HL Deb 18 August 1881 vol 265 cc203-6

asked Her Majesty's Government, Whether, pre- vious to the introduction of a new Highways Bill, there would be any objection to address a circular letter to the chairmen and magistrates in Quarter Sessions assembled, with the object of eliciting as far as possible the general feeling in the rural districts respecting the details of future legislation on the subject of public roads? The noble Viscount said he believed that, before legislation was proceeded with, information was wanted from all parts of the country. He was emboldened to hope that the Government would take the matter up from the strong language in which a Member of the Government had condemned the last Act of Parliament on the subject. Their public roads were the worst managed in the world. As long as they had Local Boards who appointed persons with low salaries to look after them they would not have their roads in a proper state. What was required was that there should be properly salaried officers, who should be responsible to the Quarter Sessions or some other body. In France and other Continental countries the whole supervision of the roads was placed in the hands of highly salaried officers, who had persons under them charged with the duty of looking after certain portions of road, perhaps five miles in length. In England the case was different; but all he asked of the Government was to address a circular letter to the Courts of Quarter Sessions throughout the country to ascertain what were the feelings of the several localities on the subject, as it was desirable their Lordships should have the fullest information previously to being called upon to sanction a new system.


reminded the noble Viscount that a Select Committee of their Lordships' House had been sitting on this subject throughout the whole of the present and a great portion of last Session. They had taken the evidence of persons from all the counties of England, from Durham to Devonshire, and from Suffolk on the one side to Montgomery on the other. They had heard the views, not only of magistrates of Quarter Sessions, but of ratepayers, farmers, millers, and all classes on the subject. There was a mass of evidence which would enable anyone who wished to study the Blue Book to arrive at a conclusion, though, no doubt, the evi- dence was very conflicting. He did not see the use of taking the views of magistrates, as suggested by the noble Viscount; the opinions of the Highway Boards would be better.


said, he had not seen the Blue Book to which the noble Duke had referred.


remarked, that it would have been better if the noble Viscount before asking the Question had spent some hours in studying the Evidence which the Committee had taken. When once the country had been put to the expense of having the Report with the Evidence printed, he did not believe that the cost of transmitting it to the different Quarter Sessions and Highway Boards would be greater than the advantage that would be derived to them from its perusal. But the subject was not quite so simple, nor so easily to be dealt with, as the noble Viscount seemed to imagine. It was a very complicated and difficult matter; and very competent witnesses, who had spoken conscientiously, and had given very good evidence, had expressed very conflicting views upon it. He did not think any practical end would be served by the issue of the Circular referred to.


said, that one question, and a most important one, was where means were to come from for the repair of the roads. There was a great cry throughout the country as to the excessive burden thrown upon one class of property for maintaining roads for the benefit of all. It was a most unfortunate thing to abolish all the turnpikes, as the roads were now used by persons who paid nothing towards their repair and maintenance. He was much surprised that there should have been such an outcry against turnpikes; but it became a fashion to make it, though he could not see the objection which was urged against them. Many persons in business—brewers and others—made a profit from their use of the roads, and paid little or nothing towards their repair, and they ought to be made to pay some toll for their traffic.


said, he hoped the noble Viscount would be satisfied with the answer which had been given by the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset). The Government found that a very large amount of evidence had been taken with respect to the existing state of the law relating to highways by the Committee appointed by their Lordships to inquire into the whole matter, and they had just made their Report to the House. Witnesses from all parts of the country had been examined on the subject, and among them were magistrates and persons actively engaged in the administration of the Highway Acts, who had fully stated their views as to the amendments needed in the existing law. Under these circumstances, there would appear to be ample information collected of the feeling as to the details of future legislation on the subject; but if, after perusing the voluminous evidence which had been taken, further information should be needed, the Government would consider the expediency of obtaining it in some such way as that suggested. At the same time, it might be added that after the Reports and Evidence had been circulated the Local Government Board would be ready to entertain any representations which either the chairmen and magistrates in Quarter Sessions or the highway authorities might deem it expedient to offer with reference to the legislation required.

House adjourned at a quarter before Six o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter before Five o'clock.