a Motion, a little more than 12 months ago, asking the Government to assent to an inquiry into the operation of this Act, and also of the South Wales Highways Act; but the Motion had been opposed by the President of the Local Government Board, and consequently came to nothing. It was understood at that time that the Local Government Board knew what was necessary, and that they would do what was requisite; but he found at the expiration of the 12 months that they had no proposition to make, except to throw the cost of the Superintendent upon the counties. If such an officer were still necessary to see that the roads were kept in order, his services were re- quired as much for the highways, which received very inadequate supervision, as for the turnpike roads, and the unnecessary expense of two separate systems ought to be saved. Finally, he wished to point out that, since the turnpike roads were taken over, many other roads which were now of great importance in the various districts—main roads, to all intents and purposes—were in a very bad state; and those, he said, ought certainly to be looked after just as much as the turnpike roads. On the whole, his contention was that, as the Government were now laying an additional burden upon the taxpayers in South Wales, who were already highly taxed, those taxpayers had a right to ask that the general question of the roads in that part of the country should be considered, and that the Government should bring forward a scheme that would provide not only better roads, but more economical management in the future. He did not think that the Local Government Board were doing their duty in this matter in a way that the country had a right to expect. If, therefore, it would be in Order, he desired to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice; and, in any case, he should resist further progress with this Bill, which would only throw greater expense upon South Wales, and was opposed by nearly all the Members for that portion of the country.


I must point out, in answer to the hon. Member, that an Amendment has been moved for the re-committal of the Bill; and, therefore, the Amendment of the hon. Member cannot be taken until that question is disposed of.


said, that one of the grounds on which this Bill was brought forward was to exonerate the Government from appointing a Superintendent of Roads, and the other was to exonerate the English taxpayers from paying for the maintenance of main roads in South Wales. Was it the intention of the Government to give the same assistance towards the maintenance of main roads in South Wales as was to be given in the case of the English main roads? The House was informed by the President of the Local Government Board that he was not sure there would be any legislation at all upon this subject. But he maintained that, if it were unjust to the English taxpayer to contribute towards the maintenance of roads in South Wales, it was equally unjust for the people of South Wales to pay the additional tax upon carriages, or any other tax which might be levied on them for the maintenance of roads in England. It was important to ascertain what were the intentions of the Government in this matter; and, therefore, before the Bill went any further, he should like an answer to be given by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board to the question he had asked.


said, although he was prepared to assent to the Motion of his hon. Friend for the re-committal of the Bill, and to the clause of which Notice had been given by the noble Lord, and to the Amendments of two other hon. Members, he was unable to agree to the proposal of the hon. Member for Cardiganshire (Mr. Pugh). He considered himself pledged to bring in a Bill, on behalf of the Local Government Board, to deal with the question in a manner that would meet the wishes of those interested as far as possible. The Superintendent of Roads in South Wales had been for many years paid out of the Exchequer. He was appointed for the purpose of seeing that the roads were maintained in an efficient state and watching over their finance in order to secure the repayment of the money advanced by the Government. But, the debt having been extinguished, it had been for several years a matter of complaint in that House that the Superintendent continued to be paid out of the general taxes of the country, seeing that the reason for his appointment no longer existed; and the Government, in consequence, determined this year that the appointment should cease. The Department had put themselves in communication with the several County Roads Boards in South Wales in order to ascertain their views; and the result of those communications was to find that the Roads Boards in question desired that the appointment of a Superintendent or Superintendents should be left at their option. Accordingly, a Bill had been brought in, which gave power to the County Roads Boards to appoint, if they thought fit, a Superintendent or Superintendents, jointly or separately, in addition to the officers they already had power to appoint, for the performance of the duties connected with the roads. Power was also given to provide for the remuneration of the Superintendents, as was already the case in regard to other expenses, out of the county rates, if the tolls proved insufficient; but, as he had pointed out, it was entirely optional with the County Roads Boards to appoint or not additional officers, or to provide them or not with any additional pay. Now, the noble Lord opposite had asked what were the intentions of the Government with regard to a grant in aid of main roads.


said, he had asked whether the Government was going to extend to the main roads in South Wales the assistance which was to be given to the main roads in England?


