HC Deb 28 January 1891 vol 349 cc1201-23

Order for Second Reading read.

(12.35.) MR. H. ELLIOT (Ayrshire, N.)

Although this Bill simply proposes to give powers to Police burghs in Scotland, under certain conditions, to control their own roads and streets, which at the present time are to some extent exorcised by County Councils, I admit that it is a matter that is rather technical and dry. But dry as the subject may be, it is one that has the deepest interest for a large majority of the people of Scotland. The proposed application of the Bill embraces a population of over 300,000, or about one-twelfth of the whole population of Scotland. Perhaps, at the outset, I had better explain what the Police burghs are concerning which I propose to legislate, and how it is that they differ from Royal burghs and Parliamentary burghs and require to come to Parliament for special legislation. The Royal burghs existed prior to the Act of Union; the Parliamentary burghs were created by the Reform Acts of William IV. and Victoria; and the Police burghs are towns of a certain size which have adopted the Police Act of 1862. Bat the Scotch Law draws a distinction between these various classes of burghs. Royal burghs and Parliamentary burghs have an administration in reference to roads and streets of their own, but that is not the case in regard to Police burghs. In my opinion, and in that of most of the Scotch people, there is no ground for any such distinction. One of the grievances of the Police burghs is that they are not treated in Municipal matters in an equal manner with the Royal burghs. This Bill is a Bill practically to amend the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act of 1878. The House will remember that the Roads and Bridges Act created an entirely new road law for Scotland. That Act has been a very beneficial one, but, in my opinion, it had one defect: it stereotyped to a certain extent the distinction which exists between the Royal and Parliamentary burghs and the Police burghs. By that Act the Royal and Parliamentary burghs have each a separate Road Authority, and they have no liability to maintain the county roads in the neighbourhood. But when the Act came to deal with Police burghs the authors of it seemed to recognise the impossibility of entirely distinguishing between the Royal and Parliamentary burghs and the large Police burghs. It therefore provides that any Police burgh which has a population of 5,000 or upwards at the time of the adoption of the Road Act by the county in which it is situated, may, if it makes the claim within three months, have a separate Road Authority. It in fact classifies these Police burghs with Royal and Parliamentary burghs. This provision has led to probably unforeseen, and certainly to very illogical, results. The Road Act has been adopted by many counties a good many years ago. Since that time a great change has happened. Some Police burghs, which were then over 5,000, have perhaps hardly increased at all, while those burghs which were then under 5,000 are now far over 5,000, so that it is quite possible at the present moment for two Police burghs to be existing side by side—the smaller having the privileges of a city, the larger being treated like a country village. This is an anomaly which probably no one will defend. The Burgh Police and Health (Scotland) Bill proposed to remedy it. One of the first objects of my Bill is to place these thriving young burghs on some equality with older burghs of the same size and of the same class. I now turn to those burghs which were under 5,000 at the time of the adoption of the Road Act by the county in which they are situated, and to the burghs which have become Police burghs since that time. The position of these burghs is unfavourable, compared to that of the Royal and Parliamentary burghs, and is unsatisfactory as regards each other. Police burghs which were under 5,000 at the time of the adoption of the Act are part of the road district of the county in which they are situated, and are rated on their gross rental. The whole amount thus raised is spent upon the highways in the district, including, of course, the portion of any highway which passes through a burgh, but not a penny of this money is spent upon the streets of the burgh, nor can the burgh have its streets placed on the list of county highways. It will, therefore, easily be seen from this that where a burgh is large and rich, and only a small portion of highway passes through it, a very large sum of money is raised, nearly the whole of which is made a present of to the county. I will give an illustration. The Lord Advocate is already acquainted with it, but I may as well present it to the House. The Police burgh of Carnoustie is situated in the County of Forfar. On an average of the last five years the Road Authorities of the County of Forfar have levied an annual assessment of £477 on the burgh of Carnoustie, and the whole of this sum, with the exception of about £45, has been spent on the county roads outside the burgh. The case of Ardrossan is almost as strong. It pays, roughly speaking, about £562 a year to the County Road Authorities of Ayrshire, of which sum only about £106 is applied to the upkeep of the roads within the burgh. I am not arguing now as to whether it is right or wrong that a Police burgh should pay some contribution towards the maintenance of the county roads; but what I do say is that a charge of this kind is excessive. We see, too, from these illustrations how unequal is the incidence of the present law. Had Carnoustie and Ardrossan had, happily for themselves, a few years ago a few hundreds more inhabitants a-piece, they would have been called upon to pay nothing to the county roads; had they become Police burghs a year or two later, they might, as I am about to show, have had their streets put on the list of county highways. Now, lastly, Sir, there is the case of the burghs which have become Police burghs since the adoption of the Road Act by the county in which they are situated. These burghs are also part of the county road district in which they are situated, and are rated on their gross rental. They are, however, in a more fortunate position than the burghs I have just been alluding to. It is competent for them if their streets are properly made to have them placed on the county list of highways. Thus, though they are assessed by the county in precisely the same way as the other burghs under 5,000, the money when raised is more equally distributed. Sir, we object to all these legislative inequalities—this fanciful distinction between burgh and Police burgh, Police burgh and Police burgh. We consider them