HC Deb 01 March 1836 vol 31 cc1112-24
Mr. Poulett Thomson

slated to the House the course he proposed it should pursue. By the Report of the Committee which had been circulated with the votes, hon. Members would be aware of the recommendations of the Committee: and he should call upon them to concur in. a series of resolutions embodying those recommendations. The first would be, that it be an instruction to the List-Committee upon every Bill, to obtain specific information on all the points adverted to in the Report. The object of it was, that all the intelligence that could be furnished regarding particular railroads should be laid upon the Table. The next resolution respected divisions in List-Committees, and the attendance of Members upon those Committees. The third had for object the giving time for the nomination of Members upon List-Committees in cases where there were competing lines of railroad, in order that contending parties might come to an amicable arrangement, if they thought fit, and have the comparative merits decided by the same body of Members. The fourth resolution was directed against giving additional time to Committees to make their Reports on competing lines of railroad, excepting under special circumstances. The fifth resolution would be that whenever the report of a Committee related to three railroads with common termini, the House would take it into consideration, and discuss the subject on Tuesdays prior to the debate upon any pending motions. The reasons for these resolutions would be found in the Report on the Table. The Committee by which these resolutions were framed had had two points to consider; first, how special information could be obtained for the House on the different plans; and secondly, to take care that no injustice was done to those plans which had been submitted, in the course of the present Sesaion, upon the faith of the existing standing orders. Whatever might be the opinion of the Committee as to the fitness of the plan as to the nomination of the List Com- mittee, and as to the standing orders, it had been found impossible to suggest any alteration as regarded Railroad Bills introduced in the present Session. The Committee had directed its best attention to a system that had prevailed to a certain extent—that of votes in Committees being made rather a matter of favour than of judgment. Next, it had had to consider the best means of making the House acquainted with such information as might guide its ultimate decision; that it might not be a tribunal called upon to determine upon the merits without the means of knowing what those merits were. One point had been mentioned and favourably received during the former discussion, viz. the propriety of referring railroads with different lines and the same termini to the same Committee. The Committee had been most anxious to recommend that plan, thinking that great advantage would result from it; but in justice to the different Bills, it had been found impossible to adopt it. It was rendered impossible partly because the Bills would be in various stages: one might have passed the second reading, and another might have passed only the first reading—these could not be referred at the same time to the same Committee, because the Bill that had only been read a first time might be thrown out on the second reading. It had therefore been thought best that such Bills should be referred to the ordinary List-Committee, but with an anxious desire that the conflicting parties should by consent go before the same Committees. The Report on the Table therefore recommended that the House should give every facility to such an arrangement. For this purpose it was suggested that some time should elapse before the lists were fixed, in order that parties might have time to come to an understanding if they thought fit. Such were the principal points in there solutions of the Committee, but it had not thought fit to enter into any question of conditions: it bad considered the House the proper tribunal for the conditions on which railroads should be granted, if any were thought necessary. It had been the most anxious desire of the Committee to do all that was best under the circumstances, and to remove all difficulties that were capable of being overcome. At present all it was necessary for him to do was, to move the first resolution he had stated.

Sir Harry Verncy

said, that he felt it his duty to propose that another select Committee should be appointed to take all the circumstances more fully into consideration, He believed that railroads were absolutely necessary to maintain the commercial and manufacturing superiority of this country, and his object was, that the fullest consideration should be given to the different lines proposed, in order that that which offered the greatest advantages might be adopted. At present it seemed to him that most of these schemes had been undertaken for the promotion of local and not of national, interests: and, in some cases, he had no doubt that public benefit had been sacrificed to private profit. He thought that some body, in the shape of a Royal Commission, should be constituted, with supreme power to examine and decide on the merits of conflicting plans, and to recommend that to the Legislature which seemed most worthy of adoption. The members of this Commission he would select principally from officers of the Engineers in his Majesty's service, associated with other known and competent individuals; and they would have to give their opinion and advice to the King in council. He had given notice of a motion for the appointment of another Committee, and it was his intention to persevere in it.