said, in answer to the noble Lord, he must decline to enter into fragmentary explanations of a general scheme. If he were to explain part of the proposal in answer to the noble Lord, he might be called upon, and with justice, by hon. Members to explain other parts of it in which they were more particularly interested. He should, of course, enter into the desired explanations at the proper time; but. on the present occasion, he must abstain from making any further observations.


said, that the roads in South Wales were under a different Act of Parliament from the English roads. They had enjoyed, up to the present time, a special advantage, inasmuch as the Government had appointed a Superintendent for the purpose of overlooking them. They were now to lose that advantage, and, moreover, at a time when further taxation was about to be placed on that part of the country in respect of the additional tax upon carriages. Therefore, the question of the noble Lord as to whether South Wales was to share in the advantage which was to be given to the ratepayers on account of the English roads was a very reasonable one, and one which he thought the Government, in common courtesy, should answer.


said, he hoped the House would agree with him that the Bill was unnecessary, and that it would be dropped. The history of this matter was not very long. Some time ago the people of Wales had a difficulty not altogether unlike that which troubled the Irish people at the present day. The Welsh difficulty, however, related to turnpike roads, and a Society was formed for the purpose of protecting the farmers in the matter of tolls, which were raised in such a manner as to constitute a great tyranny upon that class. It was eventually arranged that the Government should pay off the Bonds originally issued on the making of the roads, which Bonds, at that time, had no great value. A gentleman was sent down, a value was placed upon them, and the Government paid the money. Under those circumstances, it was reasonable enough that the Government should appoint some person to receive the money from the counties in South Wales, who were pledged to make up the deficiency which arose by reason of the tolls not being paid. There could be no doubt that the Government had a perfect right in justice to see that this was paid. Accordingly, they exercised their power of appointing an Inspector with a salary of some hundreds a-year—a fair salary, no doubt; but he had forgotten the exact amount—for the simple purpose of seeing that the roads were kept in order, and that the money was received. But the money had all been paid, the business of the receiver was over; and he was therefore bound to ask what further necessity there was for any intervention on the part of the Government? He contended that the salary of the Inspector ought to have been stopped as soon as the Government had received their money. Governments were always very slow to discontinue the salaries of officers when they were once appointed. Still, it appeared that the salary of the officer in question had been stopped since the month of March last; and he could, therefore, only regard this Bill as an invitation to the people of South Wales to put forward somebody else to receive the salary. It had been suggested that there was something to be done, in connection with the roads in South Wales, which the people of that part of the country could not carry out unless this appointment was continued. But there was not the slightest foundation for that suggestion. The County Roads Boards in South Wales were possessed of ample powers to do everything necessary for the purpose of keeping their roads in perfect order, and he held that nothing more was required to be done in that respect. On the contrary, he repeated his belief that the Bill amounted to a mere invitation to the County Boards to put forward another person to receive the salary; and he had no doubt that some good gentleman—the best man in the world for the purpose—would turn up and receive the appointment. But the people of South Wales stood in no need of such assistance. They did not want it at all; and, therefore, he hoped that the House, looking at the question as he had placed it before them, would not allow the Bill to pass, and would say that the matter should be left in the hands of the South Wales people, who knew perfectly well how to deal with it.