unjust, inconvenient, and unsatisfactory. The Bill in my hand proposes as much as possible to get rid of them all. It proposes to get rid of the divided control of streets in burghs, which has been found inconvenient, and of the population limit, which has failed. We hope in altering the law to proceed upon a principle which the House will consider sound. We accept as a general principle that all burghs, great and small, should be allowed to manage their own affairs. We consider that especially in the matter of roads should this principle be applied. A system of road administratration which may be good in the country may be bad in a town. The highway in a burgh is frequently the chief street of the burgh. It is often the place where much business is transacted. It even, to some extent, gives character to the burgh. It is wrong to treat the portion of highway which passes through the burgh in the same manner as that which passes through the country. Take, for example, the simple question of mud. Mud after rain may be allowed to accumulate on a country road without doing much harm, while mud collecting on a road in the town will produce not only inconvenience, but possibly consequences injurious to health. Then, Sir, there is another point. Highways, like streets, are always the tracks for sewers and pipes. There are connections from these pipes to the houses. It, occasionally happens that these connections have to be examined, and it is often necessary that the examination should take place at once. The Road Act, however, provides that the highway is not to be broken without the consent of the Road Surveyor; and perhaps the Road Surveyor is at the other end of the county. It may be said that the burghs might do something for themselves. That they might supplement the money they receive from the county by a contribution of their own. They might pave their streets, for instance, and otherwise improve them. But even this is impossible. The Police Commissioners are not entitled to assess for the maintenance of a highway. They must take the highway as they receive it from the County Road Authorities. There are other inconveniences arising from the divided control of the streets, such as the erection and removal of hoardings, encroachments on the building line, &c., which I need not perhaps go into. The Bill proposes to remove them in the following way:—It provides that the burghs may, if they choose, have transferred to them the powers over their roads at present vested in the County Councils. The terms and conditions of this transfer are to be agreed upon between the Commissioners of a Police burgh and the County Council, with a reference in cases of dispute to the Sheriff. This right of absolute control is one to which the Police burghs attach great importance. Finally, Sir, comes the question of the liability of Police burghs to contribute to county roads. As I have already explained, Royal burghs, Parliamentary burghs, and certain Police burghs of a population over 5,000 are subject to no such liability. There seems, therefore, to me to be no reason in equity why Police burghs should not be placed in the same favourable situation. The Police burghs, however, are very anxious to meet the counties in a conciliatory spirit, and are prepared not to press their claim, though they reserve their right to do so at a future time if this compromise is not effected. They are prepared to make some contribution towards the roads in the vicinity of the burgh; but they insist that there shall be some proportion observed between what they give and what they receive; that there shall, in fact, be some give and take in the matter. The argument of the counties is that the people of a burgh use the country roads, and should, therefore, pay for them. As a matter of fact, I believe that the approaches to a town are far more used by the country people than the town people. The town is their market, their railway station, and their post office. I believe in these days of railways that the county district depend far more on the towns than the towns do on the country districts. But let this pass. There is another argument which cannot be so easily dismissed. If the burghs use the roads of the county, the county uses the streets of the burgh. We may frequently see heavy carts passing to and fro between the railway station in a burgh and farm houses or small villages in the country, or passing over the streets from the store where they have gone to purchase materials, or traversing the street of a burgh which connects two highways. For the use of these streets the counties pay nothing. There must, however, be some reciprocity in these matters. If the burghs are to pay for the roads of the county, the county ought to pay for the streets of the burgh. One of the objects of this Bill is to fix the equitable contribution, which the burghs should pay to the counties. This contribution, it is expressly provided, is to be among the conditions to be arranged between the Commissioners of Police burghs and the County Councils, with a reference, in case of dispute, to the Sheriff. In conclusion, Sir, I hope that the House will admit that the Police burghs complain of a real grievance, and that they seek a remedy in a temperate and moderate spirit. The grievance has, I believe, been acknowledged by, at least, one county. One county I know entered into an agreement with the single Police burgh within its boundaries—an agreement which worked admirably, till it terminated, in consequence, I understand, of a legal opinion which decided that it was unlawful. Under these circumstances the Police burghs, in seeeking for justice, have no option but of coming to Parliament; and counties if they desire to do justice, as in the case I have mentioned, must appeal to the same high authority. Sir. I do not wish to anticipate objections to this Bill, but I have heard it suggested that the counties have not had sufficient notice. I say, Sir, that they have had several years' notice of this legislation. They have had the notice of the Burgh, Police, and Health Bill of 1888. They had the notice of my Bill of last year. They have had the notice of a deputation which waited on the Lord Advocate in Edinburgh in October last; and they have had the notice of this Bill which was circulated a fortnight ago—a time amply sufficient for the County Councils, or, at all events, their Law Committees, to have met and given their opinion. I do hope, Sir, that the extreme good fortune of the Police burghs in securing so early a day for the Second Reading of their Bill will not be used as an argument for refusing to pass it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. H. Elliot.)