Colonel Sibthorp

admitted, with the hon. Baronet opposite, that many of these undertakings had emanated from local interests, without any regard to national ones. He had no hesitation in saying, that upon grounds of public duty, in preference to private interests, he had taken every means of opposing these undertakings from beginning to end. He wished to put the public upon their guard with respect to them, for he was afraid Ministers were not inclined to give the subject due consideration. He thought time ought to be given for investigating the subject, for in some points the resolutions proposed by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite were not sufficiently specific. Every opportunity ought to be given of entering into the merits or demerits of the subject, and though he might agree with many of the resolutions proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, yet he was so satisfied of the good effects of further delay that he should vote with the hon. Baronet opposite for the appointment of a Select Committee. He thought that if the whole of the proposed Bills could be postponed until next Session it would be very desirable. He had some additional resolutions to propose, but he would postpone doing so at the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite till the great question was decided. He was much afraid, if these undertakings went on, that many who had embarked in them would find, that they had lost their all. Many persons had realised large fortunes— ten, twenty, and even eighty thousand pounds—by these railroad speculations. After some further remarks the hon. and gallant Member concluded by stating his intention of supporting the amendment for the appointment of a Select Committee.

Sir George Strickland

felt, that it was desirable to introduce some plan by which Railroad Bills should be more attentively and patiently considered than they had hitherto been. He had been a member of the Committee on Railroads, and had hoped on entering the Committee that they should have been able to have devised some general rules for the better management of the business relating to these Bills; but he found that upon mature consideration in the Committee it was impossible, under the circumstances, to do so. It depended, he thought, on the House itself to give a more patient consideration to this subject, and to pay a greater attention than they were in the habit of doing to private Bills of this nature.

Mr. Potter

thought, that a great improvement might be made in the mode in which the juries for assessing compensation were appointed; and he wished that greater attention should be paid to the protection of the rights of way, as far as public paths and thoroughfares were concerned. Sufficient attention was not paid to these points.

Lord George Lennox

complained that so many Railway Bills should be referred to the same Committee; and he regretted that the Report of the Committee on Railways had not recommended that no Member of the House should be a Member of a Committee on any Bill for the formation of a railway of which he was a director or a shareholder.

Mr. Hume

thought that too much attention was paid to private interests in the consideration of Bills relating to Railways. The points of greatest importance to be considered by Committees were, first, whether there was a probability of the Railroads being carried into effect; and next, whether, if carried into effect, the public interest would be benefited. He was of opinion, however, that until a proper tribunal was established for deciding on the merits of these Bills, no authority could be relied on except that of the whole House. He was willing to admit, that the object of the hon. Baronet's Amendment was a good one, and that the instruction which that hon. Member had moved, was one calculated to produce a public benefit. But the first step which the House should take was to provide a proper tribunal for these Bills, Fifteen Members would be sufficient to constitute a Committee, and he would suggest that not less than twelve should form a quorum. When less than, twelve attended, the proceedings of the Committee ought to be suspended, a Report made to the House, and the Members who were absent called to account. Let the Committee be drawn by ballot, and the first fifteen be held to constitute the Committee, unless objections were made, such as had been suggested by the noble Lord (Lord-G. Lennox)—namely, the being directors or shareholders of the company, which he thought was a disqualification. He should object to the resolutions proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, unless the House thought it fit to adopt the plan he had suggested—namely, that of a limited Committee to be made responsible to the House for their conduct.

Lord Stanley

said, that in the Committee of fifteen, which had framed the resolutions, the only absent Member was the hon. Member for Middlesex. That hon. Member had given his attendance only for two or three hours the first day of sitting. It was true he had propounded the proposition just put by him to the House; it was not acceded to, and he never gave the Committee his company afterwards. The Committee had decided that no alteration should be made in the nature of the tribunal in the present Session, because they were willing to see how the existing form would work before they adopted a new one. Besides, they had taken every precaution to secure the attention and strict attendance of hon. Members—by proposing that those who were absent should be reported to the House—that the names of every hon. Member who divided should be recorded in every division and submitted to the House also; and moreover, that every hon. Member should state his reasons for his vote, and give the cause which led to his conviction. The proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, was impracticable. It would be impossible for one Committee to decide on all the applications before Parliament. At that moment there were no less than fifty-seven schemes for railways before the House, or in various stages of progress—a fact which needed only to be known to prove that it would be impossible for any set of men to report singly on them. With regard to the proposition of the hon. Member for Middlesex, he thought it might be considered next Session; but he was sure it would be anything but an advantage to the public to consider it at present. As far as selecting the Committees by ballot went, be would only say, that when the time consumed in an election ballot was considered, it would be anything but a saving of it to adopt the hon. Member's proposition. With respect to appointing a separate Committee for each Bill he should simply observe, that if the hon. Member's suggestion were acceded to, of having fifteen or twenty Members to each Committee, with the present number of Bills—fifty-seven— before the House, 855 Members would be required out of a House composed of 658. When all these things were considered he was sure the House would agree with him that the Committee had acted wisely in recommending no alteration at present in the form of the tribunal. If in the course of trial the system suggested by them should be found insufficient for the ends it was designed to secure, then it would be for the House to adopt any other which would be likely to give more satisfaction. It was proposed as a temporary, not as a permanent arrangement, and on these grounds he supported the Resolutions.