said, he could not agree with the whole of the remarks of the hon. Member who had just spoken; nevertheless, he had a great objection to the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. He was of opinion that a Superintendent of Roads was very much wanted at the present time. The roads in South Wales were in most excellent order, as his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiganshire (Mr. Pugh) had pointed out; and he believed that that was in a great measure to be ascribed to the Government superintendence and inspection which they had received up to the present time. But his objection to the Bill was that it constituted a passing off of the responsibility which the Government undertook many years ago, and under which they had acted from that time to the present. He held in his hand an extract from the Report of the Special Commission, made at the time when the office of this Superintendent was created, and on which Report the Act creating it was founded, which showed that it was never intended that the appointment of the Superintendent should only be coincident with the existence of the Government debt, because their representation was based upon the general advantage of having a Superintendent of Roads in the district. The Report of the Commissioners was to the effect that they thought it highly expedient that a Superintendent Engineer should be appointed for the six counties of South Wales, to be charged with the duties specified; and it went on to say that as an annual sum was saved to the Government in the cost of transport of letters, by the exemption of mail carts from tolls, it might not unreasonably be expected by the inhabitants of South Wales that the salary of that officer should be charged to the Ordnance Department. It was perfectly clear, from this, that it was never intended that the appointment should be temporary merely. The arrangement had so far succeeded that the roads in South Wales were in good order, and, by the exemption of the mails from toll, a considerable saving had been effected to the State. He was bound to say that the saving of the paltry sum of £350, the amount of the Inspector's salary, came at a singularly inappropriate time—namely, when, as they were told, £250,000 was about to be devoted to the relief of the general ratepayers of the country in this very particular—namely, to lighten the burden attaching to them from the cost of repairing main roads. For these reasons, he trusted that the Government would continue to pay the Superintendent, as before, the small salary of £350 a-year, and so secure to the inhabitants of South Wales the maintenance in good order of their 800 miles of turnpike roads.


said, that, as far as he could glean from the opinions which had been freely expressed on both sides of the House, the Welsh Members did not want the Bill at all. Under those circumstances, he thought the House was entitled to some further explanation from the Government with regard to it, because it might be said that if the Bill did nothing else it gave a new lease of life, so to speak, to the system of turnpike roads which existed in the Southern portion of Wales, and not in the Northern portion, and which was rapidly disappearing from England. He would like to know if this was to be an instance of the kind of local self-government which had been promised? He thought the noble Lord who had addressed a question to the President of the Local Government Board had a right to complain of not having received an answer, for he did not consider it a sufficient answer to say that it would be but a fragmentary exposition of the proposals of the Government to state how they intended to dispose of that £250,000 of which so much had been heard. If he might venture to do so, he would like, on this, occasion, to ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell him in what way that money was to be disposed of with regard to English roads; but Mr. Speaker would rightly rule him out of Order, as that was a matter which could not rightly come within a discussion on the re-committal of a Bill dealing solely with turnpike roads in Wales. Still, he would like to have a full exposition from the right hon. Gentleman on that subject, and he did not think it would be long before he would have a right to ask for that. Now, however, he would advise the noble Lord (Viscount Emlyn) not to ask for that; but simply to ask whether, in alloting the sum derived from the new tax, the Government did or did not mean that Wales should have its full share? That was a matter of importance, and one which might be answered by a simple "Aye" or "No," without entering into any of the details which the President of the Local Government Board did not seem to wish to disclose. He hoped, however, that if the right hon. Gentleman was precluded from giving an answer to that question, some other Member of the Government would answer a question which was a very fair one and easily answered.


said, the cost had been, for the last eight years, £844 a-year; but for 30 years previously it was upwards of £1,200 a-year. As a taxpayer, he had felt justified in bringing this matter before the House in the first week of his occupying a seat in the House, and he was only too glad that the Government were dealing with the subject. It was a great grievance that the people of England should have to contribute to the maintenance of the roads in South Wales, while they had also to maintain their own roads, and, when they went into Wales, to pay tolls on the South Wales roads. The noble Lord opposite, and the hon. Member for Herefordshire (Sir Joseph Bailey), had put a pointed question to the Government with respect to the proposed subvention or tax which was to be imposed on carriages as some relief to the ratepayers of England, in consequence of the roads having to be maintained by them. But, surely, those gentlemen who enjoyed the privilege of turnpike gates could not rightly ask for a contribution for the repair of roads towards the maintenance of which English ratepayers contributed. The cases were not parallel; and he hoped the Government would not accede to the suggestion which had been so pressed upon them, and that the benefit shadowed forth by the Prime Minister when he produced his Budget would be given to those who had to maintain those roads from the rates, and not to those who had the advantage of the turnpike gates.


said, that in the House of Lords Committee in 1880 Lord Aberdare asked—"Why has the Superintendent been continued since the debt was paid off?" And Sir John Lambert replied— There was a general desire expressed that he should he continued in order to have the advantage of his superintendence. I may say that the late Superintendent received a salary of £600 a-year; but the salary, upon the appointment of Mr. Codrington, the present Superintendent, was reduced to £350. There were, no doubt, incidental expenses—for clerk and travelling—which would explain the difference between his figures and those of the hon. Member for Herefordshire (Mr. Duckham); but he was speaking of the Superintendent's salary only.