(12.50.) MR. ASHER (Elgin, &c.)

I rise for the purpose of seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend. I congratulate him on having been successful in bringing it forward at so early a period of the Session. I agree with him that the matter is of a somewhat technical and dry nature; but I can confidently add my testimony to his as to the great interest which is taken in the subject among a large number of the Police burghs which are affected by the measure. The present system in the Police burghs of Scotland in regard to their roads seems to me to be altogether indefensible. It is full of anomalies, which can only be characterised as ridiculous. In many cases it is attended with such inconvenience and injustice as to make it quite unreasonable to require the Police burghs to submit to it in silence. It violates the very first principles of local government. I presume we are all agreed that there is no matter which falls within the category of local administration more completely than the management of roads. That principle received distinct recognition in the Roads and Bridges Act in regard to Royal and Parliamentary burghs. That Act fully recognised that the roads in the country and the roads in the towns require a distinct and separate administration—that the interests connected with each are quite distinct, and ought to be maintained in a totally different manner. Accordingly, while the county roads were placed under the County Road Trustees, the roads in the Royal and Parliamentary burghs were placed in the hands of Local Authorities, to be paid for out of the rates levied within the burghs. Bat that principle was entirely left out of view when the small Police burghs came to be considered, and burghs with a population of less than 5,000 are treated simply as if they form part of the county. The con-sequence is that at the present moment something like 88 Police burghs, many of them with a population exceeding 5,000, are in regard to roads under the administration of the County Councils. In many of these burghs the Local Authority has absolutely nothing to do with the maintenance and administration of the roads. The roads in these burghs are divisible into two classes. There are the roads which are known in the language of the Roads and Bridges Act as highways, and the streets within the burgh which are not highways. A highway under the Roads and Bridges Act means a turnpike road or a statute labour road, which is to say that the streets within a burgh are not highways within the meaning of the Act. The consequence is that a street running through a town is maintained by the County Council out of the county rates; whereas the streets of the same town which are not highways are not under the administration of the County Council, but under the administration of the Local Authorities of the burgh, and maintained by that Local Authority. The County Council makes no contribution whatever towards the maintenance of such streets, and yet the burgh is assessed to the full value of the property within it for the maintenance of the county roads. I might give, as an instance, the case of a town through which a main road runs. In the same town are no fewer than 22 streets which the Local Authority has to manage and maintain, and yet the chief road is managed by the County Authority, and the burgh is assessed to the county rate for road purposes. There are other anomalies which one is tempted to dwell upon. A burgh which was a Police burgh prior to the adoption of the Road Act cannot get side streets or new streets leading out of a main road repaired by the county, yet similar roads in those burghs which have been made Police burghs since the passing of the Road Act are eligible to be placed on the list of highways repairable out of the county rate. If within three months of the time of the passing of the Roads and Bridges Act a Police burgh had a population of 5,000, it was allowed to take over the management of its own roads; but if its population only happened to reach 5,000 four months after the passing of the Act, then it was not allowed to have its roads and bridges under its own management. Again, burghs which maintain the greater number of their own roads are assessed to the full amount of their property in aid of the county rates. These are some of the anomalies which exist under the present system. No doubt it may be said that an Act of Parliament might be passed which would, to a large extent, remove the anomalies, place all the burghs on the same plan, and yet recognise the existing limits of population. But it appears to me the more expedient method of dealing with this difficulty is contained in the Bill, which in itself would sweep the anomalies away altogether, by giving every Police burgh, whatever its population, the power of saying whether it will undertake the absolute control of its own roads, and along with it the responsibility of maintaining the roads at its own expense. Many reasons might be adduced in favour of that proposal. In the first place, it would assimilate the management of roads in Police burghs with that in Royal and Parliamentary burghs. My hon. Friend has referred to the small number of Royal burghs. I do not think he intended to do so in any depreciative sense; but the argument might have been used that the policy of allowing Royal and Parliamentary