HL Deb 12 March 1880 vol 251 cc902-5

said, he desired to call attention to the operation of the Highways and Locomotives (Amendment) Act, 1878; and asked, If it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to propose any alteration or amendment of this Act during the present Session? Also, to move for a Return of parishes in each county in England and Wales which are not included in highway districts. The noble Earl said, the object of the Act was, he presumed, to provide a substitute for turnpike trusts. The present law operated in many cases unequally, unfairly, and unjustly, throwing excessive burdens on the ratepayers. In one case he believed that 175 per cent had been added to the rates. As a rule, it had increased the expense of maintaining highways. Some roads, which were now parish roads, ought to be made main roads; but, in many cases, the parishes had no means of bringing the matter before the magistrates. A better system would be to have all highways made main roads, except those which the magistrates decided should remain parochial roads. As to the increase of rates, great relief had been given to the ratepayers in this country of late years in several ways—by the payment of the salaries of the Poor Law officers, by the assistance given to lunatic asylums, and the large amount paid towards the police rate—and something of a similar kind might be done with regard to the highways—as payment of some portion of the salaries of their officers. He begged to ask the Question which stood on the Paper in his name, modified by substituting for the words "during the present Session," the words "when Parliament re-assembles."

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Return of parishes in each county in England and Wales which are not included in highway districts."—(The Earl De La Warr.)


complained that the existing Act had given rise to a very expensive staff of officials, and that their duties were not so efficiently discharged as they had been before. The amount of taxation thrown on parishes which had no turnpike roads was very serious. The practice of spreading the rates over wide districts naturally led to an increase of the rates, because the various localities had no interest in keeping them down. Then the rates fell heaviest on those who used the roads least. A very simple remedy, which would partially meet the case, was to put the main roads at once under the care of the county surveyor, making him responsible for the contract, and reverting, to a certain extent, to the old system with respect to the parish roads.


said, that he did not intend to follow the noble Earl into the very large subject of the incidence of local taxation which he had raised. His noble Friend wished to know whether the Government would deal with this question on the re-assembling of Parliament, and he was evidently very sanguine as to the result of the next Election. It was impossible for Her Majesty's Government to say, with anything like certainty, what they would do when that Parliament re-assembled. His noble Friend had objected greatly to the system of highway districts, which, he said, did not lessen the expense of the roads in the country; but he forgot, in connecting that with the Act of 1878, that it was the Act of 1864 which brought that system into operation, and that it was the Act of a Government with which the present Administration had no connection whatever. Then his noble Friend found fault with the system of "disturnpiking" the roads in the country; but the Committee which gave its recommendations on that subject was composed of men who were well qualified to advise upon it, and his noble Friend would find it difficult to set up the old system of turnpikes again throughout the country; but the Act of 1878 modified, to a certain extent, the Act of 1864. He did not adopt the view taken by his noble Friend, because he thought that under the present law every parish in the country had an opportunity of bringing its case, as regarded roads, before the magistrates, who were the authorities best able to deal with it. For the magistrates to go over the country declaring what roads ought not to be main roads would be a cumbrous proceeding; and he demurred altogether to the statement of his noble Friend as to the alleged grievances of the parishes under the Act of 1878. It had lessened, and not increased, the expenses of the high roads. In any case, whether as to consolidation or amendment, future legislation must, of course, very much depend upon the fate which the Government would have to meet in the course of the next few weeks. As to the Return moved for by his noble Friend, it could not be compiled in a perfect form till after the 25th of March; and he would, therefore, urge on his noble Friend the advisability of allowing the matter to stand over until Parliament re-assembled.


said, he would feel no regret personally if Her Majesty's present Advisers should not have an opportunity, as a Government, of bringing in a Bill when the new Parliament assembled; but, if not, they would at least have the great consolation of not being called upon to try and amend the Highways Act of 1878. That Act was condemned almost unanimously by country gentlemen and farmers, whatever might be their politics, as a supreme and total failure. It was founded on the false principle of compelling people to perform a work for which they were incompetent. He did not think that it would be possible to go on long under the present system, and any Government that should be in Office after the General Election should propose an amendment of the law. Some sort of uniformity was necessary, and they had gone from bad to worse.


thought that the highways district system worked well; but it was unjust to throw the maintenance of the main roads upon the districts. The abolition of the turnpike system was a great error; because brewers and tradesmen, who used the roads very much, did not contribute their fair proportion towards the maintenance of the roads. The true system, he believed, was to take tolls. It was a very difficult subject, and required much consideration; but he confessed that the only way to maintain roads was to make those who used them pay for them.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.