said, he did not wish to intervene between the Welsh Members and the Government; but he could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill could not give the noble Lord an answer. The right hon. Gentleman had argued that he could not say whether any part of the new tax would be devoted to Wales, because he could not disclose one part of the scheme alone; but the Prime Minister, when he was asked a Question about Scotland the other day, was not restrained by the scruples of the right hon. Gentleman, but at once assured the Scotch Members that they would share in the benefits. If the right hon. Gentleman could not give an answer, perhaps the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury could.


pointed out that the Bill was to apply to six counties in South Wales, and its main object was to enable them to appoint a General Superintendent. It was true that the County Roads Board had a power of appointment; but the Government had agreed to his Amendment that no such appointment should be valid unless confirmed by the Quarter Sessions. What he submitted was that, as a measure for County Government was in contemplation, there was no necessity at all for this Bill; and he believed he could state that the county of Pembroke was very much opposed to the Bill in any shape. They did not want a General Superintendent in that county. They had two or three Surveyors and 12 or 15 other officials for the administration of the fund; and the farmers regarded with terror anything that was likely to increase the heavy burdens they had to bear. He should, therefore, oppose the Bill entirely; and he would strongly urge the Government to abandon it, and wait till they introduced their County Government Bill, which could provide properly for the superintendence of county roads.


said, that no two Welsh Members seemed to have the same opinion upon this matter; but the noble Lord opposite had strongly pressed the President of the Local Government Board to deal with the question, and had reproached him for not having legislated on the matter, so that appointments might be made by the county authorities.


said, that what he had found fault with was the removal of the General Superintendent without some legislation being first adopted by which someone could be appointed in his place.


said, his right hon. Friend had taken action with a view to appointing some one in the place of the General Superintendent. This Bill did not propose in any way to compel the Local Boards to appoint any officer, but only gave them power to do what they had asked to be able to do. Several hon. Members from Wales objected to the Bill as unnecessary, while the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian) was anxious to pass it; but his right hon. Friend was not so enamoured of the Bill that he cared to press it to-night, and was willing to adjourn the debate in order to give Welsh Members further time to consider the Bill. With respect to the point raised by the hon. Member for Herefordshire, as to what would be done in regard to any subvention for roads in South Wales, his right hon. Friend was not able to give any information upon that matter tonight, though, no doubt, hon. Members, not only from South Wales, but from other parts of Wales, would be glad to have some information. He therefore begged to move the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Hibbert.)


said, it was hardly for him to oppose the adjournment, for he thought that was a wise course. The Government had withdrawn this payment, but he believed they had no power to dismiss the Superintendent; but they now hoped that the counties would re-appoint the Superintendent and pay him from their own resources. He had always held the opinion that the counties would not agree to any thing of the kind, though, he believed, the counties had largely benefited by the uniform manner in which their roads had been dealt with. He appointed Mr. Codrington, and reduced the salary, although ho believed that the salary of his predecessor was nearly double the amount mentioned by the hon. Member opposite. He thought it would be unwise to disturb South Wales until a proper system had been adopted in England. The House had learnt something from the Government to-night as to the mode in which they intended to assist the highway rates in England. It was not to be done by Act of Parliament; but he was afraid there would be a subvention. The late Government would not have dreamt of any subvention except from the surplus of the year; but the present Government proposed a new tax.


said, it was true the right hon. Gentleman had appointed Mr. Codrington; but he gave him notice that the appointment was terminable, and was likely to be terminated.