burghs, however small, to manage their own roads had proved so successful that it might well be extended to Police burghs. There is another reason for this Bill which I think is almost unanswerable. When a burgh is constituted under the Police Act and has its Police Commissioners, surely those Commissioners are the proper authority for the administration of the roads within the burgh limits. It is perfectly true they are Police Commissioners, and not a Town Council; but the duties which fall upon them are really identical with those which fall upon the Magistrates in Council in Royal and Parliamentary burghs. They have, at the present time, the management of such streets as are not main roads within their respective burghs. They have a staff of officials for the purpose of attending to those streets; and why in the world should they not have the power of managing the principal street of their burghs, just as well as of the side streets which adjoin and run out of it? Again, under the surface of this principal street run sewers and gas and water pipes, which are under the control of the Local Commissioners. These pipes require constant attention from a Resident Authority; if a pipe bursts the sooner it is repaired the better; and is it reasonable that authority to break up the road in order to make the repair should have to be obtained from a county surveyor who may be many miles away, and with whom it may take days to communicate? Of course, it is sometimes impossible to await such authority, so the local tradesman breaks the road up, its condition is seriously impaired, and the Road Trustees refuse to put it right again, because of what they term a high-handed act on the part of the local tradesman. Therefore, it does appear to me that the appropriate authority to take charge of the management of the main road in a burgh is that authority which already controls the other streets in it. Again, there is no doubt that the principal street of a burgh requires totally different management from that which is suitable to arid adopted in the case of country roads. Of course, the traffic on a main road in a burgh is much greater than that on a country road; the people resident upon it are much more interested in its being in proper order, yet the County Authority treat it simply as a part of the old turnpike road. I do not blame them for that; I do not think they could be expected to do more than they do at the expense of the county rate; and yet as the law now stands, however anxious the Burgh Local Authority may be to supplement the expenditure of the county on the road, it cannot do so out of the burgh rates. Thus you have this position: On the one hand, the County Council cannot fairly be expected to spend the money necessary to keep the street in thorough and proper order, and the Police Commissioners, on the other hand, are not able to supplement the expenditure at the expense of the people resident within the burgh. Therefore, the appropriate course to pursue under these circumstances is to give the Local Authorities complete administration of the roads within their own boundaries, they to be at the expense of maintaining them in the future. It may be said that the County Councils have not had time to consider this matter; but I agree with my hon. Friend that they have had ample notice, and it seems to me that they have up to the present done nothing by way of indicating serious hostility to these proposals. But any apprehension on their part of risk of prejudice in consequence of the Bill is, I submit, fully met by a liberal provision that any question which may arise between County Councils and burghs as to the terms on which the roads are to be taken over must either be adjusted by consent between the parties or settled by reference to the Sheriff. That, I think, is a most moderate and fair provision, and it is, indeed, difficult to see how the interests of the County Council can in any way be prejudiced by the passing of the Bill in its present form. I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting this Bill on at such an early stage of the Session. I sincerely hope that it may pass the Second Reading to-day, and that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate will not oppose that being done. Of course, we are all aware of the conciliatory manner in which he met the deputation in regard to this matter. If the Bill passes this Session it will remove a serious blot on the existing system of administration in a large number of flourishing communities in Scotland, and it will be a reform of a most. practical and highly satisfactory character.

(1.13.) SIR A. ORR EWING (Dumbarton)

I do not think the County Councils are hostile to this proposal; the only difficulty in the past has been that the burghs objected to an extension of their boundaries. Every one knows that the burghs (by reason of their population, being greater) use the roads more than the county, and therefore, in fairness to the ratepayers, they ought to undertake the burden of maintaining roads some distance beyond their present limits. I hope that the Lord Advocate will see his way to agree to the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill, which, I think, is a very safe one, for it leaves the parties to make between themselves the best arrangement they can. I hope the Bill will pass this Session.

