§ EARL DE LA WARR,
in asking, Whether Her Majesty's Government propose to introduce any measure this Session on the subject of highways, or in any other manner to afford relief to ratepayers in consequence of the heavy 570 burdens with which they were charged to maintain them? said, their Lordships would remember that a Select Committee was appointed last Session to inquire into all questions affecting highways and the working of the Highway Acts. A large amount of evidence was given, showing that amendments in those Acts were much needed, and that burdens upon the ratepayers had considerably increased, owing, in a great measure, to the charges for the maintenance of main roads, since the abolition of turnpikes, and also in consequence of expenses in the working of Highway Boards. Last year assistance was given in the shape of a payment from the Treasury; but, as there must be uncertainty about this in the future, there was naturally some anxiety as to what Her Majesty's Government proposed to do. There was, no doubt, an increasing feeling in the country that main roads, which were so much used by the public, should be made a national charge, or that some alteration should be made in that direction. He begged to ask the Question of which he had given Notice.
THE MARQUESS OF HERTFORD
said, that, before the noble Lord answered the Question, he should like to say that he could endorse all that the noble Earl had advanced in regard to highway rates. The noble Earl's Question was asked in the interests of the farmers, whose prospects, he feared, were more depressed than most people were aware. Judging from the Speech from the Throne, he doubted whether the Government sufficiently realized the terrible straits to which the agricultural interest had been reduced. Had the Government been alive to all the sad facts of the case, they would have regarded the relief of agriculture as a question deserving of a prominent place in their list of proposed measures; whereas, in fact, they had mentioned no Bills affecting the farmers, except the Local Government Bill, the Bill for the Conservancy of Rivers and the Prevention of Floods, and the proposal more effectually to secure to tenants compensation for improvements. Most of these measures were unquestionably necessary; and if they were brought forward without any Party spirit, and with a sincere desire to benefit both landlords and tenants, would be well received on that side of the House. Those proposals, however, good 571 as they were, would not give any real help to the impoverished farmers. The depression had, in many cases, been most severe where the tenants were already in a good position as regarded their landlords, and for efficient relief it was necessary to look to the removal of local burdens. Surely it was a monstrous injustice that on the abolition of the turnpikes the whole of the charges of the highways should be borne by the land. Personal property paid nothing whatever for the maintenance of the roads, which, nevertheless, wore freely used and cut up by the carts of brewers, coal merchants, and timber merchants. The desired change might be difficult of accomplishment, but could not be impossible. Again, there was the question of heavy education rates, especially where there are board schools, and he would point out how landed property was taxed to the relief of the rest of the community. He hoped to have an early opportunity of discussing this, and the other unjust burdens at present imposed on the land. He trusted that better seasons would come, and that farmers would, with renewed and increased energy, apply themselves to the cultivation of the soil, and not be led astray by agitators who were simply trying to set class against class. He hoped that the Government would put aside all Party feelings, and do their best to pass good measures which would be a relief to the agriculturists, who were as hard working, law-abiding, and loyal a class as any in the Kingdom.
in reply, said, that £250,000 was voted by Parliament last year in relief of the highway rates, and it was the intention of the Government to propose to continue the arrangement on the same basis, though, from more accurate knowledge of the sums required, there might be some slight difference in the amount.