Mr. George P. Young

said, that though the House and the country were deeply indebted to the Committee, yet, on the grounds adduced by the hon. Member for Middlesex, he was bound to say, he thought their Resolutions did not give entire satisfaction. Neither did he think the noble Lord's defence then partook of his usual success in matters of that nature. He was of opinion, that some improvement in the constitution of the tribunal was necessary; and as it was important to the public, it should be effected at once. With so many Bills for Railways before Parliament, any evil which might result from immediately doing it, would be overbalanced by the good it would produce.

Mr. Harvey

suggested, that a mode of meeting the difficulties in connexion with the question of railways, would be to make it incumbent on projectors to submit their several plans to the Home Office six months at least before the meeting of Parliament, say, on the 1st of August in each year; and also to deposit a sum of money sufficient to defray the expense of engineers in surveying and reporting the respective lines of railway. Government would thus be enabled, at the meeting of Parliament, to point out to the House those plans which were most feasible, and by that means a great saving of time and trouble to the House, and of expense to the parties, would take place. In his opinion the Resolutions of the Committee would be productive of great advantage, though he would freely admit they were open to much comment and objection. But, on the whole, it were better that any further proceeding should be deferred as to the constitution of the tribunal, than that a crude and hasty measure should be adopted by the House. The hon. Member objected to the suggestion of the noble Lord, the Member for Sussex, on the ground that there were indirect influences, equally, if not more powerful, than the direct one of being a registered proprietor or shareholder; and he admitted that he was a shareholder himself, as well as many other hon. Members whom he could name, but denied that it could have any influence on his opinions. Another suggestion which he should venture to make was, that the Committee should not hear too many Counsel; one on each side would be enough, and it would save time and expense to hear no more. If, however, the suggestion of the noble Lord was to be adopted, he (Mr. Harvey) should further propose, that no hon. Member having interest, direct or contingent, in railroads should be allowed to take part in the proceedings of the Committee.

Lord George Lennox

had not meant to allude personally to the hon. Member; and he must, state that neither himself nor any Member of his family had any interest, contingent or direct, in any line of railway before Parliament.

Mr. Gisborne

said, that he was a proprietor of shares in a railway speculation, and that nothing which had been said on the subject should induce him to throw them away.