(1.15.) MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N. E.)

I think it will be found there is a general consensus of opinion among Members from Scotland as to the necessity for some legislation upon this subject. That has been, I think, long universally admitted, but the proposal of my hon. Friend is an entirely novel one, and comes upon the Scottish county representatives somewhat by surprise. I do venture, therefore, to urge upon the Government, and upon the Lord Advocate, that before they give unqualified assent to the Bill they should see that some greater consideration than it now contains is given to the interests of the counties in this matter. I cannot quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire that the counties have had sufficient notice of this Bill. My hon. Friend not very long ago had before the House a Bill in which certain limits of population were proposed—I think the limit was as low as 2,000—but this is the very first time it has been proposed unconditionally and without any reference to the extent of population, to confer upon Police burghs the management of their own roads. I have been in communication with the Lanark County Clerk upon this matter. He was quite unaware that this proposal was being made, and not having time to get copies of the Bill from London, he had the copy I forwarded him reprinted and circulated, and he convened a special meeting of the County Council to consider it. Unfortunately, that meeting is only being held to-day. Now, the grounds for advocating an amendment of the law nave always hitherto had reference to a limit of population. Let me say in a word or two what I think are the principles on which this question will have ultimately to be decided. There are obviously two considerations of an opposite character, and yet to each of them the Bill will have to give due weight. The consideration on the one side has been most ably presented to the House by the Mover and Seconder of the Bill. No doubt there is a great deal to be said in favour of a Police burgh having the management of all the roads within its boundaries, seeing that the Commissioners of the burghs have already vested in them paving, cleaning, and lighting powers. But the other consideration to be borne in mind is the pecuniary interest of the counties. I would point out to the House that, under the Act of Parliament regulating these matters in Scotland, centres of population of very moderate size have the power of erecting themselves into towns. The limit of population is, I believe, 700. That is a low limit, but certainly the power has not been abused in the county which I represent, for many towns and large villages, with populations far exceeding the limit, have not availed themselves of it. But there are many other districts where the population is more widely distributed, and I wish to point out that because two or three people are gathered together, so to speak, it would not be fair to take that district away from the rateable area of the county. No doubt where the population chiefly exists in villages, the inhabitants there are the main users of the county roads, and they ought consequently to pay a fair share of the cost of maintaining them. This is a consideration the House should not lose sight of, and consequently I hope the County Councils will have an opportunity of expressing their views on it. It is said that this Bill provides for an arrangement being made by the Sheriff under which any pecuniary claim may be satisfied. But, surely, some principles should be laid down on which the Sheriff should proceed, otherwise it would not be safe for the counties. I am not at all opposed to some legislation on this subject; but I do not think the Bill would remedy all the anomalies which have been pointed out. I trust the Lord Advocate will give such assurances as will enable County Councils to have confidence not only that their interests are attended to, but that they will also have the opportunity of making representations themselves before anything final is done.

(1.25.) MR. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)

I do not know that I can add very much to the fair and exhaustive statements of the Mover and Seconder of the Bill. But, as representing a locality in which this question has created considerable interest, I wish to impress on the House that the existing arrangement is a fruitful source of conflict and dispute between County Councils and Police Commissioners, and for that reason, as well as on account of pecuniary considerations, it is desirable that the matter should be settled in a way that will obviate the necessity of coming to Parliament for further legislation. No doubt it is well for a Local Authority to have absolute control of all matters within the burgh boundaries, and this principle should be carried out wherever it is possible without causing serious inconvenience. But, on the other hand, as the hon. Member who preceded me has pointed out, there is something to be said as to the size of the burghs. I do not suppose that any of the very small burghs would care to take the management of the roads into their own hands; but this question of limit of population is one which the County Councils certainly should consider. No doubt the Roads and Bridges Act settled questions between burghs and counties on a basis satisfactory at the time; but its provisions unfortunately contained no elasticity, and since it was passed new burghs have been incorporated and old ones have largely developed, and it has become necessary that Parliament should again consider the question, and lay down some principle, the elasticity of which will render further Parliamentary interference unnecessary. The Police Committee of the county winch I have the honour to represent have considered this Bill, and recognise the equity of its proposals in the main, the only objection they have being one which can be dealt with in Committee. I appeal to the Government to give a Second Reading to the Bill, with a view to getting rid of a serious source of conflict between counties and burghs—a source which, unless something is done, will continue to be a festering sore. I hope the Bill will go into Committee in sufficient time to ensure a full and fair consideration of al1 questions involved.

