HC Deb 17 June 1886 vol 306 cc1681-92

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. LYELL (Orkney and Shetland)

I rise for the purpose of moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time on this day three months. The reason I take that course is that I regard the measure as a piece of exceptional legislation. In the first place, its name—"the Orkney Roads Bill"—is altogether a misnomer, and conveys a misapprehension. It is not promoted by the county of Orkney at all; but, on the contrary, it is petitioned against by the Commissioners of Supply of that county. I myself presented a Petition against the Bill on their behalf in February last. I have said that it does not deal with the Orkney roads; it is promoted by four Island proprietors to relieve themselves of their share of the Consolidated Public Road Debt, with the view of throwing the entire burden on the other Islands and the Mainland proprietors. It is, in point of fact, an attempt, by a Private Bill, to set aside the provisions of the Roads and Bridges Act, which was passed so recently as the year 1878, and by which the management of roads in Scotland is regulated. That Bill deals with the maintenance of roads in the Orkneys, but not specially with the debt upon them; and these four proprietors of Island property are now trying to relieve themselves of their share of the debt, in order to throw it upon the proprietors of land and heritages on the Mainland and other Islands. The effect, if they are allowed to relieve themselves of the responsibility, will be to increase the burden borne by their neighbours. I must say that I think it would be highly improper for Parliament to relieve private individuals in this manner by a Private Bill, and by so doing to set aside a Public Act passed only eight years ago, which dealt with the whole question. The Orkney roads were constructed under two Acts of Parliament passed in 1857 and 1867, and under the provisions of those Acts most of the existing Island roads were made. The whole of the roads, however, were not constructed by means of borrowed money, and the principal promoter of this Bill constructed three roads in the Island with which he is connected upon a valuation assessment by virtue of a private arrangement between himself and his tenants. He himself undertook to pay a portion of the poor rates, and by that means the roads were constructed, the tenants consenting to an increased assesment in order to meet the charge for making the roads. The roads were constructed, piece by piece, in the course of a series of years, and no debt was incurred. If, under the present Bill, it is intended that the tenants should be relieved of the cost of maintaining the roads, there might be some fairness in the proposal; but if the Bill passes, although it will, undoubtedly, relieve the proprietors, it will not confer any benefit whatever on those who actually did make the roads. It will, undoubtedly, relieve certain proprietors who are the promoters of the Bill; but the occupying tenants and the proprietors of other Island property, who get no benefit from the roads in the Mainland, will receive no benefit at all. No doubt, some of the Islands get a smaller advantage from the Mainland roads than others; but it has been distinctly proved that a great number of the inhabitants of these Islands do derive benefits from the Mainland roads. These roads were mainly constructed under the auspices and at the instigation of the Island proprietors, with the object of affording as much benefit as possible to the inhabitants of the Islands, who are at liberty to carry their horses and carts over these roads, while a large number of them travel over them by foot. The postal communication goes over miles of these Mainland roads, and, consequently, the inhabitants generally derive large benefit from them. The principle of the Roads and Bridges Act of 1878 was that the whole of the roads in the county should be maintained by those who make use of them. All the tolls were to be abolished, and the whole of the debts were consolidated. The duty of maintaining the roads fell upon the elected and proprietary trustees. The object of the Act was to put the management of the roads in the hands of one body, as far as possible, so that they should be maintained for the benefit of the entire community. The Act deals exceptionally in some cases with the debts which had been incurred prior to the passing of the Act; but the proprietors in the Islands of Orkney do not appear to have seen any reason why they should be placed in any exceptional position, judging from the action they took when the Roads and Bridges Bill was before Parliament. They acquiesced in the principle of that Bill, and they refrained from disputing the provisions of the Act from 1878 down to 1883, when the Act came into full operation. Since 1883 there has been no protest against the Act, and it is only now that these four Island proprietors have come forward to protest against it, and to endeavour by a Private Bill to set aside it sprovisions. If this Bill passes, the tenants on the Islands where there are no roads may fairly be asked to be relieved of all payment for road maintenance in their district, and a very great hardship will be inflicted upon the townspeople—the householders in towns upon the Mainland and in the Islands who will still be called upon to pay this debt. Under the Roads and Bridges Act the assessment in the small towns has been practically doubled. By the local Orkney Road Acts of 1857 and 1867 the householders in the towns only pay half-rates; but the Roads and Bridges Act made the assessment uniform for all houses, lands, and tenements. The result has been that the inhabitants of Stromness and St. Margaret's Hope, and of the fishing Islands, have had to pay a double assessment for roads from which they only derived indirect benefit; and if this Bill passes an additional burden will be thrown upon all the Mainland proprietors. It is calculated that the assessment in the towns will be increased to the extent of one-third. That I submit would be a great hardship, and the inhabitants generally protest against being called upon to pay a larger assessment from which they will derive no proportional benefit. The roads which have been constructed by the promoters of this Bill share with the other Road Trusts in the management of the roads in the Orkneys; and it seems to me that the promoters, who are perfectly well able to contribute their share towards the burden, ought not to be afforded the relief which is contemplated by this Bill. Their property has been benefited more by the passing of the Roads and Bridges Act of 1878 than almost that of any other proprietor in the Orkneys. I may add that the Commissioners of Supply have petitioned against the Bill. It is an attempt on the part of the promoters to relieve themselves of a legitimate burden, in order that they may throw it upon the great bulk of the householders and landowners on the Mainland of Orkney. I beg, therefore, to move that the Bill be read a second time upon this day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Lyell.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