Sir Robert Peel

—Sir, the discussion before the House involves matters of considerable importance to the public, and in which it is evident the public take a deep and proportionate interest. I admit, Sir that the noble Lord has made out a strong prima facie case in favour of the propriety of excluding from these Committees the shareholders and Members who had a direct interest in the matters brought before them; and if the principle of security involved in his suggestion be adopted, I think it ought to be applied much more extensively. But, Sir, the security he purposes to attain, is, in my opinion, a false security, and more calculated to deceive the public than to effect any practical benefit, I apprehend that the man least liable to suspicion of acting unjustly is he whose interest is most notorious in the question, and who has a considerable stake depending on its decision. But this interest is not always so apparent, though perhaps really as great, in the case of the man whose estate is cut through by the railroad, and who has an opportunity afforded him of making his own terms with the Company—or in the case of the man who would be greatly though privately benefitted by its execution. How can such cases be met? If the noble Lord does not exclude all who may possibly be interested in the question, he acts in opposition to his own principle. But it really appears to me, Sir, that it will be impossible to exclude altogether the influence of private and remote interests in the consideration of these affairs, and that it will be better to leave it to the private honour and judgment of an individual so interested, whether he should attend on the Committee or not. The hon. Member for Middlesex said, that he still thought it very possible to adopt precautions against interested decisions; and the hon. Member for Tynemonth thought that a tribunal to adjust all the claims of property interfered with would be very desirable, and ought to be established. It would certainly be very desirable to form such an arrangement, and if it could be effected it ought to be. But, Sir, it cannot be accomplished, at least during the present Session. The noble Lord has said, that there were fifty-seven Bills for Railroads at present before the House, and it is a settled point that a Select Committee cannot enter on business with less than fifteen Members. This would, therefore, require above 800 Members for railroads alone. But there are numbers of private Bills for other objects than railroads. I believe the number of private Bills amounts altogether to 200, which would, if this arrangement were adopted, demand a House of 3,000 Members to supply them with Select Committees. The Ministers themselves would be liable to be called on to contribute to the progress of the rail-reads, and their evidence received, like others, before Select Committees repeat, Sir, that there is no time this Session to take sufficient precautions, as a means of security, for the proper and efficient working of this Select-Committee system. It will not effect the object, to take fifteen by ballot indiscriminately from, the whole House, for the majority may be completely ignorant of the locality in question, as well as of the principles involved in the establishment of railroads. Again, seven of the elected may be impartial men, and eight may be notoriously interested. What is then to be done? If you act on the noble Lord's principle you must make them stand aside. You must provide for their exclusion by introducing the right of challenge into your arrangement. You must, in short, to insure the proper working of such a system, provide a vast number of regulations. The most serious practical objection, however, is the want of attendance of a sufficient number of Members to enable the House to enter on a proper comprehensive selection for such Committees. You may say, I will compel every Member to attend by a special and comprehensive order; but will you make no allowance for illness or accident? [An Hon. Member: Nothing easier.] Nothing easier! Nothing is easier said; and that's the answer everyone is inclined to make to objections that cannot otherwise be got rid of. Will you have a Call of the House upon every Select Committee to insure their full attendance? It is provided, that if three out of fifteen Members be absent, the Committee will be closed for the day—a Resolution which would put it into the power of any three Members opposed to the Bill to stay away and put the parties to great inconvenience, by protracting the proceedings, or perhaps defeat it entirely. A hundred other cases equally likely to occur might be stated as tending to make us slow in adopting the views of the hon. Member. Further, I must remind the House, that all the private Bills before it have been introduced, and all the consequent expense incurred, on the faith of the existing regulations; and though the Motion now submitted may be calculated to effect good at a future day, it would be most unfair to introduce it, and apply it to those before us. Therefore, being quite inapplicable to the existing state of private business, and the private Bills now before the House, I feel myself bound to oppose the views of the hon. Member for Middlesex.

Viscount Sandon

wished that Committees should exercise a subsequent, as well as a previous, right of investigation and control over railroad affairs by the examination of engineers and others concerned therein. He wished also to remind the House of the injury likely to result to the public service by allowing those Companies to exercise au unlimited right of toll.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

agreed in the necessity of framing some protection against the power of the Directors to institute a monopoly of price; for, suppose a line running from London to Bristol, it would be very desirable to engage it in the service of the Post-Office. This arrangement would, however, throw into the hands of the Company a power of charging their own price, in reference to which it would be not unwise in the Post-Office to take care that the country should not in future be burthened thereby. It would, therefore, be advisable to introduce a clause in favour of the Post-Office in the general regulations applicable to each, compelling these Companies to carry the mails at a certain fixed rate—at least not permitting them to charge the Post-Office more than they charged others for similar parcels.

Mr. Warburton

remarked, that it had appeared very extraordinary and unaccountable to behold individuals sitting in Committee to consider the propriety of a railroad in which they were themselves Proprietors and Directors. He would suggest the propriety of the Chairman of each Committee examining every individual who took a part in the investigation or appeared before it, touching his private interest in the matter. He thought there would be little difficulty in striking a Committee of fifteen proper individuals. He would take the list of the House as it now stood, and make Members declare whether they would act or not. He thought that on any occasion thirty or forty Members might be found ready and quite independent, impartial, and unobjectionable in every point of view.

Lord Granville Somerset

was understood to recommend that the powers of investigation and regulation which it was proposed to bestow on the Committees, should be applicable to those railroads already established, as well as to those in progress of formation, and for which persons were now seeking railroad Bills to establish them.