(1.31.) MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

I desire to say a few words as to this Bill, the importance of which I fully admit. The hon. Member for North-East Lanarkshire has fairly narrated certain reasons why we should proceed with great deliberation in this matter. Although to the outside world it may appear we are debating but a simple principle and a very small Bill, yet a very large principle is involved, and I am not at all satisfied that it is proposed to deal with it in the most acceptable way. No doubt it is very desirable to have greater uniformity in the system of road management in burghs and counties; it would be well to avoid in the future those heart burnings which have been so rife in the past. So far as my voice goes, therefore, I am quite disposed to advocate the Second Reading of this Bill. No doubt there are evils in the present system which are susceptible of remedy. An illustration of the existing anomalies recently occurred almost within my own constituency. In the burgh of New-town-Stewart a gaspipe got uncovered in the High Street, the main street of the town, and a horse falling over this pipe was seriously damaged. Of course, the pipe was laid by the Burgh Authority, and was under their cognisance, but the street itself was really part of the county road. An action was brought against the County Council in respect of the damage sustained, and a sum of £30 recovered, although the County Council cannot be said to be responsible in equity at all. That is an illustration of a burgh not having the right within its own precincts to keep its own house in order. As to the question as between the burgh and the county, I contend that the approaches to a town are far more important to the burgh than to the county. A burgh probably contains a market, a railway station, and the Post Office, to which the country people resort. By this traffic the roads are cut up, and the county has to pay the expense, and I have known cases where the cost of maintenance for three miles outside a burgh has been £50, £60, and even £100 a mile, whereas four or five miles out it has been only £8 or £10. Yet all this time the burgh is benefiting by the increase of its rateable value. I do not like the provisions making the decision of the Sheriff in such cases final. My main objection, however, is that the County Councils have not had time fully to consider the Bill, and in order to accommodate that objection I would suggest that the Committee stage should not come on till a more advanced period of the Session. I do not believe there will be found to be any disposition on the part of the County Authorities to take undue advantage as against the burghs. We want to do all that is fair and just, and I am hound to say I do not think the present system is either fair or just. I hope, therefore, that the Government will allow the Second Reading to be taken to-day.

(1.40.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

There is evidently a consensus of opinion in favour of reading this Bill a second time. Indeed, it may be said to have been already read a second time, for its principle was embodied in the Burgh Police and Health (Scotland) Act a year or two ago. There is a great deal to be said on each side in regard to the limit of population. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Elgin Burghs, who also represents certain burghs in the county which I have the honour to represent, called attention to the existing anomalies. No one can deny that those anomalies are very great. Take, for instance, the Burgh of Peter-head. My hon. Friend represents that. It is situated at the termini of the roads, and there is consequently no difficulty in dealing with the roads of the town by themselves. But there are other burghs, such as the Royal burgh of Kintore, as to which a most handsome apology was given for its existence. This burgh consists of two or three houses, but one of the great highways of the county goes through it. Of course, I admire the honourable defence made by the hon. Member who represents it with regard to its holding the rights it has; but, surely, it is a great anomaly that such a distinction should be drawn between that Royal burgh and Police burghs with large populations. That distinction ought to be put an end to. I think that this Bill does not go far enough, and I regret that the Lord Advocate does not see his way to bring in a Bill to adjust the anomalies that exist. What we want is to have the best possible Road Authority. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Kirkcudbright in all he said as to the user of the county roads; for let me point out that you cannot have a coal mine in working, or a thriving village, or a railway station, or an aggregation of population without an increase of assessable property. As one step on the way to an adjustment of existing anomalies, I think that a hard and fast line should be applied to the large cities, small towns, and burghs, whereby the right of assessing, whether of the burghs for the county or the county for the burgh, shall be uniform for all, whether great or small. Of course, if there are disputes and a reference to the Sheriff, his decision should be final; but I think there ought to be no necessity for disputes. I would have a uniform law for all without any reference to the Sheriff. If the promoters of the Bill will fix the Committee stage at a sufficiently distant date to ensure that the opinion of road authorities may be secured, I think they will be successful in carrying a permanent and satisfactory reform. At the same time, I hope that the Lord Advocate will see that the interests of the county representatives are protected in this matter of time.

(1.47.) MR. J. B. BALFOUR (Clackmannan, &c.)