By fresh legislation.


said, the County Boards of South Wales were unanimously of opinion that it was absolutely necessary that this Bill should pass. The existing Turnpike Act turned on the existence of a General Superintendent; no payments could be legally made without such an officer. It was absolutely necessary they should have some Act analogous to this. He thought the Government had done wisely and justly in ceasing to appoint and pay this officer, for he knew of no ground why the taxpayers of England should be called upon to pay for the superintendence of the South Wales turnpike roads. He did not believe the Bill would entail any serious burden upon the county rates of South Wales. His hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr (Mr. C. James) had hinted that the County Roads Board was likely to make a job of the appointment; but he (Mr. Hussey Vivian) altogether scouted such an idea. The County Roads Board was conducted with the greatest possible economy. He had served on the Board for the last 30 years, and he could safely say that every effort was made to reduce, as far as possible, the working expenses. He did trust his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board would press the present measure, and that they might receive the benefits of its provisions as soon as possible. He believed that every payment they were now making was illegal. He knew that very considerable doubt existed in the mind of his noble Friend (Viscount Emlyn) as to what happened from the day the Superintendent ceased to have any power; and, therefore, the House had a right to ask the Government to press forward this measure, in order to place the County Roads Board in a legal position. He was convinced that no serious charge would be entailed upon the counties of South Wales in respect to the measure.


said, he did not wish to follow the hon. Member (Mr. Hussey Vivian) in the discussion of the Bill; but desired to offer to the hon. Member, and the other hon. Members from Wales who were in favour of the passing of the Bill, his sincere sympathy with them at the disappointment of seeing the hope, which they must have entertained, frustrated by the obstructive Motion of an hon. Gentleman sitting below the Government Gangway. It was not often that the Government had succeeded in this Session of Parliament in getting a Bill in before half-past 12 o'clock, and it did seem hard that the fate of this measure now seemed imperilled. The Government themselves had pressed the third reading, and everything went on smoothly until the noble Lord the Member for Carmarthenshire (Viscount Emlyn) asked a question. First of all, the Government by that system of dogged silence which they had used on certain occasions tried to evade answering ques- tions; and when they were obliged, by the observation of another hon. Gentleman (Mr. E. H. Paget) to answer the question, they immediately obstructed the Bill.


said, that, although not a Member for Wales, he was the Chairman of the Quarter Sessions of Carmarthenshire; and he was therefore in a position to say that this was a matter of serious interest to the ratepayers of that county. He believed the action which had been taken by Her Majesty's Government through the President of the Local Government Board was entirely illegal; and why he was desirous of saying one word on the adjournment was this—that he hoped that before the Bill again came on for discussion, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dodson) would take the opportunity of consulting the Law Officers of the Crown on the subject. The appointment of this officer was made under circumstances with which, as a matter of history, they were most of them familiar. It arose out of the R1ebecca Riots; and Sir James Graham, in introducing the Bill, pointed out that an officer should be appointed and paid by the Government, and that it should be his duty to take care that the state of confusion in which South Wales had got, by reason of non-attendance to the repair of the roads, should in future be rendered impossible. In Sir James Graham's speech there was not a hint that the functions of that officer should cease with the cessation of the Government subvention. The Statute said that the officer might be dismissed, and another, or two, if necessary, be appointed in his room by the proper authority—it was then the Secretary of State, it was now the President of the Local Government Board. But in the Statute there was not the smallest hint of the right of the President of the Local Government Board to discontinue the office. The sting of the Bill was in its tail, and he confessed that it seemed to him that the sole object of the measure was to shift upon the ratepayers that responsibility which, in 1845, Sir James Graham said was to rest on the Government—namely, the payment of the officer in question. He hoped that when the Bill was again brought on for consideration, the President of the Local Government Board would be fortified with the opinions of the Law Officers of the Crown as to the Government action, which he (Sir Hardinge Giffard) considered illegal.


said, that £844 was the amount of money paid from the National Exchequer. On reference to the Estimates for the past and the present year, hon. Gentlemen would find that £350 was set down as the salary of the Superintendent; that another amount was allowed for the Superintendent's Clerk; another amount for Offices; and a further amount for travelling expenses, the total sum being what he had stated.


said, that, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board was unable to give them any information as to whether they would get any assistance towards the maintenance of main roads in general, he should, on Thursday, ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it was his intention to extend to South Wales the same assistance towards the maintenance of main roads as he had announced he intended to extend to the Scotch main roads?


said, if the noble Lord did put such a question to the Premier, the right hon. Gentleman would, no doubt, refer it to the President of the Local Government Board.

Question put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Monday 15th May.