The Speaker

read the following resolutions, and put the question on each seriatim:1. Resolved, that Committees on Railway Bills do inquire into the following matters, and report specially there upon when they report the respective Bills to the House. As to the proposed capital of the Company formed for the execution of the project, and the amount of any loans which they may be empowered to raise under the provisions of the Bill; the amount of shares subscribed for, and the deposits paid thereon, the names and residences of the directors or provisional Committee, with the amount of shares taken by each; the number of shareholders who may be considered as having a local interest in the line, and the amount of capital subscribed for by them, and the number of other parties, and the capital taken by them; a statement of the number of shareholders subscribing for 2,000l. and upwards, with, their names and residences, and the amount for which they have subscribed. The sufficiency or insufficiency for agricultural, commercial, manufacturing', or other purposes, of the present means of conveyance, and of communication between the proposed termini, stating the present amount of traffic by land or water, the average charges made for passengers, and goods, and time occupied. The number of passengers, and the weight and description of the goods expected upon the proposed railway. The amount of income expected to arise from the conveyance of passengers and goods, and in what proportion; stating also generally the description of goods from which the largest revenue is anticipated. Whether the proposed, railroad be a complete and integral line between the termini specified, or a part of a more extended plan now in contemplation, and likely to be here after submitted to Parliament, and to what extent the calculations of remuneration depend on such contemplated extension of the line. Whether any, and what, competing lines of railroad there are existing, and whether, any, and what, are in progress or contemplation; and to slate, so far as circumstances will permit, in what respects the proposed line is superior or inferior to the other Hues, if there be any. To state what planes on the railway are proposed to be worked, either by assistant engines, stationary or locomotive, with the respective lengths and inclinations of such planes. To advert to any peculiar engineering difficulties in the proposed line, and to report the manner in which it is intended they should be overcome. To state the length, breadth, and height, and means of ventilation of any proposed tunnels, and whether the strata through which they are to pass are favourable, or otherwise. To state whether, in the lines proposed, the gradients and curves are generally favourable or otherwise, and the steepest gradient, exclusive of the inclined planes above referred to, and the smallest radius of a curve. To state the length of the main line of the proposed line of the railroad, and of its branches respectively. To state generally the fitness, in an engineering point of view, of the projected line of railroad. If it be intended that the railroad should pass on a level any turnpike road or highway, to call the particular attention of the House to that circumstance. To state the amount of the estimate s of the cost or other expenses to be incurred up to the time of the completion of the railway, and whether they appear to be supported by evidence, and to be fully adequate for the purpose. To state what is the estimated charge of the annual expenses of the railroad when completed, and how far the calculations on which the charge is estimated have been sufficiently proved. Whether the calculations proved in evidence before the Committee have satisfactorily established that the revenue is likely to be sufficient to support the annual charges of the maintenance of the railroad, and still allow profit to the projectors. The number of assents, dissents, and neuters upon the line, and the length and amount of property belonging to each class traversed by the said railroad, distinguishing owners from occupiers; and, in the case of any Bill to vary the original line, stating the above particulars with reference to such parties only as may be affected by the proposed deviation. To state the name or names of the engineers examined in support of the Bill, and of those, if any, examined in opposition to it. To state the main allegation of any petition or petitions which may have been referred to the Committee, in opposition to the preamble of the Bill, or to any, of its clauses; and whether the allegations have been considered by the Committee, and, if not considered, the cause of their not having been so. To state, in addition, any circumstances which, in the opinion of the Committee, it is desirable the House Should be informed of. 2. Resolved, that this House will not proceed with the further consideration of Report of any Bill, until it has received from the Committee specific replies in answer to each of the questions contained in the foregoing resolutions, 3 Resolved, that the Clerk of every Committee on a Railway Bill do take down the name of every Member attending the Committee on each day; and if any division shall take place in the Committee upon any of the matters which the Committee are directed to inquire into by the preceding resolution, or upon the Special Report in respect of such matters, the Clerk do take down the names of Members voting in any such division, distinguishing on which side of the question they respectively vote; and that such Bills be given in with the Report to this House. 4. Resolved, that in order to afford time for the proper discussion of the Reports on Railway Bills, this House will upon every Tuesday proceed in the first place to the consideration of reports on such Bills; provided, however, that three or more such Bills have been reported, and stand for further consideration of Report, Sessional Order, that this House will not receive any Report of any Private Bill after Monday, the 6th day of June next read. 5. Resolved, that with regard to such Railroads as are classed as competing lines of Railroad, this House will not enlarge the time for making any such Report, as has been the practice in former Sessions of Parliament; and that the said Order be peremptorily enforced in this Session, in respect of Railway Bills. 6. Resolved, that when any Railway Bill has been read the second time and committed, this House will not immediately nominate the Committee, but appoint some future day for such nomination, with an interval of at least three clear days between the day of the second reading and the day for the nomination of the Committee.

Resolutions agreed to.