MR. J. A. CAMPBELL (Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities)

The hon. Member who has just spoken has rightly described this Bill as one to relieve certain Island proprietors of their share of the debt for the roads on the Mainland of Orkney. The hon. Member stated further, as an objection to this Bill, that it is an attempt by private legislation to interfere with the provisions of a Public Act. That may appear to be so at first sight; but the question is whether there is not sufficient justification for the proposal? The hon. Member said that the promoters of the Bill wish to relieve themselves of a burden, and throw it upon others. I think it would be more correct to say that they are protesting, by this Bill, against a burden being imposed upon them which was never contemplated at the time the Roads and Bridges Act for Scotland was passed. The roads in the Orkneys have been made, as the hon. Member said, under two Private Acts passed in the years 1857 and 1867. All the roads in the Orkneys have, I believe, been made under those Acts, and the guiding principle of the Acts was that each Island should be constituted into and form a separate district for roads. Except when otherwise specially provided, the assessments were to be levied in pursuance of these Acts on the Island or district in which the roads were constructed. The roads were made on the principle that each Island formed a separate district in itself. When the Roads and Bridges Act of 1878 was passed a general principle was adopted with regard to the maintenance of roads; but with respect to the burden of debt, as the hon. Member has stated, special provisions were made where exceptional circumstances were shown to require them. In the case of two counties—Argyllshire and Forfarshire—special provisions were made with regard to the incidence of the old debt; and no doubt if the people of Orkney had been properly alive to their interests they would have obtained similar treatment to that which was accorded by Parliament to the inhabitants of the counties of Argyll and Forfar. But that idea does not seem to have dawned upon the minds of the people of Orkney. They do not appear to have comprehended that the Act of 1878 would affect them in the way in which it has. That was a mistake for which they must bear the blame; but, at the same time, as it bears very hardly on individuals, surely it is not unreasonable that the persons who feel themselves aggrieved should desire relief from the injustice to which they have been subjected, and ask Parliament to correct the mistake. It is with the object of removing the injustice that this Bill has been promoted. The state of the case is this. On the roads of what is called the Mainland of Orkney, which is the largest Island of the group which forms the Orkneys, there is a considerable amount of debt; but on the other Islands there are very few cases of debt. Some of them have none at all. Indeed, some of them have no roads at all; others have made their own roads; and this considerable debt applies only to the Mainland of Orkney. I do not agree with my hon. Friend that the roads of one Island are necessarily of use to the people who live on another, especially in the Orkneys, where the communication between the different Islands is not of such a nature as to make the roads of the Mainland of use to the inhabitants of the other Islands. The principle which is now contended for, although not recognized as applying to debt, in the Act of 1878, is recognized with reference to the construction and maintenance of new roads and bridges. In the 58th section of that Act it is provided that new bridges and roads cannot be constructed except on the responsibility of the persons who live on the Island in which they are made; so that one Island is not responsible for the cost of constructing roads and bridges on another. This is the only principle which I think can be considered fair, and it is upon that principle that the roads and bridges have been constructed hitherto. It certainly seems inequitable that the burden of the old debt should be spread over those who before the passing of the Act had no responsibility whatever connected with it. My hon. Friend has said that the proprietors who have promoted this Bill were parties to the making of the roads on the Mainland, and consequently to the contracting of the debt. There, again, the hon. Member is altogether under a mistake. No doubt, as members of the Commission of Supply, and as Members of the County Board, they gave their approval to the plans which were submitted to them for the construction of the roads, and for raising the money to defray the cost of construction. But at that time they knew that they themselves, as being interested in other Islands, had no responsibility whatever for the financial part of the transaction. Therefore, it is scarcely fair to say that because the Commissioners of Supply approved of the construction of the roads of the Mainland, the proprietors in other Islands should be saddled with a share of the debt in contracting which they had no interest whatever. I may mention, also, that the objection which at first sight meets us in regard to this Bill was considered by the Secretary for Scotland; and he replied, through the Under Secretary, that while of opinion that it was undesirable to override the scheme of legislation embodied in the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act of 1878, as is proposed in this Bill, he considered that the circumstances of the Islands of Orkney were of a very special nature, and he intimated that it was not his intention to make any objection to the Bill being proceeded with. The provisions of the Bill have already been adopted by the other House of Parliament, and the measure now comes down to this House for our consideration. There can be no doubt that if the position of the roads in these Islands had been brought under the consideration of Parliament in 1878 special provision would have been inserted in the Act passed in that year, giving to the smaller Islands of Orkney the same relief that was given, on similar grounds, in Forfarshire and Argyllshire. In those counties there existed a large debt upon certain roads. That debt was retained in the position which it occupied at the time of the passing of the Act, and it was not spread over other portions of the counties. No doubt the people of Orkney were in fault in not having properly brought their case under the notice of Parliament while the Roads and Bridges Act was being passed; but they did not think the Act would affect them in the way it has done. That may be explained in this way. The Act of 1878 was popularly regarded in Scotland as an Act for the abolition of tolls, and there never were any tolls levied in Orkney. It seems never to have occurred to the people of these Islands that they would be affected by the Act, and therefore they made no representation to Parliament. I believe that if they had made a representation the same relief would have been given as in the counties of Argyll and Forfar. I trust that under the circumstances of the case the House will consent to read this Bill a second time.

