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This important Act excited a strong interest in several quarters. It is a consolidating Act, introduced on the recommendation of the valuable Report of the Committee of the House of Commons on the system of “County Rates,” presented in July 1834* (founded on the evidence of intelligent and experienced gentlemen of landed property, and surveyors), and its necessity was suggested, with that of the Turnpike Road Acts, so long back as the year 1811. These latter Acts were accordingly consolidated in the session of 1822,t and the present Statute has at length been passed to effect the same object with respect to Highways not under the regulation of Turnpike Trusts. Again, it effects some alterations which seem to have been long and much desired in the mode of repairing the Highways, especially by the abolition of Statute Duty (which, variously modified, has existed for three centuriest). It has generally rendered more simple and efficacious the whole system by which that branch of the public interests is regulated, and which is daily becoming more important, and requiring more careful superintendence, from the necessity felt for increased facility of communication, and the additional attention consequently paid to improvements in the mode of making and repairing our roads. Railways, indeed, as such, are not within the provisions of this Act ;but every successful establishment of them necessarily creates a greater demand for improved modes of communication across
* Parliamentary papers for that session, vol. xiv. p. 1.
It was first imposed in the reign of Phillip and Mary.
the country, and becomes the means of converting lanes and by-roads into public highways.
Besides, under the present Statute, the rate-payers (who were, formerly, only interested in the impositions inflicted by the Highway Acts) are intrusted with important privileges, especially of appointing their own Surveyors (a privilege, practically speaking, previously in the hands of magistrates), to whom the execution of the Act is confided, and on whose capacity and trustworthiness so much of its efficiency must necessarily depend.
For these reasons, therefore, this Act is one of great importance and interest ; and the object of the present publication is to render its provisions accessible to a large body, on whom it confers valuable powers, viz., the rate-payers of the parish, and to the smaller but influential class of surveyors who are to carry it into effect.*
The Committee above referred to, in their Report, directed the attention of the legislature to the evils it was desirable to remedy; and a brief statement of them will be the best mode of describing the objects of the Act.
1. Too much of the expense of repairing the Highways was thrown on the land : a burthen which ought to be general, in fact, being local.
* Mr Bateman (the author of two or three treatises on the laws relating to Highways) bas published a valuable edition of this Act. It is chiefly, however, intended for professional men. It will be found valuable to consult, as it contains a great number of forms in addition to those of the schedule to the Act, and also a reprint of many provisions of statutes relating to the subject.
Mr. Tidd Pratt (the gentleman who prepared the Act) has also published an edition of it, but of a similar character to Mr. Bateman's.
The reader may also be referred to the treatise published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, viz., No. 77 of the Farmer's series, for many valuable practical suggestions as to the repair of Highways, written by Mr. Penfold, the Surveyor.
2. The inconvenient mode of repairing the Highways by Statute Duty.
3. The incompetence of Surveyors.
To remedy the two first evils, the Act imposes a Highway rate on all property rateable to the poor, and some other species, particularly described. The Committee, however, say that a strong objection has prevailed against the abolition of Team-work, from its being supposed that farmers can better contribute to the repair in that mode than by a money payment. The Act has consequently conferred a power on the rate-payers to direct such work in the manner therein described.t
As to the incompetence of Surveyors elected before the Act, great dissatisfaction appears to have
* This criterion has been complained of as vague and uncertain (by Mr. Bateman, in his work before referred to); but it would, perhaps, be difficult to find one more generally and better known to those whom it is the object of the Act to rate, viz., the great bulk of the inhabitants of the parish, or to those whose duty it is to assess it.
The Poor Law Commissioners, in their Report on Local Taxation (1843), when recommending the consolidation of twenty-four rates into one General Rate, thus sum up the advantages which the Poor Rate possesses as a criterion for assessment :-" There are many reasons why the Poor Rate should be made the standard for all the other rates. It is already that which is incontestably the best defined by the statute law, and by a great mass of judicial interpretation; it is, as regards its amount, the most important of all the local taxes, and therefore it has the largest number of officers already engaged in connection with it, and consequently (and this we consider a very weighty reason) it is more extensively known in all its details and bearings than any other rate which could be adopted as a standard for the rest. It is the rate which could also be most easily conformed to, as indeed is abundantly proved by the universal imitations of it where there is no obligation, nor indeed authority, to conform to it. It is also very certain that, in future legislation, the tax of greatest amount will, as heretofore, always most readily present itself as the one to be imitated in providing for new exigencies." (Report, pp. 85-6.)
+ See section 35.