I desire to join in the appeal to the Lord Advocate to agree to the Second Reading of this Bill. I think the House must be satisfied that here there is a grievance to be remedied, and by no means a new one, for it has been before the counties and burghs for a considerable time. We know that when the Police and Health (Scotland) Bill was under consideration a great deal of interest was expressed in this question, and we know, too, that the Bill of my hon. Friend last year, and the influential character of the deputation which waited on the Lord Advocate on this subject last October, constitute further evidence of the importance attached to it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give his assent to the Second Reading, and let the details be threshed out in Committee. It is not often that a Scotch private Member's Bill obtains such an advantageous position so early in the Session as this Bill has secured, and it will be a great misfortune if that advantage should be lost by any postponement of the Second Reading. I do not think there can be any objection to fixing the Committee stage at such a date as will enable the County Authorities to give expression to their views. With regard to providing any hard and fast limit of population, I may point out that there is a safeguard in the Bill, as drafted, against places that are too small to have the charge of their own roads attempting to do so. It will not be compulsory on all burghs to take this step; it is only made lawful for them to do so, if they think fit, and only those who hold that it will be to the advantage of the community of whose affairs they have charge will bring themselves under the provision. Those burghs which have no organised staff for this work at present will, no doubt, be quite content to leave the road control in the hands of the county. But this point is eminently one for decision by the Local Authorities themselves. A more important point is whether the burgh should to any extent, and if so what, contribute to the maintenance of the highways immediately outside its boundaries. Well, I think that difficulty is met by the provision that the decision shall rest with the Sheriff, if the authorities themselves fail to agree. As to the objection to the decision of the Sheriff being final, I should like to observe that in this case the Sheriff will not be a judicial, but an administrative officer, performing a piece of administration, and where the assistance of an officer of the independence of character of the Sheriff is invoked, it would be most unfortunate and contrary to principle to give an appeal from his decision, all the more as to have the matter settled one way or the other is the great object of this Bill.


I was anxious to hear the views of hon. Gentlemen before taking part in the Debate. There has been a useful and business-like discussion of this measure, and there does not appear to be any considerable divergence of opinion about it. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire presented with great clearness the anomalies in the existing law. In the first place, it is singular that some burghs having the management of their own streets are inferior in size to those which have not. It is anomalous, again, that in the case of police burghs the Commissioners have the management of all the streets in the burgh save one, and that one the principal street in the burgh. It is also a singular phenomenon that even if the Commissioners are anxious to improve the condition of the principal street, which happens to be a main thoroughfare, it is not within their competence to spend the rates upon that laudable purpose. And it is very singular that while a village which has no autonomy of its own is in a position to claim, and frequently to obtain, the admission of some of its streets to the list of county roads, that privilege is denied to police burghs, and they suffer positively a disability by reason of their having a corporate existence. Again, the fact that sewers and gas-pipes run under these roads, and cannot be reached without the consent of the Local Authority, is likely to cause irritation. It is impossible, upon a consideration of these facts, to avoid the conclusion that the law is susceptible of Very great criticism, arid ought to be susceptible of amendment. I should like, however, to Say, on the other hand, that the reason for which the management and maintenance of these main roads has been reserved to the counties is completely intelligible, because the policy of the Legislature has been to terminate as far as possible the cutting into bits of a long line of thoroughfare and to concentrate it within the county area under the hands of one body of Trustees. That is obviously convenient. There is, in short, a conflict of convenience, however, when the thoroughfare passes through a burgh. It is desirable that continuity of management should not be broken, but it is undesirable that the Burgh Authority should be ousted from the management of the main part of the town. The proper way of arriving at a solution, perhaps, is to discover the cases where the main thoroughfare retains substantially its character of a through road, and the cases where it loses that character and is more of a street in a town. I think the House is fairly entitled to reserve its judgment as to the size of the burghs which shall have vested in them these powers of road management. Coming, however, to the practical question, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the substantive proposal is the transfer of a jurisdiction at present vested in the County Councils to the police burghs, and not only of jurisdiction, but also of a power of assessment. I think there is an awkwardness in the House pronouncing upon a question of local administration in the absence of the views of the local administrators from whom this subtraction of power is to be made, and, therefore, my opinion leads me towards the suggestion that the Debate should be adjourned until the County Councils have had an opportunity of considering the matter. I certainly do not agree that the County Councils are to blame for not having already considered this Bill. The Bill is not the same as that of last year; but even as regards last year's Bill the County Councils had a great deal to do at the time and could not consider the measure. I think they should be asked to express their opinions promptly on this Bill, and at once stats their recommendations on the subject. I have some reserve in pronouncing on a matter of this kind, which is really one of local convenience, and one for local consideration, in the absence of the views of one of the authorities, which is the authority from which it is proposed to subtract power. At the same time, there is great force in what has been said by the hon. Gentleman as justifying the Second Reading of the Bill now. I am, myself, most reluctant, my hon. Friend having obtained the position of the First Order in the early part of the Session, to deprive him of the Second Reading. I do not think the subject is one of such complexity or doubt that we may not fairly give the Bill a Second Reading. But I hope the hon. Gentleman will accede to the views which have been urged in all quarters of the House, as to the sense in which he is to take the Second Reading. This is really a matter of detail. I do not suppose that he will consider that the House is committed to more than the general view that there ought to be an extension of powers to burghs in regard to roads; whether we shall confer on the Police burghs the right of managing their own roads is a question which I, for my part, desire to hold an open mind. Whether, again, there should be a limit in point of time is a subject with which it is unnecessary to deal. But that point acquires special importance when it is remembered that while the terms of transfer, according to the Bill, will be subject to agreement by the County Council, or settlement by the Sheriff, the County Council has no right of veto upon the transfer; that can only go before the Sheriff on the subject of terms. I trust that my hon. Friend will accept the suggestion which I throw out as to the sense in which he will take the Second Reading. I should like to add that nothing I have said is intended to suggest to the County Councils, or those who represent them, that there are reasons which ought to make them jealous or timid about this proposal. I cannot say that I think that is the case. Another matter which I wish particularly to impress upon my hon. Friend is this: I hope he will not fix the Committee stage for too early a date, and I Would suggest that he should take it after Easter, in order to allow of the County Council meeting in March. The discussion we have had to-day has been so amicabla and reasonable that he may be satisfied after the County Councils have considered the Bill that the Committee stage will not be protracted or laborious. On the part of the Government, I shall approach the subject as a matter of mere administration which ought, however, to be carried through with the general consent of the House. (2.5.)