MR. RAMSAY&c.) (Falkirk,

I should regret very much if the statement which has been made by the hon. Member for Orkney (Mr. Lyell) should induce this House to reject this Bill and refuse to send it to a Select Committee. The hon. Gentleman said that the Commissioners of Supply have opposed the Bill. I do not doubt it. I can easily conceive that the Commissioners of Supply on the Mainland may very well desire that the burden for the interest of their debt should be thrown upon property which has neither contracted debt for the making of roads nor derived any benefit from the expenditure which was incurred in contracting the debt which now exists; but I feel sure that such a course of injustice as that of compelling the owners and occupiers of land who gain no benefit from these roads, and who have no debt of their own to bear this burden, will not receive the sanction of this House, and that the application of those proprietors for relief will be attended to. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Campbell) has referred to the exclusion of the counties of Argyll and Forfar from the operation of the Act of 1878 with regard to the debt upon the roads of those counties. I was a Member of this House at the time that Act passed, and I took an active part in promoting the amendment of the Bill in that particular. I know that what we did on that occasion was a source of great satisfaction to the people of Argyllshire, who strongly objected to be included in the general provisions of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lyell) is undoubtedly correct in stating that no objection was raised by the people of Orkney at the time of the passing of the Roads and Bridges Act to their being included in the provisions of that Bill; but, as my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Campbell) has said, there can be very little doubt that if the proprietors of land in these Islands had come forward in 1878, and had made the representation which they now make, the Government would not only have listened to them, but would have meted out to them the same exemption from the provisions of the Act which was given in the case of Argyllshire and Forfarshire. With regard to Argyllshire, it is provided by the Argyll Local Act that the county shall be divided into districts, and each district so divided is constituted into a county of itself for road purposes, with power at any time, by resolution, for the Road Trustees of each district to dissolve its connection with the county for road purposes, and thereby place themselves under the operation of the Roads and Bridges Act. Although it is true, as the hon. Member for Orkney (Mr. Lyell) has said, that many of the persons who live upon these Islands receive little or no benefit from the roads on the Mainland, yet when they pass over to the Mainland they have to make use of the roads, even if they travel only on foot. It might have been a matter for the consideration of a Committee, seeing that the roads on the Mainland are thus occasionally used, to what extent the Islands should be exempt—whether in whole or in part—from contributing towards the interest of the debt incurred for the construction of these roads; but there can be no reason for exempting them from their fair and proper contribution to the cost of maintaining them. As it is in the power of the county of Orkney, at the option of the Road Trustees, to separate themselves from the Local Acts and place themselves exclusively under the Roads and Bridges Act, I cannot see what ground of complaint the Commissioners of Supply can have if any of their neighbours seek to be relieved from the payment of a debt which they never contracted nor derived any advantage.


The Orkney group is composed of 22 Islands, and under the Roads and Bridges Act of 1878 they were formed into one county for the purposes of assessment, It is now proposed by some of the gentlemen holding property in some of the Islands to relieve themselves from their share of the debt incurred in making roads all over the county. The valuation assessment rental of these Islands is, I believe, £14,000, and their assessment to the debt amounts to about £450 a-year, which, if this Bill passes, would be thrown on the proprietors of houses and land on the Mainland for the debt incurred in making roads all over the county. I think that would be most unfair, because the Act of 1878 made the county the unit for assessment. If Parliament is to allow the owners of property in one portion of the county to come in and free themselves from their portion of the liability for the debt incurred in making the roads of the county, because they seldom use the roads in the course of 12 months, not only would the Act become a dead letter, but a great amount of confusion would arise and a very bad precedent for future legislation would be set. I trust the House will very carefully consider the matter before they consent to pass the Bill. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney (Mr. Lyell) will press the Amendment to a division, and that the House will evince its desire to protect the ratepayers generally from being unduly taxed, as they would undoubtedly be if this Bill is allowed to become law.

DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

There is one point in connection with this Bill which I think is of some public importance. The Bill proposes to remedy a grievance which is alleged to exist in the Islands of Orkney in the same way as a similar grievance was remedied in the case of Argyllshire and Forfarshire by the Roads and Bridges Act of 1878. I have not the smallest objection to that being done; but the grievance felt by the gentlemen who are promoting the Bill is a grievance which is not confined to them. In the Report of the Crofters' Commission attention was called to a number of cases in which the inhabitants are obliged to pay part of the assessment for making roads. Although they live in a part of the county far removed from the roads they are required to contribute to, in some instances, as much as 20 miles. The Commissioners recommended in their Report that the case of these ratepayers should be met by general legislation; and I am of opinion that when we have a recommendation of that kind from an important Body we ought not to take the exceptional step now proposed, for the simple purpose of relieving these four landed proprietors from the burden imposed upon them, but that the grievance which has been pointed out should be remedied by general legislation. That seems to me to be the best course which we can take in this case. It is a matter which requires to be dealt with by a public measure and not by a Private Bill, and for that reason I shall support the Amendment and vote against the second reading.


I hope the House will hesitate before it decides upon rejecting this Bill at the present stage. I think it ought to follow the Constitutional practice of reading the Bill a second time, and sending it upstairs to be considered by a Select Committee. Of course, it could not be considered this Session; but, in accordance with the Resolution which was recently passed, the Bill will be suspended at the stage it will have reached, and its further progress deferred until next Session. I admit that the opposition to the Bill is based upon a principle which, as a general rule, I consider to be a sound one—namely, that you should not in a Private Bill interfere with a public law. I have laid down that principle myself once or twice in the course of the present Session, and I think it is a principle which should be invariably followed, unless there are strong and special grounds for taking a different course. I cannot see that in this Bill there is any attempt made with the future management and maintenance of the roads in Orkney, as prescribed in the Roads and Bridges Act; and, therefore, I shall support the second reading. The opponents of the Bill object to the measure on the ground that it is a violation of the provisions of the Roads and Bridges Act. That is scarcely so, because, so far as the Roads and Bridges Act is concerned, this Bill only affects the pre-existing debt which had been incurred in respect to the roads on the Mainland of Orkney before the Act of 1878 was passed. The whole question, therefore, is whether the arrangements made in regard to the pre-existing debt, in the Roads and Bridges Act, is one which ought to be maintained? Now, the Roads and Bridges Act itself, as has already been pointed out, contained a special arrangement in regard to Argyllshire and Forfarshire; and, therefore, the presumption is that as the case of Orkney is on all fours with those of Argyll and Forfar, if it had been brought before Parliament at the time the Roads and Bridges Bill was passing through this House a similar provision would have been made with respect to the debts already existing in the Islands of Orkney as was made in regard to the road debts of Argyll and Forfar. Under the Roads and Bridges Act the pre-existing debts in Orkney were thrown upon the whole county, and, in consequence, certain districts which had incurred no debt whatever, but had paid for the construction of their own roads, were charged with a share of the debt incurred in the construction of the roads upon the Mainland. By the same Act the debts of the county of Argyll were kept distinct, and the burden of defraying them was thrown upon the districts in which they had been incurred. The object of the present Bill is simply to carry out the same principle in reference to Orkney, and to confine the debts incurred before the passing of the Roads and Bridges Act to those portions of the county by which they were incurred. The measure does not in any respect apply to the future, but only to the past. The allegation of the Commissioners of Supply is that this case was overlooked, and that, in con-sequence, certain Islands in the Orkney group were subjected to an injustice which ought to be remedied. I do not propose to pass any opinion upon that allegation; but I do submit that it is one which ought to be considered by a Committee upstairs. It is distinctly a case of that kind which cannot be judicially considered and disposed of in the House itself. I may add that the Bill has already been before the other House, and sent down to the House of Commons as a measure which ought to be sanctioned. I would strongly recommend the House to assent to the second reading of the Bill, so that in the due course of time it may go before a Select Committee next Session, which will examine all the facts of the case, and see whether the promoters of the measure have made out a good case to justify Parliament in departing from the provisions of the Roads and Bridges Act with respect to the pre-existing debt of the Islands of Orkney.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 81; Noes 82: Majority 1.—(Div. List, No. 133.)

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for three months.