(2.20.) SIR ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL (Renfrew, W.)

Mr. Speaker, while concurring with the remarks of the Lord Advocate on the Bill, and being ready to vote for the Second Reading, I shall reserve to myself the right of proposing any such Amendment as may be necessary in Committee. Every County Council has not reported upon this Bill, because it has not had time; and I trust that in accordance with the suggestion of the Lord Advocate, the Committee stage will not be taken until after Easter. In my own County of Renfrew there is a large number of Police burghs and populous places where the action of the Bill as laid down would be rather hard. The county has expended a large sum of money on the main roads. We have two large road steamers, beside machinery for breaking up the road metal, and there is a general consensus of opinion that as a result of that expenditure the roads are much better than they were before. I should be very much afraid that if there were any part of the contributions by the populous places and the Police burghs withdrawn, it would bear exceedingly heavy on the other parts of the county which have to keep up their expensive machinery. I have no objection to the Police burghs managing their own roads as well as they can, but I think it should be clearly laid down that the county, having to keep up all these through roads, they should contribute, at all events, to a certain extent, to the large cost which is involved in providing for the large traffic going into these large burghs. I believe in England that the rate is collected in these boroughs, or those places which are similar to the Police burghs in Scotland, by the County Council, and that a certain portion of it is given back to the brughs. If a certain sum is to be given to keep up the roads within the burghs, the burghs would then maintain them, and the counties would not lose anything by it. Another question to be Considered in this matter is the breaking up of the counties. Now, especially in Renfrewshire, the main roads which run out of Glasgow run through a number of large Police burghs, and the result of the passage of this Bill would be that if these burghs are to be taken out of the county, and to have the management of their own roads, you would have, say, one mile of road within a burgh, another in the county, and a third mile in another burgh, so that the county would be broken up somewhat after the manner of a draught or chess-board. I think that the continuity of authority which has proved so valuable in keeping the roads in a better condition than would otherwise have been the case would thereby be destroyed, and that the public generally would lose by the change. These matters could, however, be all dealt with in Committee. It should ha thoroughly understood that in conceding the Second Reading of the Bill we merely adopt the principle to the burghs that the burghs should have as much authority as they fairly ought to have within the limits of their own jurisdiction, bat that the counties should not lose by a measure that is intended for the safeguarding of the towns.


I quite concur with what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate in accepting the principle of the Bill, but I hope he will allow me to put the Committee stage down for to-morrow, so that I may not lose the priority I have obtained for the Bill, on the understanding that I shall not proceed with the Committee stage till after Easter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for to-morrow.